Thursday, February 17, 2011

Weekend at Matheran

Matheran, meaning the forest on top, was on top of my list when we moved to Pune. Though Mahabaleshwar and Lonavala is much talked about hill stations, I wanted to visit Matheran for a long time.  When we decided for a short holiday and hubby was not very particular about any specific place, I decided its Matheran. All I knew that vehicles are not allowed in Matheran. So you have to either take a train or walk all the way. I googled and gathered required information. From Pune there is only one train that stops in Neral and there are many to Karjat. Initially I had planned to take the toy train from Neral and had booked tickets online for Pune to Neral. On second thoughts, decided to take the train on the return trip. The Sahyadri express leave Pune at 6:55 AM reaching Neral at 10:05 AM. We reached around 10:30. You can see a board welcoming Matheran passengers on the 1st platform and there is a separate track for that train outside the station.  On the right side of the exit at the station gate, lies the taxi stand. As you walk down, cab drivers come asking if you are to Matheran. Taxi charges Rs.300 and if you opt for sharing then it is Rs.60 per head. When we approached a taxi, there was another couple too. So it was shared between us and the other couple..  It takes only 20 minutes for the uphill drive and the taxi leaves you at the Dasturi point. If you are travelling in your own vehicle, then you will have to leave the vehicle at this point. Tourists are charged a small fee of Rs.25 and Rs.10 for children to enter Matheran. Take the ticket at the counter and you can start your journey to Matheran. Once you move out of the gate, people throng you asking to take you by horse, hand pulled rickshaws or offering to take your luggage while you walk up. There are two routes- one is the railway route and the other one which the horses and hand pulled rickshaws take.

The roads are muddy and uneven. We walked along the railway track, which was much easier.  It was a good experience to walk with trees on both sides. You have to be careful with the monkeys. You will be taken off guard. If you have anything that remotely resembles food, they will surely grab it from your hand. Otherwise, the monkeys are harmless.  It took 45 minutes to reach the M.G. road where the shops are locate. On the way up, we found sign boards of various view points.

From M.G. road it was another 5 minutes walk to the hotel, Kumar Plaza. We had plans to roam around before lunch. Once we checked in, all I wanted was to stretch. Walking with the luggage wasn't that easy, even though we travelled light. Had a lavish buffet lunch at the hotel. The package included stay and three meals along with evening tea. The food at the hotel was very tasty. They had variety in their both lunch and dinner menu. The room was comfortable, but was a bit small.  The swimming pool is not very big. All in all they have all the facilities to add to the list, though it could be better.
We headed out at 3:30 pm. The first point was the Khandala point which is very near. From the road, you have to walk down. Very good view. There is a telescope and he charges Rs.20 to show you five points. Through the telescope, we were showed few houses of adivasis, the ladder used to extract honey and the like. Three points which are nearby Charlotte Lake, Lousie point and Echo point which is 10 minutes walk from the lake point. 

While I sat down on a platform near the echo point to catch some breath, I putdown the Sprite bottle and immediately my husband exclaimed "Monkey" and by the time I turn I saw it walking away with the bottle. It perched on a branch and opened it. Sniffed and probably didnot like it and just poured it down. While we were returning from the echo point, I saw another one drinking fanta from the bottle.

The soil at Matheran is the laterite kind and can paint your clothes and shoes literally red. Make sure you don't wear your expensive shoes or best dress there. Though the red color doesn't leave a stain on your clothes, it definitely calls for some extra scrubbing to remove them. The roads are not very smooth.

There is a well maintained park. There is a separate with fun rides for the kids.  Though waste bins are not many, you can't find any litters in the park. Its picked often.

All the shops are on the M.G Road. There are some shops on two by-lanes too. Shops selling foot wears, chikkis, fruit crushes makes the most of the market. There are umpteen varities of Chikkis and fruit crushes to choose from. We bought chikkis from the Janatha stores and few flavors from fruit crushes from Mala's outlet. You will get footwear for throw-away prices. Though the price quoted by the sellers are not very high, you can bargain for a lesser price and they invariably reduce it too. Where can you get fashion chappals as low as Rs.100. I have a weakness to footwear and had to restrict myself by not buying too many pairs.

There are many games at each point like bowling alley, hitting the tumbler etc for Rs.10. They give out prizes too but its not very easy to win them given the conditions apply.

The toy train has an extra run on weekends and we had booked for that trip at 12:30. The checkout time at all the hotels are 9:30 but our hotel staff wasn't particular about it. Probably, since it was a Sunday and there may not be many bookings for the day. After the breakfast, we packed all our things and vacated the room at 10:00 A.M. Left the luggage at the reception and just roamed around the market and spent sometime at the park.

The train was at the station at around 11:30. Everyone was busy clicking the train and posing in and around it.  The seats are small that two persons can just fit in. The leg space between the seats are also very less. You can't expect much on that train which has to travel along the hills. The first class compartment has spacious seats.

By 12:30 everyone got seated. And all the passengers were ready to soak in the forthcoming panoramic views.  Time ticked away and the train did not seem to be starting. On enquiry, we learnt the train which is coming towards Matheran has got stuck on a single track due to some technical snag and hence our train could not start unless it reaches Matheran. Finally after two hours, we started our journey. The journey through the forests is very good. After Matheran, the train travels along the hills. The view down is breath taking.

At some points,  the width is just  enough for the railway and track with hill on side and deep valley on the other.

We found a group trekking along the rail route. There are two stations on the way. This is to let the other train move along.

The period just after monsoon will be very good with greenery all around and you can catch some waterfalls also along the way.

Long distance train passing along the Neral junction

It took 1 1/2 hrs to reach Neral. From Neral, took a local to Karjat and boarded the Bhuvaneswar bound train at 5 from Karjat and reached Pune at 7:00 PM. Except for the delay for the train to start, the trip was good and had a nice time.