Sunday, 3 November 2013

Matheran: An inexpensive weekend gateway from Mumbai

Randomness is my thing and it will continue to be!  A month back, very happily, I had booked my to and fro train tickets from Delhi to Mumbai. Because of huge rush around that time, my tickets were on waiting list. Thanks to some heavy assurances, I was sure that they will get confirmed. To my utter surprise, on the day of departure, standing at the New Delhi Railway Station with a heavy back-pack, I found out that the tickets were still on waiting. Disappointed and annoyed, I booked the latest flight tickets to Mumbai. Last moment flight booking was expensive, the journey was messy, Mumbai was raining; but it was all worth it, thanks to my unplanned over-night stay at Matheran.
Matheran is a small and not-so-popular hill-station near Mumbai.  The best time to visit Matheran, they say, is around September-October but my experience of visiting the place during monsoons makes me recommend rainy season for the sheer love of the picture-perfect scenery you’ll find here around that time. Also, the off-season gives you a benefit of inexpensive accommodation and hassle-free sightseeing.  

What to Expect from Matheran

As you enter Matheran, you’ll discover that it is one of those very few places where vehicles are not allowed. It’s a very cute toy train that takes you inside the region and once you’re in, you can choose to hop on horses or trek around by foot. Immediately after reaching Matheran, we booked our rooms. Since it was three of us, we took one room with three beds for Rs. 600. One can find all sorts of options ranging from hotels to cottages and rest houses. During off season, you can find a room for three people for as low as Rs.500 (excluding meals). For peak seasons a non-a/c  room on double occupancy could cost between INR 1500-2500. We booked our room with Diwadkar’s which is right opposite to the Matheran Railway Station (the place where the toy train drops you). They have an attached restaurant too. Right from bread omelette, upma, poha, to chole bhature and veg thali, everything is filling, delicious and reasonably priced. After having talked to few locals, we found out that the place serves delicious non-veg food too.  The hotel has a separate section for serving liquor.
After having placed our stuff in our rooms, we preferred walking and exploring the place on our own. You can actually do it on your own, without the need of a guide. Since it was raining, we purchased a cap and pulled on our windcheaters. Wearing slippers was a terrible idea on our part but we managed it somehow. With almost around 38 points to look-out for, Matheran is a photographer’s delight. The guides would tell you that it takes almost around 3 days to cover all the points but you can always decide upon the points you wish to explore if you’re on a one-day trip. The different points include the Panorama point that provides a 360 degree view of area and also gives you a clear glimpse of the Neral town. Do watch the Sunset and Sunrise here.  Echo point is another interesting point that resembles the Top Station in Munnar (a personal observation). The Louisa Point offers spectacular views of the Prabal Fort. Another picturesque location could be Charlotte Lake near the Echo point. Some other points are the One Tree Hill Point, Hart Point, Honeymoon hill point, Monkey Point, Porcupine Point, Rambagh Point, etc. We made it a point to see only a few points because the point was not to tire ourselves with points! We had just one day at our disposal and we wanted to make the most of it. We loved walking in rain but if you think rain could hamper your trek and sightseeing (which it didn’t in our case), you can easily avoid Matheran during monsoons. But if you’re a solo traveller or planning to come with a bunch of friends, better give it a try, you’d love it.
Matheran has a good enough market area too. You can buy anything ranging from shoes to handicrafts, bags, souvenirs, chikki (in various flavours), etc. The main market also features restaurants that offer authentic Gujrati and Matharastran thalis. Tea stalls and snacks counter can be found at short distances.

Getting There

Reaching Matheran from Mumbai is the easiest thing ever. Hop on a local from Mumbai Central to Neral Station (CST-Karjat route).  If coming from Pune, catch any Mumbai bound train and de-board at Karjat. From Karjat, take a CST bound local train and get off at Neral. From Neral you have two options, you can either take shared cabs (Rs. 70/person) or you can catch a toy train. The cabs will drop you at Dasturi chowk, the last point uptil the vehicles are allowed whereas the toy train drops you at Matheran Station. The distance from Dasturi Chowk to Matheran Station is not much so you can either walk down (15 minutes) or take a horse-ride. Toy train bookings are mostly done is advance but if seats are available, you can also get the tickets done 45 minutes prior to departure. Train timings (for both locals and Toy Train) can be confirmed online.

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