We’re going on a field trip

Yeay, this is the first travelogue post.. well the first one about actually travelling. We took a few days off and went to Matheran; the smallest of India’s hill stations. It’s in the Western Ghats and conveniently only 3 hours drive from Mumbai. These hill stations were the place to escape the heat of the city for the wealthy in the British Colonial era.

Because someone might read this for actual details on how to get there, I’m going to be very precise. I found it a little confusing gathering the information from various sites on the internet. If you find this stuff boring, go and make a cup of tea and come back in ten minutes.

We drove from Mumbai on a Tuesday. We left at 11am and arrived at the Dasturi car park at about 1:30pm. The car left. I think you can park there but it doesn’t look very secure.

Dasturi is the closest you can get a car to Matheran. Matheran is a ‘no car zone’. From Dasturi car park we walked to our hotel. The car park is about 2.5km from Matheran town centre and our hotel was another 2.5km further on. We hired a porter to carry our bags after some haggling at the car park (which involved 2 porters having a tug of war with one of our bags!). We haggled 800 rupees down from 1600 rupees…we stayed in one of the furthest hotels from town but the hotel guys confirmed that what we paid was fair. (Haggling is a bloody nightmare, I hate it). I could have carried my bag but this is how these guys earn a living…aaaand I didn’t want to.

There is also a 100 rupee ‘national park fee’. I think this is legitimate because as you enter the park there is a little official chap in a booth collecting tickets. However there is a strange system to the tickets. You don’t actually get a ticket. A guy accompanied us and confirmed to the booth guy that we had paid the park fee. This guy was quite insistent that we wait there for our ‘tickets’. It all got a bit confusing ‘Why did we have to wait for tickets? Had we not paid the park fee?’ He got a little anxious when we said we wouldn’t wait any longer and started to walk away….This was the horse guy. What happens is that the horse guys have the tickets (they do exist, they were blue) and they try to get you on a horse for the journey into town .

That’s fine if you want to do that but we were happy to walk. So once the ‘tickets’ had arrived (we waited for the tickets, to be polite, that’s what the British do) along with his mate leading 2 horses, we were off, on foot…much to the amusement of our porter.

One of the reasons Matheran has stayed car free for so long is that the horse unions are very powerful.

The first part of the walk is through the forest, following the train tracks of the toy train. About half an hour later you come to Matheran itself. It looks like a frontier town with a train station and horses tied up outside and along the street. Here you can change your mode of transport and get a hand drawn rickshaw (one guy pulls and one guy pushes…)

Another half hour later through more forest and this time following dirt tracks of rich red-laterite earth we arrived to our hotel.

There is another way to reach Matheran. You can go to Neral – either by train from Mumbai or by car. From Neral you take the toy train up to Matheran. The toy train takes about an hour and winds its way out of the valley, up into the hills and stops in the centre of Matheran. Then from there you walk, ride or rickshaw to your accomodation.

We took the train option on the way home. We walked to the station with our porter, (only 400 rupees this time – half the distance) which took about 30mins, then waited for the ticket office to open. There are 2 routes and the ticket office for each route will only open 40mins before the train departs. It’s a little frustrating but the ticket office is very punctual and did open 40mins before our scheduled train.

Our tickets were 300 rupees each for first class. Not so much for any extra luxury because the carriages looked the same, but for a seat. Second class looked a bit crowded.

Again you can choose to ride a horse or get a rickshaw to the station, because we did neither I couldn’t tell you how much it would cost.

The car then met us at Neral. There is parking in Neral if you decide to go by car.

Well that’s the tourist information bit over. Matheran was super place for a few days break. If you enjoy walking, horse riding (very sedate, no galloping around) and generally having a lazy few days it’s definitely worth a visit. We stayed in a small hotel – The Verandah in the Forest – which is a restored country house. It’s not a 5 star hotel but it is so charming. The hot water situation was a little complicated – cold showers are a great way to wake up in the morning…but the staff are attentive, the house and grounds are lovely and as there are only a few rooms the atmosphere is very friendly. Sitting on the verandah in a colonial fornicator chair, sipping your tea while the monkeys eye up your shortbread is very entertaining.

For those of you with a morbid fear of not being connected to your phone, this is not the place for you. There is no WiFi and phone reception is very sketchy at best. So what did I do? I had breakfast, I walked, I had lunch, I had a nap, I had tea, I walked, I read/took photographs, I had dinner and then did it all again the next day…Bliss.

For those of you whose curiosity is piqued, Google the chairs….those naughty Britishers!

The Verandah in the ForestSunset

Hanuman LemursMawari horses

Matheran toy trainMatheran town

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