Matheran is a no-vehicle zone... so go ahead and walk in the clouds at this hill-station.
Prized, protected: Rain clouds, dense mist
It is the only hill-station where any kind of public or private transport is prohibited by law; and the prohibition enforced effectively. Besides the buses, cars and other four-wheelers and two-wheelers such as motorbikes, even bicycles are not allowed inside Matheran.
As for the plastic bottles and carry-bags littered by irresponsible tourists, this hill-station tackled the problem long ago. In November 2002, Prof H.Y. Mohan Ram, Chairman of a Government Expert Committee, declared Matheran clean and free of garbage, and the cleanest hill-station of India.
Matheran is 110 km, about two-and-a-half-hour drive, from Mumbai. The road is good and motorable round the year. But as vehicles are not allowed inside, you have to leave your vehicle at Dasturi Naka, 3 km from Matheran, which has a good parking lot.
Next you either walk up to Matheran or hire a pony. The journey is really enjoyable. The narrow, shaded pathways winding through dense forests rejuvenate tired lungs with fresh air.
Matheran is perched amidst the Sahyadri hills (Western Ghats) 803 meters above sea level. The 7.35-sq-km town has a population of around 4,000. Surprisingly, it also has a railway station.
Matheran was discovered by Sir Hugh Poyntz Malet, the Collector of Thane district, in 1850. But it was Lord Elphinstone, the Governor of Bombay, who made Matheran popular. He visited the place in 1855 and literally fell in love with it. He built a bungalow named Elphinstone Lodge and introduced roadways.
The Toy Train
Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy conceived the imaginative idea of a 2-ft narrow-gauge railway from Neral to Matheran (20 km). He imported three specially made engines from Germany in 1905. The railway was opened in 1907.
The train chugs slowly along the age-old track, passing through dense forests, grassy hillsides, vertical cliffs, plains and rolling plateaus.
The torrential rains and landslides of July 26, 2005, badly damaged the tracks and the train service had to be suspended.
The Matheran train, which will be 100 years old on April 16, 2007, is likely to attain World Heritage status this year.
Mahatma Gandhi Road, the town's main thoroughfare, is lined by shops of all shapes and sizes. You can buy the famous local sweet chikki, as also honey; riding boots, shoes, sandals, slippers, walking sticks and local handicrafts are available too.
Matheran has around 33 lookout points that offer spectacular views of the sunrise and sunset, and of the plains below and across the Western Ghats.
Alexander Point, Charlotte Lake, Chowk Point, Coronation Point, Echo Point, Hart Point, Khandala Point, Lord's Point, Louisa Point, Monkey Point, Mount Barry, One Tree Hill, Panorama Point, Porcupine Point and Shivaji's Ladder are some of the interesting names given to these spots.
You can hike to these points or hire a pony.
Best time to visit
Matheran is pleasant throughout the year. But the best time is between October and May after the monsoons. You will see plenty of waterfalls, mist-covered valleys, vibrant greenery and floating clouds.
The rain clouds swoop down to kiss the Sahyadris. There are heavy rainfalls. The plants and trees sparkle in their finest greenery. Dense mist and patches of clouds play hide-and-seek. The entire vista acquires a fairytale mystique.
Cotton clothing is sufficient during summer. Carry light woollens in winter; and raincoats and rubber shoes during the monsoons.
Where to stay
There are several resorts to suit all budgets. The MTDC holiday resort is located near Dasturi Naka. Other resorts include Brightlands Resorts, Byke Retreat, Lord's Central, Regal, Royal, Rugby, Usha Ascot and Verandah in the Forest.