Matheran that literally translates to “The forest overhead” is a small hill station 90 kms away from Mumbai and 120kms from Pune. Any person living in Mumbai or Pune for a certain number of years would certainly have visited Matheran at one point of time or other. By that measure Matheran surely wouldn’t count as a destination off the beaten track but despite the noisy crowd of day-trippers and the pesky ghodawallas, what I really like about Matheran is the fact that it is the only hill station in India (actually Asia) where private or public vehicles are not allowed. The roads are untarred and only mode of transportation available in the town and surrounding areas are horses and hand pulled carts available on rent or one’s own trusty old legs.
Hence, a good pair of walking shoes is all one needs to leave the touristy cacophony behind and get lost in the stillness of Matheran that offers some really panoramic views of the surrounding hills and valleys.
Post it’s discovery in 1850 by the then district collector of Thane, Matheran was developed as a popular resort to beat the heat by the British. Even today, scattered within Matheran’s dense forests lie the once grand summer residences of the wealthy British and Parsi residents of that time.
One of these – The Barr House, a 150 year old British Mansion was renovated from a state of total despair and is currently operated as a heritage stay by the name of “The Verandah in the Forest”. Now while most Mumbaikars and Punekars view Matheran only a day trip destination with limited things to do, a stay in the Verandah in the Forest is a unique experience in itself. It also let’s one experience Matheran at it’s peaceful best once the noisy day trippers have receded. Sharing some pics of our trip to Matheran and stay in the Verandah in the Forest from a couple of years ago.
Matheran is easily accessible by road from both Mumbai and Pune. Parking is available at Dhindi Point situated a few kilometres downhill. From Dhindi Point it is 30 minute walk along the railway track to reach Matheran.
However, the most convenient way to get to Matheran is to take a train to Neral – the closest railway station. Neral is conveniently located on the CST – Pune railway line with even the CST – Karjat line of Mumbai local train service having a stop at Neral. From Neral one can either take the narrow gauge toy train directly to the centre of Matheran town (relatively slower but definitely more picturesque route) or share one of those local vans from Neral to Dhindi Point (typically takes 30 minutes) and then walk it up from there.
Over a hundred years old, the Matheran Hill Toy Train is a heritage in itself. However, it is slow and susceptible to delays and breakdowns. We took the toy train on our way up and it broke down twice during the journey. As a result it took us two and a half hours to cover a distance that would have taken an hour by road. But I hear that the toy train service was overhauled and reopened in 2018 after extensive repairs. So try it if you have time on your hand, definitely take the toy train. It surely has a certain old world charm to it.
Verandah in the Forest is situated near Charlotte Lake some distance away from the town centre. Once in Matheran ask the porters for “Varandah Hotel” or follow the directions for Charlotte Lake to get there.
About Verandah in the Forest:
Being a heritage home, the property has only a few rooms each decorated in it’s own distinct colonial British style. However, the most popular area of the house is undoubtedly the wide open verandah on the first floor that also serves as the restaurant. Scattered across the verandah are several of those old fashioned easy chairs where one can lounge all day with a book or watch the sun go down in the distance behind the lofty peak of Prabalgarh fort.
The property itself seems to have changed hands since we stayed there. It was earlier managed by the Neemrana Hotels group. Now it seems to be with the Dune Group. Hence, I can’t comment much on the service.
The property did not have any television when we stayed there and I hope it still does not. Mobile network was patchy given the location. They had wifi connection which too wasn’t too great. But hey if you want to watch TV or surf the net in the midst of such a rustic setting, no point in wasting time and money coming so far. Disconnect and step back in time to experience life as the early British and Parsi settlers of Matheran did. And please go prepared for mosquitos and bugs coz there is no way of avoiding them in the middle of the jungle.
One of the other memorable experience of our stay was dinner at the broad teak wood dining table in the English Dining Room along with all the other house guests. The dinner setting with silver candle stands and cutlery was like a page out of one of those classic English novels. They of course offer private dining on prior request too.
Best time to Visit:
The best time to visit will certainly be monsoon or winters. As with all destinations in the western ghats, Matheran is at it’s verdant best during or immediately after monsoons. However, given the intensity of rains in this region, monsoons can also be a tricky season to visit with the roads getting slushy and slippery. Hence, tread carefully. We were there in November end. By November, the slopes of the hills are already turning golden under the fierce rays of the sun but the forest above retains it’s green cover.
Places to see around Matheran:
There is no dearth of view points in Matheran from Louisa Point, One Tree Hill Point, Heart Point, Porcupine Point, Monkey Point, Panorama Point and the list just goes on. But the real fun is to just just follow the red laterite mud road as far as your legs take you and soak in Matheran’s peaceful surroundings.
That’s all for now folks! Happy Exploring!!!
For more weekend destinations off the beaten track, follow us on:
P.S. : This is not a paid post. Just an effort to spread the word about lesser known weekend getaways.