Adventure in Matheran

We had visited Matheran way back in the winter of 2007. By ‘we’, I mean sis and myself. Strange how this term has changed with the passage of time. ‘We’ for a short time, meant the husband and I, and now it includes the baby, too. God, how I love rambling!

So, as I was telling you, we had been to Matheran at a time when we had our Nikon camera that required film rolls. We had that camera only for a few years before it became completely obsolete. How fast technology can make your prized possessions outdated! I digress again but just could not help wondering that out aloud. Anyways, that essentially meant that this post won’t have any pictures clicked by us. I have no idea where those photographs went. But, no matter, the visit remains quite clear in mind. And for various reasons as well. 

Let me first give you a little background on Matheran. Matheran is a small hill station located around 90 km from Mumbai. Due to its proximity to both Mumbai and Pune, it attracts a lot of weekend revelers. Another amazing fact about this place is that it is one of the few places in the world where vehicles are not allowed. This alone was reason enough for me and sis to visit Matheran. At that time we were staying in a girls’ hostel in Mumbai that directly overlooked a busy road and in my sister’s words, “I feel as if I am sleeping on the road separator.” The poor girl had a room on the second floor while I was lucky to have my room on the fifth. 

Pic Courtesy: Google Images

Pic Courtesy: Google Images

We decided to take a train to Matheran from Mumbai. Now, here is what happens to someone who is as risk-averse as me. I saw that there were local trains plying between VT or CST in Mumbai to Neral, the closest station to Matheran. But what if we could not get a seat there? We were fresh off the boat in Mumbai and the claustrophobia-inducing crowded local trains were still a monster to tackle. So I booked our seats on a train leaving for Pune (I think). The person who booked my tickets assured me that I will get empty seats on the local trains on our journey back. I thank him for saving my money.

So, on an early Saturday morning sis and I headed for CST station. We mis-calculated the time taken to reach the station and had only a few minutes to spare before the train started for Pune. The entire platform where the train was stationed wore a completely deserted look since all the passengers were inside. Foolishly, we started running the entire length of the train to reach our compartment instead of just jumping into the nearest one. What a sight we provided to the occupants of the train - absolutely free entertainment! Finally just as the train moved onwards, we managed to get into our coach all huffing and puffing and out of breath. We sat down on our seats, looked at each other’s faces – the foolishness dawned, and the entire coach began to shake with our laughter (that’s how we felt, at least). 

I see that this post is not going to end anytime soon. So let me just give you the highlights in bullet points.
  • We shared a Maruti van with several other occupants which went up only till the gate of the hill station and no further. After that you could either continue on foot, or hire horses. We chose to walk. Oh I have to mention, the van occupants were quite impressed that two young girls had come so far alone, and they called us ‘brave little girls’. 
Pic Courtesy: Google Images

  • Once you decide to walk, you have to take the toy train route to reach the town. Yes, there is a toy train but it was not plying when we were there due to damaged tracks.

Pic Courtesy: Google Images

Pic Courtesy: Google Images

  • Now, very important, DO NOT open any food items, for there are monkeys. And they shall rob you of any food you foolishly take out. My sister had taken out two expensive ‘imported’ apples and she had to part with them, uttering “Here, take them, take them all!”. One of the monkeys had actually climbed over my back to snatch the apples. Eww!!
  • There are a number of hotels where you can stay. We stayed not far from the railway station and paid Rs.1200 (I think, or maybe Rs.900) for a night, inclusive of all the meals. I can’t recall the name of the hotel but it was very nice and spacious, with a courtyard. Some of the people staying there had got their pets along with them and the staff was quite generous. In fact, the staff stood with sticks in their hands to ward off the monkeys while we had our food. Too bad I forgot the name.
  • Now for the sights. As with most hill stations, there are a lot of ‘points’ and ‘seats’. I remember doing some online research and talking a print-out of all the important places. At the moment I can only remember Charlotte’s Lake, Louisa Point, One Tree Hill Point and Sunset Point. People were very co-operative and guided us on to these various points.
  • We had roamed all across Matheran on foot. It is possible but quite arduous, considering the steeps ‘up’s and treacherous ‘down’s.  Do get tough walking shoes in case you plan to go our way. But be prepared to get a thick layer of red sticky soil on your shoes which is very stubborn and may take you a while to brush it off.
  • For the above point alone, it may not be a good idea to visit Matheran during the monsoons.
  • There were several advantages to walking as against riding on horses. The roads winding through the forest are a beautiful sight. We came across many interesting stuff on the way which can be easily overlooked if you are on horseback. There were quaint cottages hidden from view, some of them almost in shambles. 
  • The absence of any vehicle meant there was pin-drop silence at night. Sis, who had 'famously' quoted that road separator thingie, could not sleep well because of the the silence this time. If this is not an irony of life, then what is?
Now, for the two most unforgettable incidents: 

1.       Monkey attack – As I mentioned earlier, we were assaulted by monkeys from the moment we stepped on Matheran. I guess monkeys are more likely to attack girls who do not have males accompanying them. We were at one of the points, a steep cliff, when suddenly a monkey appeared from nowhere and pounced on my sister. It was actually after the sheet of print-out she had put in her back pocket. The attack was so sudden that she lost her balance and started rolling down the hillock. I lost my voice and my heart stopped beating as I saw her hurtling down towards the cliff. I thought that was the end. Even today I get the shivers thinking of that terrible scene. Thankfully, a few guys heard my sister’s screams and came to our help. She stopped just a few feet away from sure death. The monkey was so enraged that it targeted me next and came charging towards me with its teeth bared. The guys finally managed to shoo away the monkey. I think this incident scarred me for life – I can never look at a monkey again without recollecting this horrific tale. 

2.       The amazing sight – The above incident freaked us out so much that the rest of the day we carried a horse whip with us to fight off any monkey that came our way. We were hungry but were too scared to open our packed food in case some monkeys appeared. Finally we took turns at taking guard at a secluded area while one of us opened a chocolate bar and popped that in. Suddenly we heard a rustle of leaves behind us. Our hair stood on end as we imagined an army of monkeys, led by that rogue monkey, charging upon us. We slowly turned around to face our adversaries, and the sight took our breath away. Just a few feet away from us, there stood a group of deer, gentle and elegant.  That was the first time we came so close to a wild animal after leaving the jungle of our childhood. It was absolutely unbelievable that we would come across these beautiful creatures in such a crowded hill station, teeming with people and horses. We kept on staring at each other till they got bored and silently left the area. 

I know, I know this has been the longest post you have ever come across, but memories just came flooding by and I could not stop writing. This has always been a special trip since it was the first one that sis and I had taken together. We were encouraged by this one to take other journeys together. 

Today both of us are married and with kids, but every time we sit and recollect our time together in Mumbai, Matheran (and the monkeys) always find a mention. Maybe in future we shall take a vacation, keep our kids with our husbands, and have another adventure together in some other fun place!


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