If you live in Mumbai, you have ample options for quick weekend getaways. One such destination is Matheran, a small hill station located in the Raigad district. So what's special here? If you're coming from a buzzing city, probably you would be craving for silence and tranquility! Here, people ride horses like they ride vehicles. You read it right! When you reach Matheran, you are literally far from all pandemonium of the city for it's an automobile-free zone. Matheran has a light rail system which starts from Neral. You could hitch a ride in a toy train that chugs all the way up hill. Or if you fancy sitting on a horse that'll be even more fun! Two days are just enough to explore this hill town.
On a weekend, we drove from Mumbai to Neral and took the hair pin route up to reach Dasturi Naka. Now this is where the business of horse hiring begins. Local men surrounded us like we are celebrities. After a round of bargaining we fixed a deal for Rs.800 for two horses although it seemed expensive. Later, we felt that this price is well deserved. As we pulled along the hilly route, we watched in bewilderment how these animals carried our healthy bodies and managed to walk steady. It was probably a place where horses outnumbered humans. You look around to see horses in different skin tones each with names stitched on their saddles. So we could identify them with names like Raja, Pinky, Veeru and so on.
The experience itself was overwhelming and a bit sad too. We didn't want to give more burden to our horses but it took almost 45 minutes to reach Hotel Paramount. In between we were even given a stick to beat the poor creature. We denied it upfront. I kept thinking of the struggle they are made to experience everyday, are they even being fed properly? The thought about how people moved around here without vehicles really surprised me. For each & every need they have to rely on the horses or hand carts pulled by men. Once or twice we saw a team of small horses (almost like ponies) running in a quick pace. Later we learnt that they are used to carry merchandise up hill.
As the horses galloped, we watched dust swirling up in the air. The paths are unpaved and consists of red laterite soil. Exploring the view points in Matheran means you have to trek minimum 3 to 4 kilometers or hire horses to take you around. It's ideal to wear trekking shoes because while walking your feet will get covered with red earth. We preferred to walk to one or two spots and did not move around much. The hotel where we stayed was pretty decent with a small swimming pool and outdoor games.
On the way we spotted a few giant bungalows that looked abandoned & timeworn. A particular house amazed me with a display of large white fancy human statues planted on the garden premises. The place looked like a scene straight out of some mysterious English movie.
We headed to the sunset point in the evening. It was a good 45 minutes walk through the jungle. Monkeys were everywhere snatching food packets and water bottles from tourists. Poor creatures craved to get a drop of water to wet their tongue in the scorching heat. The views weren't that splendid as I had expected. Or probably the best season here is post monsoon when the hills are all green & scenic.
Charlotte lake is the main water source for Matheran. We hiked along this route and found an extremely serene temple adorned with long glass windows. Later I read that, it was a temple for the village deity. We sat there for a long time breathing in the scent of agarbathi and feeling the pleasant chill on the floor. The temple had a positive aura and we were happy to have absorbed it fully.
|Pisharnath Mahadev Temple|
One of the shops outside invited me with its attractive gola corner. I scanned the menu quickly and ordered a Kacchi Kairi (Raw mango flavour). A delightful blend of sweet & sour - Licked the delicacy till the last drop!
We explored the local market for a while at night and found that footwear is the major item sold here. The next day we decided to take the train down hill. We had to wait for an hour in the queue to get the tickets. The train was small and could accommodate only limited number of passengers. We got down at the station named Aman Lodge and headed back to our car. While returning back home, I was still preoccupied by the thoughts of life in Matheran. The way people led a normal life here with all the modern day conveniences without the help of motor vehicles is praiseworthy. Over the years, a township was developed out of nothing and today the natives continue to make a living with great hard work and will power.