matheran is very close to where i spent most of my growing years, but was never tempted. even been dissuaded by friends.
i went there for the first time 5 years ago, and then willingly went again last year! and i wish to make it a hat trick with one more visit in the coming months!
here are my TEN reasons why you MUST MUST MUST visit matheran!
(in no particular order!)
it is an eco-reserve! one of the few pedestrian hill stations in asia.
it has a no vehicles policy. even bicycles are not allowed!! only recently did they relax that to allow ambulances!
just imagine it. no vehicles. no pollution, no honks… all you hear is the clippety-cloc-cloc of horses hooves on the red mud and the loud rumbles of tourists! yes, this is the one place in india where the pedestrian is king, actually, maybe not… here the horse is king! and you get out of their way faster than you would on a busy street with honking autos!!!
if you drove from mumbai, as you lock your car (once parked under a nice tree) at dasturi park, you leave the world behind. lock away your life in the city, and walk away! the best psychiatrist i say!
then there is a toy train. you might say, toy train… whatever!
well, these are things i get high on… you wind your way slowly…creeping, halting, ‘clamping’ up the hill. it forces you to have time with yourself. and so you do… you think, dream, read a book, sing a song in your head…
speed seems over-rated. you chug along, stop at quaint looking stations, pass through villages, smile at porters carrying their back-loads up the hill, you buy cut-chilli-powder sprinkled cucumber pieces, haggle over the price for salted groundnuts, and hope you are in season for the jamuns, then tummy-happy you peep into valleys, duck when trees come close to your window, sit at the door with feet dangling out, sigh over the clouds that you have caught up with… and your journey to a 19th century hill station has begun…
also, you have lots of time to compose and shoot photographs… the train never moves fast to create any blurs, some bends make for terrific shots (if you like those bending / curved coach after coach pictures of an indian train)
there are no ‘pavements’, no ‘roads’, no ‘tar’, nothing… so you walk on the mud and stones… primitive? it’s an experience. you look down and stumble along, you step gently and quietly, always trying not to get your clothes muddy.
at a hill station once populated by rich parsis, it means you stay at an old parsi (renovated) home… quaint and old-world charms oozing out of each crack…
here, everyone plans in advance. if you want a specific vegetable for dinner, they might need to source it from ‘down’!
you walk, and walk and walk. and you talk. and you make your discoveries.
i saw pillars that told tales of old houses, peeped into gates, walked past pathetic mansions, begged to be allowed to enter restored homes, saw hospitals, wondered about surnames – wondered how their lives were, what made them build a home here…
NO plastic is allowed! when i bought some dried flowers, it was given to me wrapped in paper. i was brimming :)
if you happen to have a plastic cover (which you could have carried your shoes in, as i did) then please hide it in your bag. the monkeys chase you and grab plastic bags. they associate the sound of plastic with food… how sad is that!!
beyond walking, there are other things you can do, so no worries about boredom!
there are many species of snakes in the hills… under the bushes. you can uncover, discover, and get bitten. not my cup of tea, might be yours!
you can go valley-zipping. it’s not a deep valley. it’s not that scary. and it’s cheap. if i can do it, so can you! when you are in the middle of the valley, hanging on a rope and alone. it’s quiet, serene and beautiful…
everything comes from ‘down’! the diesel to run generators for the hotels during load shedding, the vegetables, all other groceries… and as you go up – by train, horse or walking, it is amazing to see all that is being carried up. including building material!
and the best part, it’s a hop, skip and jump from where you stay in mumbai!
matheran means ‘forest at the top’ and it lies in the jambol forest around 800 metres above sea level. it was discovered and developed by the british colonials in the 19th century, like most hill stations, to escape the summer. and you should too!