“Is it really far from the station? Tell me, is it really far?” That is all I could ask my friend as we travelled by a local to reach our weekend getaway – Matheran. The local train stopped at Neral, from where we took a rickety little cab with an elderly couple. Across the next 20-odd kilometres, we wished we had better sunscreen, more chips and a little bit of air in the cramped car.
However, things changed for the better once we reached Aman Lodge. Apparently my frumpy self looked too weak to walk the rest of the way (as we were made to believe by the horse-Tonga-wallahs, which I proved as false the very next day) so we took a lazy toy train ride to the main town. Beautifully landscaped train tracks curved dangerously close to the cliff while we sat in an empty compartment, sharing biscuits and a single juice box saved from the day before. A few customary selfies later, we started our search for the place we had booked – a place favorably called The Verandah in the Forest.
And that is exactly where we found it. Nestled deep in the jungles of Matheran, wrapped with ferns and nostalgia, the Verandah was an old colonial bungalow. Built by Capt Barr in the 19th century, it was only the second house to be built on the Western Ghats. Now owned by the Neemrana Group, the bungalow has been restored to house various rooms. But the gem of the eye remains the long extending verandah – calling it a balcony can never do it justice. This is where we ended up spending most of our time, ignoring the monkeys, having our meals in the afternoon, sipping chai while playing a terrible game of scrabbles. The verandah overlooked the valley, which explained why the guests all came out to watch the sunset from the comfort of the vintage lounge chairs.
The food was something I can almost taste even now. If I close my eyes I can remember the fiery red of the Rajasthani Laal-maas cooked to perfection, the warm rotis soft enough to be broken into by a single twist of the hand and desserts to fill the nights with dulcet dreams.
The guest house was a short walk from the beautiful Charlotte Lake and the sunset point next to it. I have often wondered who would have named these ‘points’ – sunset point, sunrise point, echo point – these are the usual landmarks we have in any hill station. And yet the view looks just as breathtaking from any other corner (facing the same view). The morning jog to sunrise point was much more refreshing because of the lack of early-risers on weekends. While I struggled to find foot-holds to place myself firmly on the not-so-slopey slopes, the local women strolled past me with as much ease and grace as my mother during durga puja. They were in their element, while I was trying to fit in.
A thing which I loved and hated about Matheran were the stray dogs. Ever friendly, they would come to us looking for biscuits and what-nots. In return, we were guaranteed protection from the monkeys. And at the same time, they wouldn’t leave you alone to enjoy the scene – much like a child who has no idea about privacy. But they are dogs, what do I know!
And yet, I remember the place fondly. I remember the sprawling ground where I can imagine the most perfect, most beautifully private wedding taking place. I remember the deserted house down the street with beautiful and yet spooky mannequins kept on the lawn. And more than anything, I remember the Verandah itself which made me feel like a princess from a long-ago India. And the warm glow of comfort I felt being away from the city – in a home of my own.
I first published this on my blog Indiancuriositea