The century-old Matheran Hill Railway deposits passengers among the shady greenery of the peaceful, pollution free hill settlement of Matheran -- where all vehicles are banned, even bicycles. The toy train is one of five historic mountain railways currently operating in India. The railway was founded by Mumbai based entrepreneur Abdul Hussain Peerbhoy and had its first run in 1907, after three years constructing the train line. It has been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site but is yet to be listed.
Note: The Matheran toy train was suspended in May 2016, following multiple derailments. It restarted in late October 2017 with a safer brake system, but only initially ran on part of the route from Aman Lodge to Matheran. The train was relaunched on the full route, from Neral to Matheran, in January 2018. However, services are limited to two a day. There are plans to increase the number of carriages and to add an air-conditioned carriage before the end of the year.
The toy train crawls its way, in a zigzag manner, 20 kilometers (12 miles) up the hill from Neral to Matheran. Due to the steep slope, which goes up more than 2,600 feet above sea level, it takes over two hours to cover the distance. Gradually, the scenery changes from grassy slopes to shady, tree-covered hills.
Food vendors selling a range of snacks and cold drinks jump on and off the train along the way -- usually while it's moving, which is an indication of just how slow it travels! Refreshments can be purchased at stations as well. The train stops at three stations before reaching Matheran (Jummapatti, Waterpipe and Aman Lodge). It also passes through one short tunnel, interestingly named "One Kiss Tunnel".
What's commendable is that all stations now have solar power and wind energy plants, and energy-efficient LED lights and fans.
The toy train is small, with a capacity of about 100 passengers. There's one first class carriage and three second class carriages. If you feel like having a relaxing and relatively comfortable journey, choose first class, where you'll get a padded seat in a cozy compartment.
Aman Lodge station is next to Dasturi car park, and shuttle train services also operate between there and Matheran.
As of October 2018, following the monsoon, the toy train is running as follows:
- 52101/Neral-Matheran Passenger (daily) -- departs from Neral at 7.50 a.m. and arrives in Matheran at 9.50 a.m. See train information.
- 52103/Neral-Matheran Passenger (daily) -- departs from Neral at 9.10 a.m. and arrives in Matheran at 11.20 a.m. See train information.
- 52102/Matheran-Neral Passenger (daily) -- departs from Matheran at 7.20 a.m. and arrives in Neral at 8.55 a.m. See train information.
- 52104/Matheran-Neral Passenger (daily)-- departs from Matheran at 9.55 a.m. and arrives in Neral at 11.40 a.m. See train information.
Departure times are prone to change, so it's recommended that you check the train information.
The shuttle between Aman Lodge and Matheran is more frequent and takes 18 minutes. There are 10-12 departures per day as follows. Do check the timetable though, as some of the earlier and later services only operate on weekends.
- Aman Lodge to Matheran -- 8.40 a.m., 9.55 a.m., 10.45 a.m., 11.55 a.m., 12.45 p.m., 2 p.m., 3.05 p.m, 4.25 p.m., 5.15 p.m., and 6.05 p.m. The details can be found here.
- Matheran to Aman Lodge -- 8.15 a.m., 9.30 a.m., 9.55 a.m., 10.20 a.m., 11.10 a.m., 12.20 p.m., 1.35 p.m., 2.40 p.m, 4 p.m., 4.50 p.m., and 5.40 p.m. The details can be found here.
During the monsoon season (from June 15 to October 15), the shuttle service continues between Aman Lodge and Matheran. However, the toy train is suspended.
A one-way trip on the toy train between Neral and Matheran costs 300 rupees for adults and 180 rupees for children in first class. It's 75 rupees for adults and 45 rupees for children in second class.
The shuttle service costs 45 rupees for adults and 30 rupees for children.
How to Make Bookings
Unfortunately, tickets can't be booked online at the moment. They must be purchased from the ticket counters at Neral and Aman Lodge (for the shuttle). The ticket counter at Neral opens 45 minutes before departure. Do get there early, as demand for tickets is high. Availability of first class tickets is better, as there's less demand for them.
Otherwise, when the toy train is running as normal, bookings can be made at Indian Railways computerized reservation counters, or on the Indian Railways website. Here's how to make a reservation on the Indian Railways website. The station code for Neral is NRL, and Matheran MAE. Keep in mind that there's also a place near Mumbai called Nerul, so don't get the two confused!
Additional Travel Information
It's possible to go by train from Mumbai to Neral (see options here). The Indian Railways 11007 Deccan Express departs Mumbai CST at 7.00 a.m. and reaches Neral at 8.25 a.m. Otherwise, it's necessary to take one of the Mumbai local trains that terminate at Karjat or Khopoli on the Central Line.
If you don't get the toy train up to Matheran, there are shared jeeps that ply between Neral and the Dasturi car park.