Matheran

I just needed this long awaited break and wanted to go somewhere nearby, without much hassle of train booking or hotel booking. Matheran was fitting all the criteria’s, as it’s so close to Mumbai, having natural settings, away from the pollution and apt for a short vacation. Holiday IQ provided few good options and I decided to go for Vakratunda Cottages.

Booking of the toy train was a huge fiasco as the website showed trains only for next three days.But the Saturday on which I was supposed to leave, I could not see any train even three days earlier.I even tried a return train and took trouble to get up at 12:30 at midnight to make sure I am the first one to book. But again my luck was really bad and the “Irctc” website itself was down. Quite frustrated, finally I gave up on that and decided to take up the road transport option.

A 6.30 am local from Borivali to Dadar and then a 7: 52 am local to Khopoli, landed us at Neral at 9:15 am. The huge line at the toy train station confirmed that it’s mere waste of time and better get going, rather than hoping to get a ticket. We were in Matheran by 9:45 and were welcomes by Mr. Rajan Raane at the tax office. It was nice to have been escorted to the destination and the cool pleasant breeze was more than welcoming.

As the expert drivers of the Vans, shuttling between Matheran and Neral zoom you around those winding roads up towards this natural hideout, for those seeking some peace and fresh air, the first picture of Matheran that you capture are of steep and green valleys, surrounding ranges of mountains, with visible layers of red and grey colored rocks and a lush green top. As you start walking along the track towards the interiors, the thickness of woods and abundance of oxygen in the air welcomes you. Absence of modern day vehicles has kept the natural beauty of this place intact and pollution free.

The welcoming “Kaande Pohe Naasta” and hot tea made us ready for our first exploration of this land of horses and trees and our host was ready with his map, to guide us to our first trip. We decided to take a look at the Charlotte Lake and then return from there for lunch after having a quick look at Cecil point.

Sheetal and Maitri enjoyed the horse ride, while me and Mohanbhai had a long walk to the lake. The view at the lake was awesome, with emerald green water lined by thick greenery of trees leaning around from the shore. A view of a mountains and valleys on the opposite side and the Pisaarnath temple on the other side. Watermelon and sugarcane juice cooled us off and we were ready for our return journey.

Lords point seemed to be a secluded lonely point, not so popular, but gave good view of the huge mountain ranges and the valley below. The Cecil point was a bit dangerous as they didn’t have any barricades and a little mistake can give you ride of life down into the valley. But the view from here was most picturesque and I had good scope for taking few good shots with my camera.

As we had just arrived and even the afternoon sun wasn’t that pleasant, The trip was a bit sweaty. After this long walk, what we wanted was a nice, and healthy meal and our host didn’t disappoint us. We had a nice “Chavali Chi Aamti”, hot “Chapati“s, “Daal” and “Papad”, a very homely Maharashtrian meal. The long walk, healthy meal and cool breeze made us little relaxed and then lethargic, getting into a good afternoon slumber.

But the energy in the air could not let us stay in bed for long and we started off for a nice evening walk towards the market. The Matheran market is place to be during evenings and Matheran has ample opportunities for the shopaholics. Right from local produce like hammocks, “Kolhapur Chappals”, leather shoes and leather bags to the Mahabaleshwar famous “Mapro Products” like juice, squash, sugar candy’s and jelly chocolates, you have ample varieties.

The garden in the marketplace was full and the rides like giant wheel and merry-go-round were flooded with kids. The whole of marketplace becomes a huge activity center in the evening and people seemed to enjoy their evening soaking into this celebration of life, with no rush, no worries. The foodies have ample. choice, right from “Road Side Dhabas” to three start restaurants, tinkling your taste buds and trying out something exotic. After hanging around and shopping few of the favorite “Mapro Items”, we were back at the cottage for our dinner.

We had a nice “Sole Kaadi” in the morning which was “Konkan Special” and this time it was the “Zunkaa”, the famous dish from Western Ghats. The food was awesome and getting that homely taste, made us think of this place, as a home away from home. As we didn’t want to miss the beauty of sunrise and a silent, peaceful walk in the woods before dawn, went to sleep quite early.

The road full of people, horse riders, hand rickshaws was deserted at 6:30 in the morning. Apart from few monkeys and few early risers like us, there was nobody on road. The whole atmosphere was serene, peaceful and made us connect to the beauty of the surrounding woods quickly.

After taking a short stroll, we realized that the Sun has already risen. Now we realized that we have missed the Sunrise from the window of our cottage, as our cottage owner had said, “that’s the best place to watch sunrise” and quoting it as “Vakratunda Point” 🙂 Our cottage was exactly at the rim of the mountain and we get to see the deep valley from our window. We rushed to our cottage to get few glimpses of the rising sun and swear to ourself, not to miss that divine beauty next morning.

After “Upma” and tea we were again ready for our exploration and excursion for the day. Today’s plan was to finish the morning trip to few of the most important and farther points and take a little early lunch, so that we can be at the sunset point early in the evening. As we passed market the first point was “Khandala Point”.

For you to enjoy the points, what you need is appreciation for nature and its beauty that captivates you at different angles. One should also be able to enjoy the journey, be it walk or horse ride and not just make quick touch base to the points and get back to hotel.

“Khandala Point” gave the view of the farther side of the Matheran and few of the villages in the valley as well as on the mountain. We were told that kids from the farthest end of Matheran walk down to this more populated and touristic side for their schooling. I was just wondering about us, the more polished city dwellers totally dependent on rickshaws and cabs and two wheelers, crib even for a 15 minute walks.

The walk to Alexander point and from there to Rambaug point went through the thickness of lush greenery and freshness of morning atmosphere. We really enjoyed this walk, admiring those trees, some of them really pretty thick and witnessing so many visitors like us for last so many years. The chirping of birds the rustling of leaves, trotting sound of few horse riders passing by, made the walk all the more interesting.

The Alexander Point and Rambaug point are places on the C shape, curve of the mountain and fall almost at 180 degrees to each other. Both these points are visible form each other and give distinct views of the mountains in front and the deep valley underneath. A nice and cute hotel in front of a house at Rambaug point was quite inviting because of its cozy outdoor nature and we got refreshed again with fresh sugarcane juice ,getting ready for out next phase of walk towards Echo point.

With our timelines to reach before 1 pm for lunch we had to skip the “Little Chowk”, “Big Chowk”, one tree hill and Belvedere points and Olympia race course, as it was going to take another couple of hours before we can reach echo point. The echo point seemed to be the most favorite among tourists as there was huge crowd and numerous activates happening over here. The most interesting activity was off course the valley crossing. The people moving across the two mountain peaks across a steep and few thousand feet deep valley itself, gave a strange bubbling sensation from the pit of the stomach.

After fighting a bit with my internal fears, I decided to take up this ride to stir up my adrenalin. As I clanged to the rope and started moving towards the other end a quick look at the valley and I took my eye off, it’s a strange sensation, I virtually touch the bottom of the valley with my eyes and retuned back and never looked at it again. After the ride, it was gave some sense of achievement though.

The view from the echo point is quite wide and spectacular, with “Kalavatin Durga”, “Prabal Gadh” on one hand and the beautiful Louisa point right in the front. There is this long and scary valley crossing activity between the mountain of Louisa point and honeymoon point. This was almost 10 times more than the valley crossing I did at echo point and watching people crossing this patch itself is equally thrilling.

The table top of Matheran mountain takes a C shape bending at the honeymoon point and then again getting right in front of you in the form of Louisa point. The Pinnacle of “Kalavain Durga” and “Prabal Gadh” are hot trekking spots during monsoon. The spectacular view of these mountain ranges, the villages underneath the valley appearing as tiny specks, few lakes and the emerald greenery keeps you glued to this point for a while.

Maitri rejoiced as she got her favorite activity here, the tattooing, with a wide selection of tattoos. A nice tattoo on her hand and she was ready for again the return walk to our cottage for lunch. Mr Rajan Rane treated us with “Malavani chicken” , Rice and Rotis today and we savored the authentic and homely food, praising Rane Kaakoos culinary skills generously. This was truly a home away from home for us and Mr.Raane, didn’t leave any gaps in his hospitality.

We had planned to start around 3:30 pm and visit Hart point and Monkey point before visiting the Sunset point, but the delicious meal and nice weather, again made us relax a bit and we were late by almost an hour and had to settle only for Sunset Point. The walk to sunset point was as interesting as our morning walk, again through thick woods and ample abandoned old Bungalows. The walk becomes really enjoyable and the physical effort just vanishes away as the your mind, keeps on getting refreshed, breathing the fresh air, drinking the soothing and serene natural beauty with your eyes.

This route is most frequented by the tourists as Sunset point is supposed to be one of the must visit points here, The other two must visit points mentioned by hour host cum guide Mr.Raane were Louisa Point and Panorama Point. With our two days schedule coming to an end we reserved these two points for our next visit, but were quite excited to watch the sunset from Sunset Point.

The sunset point was guzzling with activity and the whole of Matheran had gathered there for the beautiful sunset view. This point is an elongated edge, having a wide valley on all the side, the western rim being called as sunset point, I guess one can be here in the morning to enjoy even the sunrise form the eastern rim. The northern edge protrudes further and is quite rocky. People had grabbed most of the spots there and the view of the sunset seemed to be the most spectacular from here. This edge was called as Porcupine point and it gave a beautiful view of the peculiar, triangular shaped mountains, right in front of it.

After taking a look around and exploring a bit, even we settle down to get the few glimpses of the Sun god and its spectrums of colors, before he disappeared, leaving us into darkness until next sunrise. The red, orange ball got pink and disappeared right in front of us in the middle of the sky, before even touching the horizon. Sheetal updated my knowledge that the sunsets from the mountains are always of this fashion unlike at the sea shore, where the sea seem to be swallowing this red ball into its blue waters. We had to rush back, before it got too dark to find the way through the deep jungle, but then we had lot of company and a torch as well.

Horse riding is also one of the unique and interesting parts of Matheran and then you can get to hear names light black knight and white fairy kind of names of horses. They are really well taken care of and the majesty is incomparable. Horse being major mode of transportation over here, they are in large numbers. Out of curiosity we did enquire the cost of a horse and we were told that it can cost whopping 50 to 80 thousand rupees. The rhythmic horse riders take you to the historical days and you keep looking at their skill with admiration as they keep passing by.

Since we were to leave next day morning, we had reserved the evening for shopping. Myself and Maitri got the famous “Kolhapuri Chappals” for a good bargain, while Sheetal got a nice and stylish purse for herself. Matheran is also famous for its hammocks and we got one for our self. Even though we do have a “Zoola” made out of bamboo stripes, a hammock has its own charm.

After a heavy dinner in Diwadkar’s we retired to our cottage, much relaxed and happy. The last two days have been full of exploration, fun and peace, getting us close to the nature and admiration of valleys and mountains. We got little nostalgic about this all and were reminiscing all the events. We felt really charged up and ready to get back to the daily routine.

We made sure that we get to see the golden globe of the morning sun right from our window, named by Mr. Raane as “Vakratunda Point”, Watching the different colors as the Sun rose behind the table top mountain was absolute joy, right from pink to a bright pink, turning into red and orange and finally a dark orange globe spreading the energy and life all across, giving new life to every entity around. Catching some of those events was a very feeble attempt to capture this celebration of colors.

After getting ready and the savoring favorite “Kaande Pohe” breakfast we were ready for our return journey. After a hearty good bye to Mr. Rajan Raane we were enroute to “Dasturi Naka”, capturing the glimpses of this island of peace and warmth, while walking along the tiny track of the toy train.

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