There was a time when a trip to Matheran was a true adventure. Trekkers braved the occasional leopard to get up the forested slopes from Neral to the tiny hill station on top, which had but a few hotels in which to rest their tired bones. The reward lay not as much in the cool, crisp air that greeted them, but the incomparable views on offer — of lush plains, silver rivers and, in the distance, home.
The good news is that Matheran, despite developing into one of Maharashtra’s prime tourist destinations, still rewards all who make the effort to reach the top of the ghat. And there are many ways of making the journey now apart from trekking, including on horseback, in hand-pulled carts and in Matheran’s very own toy train service. At least one half of the ‘living on love and fresh air’ doctrine is guaranteed in Matheran, as there’s not a whiff of exhaust. For the powers-that-be in Maharashtra Tourism thankfully realised they had a good thing going in Matheran and decided to preserve this ecologically sensitive zone, banning motor vehicles altogether from the town limits. That’s primarily how Matheran has remained a beautiful hill station, and the perfect getaway for Mumbaikars.
Things to see and do
Matheran has a thick cover of evergreen forest, which acts like a giant airconditioner, keeping this hill station cool and a walker’s paradise. Long, quiet walks shaded by evergreen forests and accompanied by birdsong is a treat exclusive to Matheran. But if all the walking gets your feet sore don’t fret, riding on horseback is an exciting alternative. There are also plenty of hand-pulled carts available and both options will take you to the main lookout points.
Matheran, although small (just the 8 sq km), has as many as 38 designated lookout points. Before heading out, try and get a map of Matheran from the MTDC office at Dasturi or from one of the many chikki shops in the market. But even if you don’t, it is very difficult to actually get lost in the woods on this relatively small hilltop.
The makers of Matheran
Matheran was the discovery of Hugh Poyntz Malet, Collector of Thane District, in 1850, and the place continues to pay tribute to him. It is said that the spot Malet Spring marks where the man once stopped for water. Malet subsequently built himself a lovely house in this picturesque place. Matheran became more accessible during the time of Lord Elphinstone. The former Governor of Mumbai was so impressed by the beauty of this haven that he built a mansion here, called Elphinstone Lodge. The road from Neral to Matheran and the railway line came into being because of him.
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 quite gruelling in summer. From here, you get a bird’s eye view of Neral town down below 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. Sunrises and sunsets are quite dramatic here.
The shaded walk to Hart Point and Monkey Point is rewarding in itself. Comparatively undisturbed and densely forested, these areas are also recommended for birdwatchers. Crowds gather at Porcupine Point for the sunset. Louisa Point, to the west of the market, offers an undisturbed view of the ruins of Prabal Fort and also other 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.
With more than 8-10 different routes, Matheran is the ultimate destination for the trekker, naturalist and outdoor enthusiast. There are numerous routes to get in or out of Matheran, as well as many long, pleasant walks around the hill station itself. Here are a few ideas:
Matheran to Karjat
There is a trekking route that you can take to return from Matheran to Karjat. About 21/2-3 km from the Matheran market (due south-east) is Ram Bagh Point, which is on the way to Little Chowk Point, marked by a small cold drink/ tea-stall. From here, a broad trail paved with red stones, typical of Matheran, leads down the hillside in a gently meandering course. A kilometre along this trail, you will come to a flat thickly forested stretch.
When you are almost below Little Chowk Point, the path bifurcates. The path to the right heads due west, around the hill through some thick dense jungle. Take the trail on the left, which leads down the ridge of a long spur for almost 2 km (due east) and then across some smaller hillocks and open fields (21/2 km) before entering Bhorgaon village. You can either follow the road out to Karjat as described above or catch an autorickshaw to get to Karjat.
One enjoyable but long route (18-20 km) is to take the local train from Mumbai to Karjat and get down at Vangani Station. From there you can hike to Vaghachi Wadi, then cross the Nakhind-Chanderi col and walk to Panvel Lake. From the lake there are two routes up to Matheran.
The first is via Porcupine Point, also known as the Milk Trail (for the locals use this to bring fresh milk up to the markets). The other route is less used and climbs a long spur running due east. This first brings you to Hashachi Patti, a tribal hamlet, and then into Matheran via Malang Point.
Railway line trek!
Here’s one for the child in you. You can climb up to Peb Fort from Neral and then follow the famous narrow-gauge railway line all the way into Matheran.
TIP: Matheran region has many snakes, from the harmless keelbacks and pythons to the more deadly cobras, kraits and vipers. It’s good to stay alert and wear sensible, protective boots on your walks
Matheran, like many other hill towns in Maharashtra, is ‘Chikkiland’. This caramel confection (jaggery with nuts, peanuts or sesame seed, cut into slabs or cubes) is a sell-out, and there’s loads to choose from — with peanuts, coconut, channa, almonds, pista, cashew and sesame. There’s also scrumptious fudge to pick up. Salted channa and fresh honey are other must-buys from the bazaar, which runs along the railway station road.
April to June and October are the main tourist months in Matheran and the hotel rates shoot up to seemingly unreasonable levels.
Location Asia’s only pedestrian hill station is situated 2,636 ft above sea level in the Western Ghats, 26 km from Karjat
Distance 105 km E of Mumbai JOURNEY TIME By road 3 hrs By rail 31/2 hrs (including 2 hrs by toy train)
Route Vashi Bridge to Panvel; Mumbai-Pune Expressway till Khopoli-Shedung Exit; Old Mumbai-Pune Highway (NH4) to Chauk; SH to Neral via Karjat Junction and Chinchavli; hill road to Dasturi Naka in Matheran.
When to go Pleasant throughout the year, but it’s magical during the monsoons
STD code 02148 From Mumbai 952148
By Isaac Kehimkar
About the author
Isaac Kehimkar is an avid naturalist, keen nature photographer and writer. His published works include Common Indian Wild Flowers, Moths- An Introduction, Common Butterflies of India and Incredible Insects.