Chamonix - Mer De Glace shaonlee and saurabh

This sea of ice was once a verdant and lush meadow – the grass was fragrant and sweet, different flowers bloomed here, and a gentle breeze engulfed the land in its soft embrace. Life was good for the shepherds who brought their sheep and cows to graze here.

One day an old woman came begging, torn clothes and weather-beaten face, but the shepherds were too busy to notice her. She was hungry, cold and had nowhere to go, but the shepherds didn’t care, their days were spent in this beautiful emerald land – all nurturing and giving. The old woman did not give up; she persisted because she needed help, and so she went to them again one last time, imploring them to act. In their apathy and belligerence, the shepherds threw stones at her and shoved her away. In a blink of that same second, she transformed into an enchantress and turned her cold rage towards them. She cast a spell over the meadow freezing it immediately into a cube of ice. Wherever she looked rivers of ice were formed and just like that in a matter of minutes, the pasture was frozen underneath a thick, opaque slab of ice. When you put your ears to the frozen ground, you can still hear the cow-bells tingling, and if you are really quiet, you can even hear stray goats bleating. And then, all is silent again. Mer de Glace is a glacier today, but it holds the memory of the place and life on Earth as it once was.

For many years, the cursed mountains of Mont Blanc, located on the northern slopes of the massif, in the French Alps has been a source of great mystery and sorrow. The complete unpredictability of the weather and the ice crevasses make it a treacherous climb and hence the Mont Blanc Funicular Train that runs from Gare du Montenvers make it such a safe, comfortable and joyful journey into the heart of Mer de Glace (literally translated - Sea of Ice). The train climbs a steep track to a stunning vantage point above the glacier. From here, views of Les Grandes Jorasses and the Les Drus are exceptional.

We spent an entire day at the top station at Montenvers. The weather was sparkling and kind and the open platform provided a spectacular view of the glacier. You can almost hear cowbells as you stand on its many balconies and look into the frozen valley below.

Mer de Glace features an entire exhibition dedicated to crystals found in the area; it describes their contents and how they were formed. What makes the exhibits exciting is the dark, natural cave that you find yourself in. Some of these crystals are so shiny and colourful that it can put you in a bit of a trance.

The lovely, bright café on Le Panoramique Mer de Glace - Bistrot Avec Vue serves delicious food and great beverages. Friendly staff and peppy music give the restaurant delightful energy that is both welcoming and comforting. Veal blanquette, Savoyarde pork hotpot, and the Grandma's chicken casserole is served hot and steaming and sets you up for the rest of the day in the cold mountains.

We decided to head for the ice caves at the heart of the glacier, after having spent most of the morning at the vantage point taking in every bit of the beauty it offered. The cable car takes you down in minutes and then another few hundred steps to reach the Glacier but the views are startling, and blasts of cold breeze greet you at every turn.

Finally, we entered the ice caves into the glacier – a spectacular natural geomorphological feature, that is rebuilt every year. This was the first time we were experiencing a real glacier. The igloo-like structure is a bright shade of azure blue – and one is almost blinded by the brilliance of this surreal blue space. Lilting, ethereal music through the carefully hidden speakers in the walls of the cave creates a magical atmosphere inside the cave. We wandered through the halls of this blue grotto as if in a dream touching the walls to remind ourselves that it was all happening.

The snow piles right outside the cave were almost as much fun as it was inside. We found it difficult to leave all the fun and frolic and make our way back to the cable car again.

As we walked up the stairs the weather changed a bit, and the gentle breeze picked up speed and started blowing with new vigor, the clouds fluffy and light began gathering again. We could feel the icy cold gaze of the enchantress nearby; we could almost see her gliding down the slopes again.

We quickened our pace and rested only when we reached the top breathless and cold and sat gratefully on the benches staring at the majestic Mont Blanc ahead. The ferocity of the winds had quietened down to a steady breeze now; we stared at the grandeur ahead and marveled at the ambition of the French and Swiss country folks who forged ahead and made railroads, trains and cable cars in the heart of the glacier that has taken several lives earing itself the adage of the "cursed mountains." They pushed ahead despite the rage of the enchantress, after all, and broke the curse that engulfs Mer de Glace.

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.


Saurabh Ganguli

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