Located about 90 kilometers from Mumbai and 120 kilometers from Pune, the town of Matheran is situated on top of the Western Ghats, 2625 feet above sea level.
“How strange it is that nature does not knock, and yet does not intrude,” said Emily Dickinson in a letter to Mrs.J.S. Cooper in 1880.
Her words still hold value in today’s world, where nature does nothing but serve us diligently and we continue to ignore her importance. In the past few years, there has been a sudden rise in the nature rescue programs and eco-friendly is the new fashion all over town. Matheran is among those few places that have continuously been working alongside nature and trying its best not to harm it.
Although a popular weekend getaway for residents of Pune and Mumbai, not everybody who visits Matheran delves into its rich past. But everyone who visits Matheran cannot ignore the fact that it is an eco-sensitive zone. The key factor for the guarantee of one noticing it is the fact that Matheran does not allow any vehicles within its town limits!
All the transportation is taken care of by mules, horses and hand-pulled rickshaws. Either that or one can always put their feet to some good use and walk!
Reaching Matheran from the main base town of Neral is another fantastic journey. Although there are roads that connect motor vehicles to an allowed limit, the best route to opt for is the heritage railway, built by Hussain Adamjee Peerbhoy between 1901 and 1907. A six coach toy train runs on a narrow gauge rail line built over 100 years ago and chugs in an unhurried fashion from Neral Railway Station to Matheran intersecting with the motorist road a couple of times. The scenic train route is an absolute delight for the eyes as one can leisurely view the amalgamation of Maharashtra’s rugged mountaneous terrain and natural beauty in the form of mountain peaks, valleys, lakes and long winding roads that look like thin white strands of sowing threads strewn around.
Remember the toy train and the route in the movie Aradhana (1969) where Rajesh Khanna tries to woo Sharmila Tagore in the song ‘Mere sapno ki rani..,’? Well, that was shot in Darjeeling (another fabulous route), but you can expect the same sense of exhilaration when you take the toy train to Matheran.
If you want to make the mistake of not taking the train or if you happen to visit Matheran in the monsoons (the heritage rail does not run in the monsoon for safety reasons), you can always take a cab or drive to Dasturi Naka. It is about nine kilometers from Neral railway station and cabbies charge Rs. 60/- per person to take you there. Dasturi Naka is the final point to where motor vehicles are allowed. From there on one can either walk to Matheran town or hire mules or horses to take them there.
At the first sight, Matheran railway station looks exactly like the station on Malgudi Days – low platform, narrow gauge rail road tracks and a lone station master checking his clock.
As you step out of the station and into the main town, one cannot fail to notice the wide brick-cobbled roads for pedestrians and a whole central mud road dedicated exclusively for horses and mules. It is thought-provoking how a world exists where horses take the center stage and people walk on the side.
Most of the well-known places of interest are within walking distance from wherever you are staying but there are many other places of interest which are hidden by the lush jungle.
With over twenty-eight points, two lakes, one race course and four famous places of worship, Matheran is dynamite in a nutshell.
Among the places of interest, Charlotte Lake, Louisa Point and Echo Point are among the most famous ones.
An age old Pisarnath Temple lies silently by the lake. As you walk about around the lake, you will reach echo point and a decent hike later, you will reach Louisa point.
What you see from echo point and Louisa point will certainly blow your mind away. With a bird’s eye view of the valley, the rivulets, the lake, the dipping clouds, fogging air and the migrating birds are just the beginning of what you will see and experience.
Although for residents of Mumbai and Pune, Matheran is just a weekend experience, the truth is that owing to many a nature trail leading to far flung areas, it will take a good two to three days to explore this hill station thoroughly.
A hiker’s delight and a nature lover’s eye candy, Matheran has many colours of its own. One needs to patiently stay and absorb the nature to know our roots. Talking about staying, Matheran has many a hotel and lodge where one can stay. There will never be a time when Matheran has no rooms available for a visitor.
Budget or luxury, one can find all types of hotels in this magical town. Matheran’s most prized and well kept secret is ‘The Verandah In The Forest’. Originally built and used as a forest bungalow for the British administrators who developed a fondness towards the wilderness, it is now a high end luxury resort owned by the same organization that is responsible for converting Neemrana Palace, Piramal Haveli, Pataudi Palace and many more heritage buildings into hotel and yet maintaining the original character of the place. Although high end, the entrance to The Verandah… has deliberately not been advertised about. A single look at the place will have us wondering about the kind of love for nature it must take to create such a dramatic place in a sprawling wilderness of the Sahyadri Ranges.
Matheran lies a little away from the Mumbai-Pune road. It is about 100 kilometers from Mumbai and 120 kilometers from Pune. The nearest railhead is at Neral from where one can either take the heritage train or hire a taxi to Dasturi Naka, the destination point of the motorized road to Matheran. The taxi association charges Rs 60/- per person from Neral Railway Station to Dasturi Naka. If you want to hire the whole taxi, they charge Rs.300/- per trip.
Once at Dasturi Naka, you will have to pay Rs.25/- per person as a maintenance charge as Matheran is an eco-sensitive region.
From there, one can either walk to the main square of the town or hire a horse or mule. Renting a horse or a mule will cost you Rs. 150/- to Rs.200/- depending on your bargaining skills.
I’d suggest choosing the half an hour walk to Bazaar Peth (main square) at least once during your visit if you happen to like walking on cold steel rail road tracks that are so foggy, you can feel it on your face!
A delight for your heart and mind, not just for faith but also to delve into the grandiose of its simplicity, Matheran is among the places you must visit at least once in your lifetime!