What's something that sucks about being Indian?
Zubin Bejan Contractor is an impatient man. Or rather: Zubin Bejan Contractor has to be an impatient man, because this quality is a professional requirement for him. One morning in May, the tour guide stands at the edge of the breakfast buffet, shouldering his rucksack, and looks over many heads into the hall. He is in his late thirties and tall, with a dark, trimmed mustache. His eyes are red, they look tired. Many of his Indian compatriots sit at large round tables under a high stucco ceiling and enjoy breakfast. There is sambar and medu vada. One is a yellow sauce with lots of red chili peppers floating in it, the other looks like fried donuts. Sambar is poured into a cereal bowl and dipped with Medu Vada.
"That is completely shameful behavior," says Zubin quietly and looks at the clock. In two minutes it will be three quarters of eight. At this point, his guests would have to leave the Art Nouveau Hotel Terrace and board the small, hotel-owned cogwheel train. This is the only way they can take the bus down in Engelberg punctually at eight. Instead, Zubin now has to watch as parts of his travel group sit quietly at the large round tables to have their Indian breakfast.
It is day six of the 17-day "Classic Tour of Europe". The evening before, the 35-strong group arrived in Central Switzerland, in the mountain village of Engelberg at an altitude of 1000 meters. It snowed - in May! Before that they were in London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne, Heidelberg, in Titisee in the Black Forest and at the Rhine Falls in Schaffhausen. Today the highlight is on the program: a ride on the cable car to "Mount Titlis", at 10,000 feet the highest mountain in Central Switzerland - this is what the SOTC brochure promises. It also promises plenty of time to "play in the snow" and, most importantly, an Indian lunch in the mountain restaurant. Other items on the agenda are a visit to a cheese factory, a glass-blowing factory, the Lion Monument in Lucerne, shopping in Lucerne and a boat trip on Lake Lucerne. So a long day, but you just have to go. Zubin now goes from table to table, nudging people from behind rather roughly and saying things in Indian languages that don't sound very friendly. Some of his guests make defensive hand movements. Others ignore him.
When everyone is finally on the bus, it is half an hour later than planned. The tour guide looks longingly after a bus with NRIs that has left on time to the minute. NRIs, explains Zubin, are Indians who live abroad, primarily in the United States and Canada. "They know the value of time and the culture of punctuality."
The valley station of the cable car is reached after ten minutes. The bus driver is an East German. "Last year I drove Chinese, this year I drove Indians," he says. "Let's see how it works." There are currently 24 buses with Indians in the village. May and June are the main season. The Hotel Terrace on the sunny slope above Engelberg is almost fully booked with 350 Indian guests. If someone were brought blindfolded to the old hotel, they would bet they'd ended up in Kashmir. They counted around 57,000 overnight stays by Indian guests in Engelberg in 2013, only in Zurich there are more. The Engelbergers plowed the growing Indian tourism market early on, taking dozens of Bollywood directors to green cow pastures or to the Titlis glacier so that they could shoot their heartbreak films there. But above all, they were fortunate that Kuoni, the largest Swiss tour operator, bought SOTC, the largest Indian tour operator, and thus became the market leader in India.
The people from Kuoni had also had the idea of turning the empty old spa hotel Terrace into a kind of "Indian Village". The mountain railways that own the hotel, especially their director at the time, Albert Wyler, thought it was a good idea. Because he knew the dead silence of a Swiss ski resort in April, May and June. "Who wants to go on vacation in this mud?" asks Wyler. The former mountain railway director looks out the window: Outside everything is white, the temperature is just above zero degrees. "We see that and say: Shit! They say: wonderful!" It is thanks to Wyler's foresight that the Titlis is now a brand in India. He also quickly understood that "the somewhat special clientele" had to be offered what they needed: "Indians need Indian food. If they don't get that, then mom takes out the bunsen burner and a can of curry and cooks on it Room." To prevent this from happening, seven specially dedicated Indian chefs cook original Indian food in the Hotel Terrace and the associated mountain restaurant on the Titlis.
The cable car has now reached the top of Mount Titlis, 3,238 meters above sea level. Zubin's guests are all there. They happily looked out of the window, took photos and filmed, although only a white monotony passed by. Because of the bad weather of Panorama no trace. The Indians don't mind. Many older men have already put on a woolen balaclava for safety in the train, many older women wear sari, socks and sandals, with only a thin windbreaker. They measured minus ten degrees early in the morning on the Titlis.
Before Zubin and his travel guide colleagues leave for the mountain restaurant, he gives the group a serious look at the time and the meeting point. Then they are released onto the glacier for three hours. They don't get that much free time in either Paris or London. But after all, this is the highlight of your trip to Europe, the summit of the exotic: Switzerland, glaciers, snow. The elevator towards the glacier stops in front of a photo studio. A large crowd has formed in front of the entrance. Inside the "Nostalgic Photo Studio" two women help the Indians in dirndls and traditional jackets and put felt hats on them. The man has a choice of mountain rope, rifle or alphorn over his shoulder, while the woman holds a bouquet of artificial flowers. Then they are placed in front of a photo wallpaper with the Titlis, photographed and cashed. The smallest picture including passe-partout and frame costs 35 francs extra. The head of the studio can hardly keep up with the cashier, and at the same time he sells gloves. They are selling well.
Out on the glacier, Shyam Biyani walks through the fresh snow under Versace sunglasses. His wife Ruchira follows at a distance. She is holding a cell phone with Indian pop music rattling through its loudspeaker. She sings along with it. Shyam jokes that it is "music on drugs". The two children romp in the snow. Not just the kids. Grown men, even old women in sari, climb hills of snow to slide down their butts. Others pose beaming in front of photo cameras with snow in their cupped hands, as if it were gold dust. Shyam is more composed. He has already been to Europe several times, snow is not a new element for him and the trip, he says, is really only because of his children. Shyam is 33, the son and partner of a large clothing company in Mumbai. 5000 people work for him and his family, they have 70 shops and 1500 seamstresses. Swiss tourism professionals describe their Indian clientele as upper middle class, including many entrepreneurs, but also doctors and lawyers. The trip costs around 2000 euros. Travel is only in the clan, father, mother, children, grandparents, sometimes uncles and aunts. One of the main selling points, the mountain railway director had said, was the food: "You are going to Europe with me and I guarantee that you will not need the Bunsen burner."
In the mountain restaurant at 2,400 meters, the group sits at wooden tables under lampshades that used to be cow milking machines. The fog moves around in front of the window, from time to time they give a clear view of the rock walls and glacier ice. There is an Indian buffet. Dal, the sauce made from lentils and spicy curry that should never be missing, just like chicken tandoori, and rice. "Indians love food and they are very conservative about it," says Manisha Doshi. The 35-year-old doctor is out with her two children and her sister-in-law's family. The man, a stockbroker in Mumbai, didn't have time. Manisha explains why Indians are so fond of Switzerland: In Indian films, love or even bed scenes are taboo. Instead, the typical dance and singing scenes are shown in a precarious place. And they often play on Swiss alpine meadows, on mountain lakes or on the glacier. "With films," says Manisha, "you can direct people."
To guide his "completely disorganized group", tour guide Zubin needs a loud voice and a stern facial expression. It takes half an hour until all 35 are on the bus at the valley station. The bus driver now knows more: "I first cleaned the bus for an hour. They throw everything on the floor. I've never seen anything like that."
Fast forward to the cheese factory, where a blonde girl is stirring frozen milk behind a glass, on to the glass blowing factory, then to Lucerne, to buy chocolate and take a boat trip. But everything that is still to come doesn't seem to really impress anyone anymore, no longer triggers that childlike joy that could be seen on all faces up on the glacier. On the way back from Lucerne, the Indian singer, who was hired by the tour operator, performs tearful songs in Hindi. Everyone sing along.
Zubin says goodbye to his group with the words: "Tomorrow we have to catch a train to go to the Jungfrau, a Swiss train. To do this, we have to leave here at exactly eight o'clock Swiss time, listen - not Indian time! -. If not, then we'll miss it. And that's your problem, not mine. Have a good evening. "
Zubin spends it alone at the bar, resting his head on his hand. The elbow slowly slips away, the head moves lower and lower. He looks very, very tired now. "It is enough if we leave tomorrow at eight eight," he says quietly. "Because I always allow for half an hour of buffer time."
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