We went to Mount Titlis, from Lucerne. Located at an altitude of 10,600 feet in the Uri Alps, Mount Titlis is one of the finest and most exciting mountain top destinations in Switzerland. It is also famous for the world’s first revolving cable car and the highest suspension bridge in Europe, famously known as the Titlis ‘Cliff-Walk’.
I had been to Mount Titlis many years back and was going this time with my family – my wife Nina and our 10 year old daughter, Minnie. When I was last there, the now famous suspension bridge had not been built.
From Lucerne, we took the Engelberg Express, operated by the Zentral Bahn and were in Engelberg in about 40 minutes. From Engelberg train station, a free shuttle service took us to the cable car station in less than five minutes.
The chain of breathtaking cable car trips from Engelberg to the summit of Mount (or Klien) Titlis was an experience in itself. This was done over an extremely steep incline in three stages and took about 45 minutes in total, which for a cable car trip, is substantial.
From Ebgleberg we went past Gerschnialp up to Trübsee (5,892 feet) in a small 6-seater cable car. We changed at Trübsee and got into a large cable car (there were at least 50 of us in it) up to Stand, at 7965 feet. At Stand, we got into the big revolving cable car (the Rotair) that took up to the summit of Mount Titlis.
Regrettably, these big cable cars were filled with large groups of loud and unruly Indian tourists, yelling about at the top of their voices. They were behaving as if they were visiting a mela (fair/carnival) in India.
Nevertheless, the cable care rides were as spectacular as they were diverse. In the first leg which was in the small cable car, we were swept over lush green landscape and we could hear the melodious tinkle of cowbells reaching us high above, from the meadows far below. And then we passed through dense forests before emerging into the vast expanse of barren rock, snow and ice. In the last section, we covered over 2,000 feet in the Roatair in barely 5 minutes.
And because we were slowly rotating on an axis in the Rotair while ascending at the same time, it did not give us a sense of direction on where we were heading. Hence it felt as if we were just suspended in air, lifting and drifting aimlessly amidst the mountains and clouds. The last part, which led us to the top station, swept above a massive glacier and we got a 360 degree view of the majestic surroundings. It was a visual spectacle of snow capped peaks, vast glaciers and jagged rock faces.
The top station is a structure built on five floors. Level One is where we arrived by cable car. From this level one can access the 500 feet long Ice tunnel, called the Glacier Grotto, dug deep into the body of the glacier, approximately 65 feet below the surface. It enables us to walk along a path inside the core of the glacier, exposing the inner world of the glacier. The temperature under the solid mass of ice is about minus 1 degree Celsius throughout the year, so it is freezing in there. The path is slippery (because you are walking on solid ice) and you need to tread very carefully. Also, you need be appropriately dressed – exactly as you would do if you were going for a stroll into a giant nebulous freezer.
Level Two to Four are full of restaurants and shops selling souvenirs, chocolates, watches and what have you. There is also an area for having picnics. You can’t take food or even water from outside into any of the restaurants. So this is a great place if you are carrying a food hamper.
At level five you can get out on to the glacier and walk up to the suspension bridge and the ‘Ice Flyer’.
At level Five, we got out on to the viewing deck that provided a panoramic view of the Alps – the massifs of the Bernese Oberland, Finstaarhorn, Wetterhorn, Schreckhorn and the famous peaks of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. To the south were the peaks of the Sustenhorn and Dammastock, with its vast glaciers.
And there on the deck, we found a big cut-out poster of a popular Bollywood movie – ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’, a large part of which was shot in Switzerland, as are many other Indian movies these days. That cut out looked curious, if not outright silly.
No doubt, many a beautiful Bollywood belle has danced her way in the valleys and mountains and romantically rolled on the pristine snows of the Alps of Switzerland, perused by her equally strapping Bollywood beau. But then, getting Switzerland into Bollywood was one thing and getting Bollywood into Switzerland was another altogether, I thought.
But soon I found that Indians were not the only ones excited about that curious, incongruous cut-out. I found a group of tourists – probably from Malaysia – very thrilled because they could recognize the actor who I understand is immensely popular in their country. I heard one of them exclaim “Shahrukh Khan!” (name of the actor in the cut out).
A group of Malaysians excited about an Indian actor on a mountain top in Switzerland – Bollywood had gone places, I realized; very much a part of India’s burgeoning soft power at the global stage, alongside Yoga, Ayurveda and the Curry. Also at many places, there were instructions written in Hindi. Clearly, the Swiss had taken the Indian tourist rather seriously.
We then made our way to the top of the glacier on the northern side and found people playing in the snow and having a great time. We walked over the glacier which had a fresh layer of snow and had an awesome snowball fight there.
We enjoyed panoramic views of the vast expanses of snow all around and then headed towards the ‘Cliff-Walk’ – the highest suspension bridge in Europe, at 10,000 feet. We walked over the snow to the bridge, battling the chill and the winds. By then, clouds had gathered and visibility was low.
Located off the south face of the mountain, the suspended walkway is attached to gleaming steel cables anchored into solid rock at two ends, 100 meters apart. This 330-feet long, 3-feet wide suspension bridge, the much touted Titlis ‘Cliff-Walk’ was opened in 2012 and had taken the Swiss five months to build, at a cost of GBP 1 million.
Spanning a dramatic abyss between the mountain and a spur, the bridge offers spectacular views of the Alps; on a clear day, you can see the three peaks – Mönch, Jungfrau and Eiger. We were not so lucky though, it was cloudy when we got there.
Being a suspension bridge, it was designed to be flexible – hence it swayed in the wind and wobbled as we walked across. It was scary for sure.
And while on the bridge, you might want to do what we did. Somewhere along the bridge, there is a little metallic box with a button. We looked ahead into an installed camera and on pressing the little button, it printed out a paper slip with a unique number. We then took the slip to the little cubicle at the end of the bridge, showed the number to the lady in the cubicle, who then showed us our photograph in her computer screen.
You bought the photograph only if you liked it. Needless to say, we loved ours and by the end of it, we were richer by yet another photograph in the Alps and poorer by CHF 19 (a smaller size photograph costs CHF 12). You also have the option of going into their website later and getting an electronic copy of the photograph.
The floor of the hanging bridge was made of a grid of steel and through it we could clearly see the 1,600 feet deep abyss plummeting right below our feet. Directly below us was the vast Titlis Glacier.
With my fear of heights, it sent shivers down my spine. Nina and Minnie however seemed pretty cool about it. The sides were two meters high, made of reinforced wire-mesh to prevent visitors from tumbling over. The Swiss engineers I am told have declared that the bridge simply can’t fall apart.
Apparently the bridge has been built to last for the next 1,000 years; looks like it will outlive humans, given the present state of the world. And it has been built to sustain 500 tonnes of snowfall. The suspension bridge is cleared of snow and ice when required and trust the Swiss to do that regularly and meticulously.
This marvel of mountain engineering – the highest suspension bridge in Europe is meant to help visitors “experience the height, vastness and majesty of the mountains”. I can vouch it did that in good measure. The views were, as someone aptly put it “simply dangerously gorgeous”.
By the time we went there, clouds had gathered and it felt like as if we were walking on the clouds, over thousand feet above a glacier. It was a surreal experience. And because of the clouds I could not take photographs of the mountains all around us. I have therefore included some amazing photographs from the net, which will give you a good idea of how spectacular and scary the place is.
After we did the ‘Cliff Walk’ over the suspension bridge, we proceed to take the ‘Titlis Ice Flyer Glacier Chair Lift’ – another attraction on Mount Titlis.
Those like me, who have vertigo, will certainly have to push their limits with the Ice Flyer. I had done so many years back during my first trip to Mount Titlis and I did it yet again, during this trip.
The Ice Flyer is nothing but a series of constantly moving long bench like seats, suspended from a moving cable. The bench is covered by glass on the back and top, but the front is completely open. And you are not secured by seat belts. All you have is a horizontal rod in front of you that holds you from falling off. Hopefully…
Now getting on to the ‘Ice flyer’ requires some skill and advance planning. You go to the ‘Ice Flyer’ station, time yourself and stand in a row side by side, at the pick-up line. The ‘Ice Flyer’ bench does not stop for you to get into. You stand gingerly in the designated place, the bench comes from behind and bumps into your butt, you plop into the bench and then before you realize it, you find yourself gently soaring – more like flying over the glacier. And I am not exaggerating one bit! The ‘Ice Flyer’ literally scoops you and takes you ‘flying’.
As you ‘fly’ over the glacier and between the mountains, being exposed to the raw elements, you can experience the weather conditions exactly as those are on this vast wilderness of snow, ice and rocks – be it freezing cold winds, snow fall or even a blizzard.
Again while Minnie and Nina were pretty cool about it, the height gave me the chills in my spine. With our feet hanging in mid air, amidst biting cold winds, we went through low clouds and swept over vast of expanses of the glacier with deep crevices and past jagged, rugged bare rock faces. It was a spectacularly barren landscape in white, deep brown and blues of different shades and hues.
Now it is one thing pottering over a glacier or walking in an ice tunnel deep within it and it is totally another thing, dangling across the glacier, mid air, a thousand feet above terra firma. That is exactly what the ‘Ice Flyer’ is.
I remembered reading somewhere about not being scared of a cable car falling down. If the source is to be believed, if the cable car fell, it would apparently feel like falling on a bed of soft pillows. One freezing cold bed of soft pillows for sure! This however did nothing to dispel the fear brewing in my belly. After all, you couldn’t will the cable car to fall on the snow and not the rocks, could you?
But then my fears were more than counter balanced by a sense of child like excitement. This was the second time, after a gap of many years that I was visiting Mount Titlis and taking the ‘Ice Flyer’ – and I would do it again in the future if the opportunity presented itself.
The ‘Ice Flyer’ led us to the other side of the mountain, to a ‘glacier park’, a place for totally amateurish, child like snow sports. We spent more than an hour there, having great fun snow tubing, sledding and tobogganing. Snow tubing is a lot of fun. You can sit in the tube facing forwards or backwards and you go down in tremendous speed, spinning in circles along an exhilaratingly bumpy ride, till you reach the lower end of the slope. You can of course break the speed by digging your heals into the snow, which would also bring you to a total halt, if you wanted.
The ‘glacier park’ is particularly exciting for kids and for adults like us who continue to harbor a child deep within us.
This part of the mountain tends to be less busy because you have to buy a ticket (CHF 12, if I remember right) for the ‘Ice Flyer’.
Mount Titlis is also a place for serious / professional skiers, particularly at the higher reaches. The elevation is ideal for skiing and in winter skiers can ski from around 10,000 feet down to 6,000 feet non-stop or from 8500 feet all the way down to Engelberg at 3500. The lower slopes around Trubsee are, I am told, good for beginners.
By the time we got back to the other side of the mountain, ready to return to Luzern, via Engelberg, it was well into the afternoon. We found the observation deck teaming with visitors.
Our daughter Minnie and I had the most expensive Indian vegetarian buffet, where we had to pay by the weight of the pile on our plate. Food was delicious though. Nina had pasta with meat sauce and she said it was delicious as well. We then had some amazing ice cream at Mövenpick.
On our way down, we found long queues at the cable car station. On descending in Engelberg, we found the Indian Food Truck next to the cable car station doing brisk business, doling out hot samosas, pao-bhaji, idlis and piping hot chai to a ravenous crowd, mainly Indians. The samosas smelt delicious, but since we were already full, we did not try any.
Instead of taking the shuttle bus to the Engelberg train station, we walked our way back. It was a beautiful 10-minute walk through a rural landscape.
The only thing that marred our Mount Titlis experience, I am ashamed to say as an Indian, was the marauding hoards of loud, unruly and rude Indians who carried their very own sense (rather the lack of it) of politeness and public cleanliness right up to the mountain top.
There was this group of Indians ahead of us that was determined to leave its mark behind on Mount Titlis. They did do so by littering the viewing platform with plastic packets, soft drink bottles and spills from the snacks they had carried from India.
Now let me not end my account of this trip to am amazing place, on a negative note.
Mount Titlis is probably the only place on earth where you can walk beneath a glacier along a tunnel cut into solid ice, you can walk on top of the same glacier, you can ‘fly’ past hundreds of feet above the glacier and then, if the day is cloudy, you can just walk into the clouds on the Cliff-Walk, 1,600 feet above the glacier.
Surely Mount Titlis packs in quite a punch.
- The temperature difference between Engelberg, Luzern or Zurich and Mount Titlis is dramatic. Even in the summer, it is freezing on the top of Mount Titlis. So warm cloths, preferably in layers, a cap/hood covering your ears, gloves and food mountain boots.
- The glare of the sun in the snow and ice is intense. So carry a pair of good sunglass and use a sunscreen (SPF 50). Just be aware that the sunscreen can sting the eyes, more so under the glare.
- If you are on a budget, carry a hamper. There is an enclosure where you can enjoy an indoor picnic.
- The Ice Flyer, in my view is not meant for children below 10 years. I think there is a possibility of slipping through the horizontal rod that acts as a barrier.
- Check out the weather before you go. If it is predicted to be cloudy throughout the day, you will be in for a big disappointment, having paid for a pretty expensive cable car ticket.
- Take care that your camera exposure and white balance is rightly set before you take photographs on the snow.
- I understand, you can also go to the Cliff-Walk and Ice Flyer from a 140 long meter underground tunnel that leads you first to the Südwandfenster viewing platform, and then from there to the mountain station of the “Ice-Flyer” glacier chair lift and the Cliff Walk.
- At the top of Mount Titlis, at a height of 10,000 feet, the air is thin and it can be quite an effort walking up and down. And you might also get a headache and feel a bit dizzy. So if you have to time, it is a good idea to reach the top, sit for some time and acclimatize yourself a bit to the high altitude.
- The place gets extremely crowded and queues for the cable cars pretty long as the day progresses. So if you are going in the peak summer season (popular with Indian visitors), it is a very good idea to go as early as possible and enjoy the place relatively less crowded.