Summer has indeed started early for India this year and Hyderabad has been badly affected by it. The temperatures soared in March itself, forcing us to switch on the AC more often than not, which was quite unprecedented. April started in a worse note and we really needed a break. A long vacation in North India was out of the question as our daughter Rinki was waiting for her B School admission results. We therefore needed a quick getaway in southern or western India and Matheran was an appropriate choice.
Though I had never been to Matheran, Lipi and I had always wanted to visit it. The basic premise of an ecologically protected forest area where vehicles were not allowed had it’s own share of romanticism and excitement in equal measure. However, the planning proved to be a little difficult as one has to travel to Neral from Pune and then onward to Matheran. As an experienced traveler, I found out the best mode possible, in the absence of confirmed bookings in trains. We first booked a return journey from Karjat on the day when tickets were available in 2nd AC by Hyderabad express. The going part was easier as Shatabdi from Hyderabad to Pune is usually not full. The Westend hotel in Matheran seemed good for a 3 day package inclusive of food which we booked.
To cut a long story short on the travel – we went by Shatabdi express to Pune, spent the night in the retiring rooms there, took Sahaydri express early morning to reach Neral and then took a taxi to Dasturi Naka as the toy train ticket line was daunting. Once at Dasturi Naka, the choices were to ride a horse, go by a hand carted rickshaw or walking. We chose the latter option and it was quite rewarding , both for the views that we could watch in a leisurely manner as well as the interesting trek along the railway line. One surprising thing about Matheran is that one should really not call it a hill station.It is only at an elevation of 800 meters and the day time temperatures were in the mid thirties for all the days we were there. But then Matheran is unique in many ways as we found out to our delight, during our stay of 4 days there.
In simple terms Matheran is a small settlement with a main street having pretty much everything from the Railway station, markets, hotels, travel arrangements etc. Apart from this you have several treks which lead to the ubiquitous viewpoints here. From reliable sources you have about 38 of these points and you should definitely see the better known ones, which are probably a dozen in number. Your mode of transport can be horses that will take you quite close to the points, hand carted rickshaws with one person pulling and the other pushing or restraining it on a downhill slope or walking. I recommend you try all 3 when you are there but my favorite mode was walking.
Before that though, a word about the hotel where we stayed. Westend hotel is a very nice one with well appointed rooms, a small swimming pool, pretty good housekeeping and great food options by the pool side. The dining area also happens to overlook the surrounding forest area and the fenced off sylvan background adds to the general ambiance of the place. The day we arrived was a Sunday and there was a fair bit of crowd, I suppose mainly from Mumbai. For the other days though, we pretty much had the hotel to ourselves and it was a very peaceful feeling. The hotel was a tad expensive but it was money well spent.
Peace is something you will find in abundance when you are in Matheran. The absence of vehicles make a huge difference and you are suddenly transported to an era 100 years back when there were no motorized vehicles. As a reminder of that age, you will see an abundance of horses here. They come in all shapes and colors and are generally quite healthy – I suppose the vigorous exercise that they have regularly is the secret. The railway station is one of the major activity hubs here, there are trains to Neral taking about 2 hours and also a shorter ride to Aman Lodge which is close to Dasturi Naka. As we did not have the chance to take the train on our arrival, Lipi and I took a ride to Aman lodge and back on one of the days. It is a great feeling as the train chugs along fairly deep woods, the longer ride may be well worth it some other time.
Matheran is the ideal place to relax as even when you are seeing the points you are not rushed. The walking or riding a horse are done at a leisurely pace and the rickshaw, though a somewhat more hectic mode as compared to the other two, only travels for short distances before letting you get off and see things at your pace. Though the day time temperatures are high, the dense woods with the taller trees forming some sort of a canopy ensures that you are shielded from the effects of the direct rays of the sun as you walk. The chirping of the birds in the early morning or late afternoon is a constant reminder as to how different the place is compared to where we usually reside. The views of the hills and the valleys are downright spectacular and quite unique in our country. The hill sides are normally having rocks that have multiple colors, I have not witnessed so many shades of brown and black in my life before. Almost any point is worth seeing but some of the ones definitely not be missed are Sunset point, Alexander point, Louisa point, Monkey point, Charlotte lake and Celia point.
The best thing about Matheran though is you really do not need to do much. While the points are worth viewing, it is really how you can relax there that makes it unique. There are a whole lot of places where you can get a good drink and the flavors are simply mind boggling. Sipping one of those drinks and watching the views from a point, can make you forget that you have to get back to normal life soon. It is a place where you can be quite alone with your thoughts and combine it with long walks in the woods. Robert Frost had said, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep”, and he might well have been speaking of Matheran. I am very regular with my morning walk and have done it in many places in India and outside. However, Matheran is easily the best place in my book for a morning walk, or for that matter a walk at any point of time during the day.
As it typically happens in a great holiday, the return from it was quite abrupt. We were soon waiting for Hyderabad express in Karjat station, where it was very hot. Fortunately once we were in the train the AC worked well. We also reached Hyderabad early morning and learnt that there have been some rains of late, hopefully that will bring down the temperature by next week.
To sum up, Lipi and I had a great holiday in Matheran – it had everything from nature walks, good accommodation, unique transport modes, delectable food and the luxury of doing things at our own pace. As I said before, Matheran is really not a hill station, but it is definitely a place with a fair bit of magic. You will find it enchanting and want to come back for more in future. We definitely want to do so in the coming years.