Matheran is the closest hill station to Mumbai in the Sahyadri hill range in the Raigad district of Maharashtra.
There are a number of lookout points that provide spectacular views of the surrounding hills and valleys. Matheran is a plateau with a reasonably dense forest cover. Being a hill station it is pleasant almost throughout the year. In winter, the nights can get a bit chilly though. The best time to go to Matheran is post-monsoon. It is truly spectacular at this time of the year with lush greenery, waterfalls and the lake full with water.
Matheran is situated at a height of about 803 m above sea level. Since 1907, a narrow gauge railway line connects Matheran to Neral in the plains. Motor vehicles are completely banned in Matheran, making it quite peaceful.
Matheran was discovered by Hugh Malet in 1850. The British developed Matheran as a popular tourist resort.
Matheran literally means “jungle on top”. The only modes of transport are on Horseback, by man-pulled rickshaw, or on foot. This is a good change for people living in cities. Old British-style architecture has been preserved in Matheran and most structures are now heritage structures.
In the shady trees, and unpolluted air the journey to this hilltop could be through an exciting two hour ascent in a toy train, with food and drink vendors and monkeys jumping on and off, or through a tough 11 km road hike passing from dense forests. This 2-foot narrow gauge hill railway, connecting Neral was opened to traffic in 1907.
This hill railway was built by Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy. The railway is 20 km. (12.6 miles) long and has a gauge of two feet with a ruling gradient of 1 in 20. The track zig zags up the side of the hill, bringing into view the full beauty of the Matheran Hill.
There are four pairs of train running between Neral and Matheran. However, during monsoon i.e. June to September, only one pair of train is run to open timings.
Best Time : After the Monsoon & Winter Season.
The toy train times (as of Feb ’08) are:
Neral -> Matheran:
depart 0850, arrive 1110
depart 1015, arrive 1210
depart 1705, arrive 1900
Matheran -> Neral:
depart 0700, arrive 0840
depart 1340, arrive 1520
depart 1625, arrive 1810
You can catch a Karjat bound local train from CST (a.k.a. VT Mumbai, India) on the Central Railway to Neral Station. From Neral Station , there is a toy train which runs to Matheran about 4 times in a day. This toy train is not operational when railway route is under maintenance or when there is a perceived hazard e.g. the monsoons. The only way to know about it is at the Neral Station. The train is normally full, so turn up in good time to ensure you get a ticket. You can also book the ticket online through IRCTC.
Cars are not allowed within Matheran. However you can drive up and park your car at Dasturi car point and take a 40 minute horseback or man-pulled rickshaw ride to Matheran along a mud track.
There are several walking trails which ascend the Matheran Plateau. These are used by local people commuting to the hill station as well as the occasional intrepid holiday-maker.
From the Eastern side, trekkers start at Neral.
You can also approach from the Western side, which has the distinct advantage that you can be in the shade for most of the ascent if you start early in the morning. One route recommended during monsoon starts from the village of Dudhoni and brings you to Sunset Point in Matheran. It is suitable for beginners, and the ascent only takes 2 hours or so. There is apparently a side trip to a waterfall, but I have not done this. Dudhoni can be reached by autorickshaw from Panvel (accessible by bus or central line train). The trail is obvious in most places; when in doubt, ask a local.
As motor vehicles are banned, there are two ways of getting around in Matheran.
- Walking. All the trails have signboards marking the way and the locals are quite helpful.
- On horseback
- Man-pulled Rickshaw
Matheran has 38 points at which can get a glimpse of nature’s beauty. However to cover most of these points requires atleat one night stay in Matheran. Point seeing in Matheran is quiet easy due to the presence of sign boards and map. Maps are also easily availbale in Matheran and can be used to plan your point seeing. You may also take horseback ride for Rs. 200-300 which will show you few important points. Given below are few view points which shouldn’t miss –
- Echo point – Offers a panoramic view and allows you to enjoy the echo’s
- King George point – A must visit point in monsoon as it offers a beautiful view of the waterfall formed by the water overflowing from Charlotte Lake. One can even reach he mouth of the waterfall with care, strong wind prevents the water from falling down and throws it back.
- Charlotte Lake – It’s the only water source atop Matheran nad it provides water to entire Matheran. The famous Echo and Louisa Points are on the right side of the lake and Pisarnath Mandir lies to its left.
- Louisa Point – It offers a beautiful face on view of the waterfall seen from the King George point. The waterfalls can be seen in the month of September and October soon after the monsoons. One of the hillocks on this point is called Lion’s Head.
- Panorama Point – This is ‘sun-rise’ point. The longest point in Matheran. Almost 6 kms from market. One can see ‘Neral’ on east and ‘Panvel’ on the west of the point. The other points in Matheran like Sunset Point , Monkey Point , Maldunga Point and Heart Point etc. are also to the west. If weather is good, you can see Khandala and Bhimashankar ranges as well. Truly, ‘the king of all points’ is Matheran.
- Sun-set/Porcupine Point – Famous for Sunset. Named after its shape like the quill of a Porcupine, the spot offers the finest views of the surrounding hills, forest and Mumbai, especially at sunset. The point is located around 4 kms. from the main market.. ‘Prabalgad Fort’ can also be seen from this point.
- Heart Point – The heart shaped point offers a spectacular view of Mumbai at night and a view of the Matheran bound toy train coming up the hill.
- One Tree Hill – One of the best points of Matheran.
Due to the prohibition of cars, Matheran is a relatively peaceful place. So walking is an activity that will be richly rewarding. There are numerous points all over Matheran, some of which provide some fantastic views of the valley below. While the central area and marked vistas are crowded, it is quite easy to find yourself all alone if you step off the beaten track. South of Charlotte Lake, there are some wonderful trails.
Horse riding is also quite popular way of getting around in Matheran. Finding a horse is not very difficult, as there are many of them around. It is a great way to travel for people who prefer not to walk.
The main bazaar offers a variety of articles such as cane and leather articles, hats, chappals and the sweet specialty – Chikki & Choco-Walnut Fudge!
There are all kinds of restaurants in Matheran serving various cuisines. Try the Maharashtrian style Vada-Pav (Indian Burger)which is available at the various points. Also, try the chikki which is available in different flavors in the main market. Meat is available in some restaurants, notably in the popular and modern Khan’s, which does very good Kebabs.
There are many hotels and govt. owned MTDC Holiday Resort offers comfortable accommodation at Matheran. Recommended resorts are – Anand Ritz, Richie Rich, Hotel Regal, Byke, Usha Acorts for families. Most of the Matheran hotels do not have any valley or mountain view and serve pure vegeterian food except for Lords Central hotel which is owned by Parsi.