Guide to Matheran – Asia’s only vehicle-free hill station #Mumbai

For Mumbai-kars Matheran is a household word. At home, the talk of a short getaway from Mumbai usually starts with Lonavala or Matheran. So when my family decides to go to Matheran during a long weekend this Summer, I was quite skeptical. I presumed there would be crowds and I wasn’t sure it would really be much cooler than the utterly HOT & humid city. But since everyone was majorly excited I succumbed.

Surprise, surprise but Matheran was not just deliciously cool but quite low on tourist traffic. We got rooms easily at a well placed resort at decent rates – 1800/- per person, per night incl food – and the market wasn’t too crowded either. So I must say, I really enjoyed this Summer weekend in Matheran and as usual I could spend a lot more days here just gallivanting around. 😉

To the uninitiated who haven’t been to Matheran before (probably you aren’t from Mumbai… or are living seriously under a big rock in Mumbai) the charm of Matheran is in many experiences. Walking on the unpaved, hilly paths amidst lush forests. The natural laterite (red) mud that sticks to everything you are wearing and your shoes needing a serious wash when you get back. The entire town being a No-vehicle zone so your transport choices are either horses, hand carriages or your own feet. Being wary of the truly, aggressive monkeys all the time – they may just jump on you and snatch food from your hands – literally.

I find that apart from the Mumbaikars, there is surprisingly less chatter about people from afar visiting this place. Considering this is Asia’s only vehicle-free hill station, and so charming a place, I feel there needs to be a lot more buzz about it. Even for those of us who have frequented this place often, here are some interesting activities that help us see this quaint and charming hill station in a whole new light.

Get lost in the red Earth, forest roads

Matheran has a lot of ‘points’. Louisa point, Sunset point and so on. Go on a walking trail on your own… try reaching some of these points as you can. But don’t worry about getting lost in these trails. If you get a weekend that is not crowded, as I did, then you can really get lost in these woods. The sign boards are non-existent. So you may choose to wait at a crossroad for someone to come by, who can guide you or you can just pick a direction. This actually happened to us and was really fun. We went off in another direction for a while… but then realized this didn’t seem right, so turned back.

Matheran red paths
Red earth roads amidst the forest. 🙂
Matheran Charlotte Lake
Matheran’s Charlotte Lake Near Louisa Point

Usually if you keep following a random track either you find yourself at some “point” or you find yourself back in the market, through some small red path that you had never noticed before. It is like all roads lead to the Matheran market 🙂

Spend a quiet evening in the Bazaar & Observe the local culture

As we had a quiet weekend with hardly any crowds, the bazaar was very enjoyable. I specifically tried out a few Maharashtrian dishes.

Matheran MAharashtrian Cuisine
A plate of Maharashtrian Misal. Quite spicy! Other dishes to try out are poha, sabu dana wada/khichdi, usal…

What I had not noticed on my earlier visits was that, there were so many religions hodgepodged into that little market. There is a big Hindu temple and quite nearby is a Mosque. Then down the lane is a Jain temple. There is also a Parsi market. I found it all very interesting…

Matheran vegetable market
A vegetable market named after a Parsi lady in the main Matheran market. T
Matheran Mosque
A mosque in the Matheran market

Another piece of culture in Matheran are the chappal sellers. Apparently these chappal sellers of Matheran used to make leather chappals as their family craft and these chappals were well known. Now however no one wants to pay for them… every one wants the cheaper outside chappals. Also there are way too many chappal shops in that market – that can’t be good.

So observing and listening to the people can really bring up so many stories of peoples lives.

Find out Local stories

The market place as I described earlier is chock full of interesting matters. Strike a conversation with the locals and find out some stories! Knowing the stories, legends, realities and myths of a place can helps us know and understand it better.

Here is one such story that I found out,

Matheran Pisarnath temple
The Pisarnath Shiva Temple

The Matheran market is called ‘Pisarnath market’ after the local deity Pisarnath. People from all over the area come frequently and worship at this Shiva temple. It is the village deity. The temple is located at Louisa point, on the banks of Charlotte lake. As the story goes, a person was roaming around the forests of Matheran and he came across a natural linga – often known as swayambhu or self-forming linga under a grove of Pisar (Marathi name) trees. So he started taking care of that linga and worshiping it. Slowly this deity became popular amongst the other people in the village. I guess due to some miracles and such that may have ensued, people started believing in this deity.

Go Chikki-tasting

In the shops of Matheran you will forget that Chikki is typically made of Jaggery and Groundnut.  There is a whole gamut of Chikkis here – different colours, different texture, different flavours and a wide variety of ingredients. So go to these shops and try out a few. 🙂

Matheran Chikki Tasting Matheran Chikki

Matheran Chikki
Some of these Chikkis can be really hard to break!

Try out a new Look

Travel is a chance to be a whole new person. Matheran somehow always incites me to try a new look. There are a whole bunch of hats and caps available. Even horse riding attire and gear is available and commonly worn by people who are seriously into horse riding. So try out a new look!

Hiking & trekking

There are many trekking routes in Matheran. I have personally never trekked as usually I am there with family but you can search around. There is a trekking route from Neral to Matheran – I have wanted to do this for a while, but not got a chance yet.

Long walks and hikes as I also mentioned earlier are easily possible. You can take any of the forest paths and keep walking… even after frequent visits there will be more paths to discover. 🙂

I asked another traveller from Mumbai, Deepika Gumaste to share some of her thoughts about Matheran. She visited Matheran quite recently, just one weekend before me in fact. 🙂

Having been born and brought up in Mumbai, there are a lot of weekend places I have traveled to. One that always scared me was Matheran, only because of the notorious “too touristy” tag that it has earned over the years. But eventually, I took the leap of faith, just because I had exhausted all my weekender options and it turns out that Matheran is fun, if tried in some other way than the usual ones, otherwise it’s just too crowded and not enjoyable. The best season to visit Matheran off course is the rainy season, but because I wanted to do something different, I went there before the onset of monsoons. The touristy greens were yet brown and prudish. I hiked from Dasturi to Matheran. All along the healthy horses, rustle of dried leaves and the toy train keep you great company. – Deepika

Thanks for your thoughts Deepika! Matheran is definitely a lot of fun, especially when doing something a bit different!

How to get there?

So to get to this awesome-schmosome place, you need to get to Neral. A little town about 2 hrs from Mumbai. Local Central Line trains are easily and frequently available from Mumbai & I guess Pune also. I have never traveled here from Pune.  Once you reach Neral you can get the iconic toy train – but you need to book well in time otherwise it may get full. I have been in the toy train few times before, but it gets too packed, so I rather prefer taking a car or hiking up. There is a also a trekking route that takes you from Neral to Matheran.

If you take a vehicle it takes you up to Dasturi. From Dasturi you need to buy a ticket into Matheran and then you can take a hand-carriage or horse to Matheran. I suggest you just walk it up from Dasturi to Matheran – it is a lovely 20 mins walk through the lush green forests, near the toy train tracks. Just take care not to carry foods openly – cause it is sure to attract the monkeys.

If you have taken the toy train, then it will drop you right at Matheran town so no awesome walk from Dasturi to Matheran for you. 😉

Matheran Toy Train
Matheran Toy train….
Matheran dasturi
Lush greens enroute Dasturi
Matheran, Dasturi
Towards Matheran….

And don’t forget….

The laterite red Earth of Matheran will inevitably leave its marks on you 😉 Every time we return from an outing to Matheran – all the clothes and shoes are rounded up and washed separately from anything else because they leak Red dirt. So pack clothes that let you enjoy with out worrying about spoiling them.

Also the monkeys were really aggressive. So keep foods inside the bag at all times. You won’t know when they are near and will grab it from your hand.


Viva Matheran!