“All Swiss love their mountains, well almost all Swiss. What I can say is that they have great respect for people who love their mountains,” writes Gurdeepak Singh, an Indian in Switzerland in love with the country and its people.
While mountains often divide regions, they bind us together in unique and everlasting ways.
I am a turban-wearing Sikh with a beard - a regular person from the north of India but someone who stands out in Switzerland. When I landed here eight years ago, it was my first time outside of India. I had arrived in a country that is culturally very different, where the people speak completely different languages - and it’s a place crazy for cheese. Where had I come?!
Being so different from others made me smile but also made me wonder how others looked at me. Amid all this, it was always very exciting to be so close to the mountains. My passion for the mountains brought me here in the first place. The Swiss Alps were my pull thousands of kilometers away when I was in Chandigarh, my hometown in the Himalayan foothills.
Fondue, chai and mountaineering
It was first during my Masters Programme at the International Academy of Sports, Science and Technology (AISTS) at EPFL, Lausanne, where I started developing my understanding of the Swiss culture. After recoiling during my first encounter with fondue, I learnt how “holy” fondue cheese is to the Swiss and adapted my Indian penchant for spicy food to a strong mountain variety. But when talking about the Matterhorn or my most loved trio of peaks; the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau in the Bernese Alps, I felt immediately connected to the Swiss community.
Come weekend, the weather and mountains were always the two most widely discussed topics. When people live close to nature and mountains, these receive greater attention, and rightly so. These also became my most googled things before every weekend.
Whether in the local climbing gym or in the mountains of the Bernese Oberland, the Valais and the Jura, I have forged friendships that know no boundaries. A good example is my friend Bruno with whom I’ve climbed many Swiss peaks and embarked on an expedition abroad. Our friendship has been strong and steady. Last year I was invited to his wedding in Fribourg and witnessed my first-ever Swiss wedding.
At the local climbing gym, my two constant training partners have been Miriam and Tamara. A lot of our weekends (especially in winter) are spent in the gym – not only training but also chatting about each other’s lives. We have also enjoyed after-gym chai (spicy Indian tea) sessions together, which have been a run-away success and we’ve repeated it few times over. We regularly try to train together and a lot of my understanding of Swiss-German comes from these after-gym sessions. It helps me with a deeper understanding of the Swiss culture through language.
In June this year at the International Day of Yoga celebrations in Bern I met Wilfrid who was giving yoga lessons. Thanks to our common interest in yoga and the mountains an Indo-Swiss climbing project was born, which was supported by the Indian Embassy as well as the Jungfrau Bahn. After a successful ascent of the Jungfrau mountain, we plan to institutionalise our climbs every year and want to grow this project and reach out to our respective national federations and more climbers on each side.
All human race is one. Differences are established based on many trivial things, but when sharing a common passion, a true and healthy bond is established. Nature has a powerful non-judgmental aura to it, especially the mountains. In nature, you see a person beyond their physical appearance.
Mountains and climbing have been our underlying bond always and it has helped connect deeply with the people and appreciate the culture, language and food much much more. And now I’m eagerly waiting for the ski season, raclette and fondue! Bring on the cheese!
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