Matheran – The Forgotten Hill Station?

by - July 03, 2018

I recall, in my childhood, there were three popular hill stations that the parents took their kids to in Junes and in Decembers. One is the land of strawberry farms, Mahabaleshwar, second, the notorious Khandala-Lonavala duo and the third, the hill station that was popular as the one with horses and monkeys and a lot of walking to do––Matheran.

While Lonavala is dotted with people on weekdays and swarming on weekends, there’s a hill station, proximate to the city––unlike Mahabaleshwar–– that I guess people have begun to lose a memory of.

When I visited the “smallest hill station of India”—Matheran—and boasted about its beauty by sharing pictures of it, a girl messaged me asking about the place. When I replied that the beautiful place was Matheran indeed, she smirked and said, “I didn’t know people still go there.”

I was in a huff listening to her impolite words but then, when the emotions gradually faded, her words still continued to echo. Is Matheran no longer visited by the millennials? Is Matheran a forgotten hill station?

I started digging deep into it and though I don’t have any concrete answer to my questions, I can affirmatively say that though Matheran is unfamiliar amongst the millennials––which, by the way, I would like to correct, gullible, opulent millennials––it is still visited by many: the parents who bring their little ones to enjoy horse and toy train rides, groups of college students and graduates who wish to have a fabulous time amidst rains, couples who are tired of sneaking around in the city and are looking forward to rekindling their love in hotel rooms and into the foggy woods, and the remaining bunch who visit to hire a cottage so that they can smoke up and make the most of their weekends.

Irrespective of how uncool few might think it is, I can grimly declare: Matheran is a drop-dead gorgeous hill station and I'm utterly blown by its beauty. This is why precisely I’m writing on this forlorn hill station today.

An abandoned shelter

The beauty of any place increases manifold on a weekday, I believe. But unfortunately, most of the populace have working weekdays (may it be schools/colleges or full-time working jobs). Therefore, the only option remains is the weekend. Luckily for me, I could visit Matheran when the hustle and the bustle were low.

I had not intended to visit Matheran this year and it was nowhere on my mind but it seems it was destined for me to step on the land and perhaps lift the unfashionable cover it was hiding under. When Pratibha announced her plans for exploring The City of Dreams and requesting me to be her companion, I was excited! We spoke on the call for an hour, she speaking from the East Coast (Kolkata) and me from the West Coast (Mumbai) discussing where to go and what to do. I was determined to take her around the main obsessions of Tourists Visiting Mumbai like the Gateway of India, the iconic Taj hotel, street shopping at Colaba Causeway, and so on. Our first-day itinerary was set but we could not come to a conclusion for the second day. We wanted to get away from the city. Pratibha had always heard about the mystical Western Ghats and so she was determined to explore at least one nature spot away from the city. And, identical to all the travellers across the globe, even she had done her homework. She suggested Matheran and I was speechless.

At that point I knew, Matheran was where we were going.

We could start sensing the vibes of this cosy hill station right when we got down at Neral station. I had had a blurry picture of Neral's charm. I was aware of the chilly weather, the fog, the grey clouds, the fluorescent greenery, and the energy around that place. We were welcomed by a chaotic group of Muslim men and we chose to ignore and walk towards the shared taxi stand. Little did we know that the men were the cabbies, seeking out for financial opportunities, exactly how you see at any touristy place.

We sat in a cab, which was shared by two couples and Pratibha and me, who looked insanely odd amongst the couples. While the peddlers hissed if they wanted a room, they had no brilliant ways to sell their hotel rooms to two girls. Until an intelligent peddler suggested us to take a room so that we could let go of our heavy luggage. He also mentioned the unavailability of public washrooms on the top and that it is wise if we hire a room for Rs. 800 only., we did not fall for it.

The toy train track

The drive towards Dasturi (the entry gate of Matheran) was picturesque from both the sides. While one side displayed extensive views of the green valley, the other was no less wonderful. It was seldom visited by waterfalls that looked scenic. I was enjoying the chilly warmth of the green blanket around me, but I was accustomed to such breathtaking views. However, while I was engrossed, it suddenly occurred to me that Pratibha was a first-timer. She was witnessing the Western Ghats newly. I turned to her and she was enjoying too.

On entering Dasturi, we wondered how long the stretch is. What lied inside Matheran was our enigma. The entrance itself looked so mystical, with thick rows of trees on both sides, a light layer of fog, monkeys tottering around, horses waiting for their customers, and a dollop of tranquillity. We chose to walk instead of riding on a horse.

Soon, we reached the Aman Lodge ticket counter and bought two one-way tickets to Matheran station. The platforms looked impressive too. My brother, on watching my Matheran vlog, said that the station was newly built since he hadn't seen it before.

The train arrived within 15 minutes of the wait. I was as excited as a kid. The famous Matheran toy train was here. The Ticket Checker arranged our seats and the train took us through a short panoramic journey. My mother had told me that the toy train is shut during monsoon, but since the Aman Lodge to Matheran passage was safe from prospective landslides and had no deep valley on any of its sides, the track was functional. I wished the journey was longer, though. However, all the little kids in my bogey were enjoying their jhuk-jhuk-gaadi and the occasional squirts rushing from the outside.

The market area was disorderly and more number of heads were spotted here. I only thanked it was not a weekend otherwise we would have missed the whole fanciful experience. We came across the first viewpoint, which I'm too ashamed to share: Madhavji Point. It was inside a garden and was full of filth. We were disappointed, needless to say. I hoped Matheran was not this. I had an outsider with me and I did not want her to believe that my entire home state is full of filth.

Completely drenched

We continued our walk towards Echo Point and were welcomed with ghastly guests; the fog was extremely dense and the wind was fierce. Such an exotic place, I thought! How lucky to witness this amazing view. The point was wonderous too. We could see a green pinnacle, a wide valley, and a far-off lake that was adorned with river streams. How powerful rains are, I thought, and how nature turns into a massive meadow during monsoon!

We were lucky to get pictures without any hindrance as soon, more people approached. Pratibha and I understood that it was time to check another viewpoint.

Any monsoon travel compulsorily requires having a plate of Maggi and onion fritters, roasted corn, and a cup of any warm beverage; it's like oxygen. The trip is incomplete without these unmissable snacks. Likewise, we were too delighted to have our noodles and tea and then continued to our next viewpoint: Honeymoon Point.

I have no idea what this viewpoint is all about. Forget honeymooners, not even college couples would be interested to spend their time here. (I cannot hold myself back and I need to cite Circuit from Munnabhai MBBS movie, which goes,“...yeh toh shuru hote hi khatam hota hai.” The Honeymoon Point is so true to this legendary quote from a legendary character.) Skip this viewpoint, it's a request. Psst! If you're looking for a romantic moment here, then you shouldn't think about it. Firstly, the place is too short for you two to sit (hardly one person can make it), secondly, it's fairly steep (I'm sure you don't want to let go off your beau), and lastly, there's trash everywhere.
I don't even know why this is considered a viewpoint. It looks like a nasty pitstop we make when we're too desperate to click pictures of the valley but the road is covered by trees on both the sides.

We walked back and recommended all the passersby to go back too. We told them the viewpoint had nothing to offer. We were not disappointed. Our next viewpoint was the Malang Point. We reached there to see a green carpet and two cement benches that looked insanely picturesque. The entire area was full of greens and it looked beautiful. No trash sighted, no people too. It was the perfect spot.

On climbing the brusque plateau, we saw one of the best views ever! Such a vast spectacle of the valley that was loaded with rivulets and ponds. It was indeed a divine sight! Unexpectedly, a boy approached and asked Pratibha to click his pictures. He was the no-bullshit chap; his friends were taking too long so he proceeded ahead. Within no time, his friends joined in too.

Smiling at the Echo Point

Our last viewpoint was the Louisa Point, which was equally good. We witnessed a reverse waterfall as the violent winds blew. It was showering and we were fully wet. Pratibha was having the time of her life. She was sitting quietly and was absorbing the reality in. She was grateful to take this leap of exploring Mumbai and then spend 45 days in Egypt. She was proud that she believed in herself...I could read her mind and her smile...

Matheran had blessed us both with contentment and happiness.

Watch my vlog:

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