I was getting a bored feeling with life and decided to break out of the routine.A small trip to Matheran worked wonders from me. I consciously took a decision to have 2 days leave on 23rd and 24th Dec,which were weekdays. Most people have talked about their visits to Mahabaleshwar, Lonavala or Shirdi. But within my circle of friends or colleagues, I found very few people who have visited Matheran. I had planned this to be a sort of adventure. So inspite of suggestions from some wellmeaning friends, rejected the idea to go there by car.My son Jojo accompanied me to this trip.
By train,Matheran can be reached by a toytrain from Neral, a small railway station which takes about an hour or so from Thane by fast local trains towards Khopoli /Karjat. We reached Neral by about 9.15 a.m. and waited for the 10.20 Train to Matheran. The train was rescheduled to 10.35 a.m. I had booked two second class seats in advance over the internet. It proved a very pragmatic decision in retrospect as did the decision to take the toytrain journey which lasted about two hours . Its closest competitor, taxi rides would take only 25 minutes. But the sheer pleasure of the view of the hills and the valleys, waterfalls,hamlets beneath gave a different dimension to the journey. After getting five photographs, we found to
our great frustration that the camera had developed some complications. Its shutter was not opening. Cursing our luck, we reverted to the mobile phone camera.
On reaching Matheran the first thing we did was to have some food at a restaurant and thereafter, went in search of a hotel. After rejecting two - the first one was not very clean but cheap and the second one was a little too lavish and costlier- we settled for Hotel Riviera resort which suited our needs and budget. They charged us Rs 1800/= for two adults with three meals and a tea . As we had already taken our lunch they agreed to adjust the same for the next day.
The rooms were clean and spacious. I will come back to the subject of hotels in Matheran in a subsequent post. Immediately after keeping our Bag in the room, we started our hike through the forest trails . The main market of Matheran is less than 1 km in length and the hotels/resorts/bungalows dot the hills which are covered with considerable vegetation. The first important thing to keep in mind about Matheran is that it is a motor vehicle free Zone and the only means of transport are carts drawn by two persons or horses. These carts will remind you about Kolkata rickshaws of yesteryears but here two persons are engaged in drawing the cart, one pushes and the other pulls. Riding horses is the other alternative and brings alive your dreams of childhood to a full canter. But it needs some practice and courage to ride horses on hilly uneven forest trails, as I discovered later. The horse owners would pester you as you walk along with their offers of showing five, seven or twelve points. The rates are heavily jacked up and one has to bargain hard. On weekends and holidays, the bargaining power of the tourist is less due to higher demand. But if you visit the place on other
days, its the other way round.
Some of the readers must be wondering, what happened to the taxis which ply from Neral as stated by me earlier. Well friends, they are allowed only upto a point called Dasturi Naka after which you have the option of an uphill trek of about 30-60 minutes depending upon your age,sex,fitness and willpower. The other options are the hand pulled carts or horses as already described . There is a lot of hard bagaining to be done on them. So it makes sense to travel light and carry your belongings in rucksacks instead of sidebags or suitcases because the luggage factor makes you vulnerable and spoils your mood .
Matheran is all about viewpoints and hiking. But there is no need to stretch yourself and visit all the points. I found that enjoying the natural beauty and soaking in the atmosphere was more soothing . We trekked continuosly for about four hours at a normal but steady pace without straining ourselves and managed to cover about eight points before we reached the sunset point . Other than monkeys, squirells and a few interesting birds, we could sight no other animals of the forest. Locals said that there were lot of snakes to be found in the summer and the rainy season. Sunset was a lovely sight and the antics of the monkeys kept us amused. The hills get dark very quickly after sunset and we trudged back to the market along with the crowd , which gathered to watch the sunset, by a shortcut in the woods.
There was a juggler's performance at the hotel lawns which we all enjoyed very much. I felt pity for a child who performed with fire. What else people have to do to earn their living. After this there was a dance floor event with music and DJ. We were too tired to dance. Some of the hotel guests took part in this and then we had our dinner , buffet style in the open on the lawns. Hit the sack early and had a good nights sleep.
Woke up next day to the chirping of birds and the naughty monkeys creating a ruckus on the tin roofs of our cottage. Had a stroll on the lawns before having a bath. We checked out of our rooms at 9.00 a.m as scheduled before having breakfast. Played T.T after so many days under the shade of a tree . Lazed around for some time and then went out for another hike for about two hours. Coming back from the hike had our lunch at the hotel. We had kept our bag and jackets at the hotel reception counter. Collected them and started our return journey.
This time we hired a horse for each of us. Riding astride I felt like Indiana Jones and my childhood dreams came back to me in a flash. It took about 25 minutes to reach Dasturi naka, the outpost where we boarded a taxi for our trip back to Neral.