Matheran is situated at a height of 803 m (2,635 ft) above sea level. Since 1907, a narrow-gauge railway connects Matheran to Neral in the plains. Motor vehicles are completely banned in Matheran, making it quite peaceful despite the thousands of visitors that come here, mostly from Mumbai.
Matheran is a plateau with a reasonably dense forest cover. Being a hill station it is pleasant almost throughout the year. In winter, the nights can get a bit chilly though. The best time to go to Matheran is post-monsoon. It is truly spectacular at this time of the year with lush greenery, waterfalls and a lake full of water.
People here can speak Marathi, Hindi and basic English. You may come across some tourist guides speaking Konkani or Urdu.
From Pune, catch any Mumbai-bound train and get off at Karjat (Around 95 km from Pune). Then catch a CSMT-bound local train from Karjat and get down at Neral (21 km, would take around 15 min).
From Neral Junction, there is the Matheran Hill Railway which runs to 2 about 4 times a day. The toy train is not operational when the railway route is under maintenance or when there is a perceived hazard e.g. the monsoons. Unfortunately, the only way to find this out is at Neral.
Neral to Matheran tickets as of November 2009 costs are 1st Class ₹210, 2nd Class Reserved ₹35, 2nd class unreserved ₹20. Tickets can be booked from 3 to 1 day in advance, and then on the day of travel from 45 minutes before the train.
The train is often full, so turn up in good time to ensure you get a ticket. You can also book the ticket online through IRCTC. If there's a queue of unmoving people at the ticket window with a salesman who is reading the paper, then all the 2nd class tickets are sold out. Jump the queue to the window and ask for first class as they're usually still available. Travelling in toy train takes around 2 hours.
There is sadly no convenient express train to get back to Mumbai CSMT in the evening. You can get a local train from Neral to Karjat (away from Mumbai), and then an express train back from Karjat into Mumbai. But this will take longer than just getting a local train from Neral back into town. One can get a train from Karjat to Pune on opposite direction.
There are many share-a-cabs which take you to Matheran from Neral. The distance from Neral to Dasturi Point, the last point to which vehicles are allowed in Matheran, is 11 km. The drivers that ply through the roads have immaculate driving skills, so the real advice here is not to keep eyeing the blind turns and foot-to-brake coordination, but to just enjoy the breathtaking views as you climb up towards the Dasturi point. Also, make sure you take the rearmost seats as it will provide a relatively more comfortable journey. Once you have left the taxi, you can take a horse ride or get the help of porters to carry luggage up to the town. The drivers charge around 100 rupees per person, carrying up to 5 persons in a ride.
Cars are not allowed within Matheran. However, you can drive up and park your car at Dasturi car point, or take the newly introduced minibus shuttle from Karjat or Neral railway stations up to Dasturi. From Dasturi you must take a 40-minute horseback or man-pulled rickshaw ride to Matheran along a mud track.
Alternatively, you can walk from Dasturi along the railway line and make your way up to Matheran - 20 minutes to half an hour. The rail track route is slightly shorter, more scenic and very much more comfortable than the rubbly, dusty main road route. Coolies or porters are available at Dasturi to carry your luggage. Remember to negotiate rates in advance. You can also go by group booking or alone.
There are several walking trails which ascend the Matheran Plateau. These are used by local people commuting to the hill station as well as the occasional intrepid holiday-maker.
From the eastern side, trekkers start at Neral (see above).
You can also approach from the Western side, which has the distinct advantage that you can be in the shade for most of the ascent if you start early in the morning. One route recommended during monsoon starts from the village of Dudhoni and brings you to Sunset Point in Matheran. It is suitable for beginners, and the ascent only takes 2 hours or so. There is apparently a side trip to a waterfall, but I have not done this. Dudhoni can be reached by autorickshaw from Panvel (accessible by bus or central line train). The trail is obvious in most places; when in doubt, ask a local.
Fees and permits
There is an entry fee of ₹50 for adult visitors and ₹25 for children. The proceeds from this are used for the upkeep of the place considering its fragile ecosystem.
As motor vehicles are banned, there are three ways of getting around in Matheran: walking (all the trails have signboards marking the way and the locals are quite helpful), on horseback, or by rickshaw.
Almost all the points offer pretty good sunrise, sunset, mountain and valley views, so walk or horse ride or take a rickshaw to whichever you want. Remember that the more popular points will be crowded, especially at sunset.
Some of the popular sights include:
- Lake Charlotte - a spectacular waterfall overflows from the lake during and shortly after the monsoons. At other times, it is peaceful and surrounded by dense evergreen forests, bird songs and pretty butterflies. There is a gramadevatha temple nearby this lake.
- Panorama point - This point is a very beautiful one, for you can see a panoramic view of the hills on the left and a beautiful Ulhas River to the right. This point is quite far from Matheran station / market, but you can negotiate a good price for your travel if you do not feel like walking. This point is perfect for Sunrise and is also called "Sunrise Point."
- Heart Point - Here one can see a beautiful scene of the valley and this point looks like heart, so it is named so.
- Monkey Point - Here you can see the monkeys in large numbers and their mischief life-sized.
- Malang Point
- Luisa Point - The view from here to the waterfall (run off from Charlotte Lake) during the monsoon is spectacular.
- Honeymoon Hill - According to locals, a British officer had his honeymoon actually arranged at this point. Also, latter Parsis used to harvest honey at his point, hence its name.
- Echo Point - True to its name, this point has some superb echo effect! Feel free to scream loud at the point and hear the echo coming from distant places through the valleys.
- Lords Point
- One tree Hill - A unique hill, which has only one big tree growing on it. The way to reach the hill is a bit risky and steep.
- Olympia - There is a horse race course.
- Paymasters Park
- Mount Barry
- Artist Point
- Khandala Point - Very close to the Matheran market place.
- Alexandar Point
- Rambaug Point
- Little Chowk Point - Spectacular view and towards the southmost tip of Matheran.
- Chowk Point - Spectacular view and towards the southmost tip of Matheran.
- Sunset (Porcupine) Point
- Garbut Point
Due to the prohibition of cars, Matheran is a relatively peaceful place. So walking is an activity that will be richly rewarding, especially for nature lovers, and more so just after the monsoons when wildflowers are in full bloom with their attendant butterflies. When the mass blooming of Karvy or Strobilanthes Callosa takes place, it is a spectacular sight.
It is not uncommon to sight golden langurs, snakes and the Matheran Giant Squirrels [Ratufa indica elphinstonii]. Apart from the ubiquitous bonnet macaque or aggressive Matheran monkeys
There are numerous points all over Matheran, many of which provide some fantastic views of the valley below. While the central area and marked vistas are crowded, it is quite easy to find yourself all alone if you step off the beaten track. There are numerous forested trails leading to most of the points. Wear thick-soled footwear and carry a walking stick for greater comfort as some of the trails are very rubbly, nothing more than dry river beds.
Horse riding is also quite a popular way of getting around in Matheran. Finding a horse is not very difficult, as there are many of them around. It is a great way to travel for people who prefer not to walk, but rates must be negotiated in advance.
One popular adventure in Matheran is the Valley Crossing from Honeymoon Point to Louisa Point. It's basically a U-shaped mountain and you have to go from one side to the other side (approx. 275 m) hanging on a rope, 300 m above the valley below. This works thanks to 3 ropes, pulleys and gravity. It is a one-way lane, so coming back is by walking or you can ask your horse-man to come to that point to pick you up. It is definitely not for the weak-hearted, but you get a bird's eye view of the valley.
There are all kinds of restaurants in Matheran serving various cuisines. Most hotels offer packages including all meals. Try the Gujarati Thali, or the Maharashtrian style Vada-Pav (Indian Burger) which is available at various points. Also, try the chikki which is available in different flavours in the main market. Unlimited Gujarati Thali at Hotel Gujarat bhavan (₹ 175 as of December 2010) and Hotel Regal (₹ 250, Dec 2010) are famous. Hotel Laxmi offers limited Gujarati Thali (₹ 80, Dec 2010), the food here is very homely, and less spicy. Though a limited version the quantity of food is enough for the average appetite.
Meat is available in some restaurants, notably in the popular and modern Khan's, who make very good Kebabs. Diwadkars opposite the station does very tastily non-veg. and veg. thalis, kababs, etc. at a reasonable price, they also serve alcohol. Shabbir's Biryani house is very famous for its meat preparations, but it is not a very neat place and if you are looking for a proper restaurant with people waiting for you then Shabbir's might not be the place. Shabbir Bhai's is an authentic home-run hotel, serving tasty Moghlai food. To reach here take the right from the Masjid and walk up for 2 minutes.
Hakimi's is a good place,where you can find good Chinese, Moghlai and Punjabi at a very very reasonable rate. It is right next to Pramod Bar (the only bar in Matheran). Also worth trying is the big Indian breads (called "pav") which you can find in the store right opposite to Pramod Bar.
There are all kinds of restaurants in Matheran serving various drinks, try the unique Kokam Sherbat there. Liquor is available only in certain hotels and restaurants.
During the peak season, when it is very busy, prices are often as high as four times the off-season (winter) price. Be ready to shell out minimum of ₹ 2000 for a modest non AC double bed room on a weekend. As it is a popular weekend trip from Mumbai, mid-week is less full so you should be able to negotiate better prices. While there are many hotels in the centre of town, there are more secluded hotels down the paths away from the central buildings. Its always better to stay in hotels in the market as you can roam around there once it gets dark. In far off hotels you would get locked up in the room as it won't be advisable to venture out in the dark in forest. Better do not book any rooms from the agents who would surround you at Neral Station. There are many rooms (hotels, cottages, resorts) up at the Matheran Market and it is better to actually check the rooms and then deal directly with the owners as this can save money as well as the disappointed of being dubbed into a poorly maintained and sub-standard room. Given most hotels can offer food, it needn't be an inconvenience being out of the town centre. Due to the space in Matheran, hotels often have extra facilities from table-tennis tables and swings to swimming pools.
- Lord's Central. Is of the expensive options May not be the most luxurious around, but it's a charming place whose owners bend over backwards to make you feel at home. It has a well placed pool, small library, bar, dining room and a giant chess board. ₹ 4500 - ₹ 6000 standard rate depending on the room (discounted low season). The charges include three meals..
- Verandah in the Forest (Barr House), Barr House, ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. This heritage bungalow has been converted into a first-rate guest house by the Neemrana group. A favourite with expats and the well-heeled Mumbai crowd, it is generally full on weekends. Well away from the crowded centre of Matheran town, and not far from where the road turns from wide dusty horse-path to quite footpaths. Walk just a hundred metres down one of these trails and you will be on your own exploring the views and relics of colonial bungalows.
- Byke One of the oldest resorts; definitely the oldest 3 star resort in Matheran. Its well away from the crowds and has been around for 20 years. Mainly consists of several colonial style cottages and has managed to preserve some of the old world charm & character. Has a mid sized swimming pool for adults and a small pool for children, rain dance area, restaurant, tennis & badminton courts, a small discotheque with a stage, health club, games room, several swings that you can relax on. Its nice & green and the food is decent.
Another good budget option for the families is Woodlands Hotel. Situated in the forest as the name suggests but just 10 mins. walk from the Station/Market. Homely atmosphere with good food and service. Pets are welcome.
There are plenty of hotels to suit all budgets. Maharashtra Tourism's site MTDC has a list of home stays as well. Most Matheran hotels and resorts advertise in the local Mid Day travel classifieds so it is easy to compare prices.
Most of the above-mentioned websites do not mention the following small hotels which allow you lodging and boarding:
- Hotel Preeti. This is a clean and neat place with considerable space for people to sit outside their rooms on swings and sofas. The rooms are clean and the beds look warm. The price is ₹ 300 for one person a day without food. With food, which includes breakfast tea and two meals it is ₹ 600 for one person. (Rates on a summer Saturday)
- Krishna Villa. This place is not the best place to be if you are going with your family, but if you are with your friends and don't care too much about the rooms being slightly small this place can give you a good deal at ₹ 240 per head without the food. (Rates on a summer Saturday)
- Meghdoot. This is slightly better than Krishna Villa but not as good as Hotel Preeti.
- There are several locals who have turned their houses in the villages into tourist cottages. These are very cheap and clean but don't expect too much service. You will not these days near the "Pramod Bar".
- Carry a good pair of comfortable walking shoes. Matheran is quite dusty and there is red soil everywhere.
- The roads can be rough with many small stones in them, but they are not sharp craggy rocks. If you wear a good pair of shoes with thick soles you should be fine.
- The weather is truly excellent as you can walk around even in summer without feeling too uncomfortable. Morning is the best time from trekking but be ready for a hazy view as the cloud covers the place at early morning.
- You can trek right down from Dasturi to Neral station, either following the ghat roads or the toy train tracks. The best would be to combine both the routes for a spectacular view. This trek will take around 1 hour and you would find only 1-2 small tea stalls. Carry water.
- Avoid carrying too much baggage with you. You can't take it up by car and need someone to carry it for you. Some of these porters are women and you may not feel right about a woman carrying your heavy bag. Anyway, it's quite easy to find a male porter (also called "coolie" in India). They may charge around ₹ 60-100 for carrying your bags to your hotel depending on where your hotel is. Also they are reliable and you can safely hand over your bags to them and take any route you want. They will be at your hotel before you.
- The charges for horses differ. The horse keepers charges anything between ₹ 100-500. You can bargain.
- Carry enough cash with you, as there is only one ATM in Matheran and unfortunately it often does not work during monsoon.
- There are monkeys around. They will not hesitate to snatch your belongings especially anything remotely resembling food. Don't feed them or play with them. Besides this they are pretty harmless.