The closest hill settlement to Mumbai, Matheran was discovered in 1850 by the British during their occupation of India and subsequently developed into a popular summer retreat. At height of 800 meters (2,625 feet) above sea level, this serene place provides a cooling escape from searing temperatures. However, the most unique thing about it and what makes it so special, is that all vehicles are banned there -- even bicycles. It's a soothing place to relax away from any noise and pollution.
Matheran is located around 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Mumbai
, in the state of Maharastra.
Getting to Matheran:
Getting to Matheran is one of highlights! A popular option is the leisurely two hour journey on the toy train
from Neral. To get to Neral from Mumbai, take one of the hourly local trains or preferably an express train -- either the Deccan Express
(departs CST at 7.10 a.m. and arrives at 8.40 a.m) or the Koyna Express
(departs CST at 9.00 a.m. and arrives at 10.30 a.m). Alternatively, a taxi will take you from Neral to Dasturi car park, around three kilometers (1.8 miles) from the top of Matheran, in 20 minutes. From there you can ride up on horseback. Hand pulled rickshaws and porters are also available.
Visitors are charged a "Capitation Tax" to enter Matheran, to be paid on arrival at the toy train station or car park. The cost is 25 rupees (50 cents) each for adults, and 10 rupees each for children.
Due to its height, Matheran has a cooler and less humid climate than lower surrounding areas such as Mumbai
and Pune. In summer, the temperature reaches a top of 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) while in winter it drops to 15 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit). Heavy monsoon downpours are experienced from June to September. The roads can get very muddy as they're not sealed. As a result, many places close for the monsoon season and the toy train service is reduced. The best time to visit is just after the monsoon, from mid September to mid October, when nature is still lush and green from the rain.
Visitors are drawn to Matheran for its tranquility, fresh air, and old-world charm. In this place without vehicles, horses and hand pulled carts are the main forms of transport. Matheran is also blessed with dense forest, long walking tracks, and panoramic views. There are over 35 large and small viewpoints dotted around the hilltop. Early risers should head to Panorama Point to take in a spectacular sunrise, while fiery sunsets are best seen from Porcupine Point/Sunset Point and Louise Point. Exploring all the points on horseback is a fun adventure. A trek to One Tree Hill is also memorable.
Matheran Travel Tips:
Very attractive hotel discounts of 50% are possible during the low season, from mid June to mid October. Avoid visiting Matheran during the Diwali festival
in mid October, Christmas, and the Indian school holiday period from April-June. Prices skyrocket as hoards of Indian tourists flock there. Weekends can also get hectic. Meals are usually included in hotel rates so do check what's being served -- some places only cater for vegetarians.
Matheran's isolated location makes it relatively expensive to stay there. Cheaper rooms can be found near the toy train station, while secluded resorts are set back from the road amongst the forest. The most popular and character filled place is Lord's Central.
With room rates staring from $130, it's quite costly but is centrally located as its name suggests, and has a stunning mountain and valley views. Other resorts such as Verandah in the Forest
and Hotel Riviera are also quality places to stay. Woodlands Hotel is a good budget choice, but can get busy with families staying there.
Feeling frazzled, I visited Matheran on a three day break from Mumbai with the objective of getting some peace and quite amongst nature. It was the week before Diwali, so I was also hoping to beat the crowds and get some decent discounts. I'm happy to say that all this was possible, and I returned home completely rested and refreshed.
To get there, I caught the Koyna Express from Mumbai. However, it was running late and arrived in Neral only a few minutes before the toy train was about to depart (which is a common problem due to the schedule). I hadn't booked for the toy train as it wasn't peak season, but still all the second class seats were taken. Fortunately, I managed to grab one of the last remaining spaces in the first class carriage.
Finding somewhere to stay away from the vacationing Indian families proved to be a little more difficult than expected. Hotels offering good discounts, such as the Horseland Hotel and Mountain Spa, were also offering karaoke, children's activities, and other entertainment programs. Great for families but not people in search of solitude! Finally I settled on a rambling property which hinted of the British Raj era, called the Anand Ritz. While it would normally be way overpriced, the discount being offered made it acceptable enough. Best of all it was quiet.
I spent my time in Matheran walking and horse riding, enjoying the nature trails and views, and fending off cheeky monkeys who wanted to feast on my food. It felt like being on top of the world, and a complete world away from the constant hustle and bustle of Mumbai.
One thing to keep in mind when visiting Matheran is that the area subject to frequent power outages. Many places don't have a generator to supply backup power, therefore it's a good idea to carry flashlight.
While I chose to stay in Matheran a couple of days, it's definitely possible to visit there as a day trip from Mumbai. You'll have to catch a local train back to the city though, or take a taxi. A ticket in the first class compartment (which in no way resembles its name!) of the local train is recommended to help avoid the crowds and make the trip more comfortable.