I had been to different hill stations within and outside India, but when I visited Matheran in April 2011, it really stood out to be a unique one. There is a toytrain along with a serene lake, ample view points with breathtaking sceneries and above all an unpolluted pristine air the combination of which gives the place its uniqueness.
We (me and my wife) were desperately looking for a place close to nature for the Good Friday weekend. After a bit of research over internet and hearing positive feedbacks about the place from various friends and colleagues, we settled on Matheran.
On a Friday morning we started from Pune station. We reserved our seats in Sahyadri Express. It left Pune Station on time. We passed by Lonavala, Khandala and caught a quick glimpse of these fabulous hill stations. We passed by Karjat and then got down at Neral. Neral is a very small station and does not have much to write about. Despite being a small station, it has an importance - the toy trains for Matheran leaves from here!!
Unbelievably we reached right on time at Neral. We had an hour to kill - we did book the toy train tickets through IRCTC website in advance. It turned out to be both bad and good decision. The station was so crowded with the passengers for this train and there were no seats available. Hence it was good decision to book in advance. I'll explain later why it was bad.
We roamed around the station a bit and found out that just outside the station you can get shared taxis which takes you to the top - well not inside Matheran, it takes you to a certain point called Dasturi Naka. After this point no cars are allowed, you have to take man-pulled rickshaws or horses to get into the Matheran town (only this toy train is the single automobile allowed inside the town, hence it is so popular on the weeknds). You can also walk through the lovely woods, it would merely take you half an hour to reach the town from Dasturi Naka. People from Pune or Mumbai can directly drive to Dasturi Naka, park their car overnight. It is very safe to park there (I heard there is a parking charge but not sure about it). From Neral to Dasturi it will take you 30-45 mins at the most but the toy train covers this journey in 2 hours (official time).
Our toy train reached the station but the engine was missing. We heard the engine broke down and there was no replacement!! Shocked we were. But since we booked the ticket we waited. Our toy train was scheduled to leave at 11.30 am but finally one engine came at 12.45 pm. Pathetic. The following picture gives you a view of the toy train, don't mind me standing in front of it.
There is a first class and a general class in the train. There are not much differences between the qualities, but the prices are really standing at two extremes - 240/ and 40/ respectively!!! The first class only has some window curtains and colored seats - that's it.
The train started at 1 pm (finally, thank God). We started to climb up the hills. The hills were very very dry, but we could imagine that they get covered by a green carpet during the monsoons, but in monsoon the toy train does not run. The following couple of snaps would give you an idea of the road.
|The hills get covered with green during monsoon|
Immediately we knew we were in trouble for every after 15 minutes the train used to stop. We came to know that the replacement engine did not even have any coolant, so it had to stop regularly to cool itself down.
The heat was simmering and we were getting cooked inside the compartments. We heard that they applied to UNESCO to get a heritage status, but I seriously doubt whether it would be possible seeing their management. We remebered the toy train ride from Kalka to Simla which is a heritage ride and worth every penny - that ride deserves to be a heritage. We also heard that the engine break downs are very frequent here.
|Yes - this is the name of the station 'Water Pipe'|
There are 3 scheduled stops in between - the first station's name I can not remember, Water Pipe and Aman Lodge. We reached at Water Pipe around 2.45. 30 mins passed but the train did not leave. Everyone was getting impatient. Anyway the train started and soon broke down completely. It was a single track from WaterPipe to Matheran so no train could go at any direction. Fine!!! We could see the next train at some distance behind us. We were just thinking about the passengers of the next train for what they were about to face.
We were completely fed up with the train and took a bold decision to walk upto the main road. We got down and reached the main road where fortunately we got a shared cab and reached Dasturi Naka within minutes. Then we started walking. Though we were completely exhausted, the serenity and the scenery made us forget our painful experience. The pictures below would show the path from Dasturi Naka to inside the city through the woods.
We reached our hotel 'Rangoli Retreat', completely exhausted. The hotel is just beside the station and inside the main market area and yet it seemed to be far from the din and bustle. This is the hotel:
The hotel staffs were too friendly and welcoming, they kept our lunches packed and we were served in our rooms with a sumptuous meal and we just threw ourselves upon to the feast. Nothing was left on the plates. We got freshened up quickly and thanked ourselves that we booked this hotel. It was really a great experience staying there.
We set out to explore the town quickly as we have gained a lot of energy after that meal. We visited the station and found out that the train (which we left) was entering the station and people started clapping. The funny thing was that there were still a few passengeres inside. Kudos to their patience and ability to tolerate the heat and the pathetic experience. Anyway, we explored a couple of points on foot - Khandala Point, Sunset Point (though the sun was already set), the station, the markets etc.
Now we became really exhausted so we came back to our hotel and had another round of delicacies. The food was really awesome in this hotel, but they serve only veg. The hotel itself looks fabulous in the night. I think the pic below does not do full justice to it, but should be enough to make us decide to go back to this place again.
Next morning we were all geared up to explore the town a bit more. We had a too good breakfast and left the hotel. We decided to take a horse ride to visit some points like - Charlotte Lake, King George Point, Panorama Point, Lords Point, Echo Point etc. Echo point is very famous and it really echoes here. There are many juice corners around here to quench the thirst of the travellers under the sun. We had beautiful Kokam Sarbat here. Some of the snaps below are of these points:
|Charlotte Lake - beautiful in all seasons|
|Echo Point - it really echoes|
More or less all the points are similar offering you great glimpses of valleys. I was told by our horse-driver that in monsoon whole of the hills are covered by lush green with lots of waterfalls around. I really am intending to go back to Matheran once again during the rains.
We left the horses now but we were full of enthusiasm. Now we started to explore some more points walking. Some of them are - Alexander Point, Rambaug Point, Hart Point, Monkey Point etc.
The sun was getting tougher to withstand by every minute so by 1 PM we were back in the hotel room. Basically in summer the trees provide a lot of shades so as long as you are under the trees you would not even feel the heat but as soon as you go under the sun, you would regret.
Anyway, after having the lunch in the hotel and a small nap we again set out for a walk, now inside the market. My role was only to be the walking ATM :)
We came back to hotel after the shopping around 9.30 pm, had our food and sat at the hotel garden for some time. After it is 11 pm we went to our rooms.
Next morning we got up early and went to see the sunrise point.
It was time to bid farewell to Matheran with a heavy heart but we promised ourselves to return again.
Red soil, fresh and cool air and the nature - we did feel that we were also a part of it, so was the effect on us. We walked upto Dasturi Naka (picture below) and took a cab from there and reached Neral. From Neral we took a train back to Pune.
Some Important Information
How to go:
1) Take a train from Pune/Mumbai and get down to Neral. From Neral there are shared cabs to take you to Dasturi Naka. Alternatively you have time, you can take the toy train as well.
2) You can drive to Dasturi Naka from Pune/Mumbai. There are many cabs from Dasturi Naka which can take you to Pune/Mumbai/Neral.
Here are the directional map from Pune Station:
You have to go towards Karjat after crossing Lonavala. From Karjat go towards Neral, then from Neral a road go towards the top. There is no landmark as such, the best idea is to ask someone for the direction once you reach Neral.
Where to Stay:
There are lots and lots of hotels around. But if you are going on a weekend, please book in advance. On weekdays you can get rooms in any hotel.
Where to Eat:
Lots of restaurants are there with different cuisines. Also many of the hotels provide accommodation and meals as a complete package.
What to see:
Charlotte Lake, Echo Point, Panorama Point, Sunset Point, Sunrise Point and many more.