Chamonix - Aiguille du Midi shaonlee and saurabh

The great summer saga began away from home this year. I felt almost guilty for not signing up for a trek in the Himalayas again and found ourselves whisked away to the quaint and charming French town called Chamonix. I hope to write a blog on just the beauty of the little village, although the locals will shrug their shoulders and tell you “eet is very small” when you ask them to describe their town. It is a small place, but it is the town that you dreamt about when your parents tucked you into bed at night and told you “sweet dreams.” The sheep that kept jumping from its pen when you tried counting them before you drifted into slumber lived here dotting the meadows on hill slopes, in front of chestnut houses made of logs and wood.

The bright red windows that you drew in your drawing copy as your art teacher tsk-ed at your choice of infantile colors adorn the walls in perfect harmony of hues and tints.

As you wander through the cobbled, winding streets, of downtown Chamonix, dotted with cafes that smell of fresh bread, cheese and coffee you suddenly come face to face with the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi – a cable car that climbs more than 9,000 vertical feet to the summit of the Aiguille du Midi. It ascends past the Plan de l’Aiguille mid-station and traverses Les Pelerins glacier, to rises above the North Face of the range, like Pegasus transcendental, majestic and powerful.

At the top, on a sunny day, like the one we got to experience, the gateway to the high Alps looked like a shimmering uncut diamond – jagged and craggy with iridescent rivulets of white gold flowing in and out of it. For over 50 years, the place has inspired skiers, mountaineers, snowboarders, photographers and restless wanderers to experience its icy slopes.

From the cable car, the hills look like a scene from a fictional fantasy novel, a bit surreal, like you are sitting in a 3D movie theater or glancing through your jet plane at slopes below. The ease of traversing a height of 3,842 ft without breaking into cold sweat is startling at first. You wonder if the peaks will hold the same sweetness it carried when you forged ahead despite urban lungs in previous hiking sojourns struggling to climb the remote mountains of your own country. The excitement grows as you try to quieten the clamor of the restless heart to just soak in the experience of what life had to offer.

It is hard to describe the feeling that creeps through your heart and spreads through your soul as you stand on the many platforms that is built on the summit. It takes some time for the eye to adjust to the vastness spread ahead as enormous peaks spill out in all directions punctuating the horizon as far as the eyes can see. It is utterly spectacular and completely overwhelming as your head tries to tell you, you are now viewing the three countries ahead of you – France, Switzerland, and Italy.

The air is thin, crisp and clean. The senses are heightened, I can hear my breathing, an act I can never be mindful of even when I am trying, in the everyday humdrum. Each breath I now take stings my nostrils, it feels oddly comforting, “I am breathing…. standing on my feet, feeling the wind in my hair, trying to see through the blinding sunshine…and I am grateful for being here in this moment…. I am alive.”

Apart from the sheer size and vastness of the summit, the thing that strikes you most about the place is the scale of development on this peak. The visionary and ambitious project is an engineering marvel and has made the summit accessible to everyone - children, elderly, and those that are differently abled. It is no longer the preserve of skilled climbers and mountaineers and thus attracts many people from different parts of the world, assembled in the same reverie.

The place has the most unobtrusive design, it merges with the background externally, although you can see its sharp and pointed top from the town. The inside is created by hollowing out massive mountains to develop an intricate labyrinth of rooms, corridors, and tunnels that weave their way through the rocky halls to accommodate spaces for multiple exhibitions, displays and viewing platforms. It even has a store for souvenir and a cafeteria that shields you from the scathing -10 degrees when you have spent enough time outside.

If you are travelling with children, you may want them to take them to “The Void”. A glass box, that juts out from one of the tunnels and is suspended from one of the side of the Aiguille, 1000m above the glaciers below, making you feel like you are standing in the epicenter of the Alps encrusted in ice. One of the many tunnels that cut through the sheer ice walls takes you to the famed Ice Steps that allow climbers and skiers to access Vallée Blanche (the white valley) - one of the most pristine routes in the world.

Time glides through your fingertips on the top; you want to savor every bit of it, despite the chill that abounds. Hence, the descend was reluctant, made easier by a stop at the Bar - Plan de l’Aiguille to take in the bright sunshine and the views it offered, a bit longer.

The atmosphere in this café was infectious – friendly tourists chatted aimlessly discussing what we all had just experienced. Some beers and hot chocolates later we dragged ourselves out of the Alpine womb to make our way back to the town again.

I wondered if those who live in the valley below know how lucky they are to breathe in the mountain air every day? Do they look at the Mont Blanc and remind themselves that of the many things life has to offer, they got a rare gift – the gift of the exquisite splendor of nature and houses colored like a child’s dream

about the authors

Some of our friends and family call us a clan of restless, wandering souls. We are always either making travel plans or living them. Sometimes we fight about the choice of destination – as each one of us has a list, and we are all vociferously arguing our case. Rarely does all our choice coincide, but we are still a buzzing happy clan when we are out on the road, all feverish and impatient to see the unseen.

Created By
Shaonlee Bose


Saurabh Ganguli

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