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Sun fails to shine on Mount Rigi celebrations

The sun failed to keep its appointment at Mount Rigi.

(Werner K. Geiger)

It was to be a sunrise celebration on the first spring day of the new Millennium. But in Switzerland at least, the sun failed to shine on the so-called "World Day of Planetary Consciousness".

A few dozen people made the pilgrimage to the top of Mount Rigi, which looms 1,400 metres above Lake Lucerne, to celebrate the global event grandly called the "World Day of Planetary Consciousness".

While celebrations were taking place around the globe, following the sun as it moved across the planet from east to west, pilgrims gathered on Mount Rigi had to make do with a slow transition from a pitch-black night to a grey dawn.

The global event was initiated by "The Club of Budapest", an international association dedicated to "developing new thinking and ethics to address the social, political, economic and ecological challenges of the 21st century".

It counts the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Arthur C Clarke and Jane Goodall among its honorary members.

"The Club of Budapest had the idea that mankind should start the new Millennium with a vision that could contribute to the survival of the human race," says Engelbert Ruoss, the man behind for the Mount Rigi event.

"I don't think [the club members] are only dreamers. If you look at our earth with its increasing population and the increasing use of resources as well as other rising problems of global dimensions, I think they are more visionaries than dreamers."

The World Day of Planetary Consciousness kicked off in New Zealand where the new day was greeted with a traditional Maori welcome. In China, pigeons and balloons were set free from the Great Wall, while 250 monks gathered at the Shechen Monastery in Nepal to chant for world peace.

On Mount Rigi, alphorns sounded and kites rose in a vain attempt to tease the sun out from behind the clouds.

Pilgrims have flocked to the top of Mount Rigi for centuries, drawn by the healing properties of a "holy" spring, and then by the sun, which spreads its first light over a spectacular panorama of the Swiss Alps.

The first hotel was built on top of Mount Rigi in 1816 to accommodate the sun worshippers, and about half a century later, the first cog railway was completed, bringing European royalty and illustrious guests like Mark Twain and Richard Wagner to the top.

"They were woken up with the sound of the alphorn which would let them know that it was time to see the sunrise. They would go up to the top wrapped in a blanket and that was a very impressive experience," says Beat Käppeli, owner of the Rigi Kulm hotel.

Käppeli, who has seen his share of Rigi sunrises in his 30 years at the hotel, says up to 3,000 of his guests every year still come to take part in the ritual.

On the first day of spring 2001, the sun's energy was to have been harnessed to bring global change. Even though it didn't cooperate, Ruoss was not disappointed.

"It's important that we start with a vision. Then afterwards, we have to put our goals and visions into practice," says Ruoss, who is also president of R.I.O. Impuls, a Swiss foundation supporting sustainable economic development.

A Polynesian performance on a Samoan beach brought the event to an end at the last light of day. But for Ruoss and the Club of Budapest, the World Day of Planetary Consciousness is just the beginning of a series of events aimed at bringing about global change. Ruoss says they'll go ahead, no matter what the weather is like.

by Dale Bechtel


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