Thursday, November 24, 2011

Matheran

Matheran means 'The wooded head', Methe (Head), Ran (Wood). It is in Sahyadri range of hills. Matheran is vehicle free zone, you can either walk or hire a horse to roam around in Matheran. This gives you pollution free holiday with lots of exercise. You can travel by local train to Neral from Mumbai, or by train from Pune. From Neral there are usually two ways to reach Matheran, 1) to catch a toy train from Neral station to Matheran 2) to take a taxi which drops you at Dasturi Naka. Matheran is about 2-3 km walk from Dasturi Naka. Vehicles are only allowed till Dasturi Naka, and if you take your own vehicle, you need to leave it in the parking of Dasturi Naka. From Dasturi Naka, you can either walk to the town or alternative to walking from Dasturi Naka is to hire a horse. You can also get a man led cart which carries one person, or you can use it for all your luggage and then walk freely.

We decided to take a new approach to Matheran. Its about 7-9 km walk up the hill from Neral station to Dasturi Naka. We walked all the way up the hill to our resort in Matheran - Usha Ascot. We reached Neral station at about 7.30 am and started our walk at 8 am. The view was beautiful and it was worth the efforts of walking. We were only ones walking on the road and people travelling in taxi looked at us with curiosity. We were told off by many people from walking all the way from Neral station, the question asked was 'why walk when you have facility of a train and taxis?'. We also received suggestions of walking from Dasturi Naka instead of walking all the way up the hill. Its interesting how people find such things odd or weird. Trekking or walking all the way up a hill, is not that unusual, and yet we only want to consider only the tried ways, without trying new things. This is what troubles me most in some places, or with some people. Why cant we go out of our way to try new things, explore new ways? Does it have to be always, tried and tested or recommended ways. Why cant we search a new path, a new way (of not just travelling, but also a new way of life). Living in UK really gave me this new perspective. Many people in India, want to live the same way for years. Do the same activities, follow same things year after year. Be it a simple things like going to the same restaurants or planning holidays.

When we came back to India, we decided to challenge this system. To set new trends for ourselves. To break all the unwritten rules, regulations, timetables. I feel we follow a certain timetable in life, by the age of 16 you have to finish school, by the age of 21 you have to graduate, by the age of 25 (for a girl or 28 for a boy), you have to be married, by the age of 30 you should have at least one kid (in an ideal world two kids), by the age of 35 you should have two kids (to be specific a boy and a girl, in an ideal world both boys), please dont be taken aback, I have found Indians in different parts of the world who still think that they should have at least one son, and they will jump with joy if it two sons as compared with two daughters; by the age of 40, you should own a house and a car; by the age of 60 you should be in-laws and so on.........

Come on guys, its our life, not a race that you have to achieve a certain milestone by certain age, otherwise you will be left out by society.

So coming back to the trek, we reached our hotel at approximately 1 pm. It took us almost 5 hours from Neral station to our resort in Matheran which was about 10-12 km distance. Some part of the route was very steep climb, and being low on stamina I had to take lots of short breaks to catch my breath. Also I kind of underestimated the weather, so we had much better speed till about 9 till the sun started shining upon us directly. We also took some photography breaks. Overall our aim of this trip/trek was to enjoy ourselves, so we did anything which we felt like. Stopping for photography, taking short breaks to enjoy views, and stopping to watch the small stations and toy train on the route, everything was allowed.

After reaching the resort, we had nice lunch (with lots of onion to avoid any damage by harsh sunshine) and took nice nap for couple of hours. Painful part was, Matheran has a scheduled power cut every day, which means even after taking an AC room, we were left with a fan throughout our nap. Surprisingly we woke up fresh and with tiny body ache than we had expected. After roaming around in our resort for some time, we decided to divulge in a game of pool. We had go looking for the person in-charge of the gaming zone, but ultimately we found him and had 2 games for about an hour. We were told at the time of check-in that the lunch is served in dining hall and the breakfast and dinner are served at pool side. First glimpse at pool had already heightened our expectations, and the experience was much more than our expectations. Vast open space with lots of trees, buffet and a bar next to the swimming pool, lovely breeze, all the stars shining overhead and a cherry on the top was live music. The singer is called Chhotu Khan, and he had beautiful voice for all the gazals. (especially gazals of Jagajeet Singh and Talat Aziz). He also entertained song requests, and we were delighted to hear our favourite songs in his voice.

Next morning was another adventure for us. We decided to walk all the way to Panorama Point (about 6 km walk from the resort) to watch sunrise. To watch the sunrise we had to start really early in the morning. We started at about 5 am. Occasionally we ran into some early horse owners, or couple of student, but otherwise it was nice and quiet, just two of us walking on the road. We had street lights till Dasturi Naka, but after that we had to depend upon the torch light to see the road. All the roads throughout Matheran are rough, with stones, highs and lows. You must have comfortable footwear to walk on these roads, wearing some fancy/high heel shoes will leave you with lot of leg pain and dirt on your footwear. It was a lifetime experience. Narrow road, wood on both sides of the road, no one else on the street and occasional sounds of animals (mainly horses or dogs). To make it more thrilling, we walked into a place where there were many human size bones, there were two crosses made of two bones each (the way we see in a danger sing). That was nerve wrecking moment for us. We were in serious doubts about whether we had taken the correct route and felt a bit nervous. Nonetheless, we still continued on that road. After few minutes, we got first glimpse of the cliff view, and felt assured that at least we were on the correct route. By 6 am we started getting a bit of natural light making it easier for us to walk. Approximately 6.50 am we reached a point, from where we could see Sun rising beyond Sahyadri hill range, with small towns sleeping in a blanket of mist. I think that was one of the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. We sat down for few minutes to see Sun rising upon the hills, bathing in the first rays of sunshine. After watching sunrise, we continued to the Panorama point. Its a very beautiful location, gives you lovely view of Sahyadri range in 2700. We wondered that some of them might be castles/Kille, but we didnt know any of those, there wasnt any information available at the point itself either. This is one thing I found very useful while travelling in Europe, you find all the useful information about the point and view handy at the location itself. A simple board with the picture of range describing which one is what, can be very useful for travellers. Guess it will leave less margin for travel ministers to transfer that money to their Swiss accounts. Never mind, doing such small things will really help and boost tourism industry. Another thing which tourism department must consider (if ever they intentions to consider) is public toilets and dustbins in these tourist places. Throughout our route, I did not come across a single public toilet. Same thing with dust bins. I saw many placards mentioning that throwing rubbish in public places is punishable offence, but there were stretches where we could not find any dust bins to throw rubbish into. We had to carry all the rubbish all the way to our hotel rooms to throw away. (Guess not many people have motivation or intention to do the same).
After coming back to the hotel, we spoilt ourselves with Massage, sauna, steam and jacuzzi in our resort. The lady masseur is not professionally trained, but has more than 10 years of experience with the same resort. She gave me an insight about the town itself. According to her Matheran has about population of 15,000 people. The only professions available are to run the shop, run a hotel/restaurant or to work in one of the existing ones, or other small professions related to tourism. It also has a English school, education facilities are available only till S.S.C. (Schools) and after that kids need to go to Karjat or nearby town down the hill for further education. Couple of colleges run mini buses starting from Dasturi Naka to the college itself for these students.
Unfortunately, the power cut happened after our massage and we had to leave for our rooms without experiencing Sauna, steam, jacuzzi. Being it a scheduled power cut, we managed to convince the spa manager to allow us back at 1 pm (usually spa is closed 1 pm - 3 pm for lunch) for sauna, steam and jacuzzi. It was a good experience as we had never experienced Jacuzzi, and I think 10 minutes were far too less in it.
After lunch, we stretched our legs for Charlotte lake and Lords point (about 2-3 km away from the resort). It was a nice walk through trees to the lake. Lake itself is a nice location but not a must visit. After spending some time, we visited Lords point, which was worth the visit. Again we got lovely view of the Sahyadri range. Down the point, we also found a small path to go a bit of trekking. The views were excellent and a bit of adventurous fun. Ever since we started from the resort for the lake, one of the stray dogs started following us. It walked next to me, some times it walked few steps ahead of us, circled us, came back and walked next to me again. Though it was a stray dog, we were not bothered about it, as it wasnt an aggressive one like other stray dogs, and it was friendly. It accompanied us all the way to lake, then Lords point, and also on our short adventurous trek. At first we thought it wanted some food, and offered it some of the snacks we had. But after giving it snacks, the moment we started walking again, it left the food behind and started walking with us. We found it amusing. After coming back from our short trek to the Lords point, we decided to wait for sunset, and the dog got some rest. While waiting for the sunset, at one point lots of monkeys started surrounding us. You find lots of monkeys ever since you cross Dasturi Naka, and they dont rouble you unless you trouble them or you have some food items in your hands to lure them towards you. But that stray dog went around barking at the monkeys, keeping them away from us. We had grown fond of this dog by that time already, and this incidence made us love it more. The sunset behind the Shyadri cliffs was beautiful. The walk back to the resort was full of fond memories of the day.
To make it perfect end of the day, the live performer was present again and this time we were ready with our choices of songs.
Next morning we took the toy train to come back to Neral station. The train is slow and takes longer than the taxis, but it is worth that time. You get splendid views of valley and nature. It must be 10 times more beautiful just after the monsoon.
One appeal to all of you people, please, please dont throw garbage, rubbish in these beautiful places, we are destroying natural beauty by doing this. Do we throw empty mineral water bottle, or a packet of chips besides our sofa in our house? Then why do we throw these things anywhere in public places mindlessly?