About 90 Kms from Mumbai lays the beautiful go-to hill station, known for its numerous waterfalls and lush green mountains. Home to a varied species of plants and animals, Matheran is a health sanatorium in itself. The sublime and awe-aggravating landscape of this hill station makes it an irresistible getaway for many urban dwellers. While the trail is muddy and the lake unsettled during the monsoons, I think it's the best weather to enjoy the washed up greenery of this haven of joy.
Unless you have your own ride, the cheapest and the most convenient way is to take a local train up the Central Line to reach Neral Junction. Matheran is another half an hour of a shared taxi ride from here. Moving towards the hills, you will feel the cool breeze emanating from the waterfalls that you'd see lining up crevices of the hills, washing every bit of the nature sprouting.
The numerous maps and signs marking the village, frankly, are restrictive to the hearty explorations that the travelers may otherwise enjoy. The points (viewing points) marked on these maps remain famous with the masses, while there's so much more that remains off limits.
So, for your next weekend getaway to the smallest hill station in India, make sure you follow your instincts and not the markings to find yourself awing over the real gems of Matheran that you might have missed.
Try picking a hotel as far from the market as possible
It might sound a little inconvenient but you are taking these two days off the hustle bustle of your city. So trust me, you want to invest in a lodging far from groups that walk around, day and night, playing music at the loudest on their speakers. The farther the better.
There are a number of budget hotels in vicinity of the market that offer a beautiful view with noise reduction prompted by the rustling of leaves and constant raining. One such place is Laxmi Hotel, a Parsi-style building, maintained and run by a Gujarati family. You might be lucky enough to get a room with a porch or convince Vishwal, the caretaker to let you take one of the rooms with the old attic-style ceiling. I love the idea of that ceiling since it offers one a night lit by fireflies like a sky full of stars, especially during the first few days of monsoon.
Take the Road not taken
Soon as you step out of your hotel, you'd see a number of tourists walking, riding horses towards Charlotte lake. Join them only to ditch them at the diversion where they'd walk down the path on their right. Take the other one for its paradise like trail. Soon, you'll find yourself far into the solace of the chirps and the scares that the forest has to offer.
Enjoy the fine drizzles till the clouds rest into a fog scaring the hell out of you. They sure did for me soon as I crossed a Hindu crematorium and a Parsi graveyard, both a few metres from each other. Just a few steps from them you'll see a stone bench on your right. It is old enough to be mistaken for a grave. Especially when you've just passed a graveyard. But do sit on it for a while to let the weed and leaves growing on it talk to you. Pick the dew and let it rest on your face as the leaves rustle to tell you where to go next. A melodious, human-like whistle might end up scaring you at some point. Enjoy the Bulbul singing in its full being.
An hour or so on this path will have you cover Little Chowk, Chowk and One Tree Hill. These are one of the few points that your friends must have told you about. Well, you definitely will have much more than that to share.
Up above a Waterfall
If around the lake, find yourself a quiet corner by the edge to let the subtle waves calm you. Enjoy the lake far from the presence of tourists, loud in form and essence. The nearer you get to the viewing point of the Charlotte Lake, the more noise and empty bottles floating in the lake are going to trouble you.
Hurrying away from one such ruckus, I ended up reaching a natural platform overlooking the fall of the lake. I was as disappointed with the plastic floating on the surface as I was exhilarated to notice a possible trail on my right. It was quite hidden under the bushes and hence perfect.
The trick here is to make sure that no one notices where you're going. You don't want people to follow you into exploring a wonder. You've got to be selfish about it. And so, taking this detour, I ended up reaching right above a waterfall with a couple of streams on both my sides feeding into it. The valley, picturesque in all its colors was being washed fresh with the constant raining as the sky, the darkest possible, threatened to burst a mighty fall. A slender shine of the sun gleamed through a hole in the clouds, and onto a distant hill. The wind blew the water from the waterfall in fervid motions and waves and onto me. I could see the raindrops fall down vertically as the ones from the waterfall, swirling with the wind, got me front first. Thank God and my mum for the raincoat!
Find the all abandoned
The deal with following your instinct is you'd end up finding yourself in places you've never imagined. So take the unmarked trails to find one of the many abandoned houses located somewhere in midst of the forest. Just like I found this one with a well and swings in the front; a huge kitchen and an even bigger bathroom in the back. There was a staircase that secretly led to the lake.
Hanging around the house for a while, I came across one Vimle Shreepadhyay, a lady in her late eighties speaking a dialect closer to my mother tongue. She stayed in a small hut nearby. When I asked her the whereabouts of the family who owned this house, she quiet casually said that they were buried right where I had walked up to the house from. I hope she was just making it up.
At places like these, I often find myself connected to the possible history of the surroundings. So, I sat there another hour wondering what if I was one of the family members, the daughter probably, with my ailing mother restricted to a room in the right hand corner and my father messing around with the village girls in the one in the left. Blame Bollywood for my imaginations, okay! Anyhoo, that was just daydreaming to somehow be a part of this beautiful piece of architect, still preserved in its full form.
There truly are a number of houses and chambers left alone to rot, to be rained down to ruins. You might want to look around to find the beauty in them; to find the beauty in creepers coiling around the pillars and the glass panes that seem to form faces.