Matheran Magic

Matheran is our favorite nearby destination which we have been visiting regularly from July to February each year since 2007. It is a small mountain plateau of the Western Ghats range, 100km south east of Mumbai.


Matheran was developed as a hill station by the British after its so-called “discovery” circa 1850 by the then Collector Sir Hugh Poyntz Mallet. Needless to say, the local Adivasi tribals have been living here from time immemorial!

At an altitude of 700m AMSL, this hill station does not claim to be “Himalayan” by any stretch of the imagination; nonetheless with the total ban on motor vehicles since its notification as an eco sensitive zone in 2003, Matheran exudes its own unique charm.

The Bollywood superhit Jodha Akbar with Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai was shot in the backdrop of Matheran. The sets still remain at the ND Studios at the foothills.

We do mostly day trips on traffic free Sundays, when the journey from Mumbai is a mere hour and a half, enabling us to enjoy a decent hike through our favourite patch of forest and be back home by 5pm. Once in a while, we stay there for a few days and venture further afield. On one of these occasions, we met a family from Kolkata, also staying in our hotel. They had travelled all that distance, especially to visit Matheran. I wondered why when they had the high Himalayas so much closer to home. The Bengali lady said that may be so, but Matheran is something special!

Matheran’s well preserved forest cover hosts several species of Western Ghats endemic flora.

The ban on vehicles does not imply that Matheran is pollution free as is obvious from the B & L tourist trail – Bisleri & Lays. The locals do not lag behind, every trail leading to their villages is marked by G & G – Gluco and Gutkha. The horses contribute with abundant droppings, though it could be argued that this organic manure contributes to the ‘fertility’ of the forest. Horses also leave a haze of red mud particulate matter permanently suspended in the air during tourist season along the main bridle paths. Despite all this, Matheran is lovely.

A scenic mountain road winds from Neral upto Dasturi Naka, where visitors may park their cars. Share taxis and public mini buses also ply frequently from Neral and Karjat to Dasturi. From Dasturi, one may walk, engage a horse or a hand pulled rickshaw to go further. Porters both male and female, are available at Dasturi to help with luggage. Most hotels are located around the Matheran Station, which is a 3km uphill climb from Dasturi. Many visitors prefer the 2 hour scenic train ride between Neral and Matheran on the Matheran Light Railway’s Toy Train. Trekkers can hike up to Matheran through a series of cliff hugging pathways, or more easily along the winding ghat road. During the monsoons, this is delightful with a multitude of waterfalls and wildflowers to enjoy along the way.

Horses and hikers walking up the mountain road from Neral to Dasturi

As with most hill stations, sightseeing at Matheran revolves around various Points from where assorted views unfold of mountains, sunset, sunrise and everything in between. The mandatory lake, the Charlotte Lake, is another must on the visitors circuit. In the monsoons, an impressive waterfall develops from the overflow. Another smaller lake is Simpsons Lake or Ghoda Talao as it is locally known – because the ghodawallas wash their horses there!

The monsoons are magical, misty and refreshingly cool. Heavy downpours every afternoon are the norm. Umbrellas are pretty useless, it is better to buy the standard local raingear – a large plastic bag with cutouts for head and arms as a raincoat and a wide brimmed plastic hat. Both are very cheap and very effective!

By mid August, thousands of cute teeny little frogs suddenly emerge – on the pathways, in the forests, in the grasslands, in your hotel room, everywhere!

Monkeys abound at every nook and corner. Most will boldly seize every opportunity to deprive unsuspecting tourists of their eatables. You will not need an alarm clock in Matheran for you will surely be woken up by monkeys sliding down the sloping roof of your hotel room at the crack of dawn. Whenever we stay overnight, we look forward to this. They will then wait outside your door pretending to be cute, in the hope that you may offer them some breakfast. If you do not, they will help themselves anyway. We usually carry dual purpose bamboo sticks with us, to climb the uphill paths and to keep rascal monkeys at bay! Having said that, who can resist the beguiling charms of a darling baby monkey?

Langurs and Giant Squirrels are often seen in the forest. It is amazing how shy the forest monkeys are compared to their oversmart tourist area cousins. Giant Squirrels are arboreal, emitting their distinctive clickety clack sound. The Matheran variety – Ratufa indica Elphinstonii – has a creamy white tail, distinguishing it from the orange tailed Malabar squirrel. They are indeed very cute. On a rare occasion, a deer or two may also pass by. In all our trips, we have seen a barking deer there just once. Pretty hill birds are aplenty though easier heard than seen through the dense foliage. Butterflies are abundant. India’s second largest butterfly the impressive Blue Mormon, and the Red Helen are common sights.

Walks through the forest paths to the various points are most rewarding from end August onward when wildflowers of every hue paint the green landscape along with their attendant butterflies, bees and beetles.

From mid October, the grasses slowly change from green to gold to a glorious russet red. In the year 2008, the purple karvy flowers [Strobilanthus callosus] came into their once in 7 years mass bloom, an amazing sight which we were privileged to enjoy on repeated visits. As there are several different stretches of Karvy shrubs all over Matheran, one is sure to see at least some of these flowers in bloom every year in the month of September.

Walking is the best way to enjoy Matheran. A particularly enjoyable walk in the monsoons when the train does not run, is along the winding railway track. The views from the track at the cliff hugging loop below Panorama Point, are spectacular.

Those less inclined to walk, can go on horseback on “Point to Point Tours” which the local Ghodawallas offer at negotiable rates. Some of the points are Sunset Point, Echo Point, Monkey Point, Big Chowk Point, One Tree Hill, Luisa Point, Garbut Point, Panorama Point and so forth.

Curiously, there is not a single female horse in Matheran. For some obscure reasons, the Matheran Ghodawalla’s Association allow only male horses to ply. By and large the horses here are pathetic, hapless creatures. The ban on motor vehicles forces pack animals to trudge the uphill rubble strewn path from Dasturi to the Matheran market, several times a day, heavily overloaded with goods. One cannot help but feel very sorry for these abused beasts. There ought to be at least one daily freight service by rail.

March sees the locally abundant Anjani trees [Memecylon umbellatum] burst into bloom with clusters of purple flower growing in cauliflory habit from the branches itself. Truly, the Pride of Matheran.

No one should leave Matheran without buying the local Chikki sweets available in several varieties, the most popular being the old fashioned crushed groundnut. Traditionally, chikki was made with jaggery and nuts, nowadays due to the preference for everything crispy, glucose replaces the jaggery. Forest Honey collected by the local Adivasi tribals, is also a good buy. Matheran is also known for its hand crafted leather footwear, available in the shops in the main market. All types of popular cuisines are on offer in and around the market area. Diwadkars opposite the railway station, offers a scrumptious Maharashtrian thali in both veg and non veg.

In holiday season, the market area and the main path leading there from Dasturi, get very crowded. However there are plenty of places away from the main Points where you can enjoy Matheran all to yourself. Matheran is very safe even for the single traveler. The local adivasis are mostly all engaged in the tourism industry and are a helpful and friendly lot.

Travel:

By road from Mumbai via Expressway to Shedung, then NH4 to Chowk Phata, or all the way on NH4 to Chowk Phata, then left turn passing ND Studio of Jodha Akbar fame, to Neral from where a climbing ghat road goes upto Dasturi.

By local train from Mumbai to Neral on the Karjat line. Mountain train from Neral to Matheran station.

The toy train does not ply in the monsoons due to high incidence of landslides.

Share Taxi, private taxi or ST bus available from Neral or Karjat to Dasturi.

Hotels available at all budgets, with substantial discounts for week days and off season.

Weather: Pleasant to cool year round. Blankets required at night though Matheran is not cold per se. Exceedingly damp during the monsoons. Afternoons can be uncomfortably warm in open clearings in summer.

Tips: Thick soled footwear is a must to walk comfortably on rubbly bridle paths. As with the rest of Maharashtra excepting Mumbai, Matheran is also prone to prolongued load shedding. A torch or rechargeable lantern comes in handy.

Sunrise over Irshalgad enroute to Matheran

Matheran Toy Train coming through the forest

Peb Fort and view towards Kalyan

21 Comments

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Wow! what a journey to Matheran.

    We have planned to visit Matheran twice, but somehow the plans did not materialise even though we still had the booking there. Lets see when it would be possible.

    This time when I planned for Matheran, I was surprised to note that there was no train till matheran, but now after reading your post I know that probably it was so because of Monsoon.

    Beautiful pictures and beautiful trip. You have increased the desire to visit.

  • Mahesh Semwal says:

    Dear Gita,

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful post with us. All the pictures are beautiful , especially Garpoint & the Railway line on the green mountain.

    Matheran is a nice place to enjoy a weekend for Mumbaikar. After going through so many post of Hill stations , I noticed one thing that most of the beautiful hill stations are discovered or developed by Britishers including Valley of flowers Uttranchal.

    Before going through this post I was knowing that Darjeeling & Shimla are the only place which could be visited by Toy train. To enjoy the beauty of a Hill station, Toy train is a good option.

    Keep Traveling , keep sharing !!!

    • Roopesh says:

      Hi Mahesh,

      FYI – There is a another mountain toy train near Delhi. It runs from Pathankot till Joginder Nagar in Himachal and known as “Kangra Valley” train. It is not very well known and overshadowed by other mountain railways. I have never traveled on it though.

  • Gita AM says:

    Thanks Mahesh and Manish

    Mahesh, you can also experience the mountain train in the Nilgiris. You are right about the British having developed most of our existing hill stations, they had a knack for discovering the best places and creating the infrastructure so that these became accessible to all. Much of that infrastructure still remains. Regrettably our Indian authorities have not done half as much as they could have to at least maintain the ecology if nothing else!

    Manish, you must make it to Matheran, preferably while the monsoon verdure is still there. The train usually resumes by Dassehra unless the tracks are badly damaged in the rains, but most definitely it is running by Diwali.

  • Nisha says:

    I have gone there once and I think I’ll go there at most one more time. I found Mahabaleshwar more attractive.

    Toy train is a good experience.
    Are all photos clicked by you ? They are awesome.

  • Arun says:

    Beautiful pictures. Especially loved the sunset shot and some of the landscapes.

  • awesome pictures……. which software you used to make frames of these pictures ?????????

  • sandy says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed photos of your visit. What a beautiful place to hike. I just found this website, as I was searching for travel blogs. I enjoy hiking in our local mountains in Southern California and haven’t seen anything as beautiful as this.

    Thanks for taking us along.

  • Gita AM says:

    Thanks Nisha, Arun, Kostubh & Sandy

    I think Nisha and Arun are also on indiamike? You will know me there as snonymous.

    Nisha, yes the photos are by me. I love Mahabaleshwar too, but Matheran is so close to Mumbai! In all our trips to Matheran there has always been something new to discover. Actually I have never taken the train, we always go by car its much faster. But Ive taken many photos of the train!

    Kostubh its Photoscape, a simple and user friendly free software http://photoscape.org/ps/main/index.php

    Yes, Sandy it is lovely to just ramble through the many forest paths or hike up or downhill if you are more adventurous.

  • ssk agra says:

    very good photographs and writing also

  • ashok sharma says:

    amazing photographs !!!
    inviting for a visit !!!!!!!

  • Gita AM says:

    Thanks SSK Agra and Ashok

  • Roopesh says:

    Hi Gita,

    Great post on Matheran. The pictures are very good. I have visited it once from Pune in December. We could not get train while going there but got it while coming back. I liked walking around in various trails without the cacophony of vehicles. We stayed in Richie Rich hotel which came out to be quite pleasant. They entertained guests with great food and some program in the evening.

    • Nisha says:

      Roopesh,

      The hotels there are by far ok. Being peak season no hotel room was available and we had to stay in Bike hotel. It was quite expensive … more than 5K per night around 8 years back but worth the money.

  • Gita AM says:

    Thanks Roopesh. How long does it take to get there from Pune – about the same time as to Mahabaleshwar? Ive seen Richie Rich its opposite the station isnt it. Most of the hotels there serve good food, or I should say that all food out of Mumbai tastes very good!

    • Roopesh says:

      We did not go there directly. We first went to Ambernath to visit some relatives. Then took a Karjat local to Neral. The train was all booked so we hired a van Rs. 50/- per person to Dasturi Naka. From there to hotel with a porter. Richie Rich is close to station. I am a foodie and really liked the vegetarian food spread they had for all three meals. Charges were Rs. 2500/- per night for a double. The room was comfortable and classy, atleast for that budget.

  • Sanghamitra says:

    wonderful writing and amazing photograps!
    I’ve been there twice 2004 and 2005…monsoon in matheran was simply great..thanks for sharing

    • Gita AM says:

      Thanks Sanghamitra. I knew someone in my office by that name a long time ago, beautiful and unusual name but I think its not that uncommon amongst Bengalis?

      Monsoon and post monsoon is the best season there.

  • SHASHIKANT says:

    hi
    its really awesome to navigate through your website. pics are reaaly wonderful. I m wishing to visit it on friday. Is it possible to see all points overthere in one day. we r thinking to catch the first toy train at 7: 30 AM in morning.
    DO REPLY. on mail id.
    and kindly please suggest the way to follow up once we reached MATHERAN.
    thanks n keep up the good work.

  • Hi Geeta,

    Your excellent account and super-excellent pics of Matheran took me back to 1970 when I, as a student of 9th std., had visited this place with my brother and uncle. Obviously, we had gone there by train and what a journey it was ! :D While the train was ‘running’, we found people coming out of their coach, and getting into it again while it took a uphill U-turn quite painstakingly! The people could get back into the train almost effortlessly.

    I certainly long to go there again and again but unluckily there are so many relatives in Mumbai that we don’t go past their homes to Matheran! All of our time is spent with them only. But this time, I have made a promise to myself to include Matheran in my trip. Thanks.

    Sushant Singhal

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