This post is a part of series “Dialogues with Strangers” capturing some of the most impressionable ever-lasting conversations I have had with strangers.
Murren is one of the most beautiful alpine villages in the world. It is the last connection by rail in the Jungfrau region near the mountain Eiger. It is also a car free village; means there is no road connecting to Murren. There are plenty of cycling and walking routes around Murren.
In 2013, we were in Murren for a few days, exploring the hiking routes across the meadows and beyond. Our balcony overlooked the peak, Eiger. Murren reminds you of Heidi and re-installs your faith in the miraculous healing power of the mountain air.
One evening, after a long day of hike, followed by a dip in the heated indoor pool, as we were sitting in the balcony sipping tea and beer, we met our next door neighbours. I had previously seen the man in the pool and thought he must have been some corporate hotshot. He looked like someone in a powerful job. The woman he was with, looked quite young to be his wife. We exchanged pleasantries.
How was your day? The man asked.
Pretty good! We were hiking all day long! How was your day?
Very good! We were out too. Is this your first time in Switzerland?
No, we have been here before, but we didn’t stay in Murren earlier.
This is our first time in Switzerland. We usually go to Austria in summers. From the last 6-7 years we have been going to Tyrol region in Austria, for 2-3 weeks each time. Over the years, summer lodges and hotels have shrunk there. Most of them now only operate in winters for skiing. So we planned to come here. It is pretty beautiful here as well.
Yeah, we love Switzerland. It is quite convenient and supremely beautiful.
So where did you guys go today?
Oh we were somewhere around Birg and Schilthorn and later we walked around Schiltalp.
We were at Birg too. Actually we had a bit of an adventure. The path from Birg to Murren was getting cleared of snow today. The men with clearing tools were just ahead of us and we were following them down. At a point, one of the three men fell down as there was a big gap in the earth and he broke his leg. Luckily, nothing happened to us. We were careful to take the same steps which the men ahead of us took.
Wow! This was the same route which Nitesh and I had discussed in the morning. He wanted to take it, but I was against it. I thought it was not safe to venture on this path as it came in “difficult” category and we didn’t have hiking boots. There was no one to be seen on that route either. And these guys, people who look considerably older than us, not just took that path, but also finished it – safe and sound! They don’t even look tired!
We asked them further about the Tyrol region. In the last 6 years, they have spent all their annual leaves and savings in walking across the Austrian Alps in Tyrol region. Every year they go to a new or same valley within that region and walk for 10-20 kms on a daily basis exploring a new route. Over these 6 years, they would have covered about 1200-1500 kms on foot, in the Alps. Whoa!!!
Who are these people?! What do they do for a living?
We both are professors at University of Oxxxd, UK in the department of engineering.
Suddenly I had a flash back. Imagining my fat bellied, languid college professors, I couldn’t believe this man in front of me could be in academics and research. Didn’t research mean you have no other pleasure or interest in life expect for your research topic?! Aren’t they supposed to be eccentric, weird and poor? Of course I know this was just a prejudice I had, but apart from a few outliers (like that amazing History Professor from JNU) I have never seen academicians who look like this guy, like a Casanova. Or who would spend so much time, energy and money in pursuit of other interests! Much like common, greedy mortals! What about their age; how old are these good looking adventurous cool college professors?! We were soon going to find out.
How long are you here and where are you going next? The prof asked.
We are here till Thursday; then we go to Zermatt. I was hesitant to add that we will further hike there. Our hiking and their hiking seemed way apart!
Oh cool! We are going there too! We are not staying in Zermatt. It is actually a funny story. Our son and his girlfriend were in Zermatt last year, when they came across this very small hotel between Furi and Schwarzsee which has a perfect location. Zermatt is in the valley and Schwarzsee is quite high towards Matterhorn so the views are fantastic from up there! Though we would have to climb for 20-30 minutes to reach there but it is worth it.
Man, these guys were killing me. How old is your son? I had to ask now!
He is 30, blah blah blah….
I stopped listening to him. My head was spinning. If their son is 30 years old and these guys are researchers; means they couldn’t have had kids in early 20ies; they must be older than 55. So this man and woman looking young and fit, above 55 years in age, climbing much more than us, are going to remote exotic stay locations on foot while carrying their entire luggage on their own!
In India, so many of us do not even carry our luggage across platforms, up the stairs on a railway station! Does being in late 50ies or early 60ies mean nothing to them, who are living life as if they are in early 30ies! As of what I have seen, in late 50ies, people start getting joint pain, arthritis, back problems etc etc. They do not go wandering in mountains for fun!
Yes, this was probably one of the most impactful conversations I have had in life until then. Within the next 3 months after the trip, I ran my first 5K. A girl who hated treadmill and couldn’t survive 10 minutes on it, I ran for 40 mins in less than a month of practice. A lot of my prejudices were shattered in that trip. I had learnt an important lesson. What I do today will directly impact my life 20-30 years down the line. When I am 50, I can either climb mountains up and down in fresh clean air like those profs or I can climb up and down the escalators in different hospitals to see various docs and specialists like so many of elder people I know. The choice is mine. And it depends entirely on how I choose to spend my today.