Distance: 105 km E of Mumbai
When to go: Pleasant throughout the year, but it’s magical during the monsoons Tourist Office l MTDC Mumbai
STD code: 02148
Rail: Nearest railhead is Neral
Road: Take the Mumbai-Pune Express-way at Kalamboli; after about 8 km, take the first exit on your left for Khopoli-Shedung. After that, continue past the Toll Plaza to reach the old Mumbai-Pune Highway (NH4). About 16 km down this highway, you arrive at Chauk-Karjat phata. Turn left here and after another 10-11 km, you arrive at a crossroad; the right turn goes to Karjat and the left to Matheran via Chinchavli and Neral. Park your car at Dasturi Naka, 2 km short of Matheran Dasturi
Straddling the vast hillscape of the Western Ghats, Matheran is a beloved hill station boasting unparalleled natural beauty. Its proximity to Mumbai and Pune, Maharashtra’s most important cities, coupled with its extraordinary climate lends it the distinction of being a year-round favourite with holidaymakers. Hordes of visitors flock here every day, some come by cars or two-wheelers, navigating the hairline bends of the corniche that leads to Matheran, others prefer to take the toy-train that specifically serves the hill station. It is quite a memorable experience to ride the train, taking in the scenery as the locomotive painstakingly chugs up the hillside. A third alternative is to brave a trek from the town of Neral up forested slopes to Matheran. Although for the adventurous, this is the best way to appreciate the beauteous, unmarred surrounds, and incomparable views of the valley below.
Though the credit for the discovery of paradisal Matheran in May 1850 goes to Hugo Poyentz Malet - erstwhile governor of Thane, it was Lord Elphinstone who saw the potential in this discovery and laid the foundations to develop Matheran as a hill station. Owing to its elevation of over 2,000 ft above sea level, Matheran, unlike Bombay, was rarely humid. It did not take long for it to become a summer retreat for British officials stationed in or around Bombay, who even constructed mansions for themselves here. Needless to say, Matheran’s charms have not waned with the passage of time.
Today, Matheran, which, loosely translated, means Forest on the mountaintop, is unique in so far as it is an eco-sensitive region by the decree of the Ministry of Environment and Forest. Motor vehicles are banned altogether within town limits, effectively making it a rare place completely free of any type of exhaust or noxious fumes. This is probably the reason for Matheran’s immense appeal among Mumbaikars. The air is always cool and crisp, and seems to possess rejuvenating powers. One could walk here for miles together without feeling fatigued. Indeed, the dense evergreen forest cover and the cool air creates a conducive atmosphere for walking. The many trails and routes, as well as the wild secluded scenes here are best explored during quiet, unhurried walks, when you are accompanied by nothing other than a soft inland murmur of trees. Long after you are back in the city, going about your daily business, the memory of these tranquil moments will afford you a welcome respite from the weariness of urban life.
Things to see and do
Matheran boasts 38 designated lookout points, a map of which can be procured from the MTDC office at Dasturi Naka. If you wish to travel and explore at your own pace, walking is the best option. It is impossible to get lost because there are always scores of people around and the trails are interconnected, but keep the map handy. If you choose horseback riding, be prepared for some serious haggling. You could opt for the complete tour (could last upto four hours), or consult with the vendor and construct a bespoke itinerary.
Panorama Point, almost 5 km north of the market, is a trek that can be refreshing (though long) in the rains and in winter, but gruelling in summer. From here you get a bird’s eye view of Neral town and, on a clear day, even as far as Mumbai in the west. Midway, if you time it right, you might catch the toy train as it chugs along the narrow mountain tracks. The shaded walk to Hart Point and Monkey Point is rewarding in itself. Comparatively undisturbed and densely forested, these areas are recommended for birdwatchers. Crowds gather at Porcupine Point for great views of the sun-set. Louisa Point, to the west of the market, offers an undisturbed view of the ruins of Prabal Fort and grass-topped hills. As the name suggests, there is indeed only one tree at the windy One Tree-Hill Point a truly scenic spot, especially just after the monsoons. From here, a footpath leads southwards to Shivaji’s Ladder. From Rambagh Point, Khandala and Karjat can be spotted, and Alexander Point affords you views of Chauk Valley. Another must on every visitor’s itinerary is Charlotte Lake, fringed by the forest and with Pisharnath Temple at one end.
Where to stay
April to June and October are the main tourist months in Matheran and the hotel rates rise rather steeply. The Byke Retreat (Tel: 02148-230365-66; Tariff: INR 6,000-7,000, with meals; www.thebyke.com), near the market, is spread over 7 acres around the first dwelling in Matheran, built in 1854 by Hugh Malet.
Adamo The Resort, formerly Richie Rich Resorts (Tel: 230007-08; Tariff: INR 4,850-24,000; www.hotelrichierichmatheran.com) has a 6-room bungalow, which can accommodate 12 adults and a duplex villa accommodating 4 adults. It is located on MG Road, and has spacious rooms and a swimming pool.
Hotel Regal (Tel: 230243/ 87; Tariff: INR 6,075-11,025 with meals; www.regalmatheran.com) is one of the best hotels here. A charming property located on One Tree Hill is Fleetwood House (Cell: 09702851885; Tariff: INR 2,750 per person, with meals; www.fleetwoodhouse.com). Built in 1871, this Colonial-style bungalow has stables, two temples, a yoga hut and a garden.
Royal Hotel (Tel: 230247; Tariff: INR 1,700-2,700; www.royalhotelmatheran.com) is located on Kasturba Road and its facilities include a restaurant, kids’ park, indoor and outdoor games and a swimming pool. Rangoli Retreat (Tel: 230272; Tariff: INR 4,800-6,000; www.rangoliretreat.com) is opposite the railway station.
The Verandah in the Forest (Tel: 230296; Tariff: INR 3,500-7,000; neemranahotels.com) is a heritage property of the Neemrana group near the lake.
Where to eat
Gujarat Bhavan is on the way to Charlotte Lake. Their Gujarati thali is highly recommended. Regal Hotel’s restaurant is another recommendation for Gujju food. For Parsi food, make for Brightlands Resorts’ restaurant. From the marketplace along the mosque, a narrow lane ascends to join another road. At the junction, on the right, is Shabbir’s, a small restaurant. Try the chicken and mutton biryani.