Monday, January 11, 2016

The Hills, Trains and A Very Unusual Birthday: A Matheran Travelogue

This post got featured in the Tangy Tuesday Picks on Blogadda.

Tanvi got the pastry out and as she set it on the tin table and got the candles, the young shopkeeper on the opposite side shouted 'Monkey, right behind you!'

We saw it right in the nick of time less than a foot away from us, its eyes fixed at its prey. I grabbed the pastry and ran out as bystanders shooed it away. It ran away but not before grabbing hold of the pastry box that we had just disposed. What was to follow was even more surprising. All the drama unfolded with at least a couple of dozen people around us, standing in the pleasant December afternoon, at one of the most scenic spots in the small hill station of Matheran, 100 kilometres from Mumbai. We were there to celebrate my birthday 'in an unusual way'!

Unusual? Yes! How? Take a look at these pointers from our pre-trip itinerary:
  • Take the toy train to Matheran, click lots of photos, sing songs, tell spooky tales, walk along the train and feel the air.
  • Buy the famous-in-Matheran chocolate chikkis and ‘save them from the monkeys’.
  • At some point, cut a cake or pastry and invite fellow tourists to be part of the cake cutting and take random photos with them.

'Travelling in a toy train'- one of the biggest priorities on my bucket list. This was one of the first sightings of the toy train
during our trip. I kept looking at it in awe. Matheran, December 2015. Photo: Tanvi
Believe it or not, we accomplished every single detail of this and more.


As per the plan finalised two days ago, on the morning of 12th, three of us- the only ones from college who were in Mumbai- had to catch the Karjat Fast Local from Dadar at 6.24 AM which effectively meant waking up by 4 am, getting ready and reaching Dadar railway station. This was clearly the most difficult part of the entire day's plan. The success of this one thing alone- waking up at 4- would determine if actually it was going to be an unusual birthday. For a fact, now you know that it happened.

A late night at work forced our third companion to drop out of the plan at the absolute last minute. But since Tanvi and I had already packed and were ready to leave, we were in no mood of a last minute cancellation.

We met at Andheri, took a train to Dadar and got window seats in the Karjat Fast train. For the first time this winter I wondered why I wasn't carrying any winter wear. The cold subsided soon enough and about two hours later we got down at Neral station, the base station for Matheran. Amid confusion regarding the toy train timings and after waiting for half an hour in the endless queue at the ticket counter (no online booking available), we decided to take a shared taxi for the 9 km uphill journey to be covered in less than 30 minutes. I was disheartened on not being able to take the toy train even on this trip, but we took the decision in favour of not wasting the limited time we had.

The 30 minute uphill ride was smooth and motion sickness didn't find me. We bought the tourist entry tickets and entered the forests of Matheran.

This was where we first spotted the toy train chugging towards the town center from the Aman Lodge station close to the entry point (Many more sightings were to follow through the day). The next train wasn't scheduled for another hour and we decided to follow the tracks on foot for the 2 km walk to Matheran town. This was fun, fast and as planned, we felt the morning air of Matheran.

Walking on the railway tracks between Aman Lodge station and Matheran station, the shortest 'walk' to reach the town.
Matheran, December 2015
The 'train and everything that comes with it' craze lives on...Matheran, December 2015. Photo: Tanvi
The customary photo with the sign board at Matheran Railway Station, Matheran, December 2015
My attempt at online booking of hotels had been futile, with hardly any rooms available for the apparent 'busy weekend' and hotel prices at a 400% escalation from normal rates, had been way out of our budget. So we had decided for a 'day trip' but with an open mind of change in plans. We got rooms in a decent budget hotel near the railway station, and it turned out to be a great idea. Chances of getting tickets on the toy train early next day just increased.

After a quick breakfast for our starved stomachs, Tanvi bought a Mongini's pastry from a nearby bakery (probably the only one around) and we headed for our Matheran sightseeing.

Tanvi was for some reason obsessed with clicking random people's photos. Good for me and the blog!
Matheran, December 2015. Photo: Tanvi

And of course she captured some really nice and eccentric ones like this while I walked through the forests of Matheran, December 2015. Photo: Tanvi

Panoramic View of the beautiful Charlotte Lake, Matheran, December 2015

On random places on the roads, there were games like this one for tourists. By the way, remember the 'red soil' from the
Geography classes? Matheran is absolutely red! Matheran, December 2015. Photo: Tanvi

The horses were randomly and weirdly named, less to be addressed and more to fascinate tourists.
Matheran, December 2015. Photo: Tanvi

Panoramic View of the Echo Point, Matheran, December 2015
We walked through the market and headed towards Charlotte Lake, apparently the most popular tourist point. The artificial lake is scenic and I assume, is the primary source of fresh water for the entire town. We headed to Echo Point from here (which surprisingly didn't 'echo' thanks to the huge number of tourists and the noise that came with it). I liked the spot and thought it would be the ideal spot for the cake-cutting ceremony. We had the pastry, a scenic spot and a lot of people around us to celebrate with. What we didn't anticipate was the monkey episode which forced us inside an ice-gola shop nearby for the ceremony. What was to follow was unexpected.

I requested the lady who owned the shop to make a video on my phone. The cake cutting now went smoothly void of the 'random' tourists. The cake went on to be distributed to the lady, her co-worker and the young shopowner who had saved the pastry by shouting 'Monkey'. Tanvi and I were having an ice-gola when a friend of the lady came by and we offered her cake as well. When she asked if it was someone's birthday and I replied with affirmation, she said 'Arey aaj didi ka bhi to birthday hai. Humne raat ko 12 baje yahan cake kata', (Today it’s my sister’s birthday as well. We cut the cake at midnight) pointing at the lady who had made our video. Wow! Out of everything I had anticipated, finding out that she shared her birthday with me was absolutely unexpected. It was too big a co-incidence and led to a celebratory selfie with her!

The beautiful backdrop for the cake-cutting ceremony, Echo Point, Matheran, December 2015

The Monkey Who Tried To Steal The Cake. Screengrab from the video, Matheran, December 2015

And finally the cake cutting ceremony, Matheran, December 2015
 
The celebratory selfie with the lady in yellow when we realised it was her birthday too. Matheran, December 2015

After a lot of persuasion and 'Would you be coming back here again anytime soon?' arguments Tanvi agreed and we trekked to the far Louisa Point. The trek was easy thanks to the shade from the tree cover in the entire route, but we couldn't stay for long at Louisa due to the afternoon heat. We walked back to the market area and had a late lunch before heading to the hotel.

The 'I-don't-want-to-be-in-the-southern-hemisphere by staying in-Mumbai on my birthday' dream seemed to have failed. But as evening approached, the temperature began to fall a bit, although even then I was comfortable in the single full sleeve shirt I was wearing. We took a leisurely walk through the market, spent some time with 'spooky tales' in the garden, bought the famous-in-Matheran chikkis, had a 'butter chicken' dinner void of any butter or chicken, and returned to the hotel.

I had completely switched off internet throughout the day, and so only people who had called on my phone when I was in the limited network area, could reach me to wish for the birthday. So I took some time to go through the birthday wishes on facebook and whatsapp, while standing in my room’s balcony and staring at the clear night sky full of stars.

The day was spent with some special people. The waiter who served us breakfast and the tea shop owner who lost
few packets of chips to monkeys while making our tea, and later skilfully used a catapult to retrieve the packets back
Matheran, December 2015

'There is going to be a lot of walking and trekking,' I had warned Tanvi earlier. At the end of the day, we had walked close to 27,000 steps and 24 kms on the red sand as per the fitness data recorded by my phone's health app.

Early next morning we were able to book tickets on the toy train for the short 2 km journey from Matheran to Aman Lodge, so we could take the taxi down to Neral station. My joy knew no bounds as soon as I had those tickets in my hand. We had a quick breakfast and got on the train. I spent the short 15 minute journey standing at the door of the train, taking photos, eyeing every little detail of the train- from the small engine and compartments to the 'rattling' of the wheels on the narrow gauge tracks- breathing the hilly air and gasping at the picturesque views of the valley below that came at every turn the train took. 

It was a childhood dream that had eluded me for too long. I am sure Tanvi would have noticed the wide smile that refused to leave my face. After all 'travelling in a toy train' had just been ticked off my bucket list during the most unusual, different and special birthday celebration up in the hills.


Travelling in a Toy Train had just been ticked off my bucket list. Matheran, December 2015

8 comments :

  1. lucky you... it's a lovely place, isn't it?
    It's been a while since I revisited it...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, it's amazing. Visited it for the second time. May be you would want to make this part of your next India trip itinerary :)

      Delete
  2. Congratulations! Your blog post was selected for Tangy Tuesday Picks edition on Jan 12, 2016 at BlogAdda.

    Please find it here:
    http://blog.blogadda.com/2016/01/12/tangy-tuesday-picks-january-12-2016-indian-blog-posts

    ReplyDelete
  3. waah kya birthday tha.. wish something like this happen on mine too :)
    nice post one agn !! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's all about willing to do something different and then going ahead and doing it. I will look forward to your invitation Stuti :P

      Delete
  4. Such a beautiful sight.. must be one of your best experiences ever.. celebration of any kind calls for this kind of a escapade...

    ReplyDelete
  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete

Copyright © on second thoughts... | Powered by Blogger
Design by SimpleWpThemes | Blogger Theme by NewBloggerThemes.com