They look graciously beautiful, don’t they? The mountains. All across the world; pick any range, and they fill you with awe and adventure. From the Andes, to the Alps, to the Himalayas – all of them are magnificent works of nature. However, would you walk uphill and downhill aimlessly to experience the grandeur? Rock, stone, wild grass, soft soil, birds chirping, meandering trails under a canopy of trees, picnic basket; maybe, maybe not… the experience comes with all the bells and whistles. I make it sound blissful. On the other hand, why would you aimlessly climb up steep slopes, if not the mountain faces…with your lungs almost about to explode, face weathering the wind and your muscles numb?
The mountains for me, have always had this calmness around them, far from the madding crowd, an escape from the city life stress. “The mountains are calling” – A phrase heard and read a lot, and if you haven’t climbed one yet, you wouldn’t know what it means. For words, simply cannot explain it.
Our house had a small terrace that looked out to a beautiful hill. Not only was this a beautiful view, but it also inspired contemplation. It stood witness to the fun and frolic and all the possible brainstorming sessions we had on that terrace. It glittered with house lights once dark, and told us that it was inhabited. There were numerous occasions when we told ourselves, that it needs to be scaled, manually and not with any of the funiculars we had come across in Switzerland or Italy. Days flew quickly and we were down to our last handful, still gazing at the hill every morning over espressos with silent promises to go say, Hi! Trekking uphill in the evening during the weekdays was impractical as getting back home without proper transportation would be stupid. Weekends was the only time for some wholesome exploring.
Over breakfast on a Saturday morning, we asked the manager of the hotel, where we had first stayed, if he’d have a map of the hill in the background, since it was inhabited and the internet told us that there was a place called, Morbio Superiore. He had a map and insisted we go across the hill and explore a tiny village there to get a true Swiss feel. There was a bus that could take us all the way up to Morbio Superiore and then we’d have to figure out our own way across the hill. I was more interested in climbing it all the way up, however, he insisted we don’t do that, since the road uphill was long and winding and travelling on foot would not only be arduous but also extremely time consuming. Geared up for the day to explore the hill towns, we however lost out to a majority vote to go shopping instead. A bargain was struck where we divided the day for the two activities.
The cliché of “time flies” became a literal fact that day, as “a couple of hours” for shopping soon transformed our afternoon into early evening. Deciding against walking back to the bus station at Mendrisio, we walked across the mall ogling at Ferraris in red and silver, to the roadside bus stand. A little disappointed with the loss of time, I further realized that the next bus was scheduled almost half an hour later – weekend schedules are relaxed as compared to the weekdays. Anyway, we stood there chatting about what could possibly be expected on the hill top. And this is where I disconnect with the world. You don’t necessarily have to have something to go to whilst exploring. That is the whole point of exploring… you don’t know and you’d explore it anyway when you get there. Also, sometimes you simply have to take it slow, stop, and bend down to smell the roses.
The bus finally arrived and we got in, instructing the driver to drop us off at the farthest point of Morbio Superiore. The buses in Switzerland are as good as the trains. Clean and upmarket, with massive windows to enjoy the vistas outside. The drive was beautiful and the driver was indeed skillful. Driving through some very narrow streets we finally made it to the foothill to the village of Morbio Inferiore. Funny isn’t it, the village below was Inferiore and the one atop was Superiore, lol! The drive uphill was indeed long and winding, a biker’s delight, I thought. We soon reached the summit, passing a lot of vineyards on the way.
Morbio Superiore was a ghost town! There was not a soul in sight. Coming upon a crossroad we paused to take stock of our bearings and check if there was any more transportation around to take us beyond the mountain. While we were checking the bus time tables and GPS on our respective phones, an old lady made her way towards us slowly. We got talking and she told us to drop our plans of crossing the hill. Instead, she suggested we head downhill to the municipality of Vacallo. Telling us further that we were still young and walking a couple of hours wouldn’t hurt us much, as there was a youth festival in town and we could relax there. Wait! What! A couple of hours!!! She smiled and told us that when she was our age, she’d run uphill and downhill. Also that there were no more buses scheduled for the day. So, if we had to get back to Chiasso, we’d either have to walk or call for a cab.
With daylight available, we decided to walk downhill after checking the bus schedule again and thanking the old lady for her…er…words of wisdom. Looking forward to the youth festival in Vacallo we set out enjoying the vistas. As dusk arrived, the crimson hues made the whole atmosphere beautiful. Morbio Superiore had villas and each had its own personal vineyard. Walking downhill we passed one beautiful house after another, clicking pictures and making memories.
I started stealing moments of solitude every now and then as mountains somehow inspire the deepest thoughts in me. These conversations I have with myself are special. They motivate and resonate with the strife and triumph of life, in all entirety. I fell in love with the walk downhill and didn’t realise that slowly our pace had increased. The road had benches by the side, where one could sit and enjoy the sunsets and sunrises. Through the meandering streets of the town, different breeds of house dogs greeted us. Some were excited with the sight of new people while some were pretty aggressive. Thankfully all the gates were locked.
The old lady was right. The road was never ending and slowly twilight had descended. We knew we had to hurry, not because night was upon us, but we were looking forward to the festival at Vacallo. The village appeared suddenly. There were no markings or hoardings announcing its boundaries. It was an integrated part of the hill all along. We finally saw a lot of cars, and some cops. We hunched that maybe we were close to the youth festival. Looking forward to some food and music and maybe mingle around with the locals, we shared a mutual nod with the cops before entering the venue.
The next experience was straight out of any movie you may have seen where the whole place freezes and gawks at the new entrants. There venue was one of the local churches and the fest was for the young ones from the church. There was no dancing, only some music with people sitting and eating together. The moment we entered, we kind of paused the entire operation of the place. We had people stopping their respective activities and simple stare at us, maybe trying to relate or check if we were the new members of the church.
We didn’t stay, as the event was not what we had imagined. We carried on walking soldiering the many meandering downhill turns that came up. I happened to ask one of the cops on how much farther Chiasso was, and he said another hour and half if we were to be on foot. Not allowing the information to dampen my spirits and definitely not letting my peers know about this, we carried on.
If you have to compare, trekking doesn’t tire you as much since it on uneven ground. A morning walk in the mountain trail will not tire you as the trail has soft earth under the feet. We were however on solid concrete. This was my first experience of climbing downhill on concrete. This was a different experience altogether.
In the distance the defunct mall of Chiasso glittered with artificial lighting, looking like a big Easter egg that has fallen on its side. Ten minutes later we picked up our spirits again and headed home.
You may feel that this was a bad idea, however for me, it was one of the most beautiful walks I have had. The houses were beautiful, the vineyards even more so. The western lights painted the sky in a different hue every now and then. The meandering streets downhill had different trees, some with leaves that had a white hairy growth on them resembling snow. It was a silent dinner out on the terrace, our gaze at the hill a little different this time. When the church bells tolled, we thought together, “we were right there a few hours ago”. And that’s what mountains teach us, I think. To struggle and strive and in the end revel in the triumph of achieving something. Uphill or downhill a walk in the mountains is always blissful. The air is light, there is no noise, and you have tiny creatures for company. Sleep came easy that night with peaceful dreams.
Let me know of your mountain story. Drop in your experience here!