Travelling through Balatonfured, drinking wine and walking under sycamore trees, Vijaya Pratap finds an unexpected Indian connection
I keep chanting “Balaton” all through my journey, till I reach Lake Balaton. The lovely blue of the lake merges with the sky, with white swans in the horizon. Colourful boats are anchored in a row while a lone accordionist plays soft music on the lakeshore as the pale golden sun slowly sinks into the horizon
The largest freshwater lake in Central Europe, a popular yachting and fishing destination and a major tourist destination, Balaton lies between the Danube and the western borders of Hungary. Surrounded by charming villages and pretty towns, Balaton offers beautiful countryside and wineries on the north coast and nightlife on the south. Known to be Hungary’s most popular summer resort, Balaton is also frequented during the winter for ice-fishing, ice-sailing, sledging, or skating on the lake if it freezes over.
The quaint little town of Balatonfured on the north shore of the lake is where I stand, eager to revel in the Indian connection. At the green promenade along the lake, called “Tagore Sétány”, my heart swells with pride as I walk under the sycamore trees along with my guide Andras Vereckei. Beneath the canopy of the Linden tree planted by Rabindranath Tagore, his bust looks at me benevolently. I bow in deep respect for the universally acclaimed poet and notice the plaques commemorating the visits of Indian dignitaries and saplings planted by some of our Parliamentarians in the Tagore Sétány.
The Hungary-Tagore relationship goes back to almost a century, to post world war I. Tagore was identified as a symbolic literary figure of the emerging third world nations, fighting against western imperialism. In Hungary, as in other countries, Tagore came out from total anonymity with his name misspelt initially. After the lost war and the revolutions, he acquired immense fame among a wider public, with numerous writings about him.
A short walk from the promenade takes us to Geogy Ter, a peaceful square where stands the State hospital, where Tagore was admitted when he fell ill. I am touched to note that the room where he stayed for three weeks is preserved as his memorial, with his name plate and the interiors untouched.
Andras tells me that many people come here to recuperate year-round, thanks to the carbonated springs and baths, which are one of the best-known healing agents in Balatonfüred since the 17th century. The Kossuth Spring and other springs near the hospital supply water containing iron, magnesium and a host of other minerals, causing the town to be officially declared a spa in 1772. He takes me to taste the natural spring water from the nearby Kossuth Lajos drinking hall where, after hearing out the whole list of elements present in the water, I hesitantly take a sip that I can’t swallow. I am told about Balatonfured’s other attractions include horse riding, golf, sailing among others, but I am content strolling along the quay, listening to country music coming from a distance and occasionally peeping into shops selling souvenirs.
We drive down through the lovely countryside to the nearby Csopak village, famous for its wine made of olaszrizling grapes. The best of the lot is an age old winerynamed after Szent Donát , the patron saint of wine-growers in Csopak. We taste some exotic wines in an ancient cellar, a placewell-known for its unique wines with the right minerality and good tenability Owing to the microclimate, the wines of Csopak are fruity and well-balanced earning the region the title of International Town of Grape and Wine.
The estate, with its restaurant located at a height, commands a magnificent view of the village, the surrounding vineyards and Lake Balaton. In this scenic setting, we eat dinner, with cool air streaming in from the lake. I dig into their delicious goat cheese salad and pasta, relishing a much loved Hungarian dessert of sweet quark cheese dumpling.
Next morning, I visit an exhibition of the Hungarian-Indian painter Amrita Sher-Gil’s original works housed in the elegant Vaszary Kavezo. As photography is not allowed, I focus completely on her art and take a peak into her much celebrated bohemian lifestyle. A much acclaimed artist of her times, and a beautiful product of an Indo- Hungarian collaboration, there are her letters and pictures of her Sikh father, Hungarian mother and siblings on display. As we drive away, Andras opens the Hungarian tourism brochure, with a bright smile and holds it up for me to read, “I have seen almost all the countries of the world, but I saw nowhere such a beautiful harmony of the sky and the water than that I had the privilege to enjoy on the shore of Balatonfured filling my soul with rapture,” said Rabindranath Tagore in 1926 when treated in Hungary in the cardiac hospital by the Lake Balaton. I nod in agreement — a good quote aptly used.