On a road journey to Matheran, a tiny hill station (2625ft from sea level), located in Western Ghat, the spectacular descent of the narrow gauge railway line to the deep valley is among the high points of our recent visit. Hugh Mallet, the erstwhile collector of Thane district, deserves praise for the discovery of Matheran, the eight sq. km petite hill station way back in 1850 and the Malet Spring is still a landing point here. Later on, Lord Elphinstone, the then Bombay Governor, had made this place liveable and because of his large hearted efforts the road from Neral in the plain to Matheran Hill top and the railway line came into being.
We visited this place in a drip-drop rainy day (Let the rain sing you a lullaby) and our drive from Mumbai (around 105 km) was quite memorable.
Barring a few patches while approaching Karjat, the road was reasonably good. There were quite a few surprises we encountered on the way. The security men have stopped our car at Neral on the pretext that no parking was available at the hill top and we were forced to sit on a Maruti van (read taxi with a hefty charge of Rs 350/- one way) for climbing up the hill. Be that as it may, we saw a good number of cars were parked on the way but as we had a very little time left, we erased all these incidents from our mind and immersed into the beauty of the stunning hills enhanced by monsoon green which has always invited our imagination.
There were tiny waterfalls on the way muscled by the recent rain and it was indeed a sheer delight. We also saw one big water fall (a combo of a few skinny springs) where weekend merrymakers were enjoying their bath with their families. We have to shell out Rs 50/- per person for the entry fees at Dasturi Naka (a sheer chaos there). The vehicle was not allowed beyond this point as we entered an eco-sensitive zone.
After a lot of hesitation, we could catch up a toy train (which ferries visitors) later to reach the market, the nerve centre of this place. Although the train service down to the plain was suspended in monsoon, this 2.5 km stretch was covered by train even in monsoon. There was a guaranteed seat for all of us once we purchased one way ticket (Rs 45/- each) and we could have glimpses of the green mountain and deep valley.
The journey was spectacular and as the train rolled through the undulating terrain amidst tall trees and bushes, medicinal plants and herbs, the view of serrated mountain peaks at a distance was truly magical. But unfortunately, the journey was too short to fill up our heart.
The market place was not a pleasant one as people, horses and hand-pulled carts were jostling together in order to find an elbowing space to have a proper breath.
We were hungry but we could hardly see any good restaurant even though a few hotels were there and a good number of chikki-chana shops. For all our efforts, we could manage seats in a heavily crowded Matheran Family Restaurant. It took almost an hour to have dal-roti-sabzi reaching our table but the taste was really really good and the staffs were courteous. There was a huge rush presumably because of extended weekends. Everything was pricey and it was almost like a ‘lootmaar’ scenario.
We chose hand-pulled carts instead of horse (skinny horses did not inspire confidence) as walking on these muddy terrains was next to impossible to reach various view points within a short time. I must say that the journey in light rain on the muddy pool and rocky path, was less than satisfying as we have to duck lengthy legs of the horse-back riders quite a number of time.
Honestly we could see five points from close quarters while a few points were seen from a distance. Even though it was humid because of cloud cover, we did not feel tired and walked on the forest trails and the view at King George point, Edward point echo point and charlotte lakes were breath-taking. There were around thirty view points, we were told and you need to stay there for two-three days to cover all the points.
The thick forest cover (monkeys are in numbers) and the deep lush green valley was stunning. As they say; Trees are like sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
The misty peaks were spectacular and did invite imagination. We sat there for a while to soak in the misty hills, unspoiled landscapes and the silver lakes below too soothed our soul. The shaded walks were no doubt rewarding even under grey sky. So beautiful are the observations on nature as we were reminded, ‘Nature does not hurry yet everything is accomplished’. Lao Tzu. The hilly terrain here features deep valleys and silver lake and add to this, the summit offers lofty views of the land and lake.
While on our return journey, we had to walk on the railway line (2.5 km) as the train services were stopped by 3-25 pm which was quite sad given that so many tourists were there. The old world engine was kept on view for the tourist near Matheran station.
Not surprisingly weather has become cool at this height and we enjoyed our walk in the surrounding green. We had a tea break on way and reached Dasturi Naka almost exhausted. Descending through the hilly paths and scenic lakes was a delightful sight to behold and after reaching plains, we could feel missing something close to our heart.
How strange that Nature does not knock, and yet does not intrude! So said, Emily Dickinson, We have to come again in this cool, hilly terrain and to stay amidst greens and chirping birds and explore the beautiful landscape and walking trails of Matheran.