Dec 2002: We were in college then. So yeah, its been some time ;), long long time to be precise :). We had lot of trekking enthusiasts in our group and we had discussed going for a trek one day but it had not materialized. So one foggy winter evening we 3-4 friends had just gone to the snacks center per our routines and over tea and cream roll we somehow again got into this discussion on how we should plan a trek and how no one really makes it happen blah , blah and then someone suggested why plan lets do it this week, then other added why not tomorrow and then it was like why not start today only, who knows we might change our mind. It happened so fast that no one was quite sure about whats going on, but as people had given commitments just now it was difficult for any one to go back on their word now.
But we were still 3-4 of us and we thought it would be fun if many others also join in. So we fanged out on different directions, scouting our college friends and trying to get them on board. Some hopped on instantly others had to be persuaded a bit. But in the end 10 souls were ready and we had a group. It was almost 6:00 pm and there were so many things to do. We had to plan for the actual plan :), then what transport to take, get things to eat, provision for money etc and most of all the place to go. Many option were thrown in the air, but either they were too lofty or all were not ok with it. As we all were students and low on cash we had to factor that as well. So in the end Matheran was selected as we could go by the local train, which was a great option as we had direct connectivity from our place to the base village of Matheran called Nerul and also it was not too high and then we had one more attraction of the toy train.
So the place and mode of transportation finalized, some of us headed to get something to eat and water bottles etc and some got onto the finance part of it. The train to Nerul was at 9:00 pm from Akurdi and so we were racing against time. We had decided that all would meet at Pradhikaran road to have dinner. Slowly one by one people started arriving and we quickly had Chinese food there and headed towards the Akurdi station. We bought the tickets for the Pune – Mumbai passenger train and headed towards our platform. The station was fairly crowded and the train arrived in a bit though it was running late. Now we knew what to expect from the passenger train but what we saw and experienced was beyond the worst. It was jam packed and not only all seats were occupied but even on the floors people were sitting or sleeping. There was not enough space even to stand. The journey ahead was not going to be easy which had to be covered by standing all the way through.
It was so hot and cramped and it was only when the train started moving that the wind circulation made it bearable. There was lot of chatter going on there and we also saw couple of fights as well 🙂 Nothing new! The train ride was one of the worst I have had and it stopping at almost every station added more to our exasperation. Finally after what appeared to be eternity we reached Karjat and we had the vada pavs for which this station is famous. Later we got some seats or rather a piece of the seat :), which allowed us to rest. We reached the Nerul station at around 3:30 am, the journey had taken us ridiculous amount of time. We were quite tired so once on platform we found some benches and slept or rather tried to for some time. Then we were awake by 5:00 am and after getting fresh, we were ready to head towards Matheran.
It was quite and roads were empty when we started. Shops near the station had started opening the shutters. We made out way from the narrow lanes of the town and were on our way to the trail. Our original plan was to take the toy train ride, which is one of the few mountain railways and an icon of our country, but the first train does not leave before 7:00 am. We thought through it and as the journey had made us so stiff, we were no inclined to wait another hour or so there. So we decided to trek to the top now and would ride the train on our way back. Matheran top is around 8-10 km from Nerul. There is motorable road which goes all the way to the entry point and so this is the one we got on and started the hike. After a moment it was getting quite monotonous and so we decided to go off trail.
But we were not sure of the routes and we were lucky to meet the locals with the trail information at regular intervals. So with guidance from them and some of our own logic we went on. The trek is easy, but the off trail is always adventurous and interesting. All of us were making good progress. We took couple of breaks in between and had snacks which we had brought with us. It was quite cold in the morning and we were having chills when we started, but the hike warmed us up. Luckily we had started early on and so there were not too many people hiking with us else as this place is quite popular with Mumbai folks it is always swarming with people. En route you pass the rail tracks and the small mini stations as well and looking at them (we even crossed the 1st upbound train as we reached close to the top) we were dying to get on one. The hill is engulfed in forest and we were passing through some dense cover.
We reached the top in 2.5 hours I think as we took our own time climbing. The entry/exit to the top is regulated and cars can’t pass the entry point, before which they have to park. On the top you either walk or you can hire horses or the palanquin (which we referred to as shahi sawari !) . But for us commoners walk would do and after a quick break and rest we explored the place a bit. Matheran is a hill station and is covered with dense forest. It was quite cool on the top in the middle of the day as well and we saw few points which I don’t have much memory off. By this time we were quite hungry, so we had lunch at some restaurant there and now it was becoming difficult to keep our eye lids open. We hardly had the nights sleep and the walk and heavy food made us lazy. But there was no time for that as we had to catch the train to Nerul and from there back to Akurdi. So promising over-selves to come back soon to explore this wonderful place again, we headed back.
We had done some prior inquiries and there was a train at 4:00 pm which we had booked as we were not sure if we would get the tickets latter on. We were right on time and boarded the train which is one of its kind. It has small carriages, pulled by a small diesel powered engine and it runs on small gauge. Before the train left the station they gave us some instructions, some of which scarred us no less, like don’t close the windows else the strong wind could knock the train off, or not to move much and the best one was you may have to off board and re board when required. It all sounded exciting and we were on our way. This train ride is one of the best I have had, which passes through one of the most beautiful landscape. On many occasions it is skirting the edge of the valley and many a time the strong wind drift really gets it wobbling 🙂 . At couple of locations where it had to make an ascent, the train started going backwards :), as forewarned some of us were asked to get off the train, when it being lighter started moving forward again, we had to run and made a dash to re board it ( not sure what happens if you are unable to do do). So after that singular experience, which we wont forget for long we reached Nerul.
We got off and bought the tickets for the not so desirable train back to our place! We were very tired by now and all of our faces were pitch dark with the dust and the ordeal, though the bigger one was waiting for us ahead. The train arrived and there was again the same chaos and we absentmindedly went with the flow. We didn’t realize for how long we were standing and when that journey go over, but finally somewhere around 9:00 pm we reached our destination, exactly 24 hours after we had started our amazing journey. We somehow managed to pick ourselves and drop on the bed at home. We were done!
PS: What an amazing time we had, to this beautiful hill station which I liked particularly because of the way they had maintained it and not allowed the modern jungle to spread on it.