By Sabiha Bilgrami
I am an ‘antiquiphile’. I love old people, places, jewelry, furniture, stories, movies – the works. I even love uncomplicated old technology mobiles. When it comes to holidaying in the summer, my favorite destination is definitely Matheran. It is beautiful, comfortable, eco-friendly, exciting, near and old enough to top my list. What’s more, its history is woven with so many cute human interest stories. For instance, if you have ever wondered about where an attitude of gratitude can take you, just read on about this real life story set in India during the British Raj.
‘Armed with all of five Indian Rupees, thirteen year old Adam and his parents left their impoverished village for Bombay. The young boy took to selling matchboxes at the roadside. Soon the monsoons arrived; the rains lashed the city and whetted the matches. Adam requested shelter under the protruding tin roof of a lawyer’s office. The kind lawyer agreed and the young boy continued to eke out a living. The boy ached to reciprocate the favor. When the rains subsided, he painted the lawyer’s premises without taking any remuneration for his efforts. This labor of gratitude was the stepping stone to a multitude of lucrative, future contracts. In time this teenager would be known as Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy, one of Bombay’s most successful and sought after business tycoons and philanthropists. He would go on to become the first Indian Sheriff of Bombay and personally finance the Matheran Hill Railway in 1904. This Railway is currently a heritage railway passing through large swathes of forest territory connecting Neral with Matheran in the Western Ghats of India.’
Matheran, meaning jungle topped, rests atop the Sahyadri Mountains amid a shady forest crisscrossed with walking tracks and breathtaking lookouts. It is easily the most gorgeous of Maharashtra’s hill stations. This place beckons to all manner of tourists –the nature lovers and the historians, the adventurous and the laid back; the old and the young.
Matheran’s history dates back to the British era in India, with its discovery in 1850 by Hugh Malet (a British Collector for a nearby district). History and archaeology lovers, please note – Malet’s original dwelling in Matheran still stands tall and is preserved as a heritage site (ask for a tour of the Byke Resort).
What really sets it apart from other picturesque hill stations is its ‘No Entry’ policy for motor vehicles. This place even follows a ‘no road tarring’ policy. The color code all over Matheran is Green and Red – Lush Green forest trees standing tall on the ubiquitous, Red laterite soil. Located at an elevation of about 800m above sea level, this place also boasts of incessantly pleasant weather. It is the ultimate walker’s paradise. Its panoramic views and breathtaking charms make it a photographer’s delight also.
For the dedicated trekker, few places can beat the charm of exploring this serene land on foot. For the not so foot friendly, the explorations can be conducted on horseback. You can choose from a range of well trained, tourist friendly horses. While you haggle rates with their keepers, ask how the horses got their names (boldly emblazoned on the custom made saddles). Denace the Menace (not at all menacing), Double Trouble (a real sweetheart) and Hero have intriguing stories associated with them. The elderly, the expecting, the physically challenged and the un-enterprising have the option of roaming around in manual rickshaws.
Hotels, lodges and resorts offer various packages (easily checked on the internet). Lodging with just breakfast is recommended. This arrangement allows you to sample the ‘unlimited thaalis’ at various joints. Even loyal non-vegetarians will relish most of the ethnic Indian vegetarian cuisine.
As mementoes do pick up the tiny colorful leather slippers, the markets brim with. The dense forest also yields amazingly pure and delicious natural honey. Make sure you bring back lots and lots of it.