Zermatt & Matterhorn Saurabh Ganguli

My trip to Zermatt was a unique one. The walk through the narrow walkway lined with wooden structures, shops and quaint little restaurants on the hilly slopes was exhausting but fun. The casual chat with the locals all huddled around the bonfire in front of small tents serving Glühwein and homemade cakes as a pre-Christmas tradition was joyful and refreshing.

As we dipped our bread in the freshly prepared delicious Fondue at a restaurant while looking out at the tourists excitedly lugging their ski gear; I felt a strange warmth in the otherwise sub-zero temperatures at Zermatt.

The mighty Matterhorn peeped from behind the green Alpine slopes of Zermatt, giving a glimpse of what I was there for - to shoot one of the most photographed peaks in the world. Depending on the angle you are looking at it from, the near symmetrical Matterhorn mountain could seem like a jagged tooth or a shark fin, a property which makes it one of the most unique and recognizable peaks in the world. It also has some of the most dramatic cloud and light patterns that adorn it like a beautiful bride dressed in gold jewelry. Of course, I was struggling with a feeling of Vemödalen - the fear of photographing something amazing when thousands of beautiful pictures already exist. But I persisted.

As my colleague and I were there for a single night, there was only one opportunity to catch the early morning sun lighting up the snow-capped peak, a view I have been visualizing in my head for days before I landed in Zermatt. To get the prized shot, I needed to get close to the Matterhorn, and the options were to take the Gornergrat Railway taking you to a record altitude of 3,100 meters or to take the cable car to Unterrothorn or the Klein Matterhorn (Little Matterhorn) at 3,883 m. An important decision needed to be made. A little research led me to Lake Riffelsee, which provides one of the most beautiful views of the Matterhorn and was a short trek from the Rotenboden station on the Gornergrat Railway (the penultimate station before the train reaches Gornergrat). This was a risk, as we had no idea of the terrain and conditions but my colleague happily agreed.

The night was hard. Not sure if I slept at all in the excitement, but we were at the Gornergrat Railway train station to catch the first train to Rotenboden before sunrise. On our way, we met a few happy groups making the best of the pre-Christmas holidays and seemed to be returning after a night long party. The train meandered in the dark through the snow covered Alpine slopes, mild chatter wafting through the stillness of the morning from a few fellow passengers, excited at the prospect of skiing down the freshly covered snow.

We were the only two to leave the train at Rotenboden. It reminded me of a scene from a Hitchcock film - still, atmospheric and cold. The train station had nothing more than a single hut amidst pristine white snow covered carpet, spread as far as our eyes could see.

We took out our maps to find the hiking trail to Lake Riffelsee. After walking a few meters on the planned path, we realized that we had not thought about the numerous variables that lay ahead of us. Most importantly we did not prepare for the snow at this time of the year. Adamantly, I continued waddling through the knee deep snow while my colleague had thoughtfully given up. A few meters of the hike was enough for me to realize that if I walked any further, I could find myself in a very cold grave. Sanity prevailed, and I walked back to my colleague who had by now found a relatively safe platform to use for his shoot.

It was close to sunrise, and I needed to quickly get over my disappointment of not being able to get to Lake Riffelsee and re-visualized the shots from close to the Rotenboden station. With the sunrise approaching, I set up my camera on my tripod focusing on the mighty Matterhorn, hoping that the thick cloud cover would give way for the sun to light up the peak. I felt dejected with the snow, the thick cloud and most importantly for not being able to predict the variables. It seemed like a wasted trip, and all the excitement I felt was beginning to give away to sheer frustration. Something somewhere changed. It changed so subtly that I could not detect it. But what we experienced next was magical. Not the Matterhorn, but a peak beside was lit up by the first rays of the Sun peeking through the clouds. The peak stood up in a glorious haze of red, shining like a precious jewel. It reflected like a blushing bride, its magnificence reflected in the surrounding snow. I came back with an image that was special and unique and is one of my most cherished one.

The ‘golden’ moment lasted only for a few minutes, and my focus reverted to the Matterhorn. Like an excited kid with his favorite toy, I frisked around in the snow trying to get some ‘unique’ shots of the Matterhorn. We concluded our journey with some hot coffee at the beautiful restaurant at Gornergrat, looking over the Swiss Alps in all its glory.

Somehow in spite of all the snow surrounding us, and freezing sub-zero temperatures, all that I carried back with me was the strange but familiar warmth of the place.

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
Saurabh Ganguli
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