Eastman Colour may have faded and climate change may have kicked in, but the heart-teasing backdrops of Jungfrau and Interlaken look just as they did behind the animated limbs of Shammi Kapoor or, in later decades, Shah Rukh Khan. Switzerland, Bollywood’s ambassador Yash Chopra observed astutely, doesn’t wrinkle. His beloved lake in Alpenrausch, the Swiss will have you know with a straight face, answers these days to Lake Chopra. Guided by signs in Hindi on Mount Titlis, you won’t feel foreign at all. Invited to visit Switzerland this summer, I prepared for a surfeit of Bollywood pastiche but a week in Appenzell returned me happily mistaken.
At Gossau, northeast of Zürich, we changed from the swift SBB train to the Appenzeller Bahnen, lugged by a smaller made-for-mountains locomotive. As it pressed uphill, the overbuilt vistas of concrete, glass and steel gave way to pastoral views.
Orchards of ripening apple and cherry trees with branches neatly akimbo like enraptured concertgoers. Cows that wouldn’t be distracted from their interminable lunch. Endless lawns of eye-soothing green, peppered with black-faced sheep, folded into dark woodlands tucked into elephant-grey crags nestled in woolly hillsides, yielding to leafy groves of walnut and plane, juniper and spruce. All stippled with impossibly dainty gabled chalets, their windowsills exploding with variegated geraniums. Then fairy-tale church steeples and barns with bales of hay ripening and fermenting into winter cow-chow. Chimneys and chicken runs, shaggy-maned ponies, loping mastiffs. Military-green tractors, Peugeots racing on curvy highways, chrome bumpers glinting. Glass-eyed cats gazing hypnotically at the grass…
Then we alighted and slipped into a town so unlike any dream sequence of clichés.
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