Sunday, June 23, 2013

Travel Essay Contest -- Entry 16

I Must Be Off! is having its first annual Travel Essay Contest. Each entry will appear at first without byline or bio. These will be added at the end of the contest. As you enjoy these travel essays from around the world, please feel free to comment; but if you offer criticism, remember to be positive. These writers are my guests.



by Rishita Dey

In an attempt to escape from my hectic life in Mumbai I discovered the smallest hill station of India, Matheran. About 100 km away from the concrete glamour of the bustling city, Matheran is nestled in the lap of Mother Nature, at a height of 800 m above the sea level. This pristine place has a magical recovering effect on any of her visitors. Matheran has been declared as an eco-sensitive region by the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India. In order to preserve its sanctity, vehicles are not allowed here. It is considered as the Health Sanatorium in itself. Everything here has a healing power.
Model Toy Train
Matheran is well connected with both rail and roadways. I easily reached there by taking a local train from Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Neral. From Neral you have two options; one can either take a shared taxi or get the toy train up the mountain. After reaching here, I experienced my 1st toy train ride. The rhythmic to and fro movement of the train accompanied with the occasional whistle blowing was enough to bring a smile on my face. Turning my face towards the wind and inhaling deeply I realised there was not only less pollution here but there lingered a fresh earthy smell which the cities lack. As the toy train chugged lazily, winding the mountainous track I couldn’t fail to notice the varied shades of green that surrounded the area. The greens varied from deep emerald to the new green of a new leaf, intermittently intersected by the burnt browns of the mountain ranges. Matheran enjoys a much cooler temperature ranging from 32 degree to 16 degree Celsius. It has become a favourite getaway for many urban inhabitants especially during the summers. However the best time to visit remains during the monsoon season when there is a rupture of green abundance and many waterfalls can be seen gushing down the slopes.
The Cliffs of Matheran
Sprawling languidly, Matheran is an abode for trekkers and nature lovers. It provides array of adventure sports for rock climbers. The cliffs of Matheran with incredible steep drops to the plains below, offer a stunning 360 degree panoramic view. Matheran is a place of great escape to find inner peace and sanctuary.
I purchased my permit tickets for entrance at Dasturi Point, as beyond this no vehicles are allowed. From here one can choose to walk up the spiral earthy road or rent a horse or take hand drawn carriages to the Matheran Bazaar. I undoubtedly chose the 1st option. What could be a better way to feel nature at her primal beauty than by being the very part of her? The moment I stepped in it was like I fell into the rabbit hole from Alice in Wonderland. Soon I found myself enveloped in a world beyond the comprehension of us city dwellers.
Here, you will immediately connect with your primitive soul through the constant chirping of the birds, the play of light and shadow filtering through the branches of the tall trees, from the whooping of the numerous monkeys that occupy the area and the non-stop buzzing of the jungle insects. The beauty surrounding me brought an internal awakening in me like never before.
Walking up the road parallel to the toy train track I noticed that Matheran has retained the magnificence of pre-independence British era. Since the time 1850, when it was discovered by Hugh Poyntz Malet, the then district collector of Thane. Very little ravages have been done to it. It has become a haven for those who seek to savour the true beauty of Nature. The cosy cottages still possess the old world charms.
With the help of the local people I soon reached the hub of the hill station which consists of a market yard. It felt as if suddenly I found the heart of the place. There was a vibrancy that enlivened the entire place. The vendors tried selling their wares and offering hotels or horses to go for site seeing. The shops offered varied knick knacks ranging from locally made shoes to leather goods. Soon I found a place at a reasonable rate. One thing that caught my attention was the small makeshift stalls for ice candies. They call them “Gola”. They offered tongue smacking syrupy and brightly coloured icicles, to which I helped myself number of times during my stay.
Exhausted from all the walking I had called it my day. Next day, I woke up early equipped with my camera to have a much awaited adventure. As the curtain of the morning mist unveiled, it revealed the undulating hilltop of the Western Ghats. As far as my eyes could reach I saw waves after waves of evergreen peaks. The abundance of nature so close to a mega city held me dumfounded. Soon I hired a horse and went about the place.
Charlotte Lake
There are many attractions of Matheran. The glistening water of the Charlotte Lake with shady trees all around provides recluse from the balmy sun if you want to relax. The temple of Lord Shiva, Pisharnath Temple at one end of the lake is the best place to meditate. The Honeymoon Point, the Monkey Point and the Echo Point are among the famous points to visit. Though all the points offer the view of the same nature yet if looked carefully you could find the subtle difference in the angle of each one of them
I finally returned contended and relaxed after this short trip.  Matheran, as the name itself means “forest on the forehead” takes us a hundred years back where man still did not belong to the brick, cement and concrete jungle of the current city life. Matheran indeed provides a recluse to all who come to visit her with an open heart and mind.

Passion for writing was always there in Rishita Dey. However, lack of time never permitted her to pen down her thoughts the way it should have been. Her dream was to visit exotic places and write about them, but reality took a different turn altogether. She writes from India about the tiniest hill station of the country, Matheran.