TIME 1-2 days
IDEAL SEASON All year round
LOCATION Karjat region, southeast of Mumbai, on the banks of Ulhas River, in Raigad District
With more than eight to ten different routes, the city of Matheran (767m) is the ultimate destination for the trekker, naturalist and outdoor enthusiast. It is literally a forest on top of the hill (mathe means head and raan means forest). The dense forest cover, teeming bird life, long walks and flora and fauna make this an all-time favourite. The best part is that it’s pollution- free as no vehicles are allowed in the hill station. Apart from Bhimashankar, Matheran is the only other place where the giant red squirrel is to be found. It’s also a haven for snakes, from the harmless keelbacks and pythons to the more deadly members of the clan such as cobras, kraits and vipers. Sometime in 1982, I was bitten by a Russell’s viper, and was fortunate enough not only to live to tell the tale, but also to return to the place over 50 times after the event.
DISTANCE 10-11 KM TIME 4-5 HOURS
From Karjat city, follow the Karjat- Chowk Road for 3 km until you see a signboard indicating a right turn, northwards, for Vaverle Village. Walk another 2 km along a tarred road from Vaverle to Bhorgaon Village (due north-east), which is at the base of Matheran. If you’d rather not walk along a tarred road, you could get a ride in an autorickshaw to Bhorgaon. If you decide to take a cross-country route, remember that you will have to cross a wide stream to get to Bhorgaon. It may be difficult to ford during the monsoon. Just before you enter Bhorgaon Village, a well-used footpath turns left (due west) and heads up a very gentle spur. It runs across some fields before turning north-west and climbing another spur, at the top of which you will come to Ambewadi Village. This is the last point where you will get water, so fill up your bottles as you pass the two village wells just beyond the village.
The next watering hole is the cold drink stall at One Tree Hill in Matheran. From Ambewadi, the trail is joined by another well-used path coming up from Varosa Village, on the other side of the spur. This is the final 3 km ascent to the top, climbing up a steep spur (due north) to a flat area. Big Chowk Point is clearly visible and looks like an elephant’s head. The track now heads into a stretch of thick forest, which is a timely and welcome respite from the sun. As you near the end of the thick forest, you come to a mass of boulders and rocks into which the trail disappears. This is known as Shivaji Steps or the Shivaji Ladder. According to local legend, Chhatrapati Shivaji rode up this route on horseback.
From here, it’s 500m to the top, up a stream bed that’s dry except during the monsoon. As you get to the top, you will see One Tree Hill on your left, connected to Matheran by a narrow ridge. On reaching the ridge take a right turn to come out at a cold drink stall. From the stall, it’s an easy 3 km to the busy market place in Matheran, with a host of shops and restaurants.
If you want to stay at Matheran overnight, there are numerous hotels and lodges to choose from, to suit all budgets. However, if you want to head to Mumbai, your best bet is to head to Dasturi Naka (due north of the market place) and walk down along the road (11 km) to the city of Neral. If you’re in a mood for a quick descent, take the Postman’s Short-cut. This route follows the road till the Water Pipe Station, then after half a kilometre, a footpath cuts across the railway line and follows a long spur, bringing you to the outskirts of Neral (5 or 6 km). Another kilometre and you’re at Neral Station from where you can get a Mumbai-bound local train. If you’d rather not walk from Dasturi Naka to Neral, you can get a seat in a cab to Neral Station. Rates are fixed and currently stand at Rs 60 per seat.
DISTANCE 10-11 KM TIME 4-5 HOURS
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, and 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 to Karjat as given above or catch an autorickshaw to get to Karjat.
There are numerous routes to get in or out of Matheran, as well as many long, pleasant walks around the hill station itself. You can come up with your own combinations. Here are a few ideas:
● One enjoyable but long route (18- 20 km) is to take a Karjat-bound local train from Mumbai and get down at Vangani Station. From there you can hike to Vaghachi Wadi, 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 called Milk Trail (locals use this trail to bring fresh milk up to the markets). The other route is less used and climbs a spur running due east. This first brings you to Hashachi Patti, a tribal hamlet, and then into Matheran via Malang Point.
● One can climb up to Peb Fort from Neral and then follow the railway line into Matheran.
● Another popular route starts at Bhivpuri Station and then goes via Thakurwadi up onto the Garbet Plateau and finally into Matheran via Garbet Point. This is a long trek (12- 14 km) but very enjoyable in the monsoon months.
● From Chowk Village you can trek up to Varosa Village and then climb up to Matheran via the Shivaji Steps as described earlier. You will join the main trail at Ambewadi.
● It’s also possible to link Matheran into a 4- to 5-day trek starting at Lonavala and going on to Rajmachi, Bhairi Caves, Dhak Fort, Karjat and finally Matheran.
● Another interesting walk is from Karnala in the south-west, crosscountry to Matheran.
● Opposite Matheran is Prabal Fort and Irshal (or Vishalgad Fort). You can either start at Irshal and then climb Prabal Fort, come down to Varosa and climb up to Matheran or do the trek in reverse. Check out the travelogue on the Irshal-Prabal trek.
By Andre Morris
About the author: Andre Morris taught history at Mumbai’s Wilson College before walking the wild side. He lives in Mumbai but spends half his life in the outdoors – hiking, rock climbing, rafting, canoeing and birdwatching. He also runs Outbound Adventure, an outdoor education and adventure outfit.