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Monsoon Special

If it’s raining, it’s got to be Matheran

Tania Banerjee | Updated on June 08, 2019

Where the clouds gather: One Tree Hill is one of the many places in Matheran for arresting monsoon views   -  TANIA BANERJEE

A hill station in the Sahyadris comes to life with the first showers of the monsoon

The clunky Maruti van zigzags along the hairpin turns of the Sahyadris. The landscape rapidly changes over the 8-km journey from the Neral railway station to Dasturi Naka, as sweeping valley views edge out mundane city scenes. I am on my way to Matheran, a hill station deep in the forests of the Western Ghats, but just 81 km from Mumbai. Automobiles are banned in Matheran, declared an eco-sensitive zone by the Centre in 2003. Dasturi Naka, near the Aman Lodge railway station, is where motorists park their cars. Matheran is another 2 km from there.

My fixated gaze on a family of baboons breaks with the chug of a toy train. From the maze of trees an unusually small blue train with four carriages emerges. I hop into the first class carriage of the train, which was started by businessman Abdul Hussein Peerbhoy in the early 1900s. From its huge glass windows, I watch as the train moves forward at its leisurely pace, snaking through the hills, overtaking cheerful tourists who have decided to walk the 2-km stretch to the town. Twenty minutes later, I am in misty Matheran — where it rains from June to early September.

I walk towards my hotel, but with every step, the sky grows darker. I take shelter under my oversized poncho. A spell of heavy rain splatters the red laterite soil of Matheran. With squelching shoes and a soggy raincoat, I reach the hotel. I treat myself to a lavish Marathi buffet lunch of rice, bhakri, dal, bharli bhindi and besan laddoo and am ready to explore Matheran.

I hear the jingle of bells and look over my shoulder. “Madam, take a horse. We will show you all of Matheran,” says the eager horse-owner. Horses are the only legal mode of transport in the hill station. But I want to walk.

Criss-crossing the thick jungles of Matheran is a maze of dirt roads which leads to 38 vantage points for picturesque views. Tourist-friendly boards with directions are installed at various intersections of the forest paths. A collective murmur swells, and I halt abruptly. I spot a group of 10 people — with wide-brimmed green and blue hats — pulling a cart forward. They are locals transporting necessities to resorts nestling in the deep interiors of the forest.

I reach Echo Point, which offers panoramic vistas of the hills. The other end of the gorge is dotted with iridescent grassy hills. Sounds resonate, as the name implies. Visitors are eagerly putting this to the test, when it starts to rain. Everybody rushes to take shelter under the solitary slate-roofed tea stall.

The forest lanes are adorned with dead leaves. Like a diligent army patrolling the border, the trees guard the woods. From the meshwork of trees, a massive bungalow with yellow walls and a strong iron gate emerges. Overgrown shrubs have taken over the bungalow’s lawns. There are many such abandoned bungalows in the hills of Matheran.

Developed in the 1800s by Lord Elphinstone, governor of Bombay, Matheran became a summer retreat for British colonial officials. They built mansions and farmhouses. This trend was later followed by wealthy Indian entrepreneurs of Maharashtra. But from the unkempt gardens and crumbling walls, I gather that not many of their descendants are interested in maintaining the old mansions.

A brisk walk later, I am at the Charlotte Lake, a sprawling waterbody hemmed by lush vegetation. A promenade runs along its western bank, where nature lovers can unwind. The seasonal lake is also the main source of drinking water in Matheran.

Forest fragrances embrace me as I go deep into the thickets. The only sounds I hear are those of crickets. A signboard reads ‘Belvedere point’. The muddy trail leads to a cliff with stunning views of a needle-shaped hill and a lake cradling it.

Tipped by a local at Belvedere Point, I stride along the leafy jungle path to One Tree Hill — another spot for a spectacular view. The barren branches of the solitary tree standing gloriously on the grassy rock adjacent to the cliff justify the name. The ongoing drama in the sky pauses for a moment, allowing shafts of light to illuminate the grand stage.

The sun is now touching the horizon. A swirling fog wraps me in its cold embrace. Two hand-pulled carts parked beside a moss-roofed house assure me that I am near the chowk or the heart of Matheran.

But evenings in Matheran are much too noisy. The calm is broken by the thump of woofers blaring from the dance floors of the various hotels in the town. The frenzy carries on till 10pm. And that’s when Matheran slips into deep slumber.

The tattoo of rain wakes me up the next morning. I walk up to the train station. I look at rain-drenched Matheran one last time before boarding the toy train.

Tania Banerjee is a freelance writer based in Mumbai

Travel log

 

Getting there

Mumbai and Pune are well connected by road to Dasturi Naka. From Dasturi Naka, you can choose you can walk, ride the toy train or a horse to Matheran, about 2 km away.

Stay

There are many hotels/resorts, all of which includes meals in the room tariff. You will not find non-vegetarian food in some hotels.

BLink Tip

Trekkers can go on the hour-long Dodhani Village trail. In the monsoon, the downhill trail will passes through waterfalls and grassy landscapes.

Published on June 07, 2019

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