Davos: It’s India everywhere in this snow-covered Swiss resort town — once known for health tourism, always frequented by skiing enthusiasts and home to the annual weeklong pow-wow of global elite in sub-zero temperatures.
For now, it teems with huge billboards atop buildings and even on buses, promoting India and Indian companies, while the narrow roads made even narrower by heavy snowfall are full of lounges set up by the private and public sector from the country where Indian delicacies are flying off the counters.
Chai and pakodas are in high demand and so are vada pao and dosas. The choices to sit and munch over are plenty — there is the Indian government’s official India Lounge, while Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra governments too have set up their own lounges. Then, there are plenty of Indian companies with their own set-ups alongside those of the global ones.
The five-day WEF affair seems to be bigger this year and so does the snowfall, as the first day itself saw roads getting closed and serpentine traffic since morning.
Flush with nearly three times its usual population, the Swiss resort of Davos is teeming with black business suits for the WEF annual gathering, but it still cannot deter the skiing enthusiasts and those coming for medical tourism.
There are warnings that the snow-laden town in the Swiss Alps can see temperatures dipping to as low as minus 30 degrees this season. But that does not seem to have dampened the spirits of those having come to the annual talkathon of the rich and powerful from across the world — something that has become synonymous with this place for nearly five decades now.
The event has also brought thousands of army, police and other security personnel from across Switzerland and some neighbouring countries as well to secure the summit being attended by over 70 heads of states and governments.
But it has a much older and fascinating history of its own, being a place of eminence for medical tourism as also winter sports.
Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the famous detective character Sherlock Holmes, moved to this town along with his ailing wife that reportedly helped her live longer.
Once famous for being a summer health resort, Davos has gradually emerged as a major winter sport hub on the Alps, but its biggest claim to fame for the past four decades has been the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting every January, beginning 1971.
The Geneva-based WEF is hosting its 48th annual meeting here beginning Monday, where more than 3,000 leaders from across the world are expected to participate in a high-profile talk fest for five days.
To cover this global elite jamboree, there are nearly 2,000 journalists and support staff as well.
While such a high-profile event leads to all hotels and rental apartments being occupied, the diehard winter sport fans still throng this place as the WEF week also means relatively smaller crowds in ski areas and on mountain cableways.
The only drawback for tourists is that they cannot stay within the town, which has less than 10 medium-sized hotels and about 40 small ones, including in nearby areas like Klosters and Dorf.
Besides, the so-called WAGs [wives and girlfriends] of those attending the WEF meet are also around in large numbers on ski circuits and at various tourist destinations of the town that comprises two big parallel roads and numerous connecting alleys.
Davos’ history as a modern and popular holiday destination dates back to 150 years, when the first winter guests arrived here in 1865. Till then, it was just a summer mountain health resort with a strong reputation for treatment of tuberculosis patients.
One day in February 1865, Doctor Friedrich Unger and Hugo Richter from Germany arrived here and began a course of treatment on a bed made from a hay sled covered with boards.
The treatment proved successful and both men were able to return to work. Soon after, Unger returned to Davos and worked as a doctor here for over 20 years.
Richter married a Davos girl and took over the management of a guesthouse. Later, he also moved his publishing business to this small town and began printing two local newspapers.
Another feather in its cap is Davos being home to painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, who spent his last 20 years in this town, which is full of many of his finest paintings.
Besides a museum devoted to Kirchner’s work, his paintings can be seen everywhere in Davos.
Towards the end of his life, Kirchner suffered a major nervous breakdown and spent his last days in a sanatorium in Davos.
This is the same sanatorium that inspired Noble laureate Thomas Mann’s classic novel ‘The Magic Mountain’.
Davos’ annual affair with WEF began in 1971 when the Forum was known as European Management Forum. That year, WEF founder Klaus Schwab invited over 400 European business leaders for a meeting at the Davos Congress Centre under the patronage of the European Commission.
Subsequently, WEF was formed and leaders from across the world began congregating here at the end of January every year.
Over the years, the WEF annual meeting at Davos grew larger and has been host to many historic accords and meetings, including one draft agreement on Gaza and Jericho between the then Israel foreign minister Shimon Peres and Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman Yasser Arafat in 1994.
In 1988, Greece and Turkey also signed their Davos Declaration here, which saw the two countries avoiding a war, while North and South Koreas held their first ministerial level meetings in Davos in 1989 — a year that also saw German chancellor Helmut Kohl here discussing German reunification and then the knocking down of the Berlin Wall.
In the past 46 years, only once has WEF held its annual meeting outside Davos, when in 2002 it decided to shift the venue to New York to show solidarity with that city and the American public after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
India’s presence has also been increasing at the Davos meeting, during which hundreds of Indians can be seen strolling on its narrow roads, one of which has been hosting an ‘India Adda’ for many years.
For the last two years, it had been renamed Make In India lounge to showcase the flagship programme of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but regulars still prefer to call it by the old name of India Adda. This year, it is called simply India Lounge. PTI BJ IJT