Matheran probably is one of the most under rated hillstations near Pune and one of the most negatively publicized holiday destination near Pune in recent times. Onaiza also had visited the place earlier and described it as a hot and humid place. I decided to see Matheran for myself and boy am i glad i did so!
I left for Matheran on a weekday and planned to return on the same day. So at about 8:30 in the morning I left Pune with with two rain coats stuffed in my knapsack. The rains can be an absolute joy to watch while sitting in the comforts of a dry warm place but at the same time has the potential to be the joy killer while riding. There was intermittent drizzle on the way and i cocooned inside the two raincoats that i was carrying. It was difficult to leave Lonavla without stopping but i had to, however I couldn't stop myself from stopping myself at Khandala Ghat. I like the view from the Khandala ghat with the green hill sides and white foggy clouds floating towards the hills.
At times while we are travelling to a particular destination the places on the way, which in itself could be a destination on another day doesnt bring as much elation in you as it would if it was The destination. There is a joy in reaching the destination too. Maybe it is because of the limited time that we give ourselves that reaching the destination becomes so important to us. To really enjoy travelling i guess we have to cut out the time factor from our minds. Probably thats why they say that the best companion to travel with is the one with a sense of time that is vaguer than yours!!
I was on my way to Matheran again with in half an hour. After Khandala the old mumbai-pune highway joins the express way for a few hundred yards. I was careful not to miss the exit to Khopoli as once i had and had ended up paying a hefty fine at the next toll check post. Once I reached khopoli i asked a few people for directions and continued straight on the way towards mumbai on the old highway and from Chowk took a right towards Matheran. Matheran is about 29 Km from this junction. However later i discovered that at exactly 5 Kms from Khopoli there is a right turn that you can take which would get you close to Karjat in about 10 Kms. This route reduces the distance to Matheran by about 30 Kms. I have to add here that the roads are not in the best condition here but definitely is ridable!
At about 11:30 i reached Dasturi Naka after negotiating some twisty-turny ghat roads. The view on the way was very pretty with a few waterfalls on the way. It was lush green all around with different shades of green like most of the places around pune during monsoons but the difference was the narrow gauge railway tracks criss crossing the way at regular intervals. I parked my bike in the parking area in Dasturi and started my trek up. At 12 in the afternoon the visibility was low on account of a thick fog cover floating across. After passing the horse parking area where i had to deal with a few touts who were trying to sell me a ride up to bazaar which i refused i continued on my trek. The horse guys where quoting prices ranging from 300-500, later after speaking to a few locals at hotels i discovered that the lowest that they charge for a trip upto bazaar from dasturi is 100 normal rates being 120-150.
Matheran is the only hill station in Asia where vehicles apart from Ambulance is banned. You either need to do it all on foot or you may hire a horse or a hand pulled rikshaw. Probably that in itself struck a chord with me, after all it was a unique experience to visit a hillstation where you don't get to hear the sounds of motor! After walking up about 3Km i reached the bazaar peth. It gave the impression of an erstwhile bustling town. Probably this is how towns of yester years would have looked like. With paved walkways and shops and all the activity. Most of the resorts and hotels in Matheran are in the bazaar peth area. The Matheran railway station is also in the bazaar. Even in the mid day sun the place was misty and pleasant. A little ahead was the park - a little garden where there where holidaying families. I continued on my walk towards the woods. Matheran, literally the woods on top of a fill is rightly named so. There are about a dozen points scattered at a distance of 1-2 Kms from each other. I rued the fact that i hadn't given myself more time for the trip. Anyways its not always necessary to see all the "points" in a place; according to me it only serves the purpose of boasting to people that none of the points were missed.
There were a few government buildings, a hospital and an old church ahead of the bazaar. I could picture the old Britishers before independence walking to the church in their hats and dresses. It was fun imagining how it would have been like. It might not have been much different from now minus the hotels and the shops. There were sign boards announcing distance and direction to the "points". I saw on a board Charlotte lake and was reminded of a friend who read the name as "char lotey" once, smiling at the thought i took the turn towards the lake. Charlotte lake was a miserable sight. Muddy brown water with plastic bottles on the bank. from here i walked towards the echo point. The walk trough the woods was very refreshing. I could see why Matheran is famed or the other way around as a haunted place. Walking alone with no one in sight and the only sounds breaking the silence being the flowing water somewhere downstream, chirruping of birds and crickets i found the place peaceful however it would be easy to be feel creepy in this setting. From echo point while walking back i saw it written on a rock which read as - If you haven't seen Lord's point you haven't seen Matheran! Sometimes these punchlines can be very effective in inducing a decision. So i walked towards Lords point, which in fact was a place with quite a nice view. Near the lords point was the temple of the pisaran devata, the gram devata. Now it was getting late as i wanted to get down the ghats before dark. I walked back towards the bazaar but lost my way and ended up at the Belvedere point. It actually lives up to its name and is really a beautiful point.
There were a few more spots that i could have gone to like the one tree hill, Rambaug point, Sunset point monkey point etc but i kept these points for my later visits as Matheran has definitely got into my list of places were one could return again and again. Probably it was the time of my visit that made all the difference. A month into the monsoons but not a very rainy day. It was misty and pleasant all through the day and at the view points it was quite clear with the fog not obstructing the view. I walked down to the bazar and back to Dasturi on the narrow railway tracks with a promise in my heart to return to Matheran.