Straddling the vast hillscape of the Western Ghats, Matheran is a beloved hill station boasting unparalleled natural beauty. Its proximity to both Mumbai and Pune, coupled with its extraordinary climate, lends it the distinction of being a year-round favourite with holidaymakers.
Although the credit for the discovery of Matheran in May 1850 goes to Hugo Poyentz Malet, erstwhile governor of Thane, it was Lord Elphinstone who saw the potential in this discovery and laid the foundations to develop Matheran as a hill station. Owing to its elevation of over 2,000ft above sea level, Matheran, unlike Bombay, was rarely humid. It did not take long for it to become a summer retreat for British officials stationed in or around Bombay, who even constructed mansions for themselves here. Needless to say, Matheran&rsquos charms have not waned with the passage of time.
Today, Matheran, which, loosely translated, means &lsquoforest on the mountaintop&rsquo, is unique as it is an eco-sensitive region by the decree of the Ministry of Environment and Forest. Motor vehicles are banned altogether within town limits, effectively making it a rare place, completely free of any type of noxious fumes.
This is probably the reason for Matheran&rsquos immense appeal among Mumbaikars. The air is always cool and crisp, and seems to possess rejuvenating powers. One could walk here for miles together without feeling fatigued. Indeed, the dense evergreen forest cover and the cool air creates a conducive atmosphere for walking. The many trails and routes here are best explored during quiet, unhurried walks, when you are accompanied by nothing other than a soft murmur of trees. Another preferred way of travelling here is on horseback. Numerous vendors vie for your custom near the car park at Dasturi Naka. Most of them are rather garrulous, and willingly offer information about the place and its people.
Long after you are back in the city, going about your daily business, the memory of these tranquil moments spent in Matheran will afford you a welcome respite from the weariness of urban life.
Exploring the forested hills of Matheran on horseback[/caption]
Things to See & Do
Matheran boasts 38 designated lookout points, a map of which can be procured from the MTDC office at Dasturi Naka. If you wish to travel and explore at your own pace, walking is the best option. It is impossible to get lost because there are always scores of people around and the trails are interconnected, but keep the map handy nonetheless. If you choose horseback riding, be prepared for some serious haggling. You could opt for the complete tour (could last up to four hours), or consult with the vendor and construct a bespoke itinerary.
The trek to Panorama Point, almost 5km north of the market, can be refreshing (though long) during the rains and in winter, but gruelling in summer. From here you get a bird&rsquos eye view of Neral town and, on a clear day, even as far as Mumbai in the west. Midway, if you time it right, you might catch the toy train as it chugs along the narrow mountain tracks.
The shaded walk to Hart Point and Monkey Point is rewarding in itself. Comparatively undisturbed and densely forested, these areas are recommended for birdwatchers. Crowds gather at Porcupine Point for great views of the sun set. Louisa Point, to the west of the market, offers an undisturbed view of the ruins of Prabal Fort and grass-topped hills.
As the name suggests, there is indeed only one tree at the windy One Tree-Hill Point &mdash a truly scenic spot, especially just after the monsoon. From here, a footpath leads southwards to Shivaji&rsquos Ladder. From Rambagh Point, Khandala and Karjat can be spotted, and Alexander Point affords you views of Chauk Valley. Another must on every visitor&rsquos itinerary is Charlotte Lake, fringed by the forest and with Pisharnath Temple at one end.
With more than 8&mdash10 different routes, Matheran is the ultimate destination for the trekker and outdoor enthusiast. There are many routes to get here. Matheran-Karjat, Matheran-Vangani Station and the Railway line trek (from Neral, following the narrow-gauge rail way line all the way into Matheran) are the most popular ones.
Where to Stay
The main tourist months in Matheran are April to June and October, at which time hotel rates rise rather steeply. The Byke Heritage (Cell 08080700999 Tariff Rs 6,000-12,000 TE with meals per night) near the market, is spread over seven acres around the first dwelling in Matheran, built in 1854 by Hugh Malet.
Rangoli Retreat (Cell 7507436908, 0750743753 Tariff Rs 4,500-6,500 with meals)  is located opposite the railway station.
Dune Barr House - THe Verandah in the Forest (Cell 09159550341 Tariff Rs 4,500-7,499 TE (with breakfast)) is a heritage property near the lake.
Where to Eat
Gujarat Bhavan (Cell 09821052929) is on the way to Charlotte Lake. Their Gujarati thali is highly recommended. Hotel Regal&rsquos restaurant is another good option for Gujarati food. From the marketplace along the mosque, a narrow lane ascends to join another road. At the junction, on the right, is Shabbir Bhai Biryaniwala (Cell 0750791682), a small eating place. Try its chicken and mutton biryani. Kokan Katta (Cell 09764605917) offers homely food. Try their fish items.