The closest hill station to Mumbai, Matheran was discovered in 1850 by the British during their occupation of India and subsequently developed into a popular summer retreat. At a height of 800 meters (2,625 feet) above sea level, this serene place provides a cooling escape from searing temperatures. However, the most unique thing about it and what makes it so special is that all vehicles are banned there— even bicycles. It's a soothing place to relax away from any noise and pollution.
Matheran is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Mumbai, in the state of Maharashtra.
How to Get There
Getting to Matheran is one of the highlights. A popular option is the leisurely two-hour journey on the historic toy train mountain railway from Neral. However, services are currently suspended because part of the track was washed away during the 2019 monsoon.
If you don't take the toy train up to Matheran, there are a couple of other ways of getting there: either take a train from Mumbai (or Pune) to Neral railway station and then shared jeep to Dasturi car park, or drive all the way to Dasturi car park if you have your own vehicle. If frequency of trains to Neral is an issue, you'll find more trains running from Karjat. Travel time by shared jeep from Neral to Dasturi is about 25 minutes. The cost is 80 rupees per person.
Dasturi car park is about 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from Matheran. From there, you can ride to Matheran on horseback, or walk a few minutes to Aman Lodge railway station and take the regular shuttle train service (which operates during the monsoon as well) for 45 rupees per person. Hand pulled rickshaws and porters are also available.
To get to Neral from Mumbai by train, take one of the frequent local trains that terminate at Karjat or Khopoli on the Central Line. There are also two morning Indian Railways trains that stop at Neral—the 11007 Deccan Express (departs CST at 7.00 a.m. and arrives at 8.25 a.m) and the 11029 Koyna Express (departs CST at 8.40 a.m and arrives at 10.03 a.m).
Visitors are charged a "Capitation Tax" to enter Matheran, to be paid on arrival at the train station or car park. The cost is 50 rupees for adults and 25 rupees for children.
When to Go
Due to its height, Matheran has a cooler and less humid climate than lower surrounding areas such as Mumbai and Pune. In summer, the temperature reaches a top of 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) while in winter it drops to 15 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit).
Heavy monsoon downpours are experienced from June to September. The roads can get very muddy as they're not sealed. As a result, many places close for the monsoon season and the toy train service is suspended. The best time to visit is just after the monsoon, from mid September to mid October, when nature is still lush and green from the rain.
Very attractive hotel discounts of 50% are possible during the low season, from mid June to mid October. For the best savings, instead of booking ahead, negotiate directly with hotel owners when you arrive. This enables you to check out the hotel environment and facilities as well. Some hotels that offer good discounts, such as the Horseland Hotel and Mountain Spa, also offer karaoke, children's activities and other entertainment programs. Great for families but not people in search of solitude!
If you want a relaxing experience, avoid visiting Matheran during the Diwali festival in October or November, Christmas, and the Indian school holiday period from April to June. Prices skyrocket as hordes of tourists flock there. Weekends can also get hectic. Meals are usually included in hotel rates so do check what's being served—some places only cater for vegetarians.
What to See and Do There
Visitors are drawn to Matheran for its tranquility, fresh air, and old-world charm. In this place without vehicles, horses and hand pulled carts are the main forms of transport.
Matheran is blessed with dense forest, long nature trails, and panoramic views. There are more than 35 large and small viewpoints dotted around the hilltop. Early risers should head to Panorama Point to take in a spectacular sunrise, while fiery sunsets are best seen from Porcupine Point/Sunset Point and Louise Point. Exploring all the points on horseback is a fun adventure. A trek to One Tree Hill is memorable too, for those who are feeling energetic.
One thing to keep in mind when visiting Matheran is that the area subject to frequent power outages. Many places don't have a generator to supply backup power, therefore it's a good idea to carry flashlight.
In addition, do note that there are plenty of monkeys and, unfortunately, they can be a menace -- especially if you have food and they are hungry.
Where to Stay
Matheran's isolated location makes it relatively expensive to stay there. Cheaper rooms can be found in the main market area near the toy train station, while secluded resorts are set back from the road amid the forest. Be aware that many hotels don't provide rooms to single men.
Some of the grand mansions of the British, Parsis and Bohras have been converted to hotels, which are a highlight. Character-filled Lord's Central is one such place. Rates start from 3,600 rupees per night, with tax included. It's centrally located, and has a stunning mountain and valley views. The 100-year old Parsi Manor is a magnificent heritage property with four bedrooms, perfect for groups. Expect to pay around 6,500 rupees per night for two people, including tax.
19th century Verandah in the Forest (now called Dune Barr House) is perhaps the most popular heritage hotel in Matheran. Rates start from about 6,300 rupees per night, including tax and breakfast. Westend Hotel has a peaceful location away from the main market area, with rates from 2,250 rupees per night, plus tax. Woodlands Hotel is also a good choice, but can get busy with families staying there.