I’m back after a short break and a wonderful trip to Matheran. The first time I heard about this place is when I was in the 3rd or the 4th grade – through a lesson in Marathi निसर्गरम्य माथेरान. As the name board below clearly indicates, the town is 803 m (2635 ft) above sea level. For the uninitiated, this information is displayed on all station name boards (I’m sure you’ve never noticed). MSL = Mean Sea Level.
Being a Nagpurkar, I could only dream of visiting the place. Little did I know that one fine day, I’ll move to Mumbai, get married, start a family and eventually plan a trip to the now local tourist attraction Matheran. Let’s just say one thing led to another and here I am describing the trip. It started with the Missus suggesting we make the trip. I looked up the internet and asked a few friends too – for travel info from Mira Road to Matheran. What I understood from my research is that the best way to reach Neral (from Mira Road) is to take a bus via Ghodbunder Road to Thane Station (25 km or 1 hour) and then hop on to a Karjat bound train from Thane (60 km or 1 hour) and alight at Neral.
The above graph (Source: Wikipedia) shows that December and January are the best months to visit. Now, a few words about how to get there. One needs to reach Neral, a quaint town in Raigad district. For those familiar with the Mumbai suburban map – Neral is a station on the Thane-Kalyan/Khopoli/Kasara line. One can take any Karjat bound train on this line and reach Neral in about an hour. This train will drop you on Platform 1 from where you need to reach platform 2 which is attached to the Toy Train station.
The ticketing system is completely offline/manual. The ticketing experience reminded me of the ‘80s when you got ‘card’ tickets. Please be warned – the ticket counter opens just 45 minutes before the departure time. So, if you train departs at 8 am, the booking starts only at 7:15 am. In the summertime, things can get a bit difficult with kids having their summer vacation and their parents wanting to take them to Matheran.
The ride is a beautiful six-coach train hauled by the legendary NDM1 diesel loco powered by a Cummins diesel powerhouse. The 6-coach Neral Matheran toy train accommodates only 75 in total. For those who need a marginally better travel experience, go for the 1st class or the Deluxe coach. Others can still avail the 2nd class ticket. The journey takes about 3 hours and offers some breathtaking scenery for you to feast your eyes upon. While the distance between Neral and Matheran is just about 20 km – the journey takes almost 3 hours since the rail gauge is maintained at 2 ft. Now, add meandering rails running through a treacherously precipitous hillside and you get a train that can do a just 8-12 kmph. This should give you the reason for the protracted journey.
After a while of travel, you reach the first stop – Jumma Patti (I’ve no clue why it’s called that). The train halts here for 5 minutes. This is where you can have a cup of tea, maybe grab a snack or just relieve your UT. The next stop is called Water Pipe – a place which supplies water to the neighbouring hamlets. The third stop ‘Aman Lodge’ is the last point till which you can drive your automobiles. The final destination for all types of vehicles is ‘Dasturi Point’. After 10 minutes of leaving Aman Lodge, the train finally rolls into the last stop – Matheran.
Once you disembark, you need to buy a capitation ticket @ Rs 50 per adult (no clue why). This is the tax/fee you pay to set foot in Matheran town limits. Once in, you have several options. You can either:
- Ride a horse
- Be carried in a hand-pulled rickshaw
Be sure to feed yourself well since you’ll need the energy to roam around, regardless of your mode of transport. I am not going to detail the points one can see here – it’s all over the internet. I can definitely say that my wife and I enjoyed every moment in Matheran.
Once we alighted the train and ‘entered’ the city limits – we turned down every ‘horsing’ offer made by the local horsemen. We had planned to rough it out – on foot. And so we did. We wandered off to the northern side and saw just 2 points (what an effing waste) – Monkey point and Heart Point. Although what matters is not the number of points – it’s the number of times you got to inhale the unpolluted air of this quaint yet majestic hill station. Every breath was refreshing. Despite the relative humidity and the beads of sweat rolling down our foreheads and backs – we still enjoyed every moment we spent there.
Our first stop (after grabbing a snack) was monkey point. Needless to say – beware of monkeys – the entire hill station is full of our simian friends. With all these years of interacting with Homo sapiens – they have learnt to survive in our presence. They aren’t scared of us anymore. Instead, they attack us if they find us carrying foodstuff in our hands.
After walking for a few minutes (amidst the lush greenery) from the town centre, we reached ‘Monkey Point’. As the name suggests – it’s ‘ruled’ by monkeys. They coolly walk up to you, check your baggage for anything they find palatable and leave you if your bag doesn’t have anything for them. Just try not to fight them off – don’t even look them in the eye – they can get pretty aggressive. After all, they aren’t encroaching our space – we are encroaching theirs.
After spending a while at Monkey Point (and clicking several pictures) we proceeded to our next (and last for the day) point – Heart Point. There was a ‘monocular man’ who charged everyone Rs. 20 for peeping into his monocular. He claimed that the viewers can see ‘कड्यावरचा गणपती’ through his lens. Although, I used my 55-250mm lens and zoomed in as much as the camera could – I could still not see it. Also, another tourist (who paid him for the view) couldn’t see it either. I don’t know if the guy was pranking them. I didn’t bother to investigate.
Both points (actually very close to each other) offer an excellent view of the valley below and the striated rocks that make up the pristine beauty of Matheran. The landscape was not the greenest – I’m guessing that only since it was summertime and the monsoon is still at least a month away. I’m sure after a few wet spells – the forest should regain its green sheen. I can’t wait to find that out… post-monsoon trip coming up.
After spending another few minutes at the Heart point and panting all the way back to the station – we had lunch. That meal tasted like the manna that day. Once we were done with the meal – we checked out the local market where we found some really good bargains. Finally, we decided to call it a day – we walked to the station and stood in the line (for tickets) for almost an hour and a half. We sat for another three hours while our train meandered downhill.
Reaching Neral station was not the end though. We had to wait for another 30 minutes before we could get a commuter train to Thane. We had just enough time to have dinner and proceed to our final destination – Mira Road. By the time we reached home, it was already 11 pm and we crashed. The day, thus, ended on a beautiful note. The journey – more than exhausting – was magical. I slept like a log – with pleasant memories of the day’s trip slowly making way to sweet dreams.
This journey not only created memories – but it also bolstered my bond with nature – something I missed for a long time (especially after my Karnala trip). That’s all for now, friends.