Tag Archives: Mumbai getaways

Kanheri Caves: Black mountain side


ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY explore a 2400-year-old cave complex in the heart of Mumbai that was once the biggest Buddhist university in western India


It’s hard to imagine that one of the most urban and densely populated cities in the world hides a 2400-year-old Buddhist cave complex. Its location inside the 103.8 sq km Sanjay Gandhi National Park (one of the largest within a city) in Mumbai’s western suburb of Borivali certainly adds to its appeal. Though SGNP is one of the most visited national parks in Asia with over 2 million visitors annually, not many value these historic relics beyond its backdrop appeal for their selfies. The fact that you can get here in just over an hour is a big plus.

Long before ‘Bombay’ became a commercial hub, Sopara and Kalyan were the two main ports in the region that traded with ancient Greece and Mesopotamia. The 45km land route between these ports passed through this forest and the link to other trade centers like Nasik and Ujjain made it the perfect place for patronage from merchants. And thus, Buddhism arrived in Aparantha (Western India) at Sopara. Though the island of Salsette is rich in rock-cut Buddhist caves – Marol, Mahakali, Magathana, Mandapeshwar and Jogeshwari – Kanheri is the most extensive of the lot.


Between 1st century BC and 10th century AD, Kanheri was the biggest university in western India and an important Buddhist settlement on the Konkan coast. Buddhist teacher Atisha (980–1054) came here to study meditation under mahasiddha and Tantric yogi Rahulagupta. Back then, the place was known as Krishnagiri or Black Mountain after the dark basalt rock. With the passage of time it became Kanhagiri and eventually Kanheri.

The first definitive reference of Kanheri came from Portuguese naval officer and former Viceroy Joao de Castro, who left a glowing tribute – “A thing certainly not within the power of man, so wonderful that it may be ranked among the seven wonders of the world, unless, instead of thinking them to be the work of men, we attribute them to spirits.” Yet, the forested tract that was once the haunt of austere orange-robed monks today teems with raucous picnickers.


With the decline of Buddhism, the area lay forgotten and shrouded by forests until British archeologists James Bird in 1839 and Ed West in 1853 rediscovered it. Kanheri is hailed as the single largest Buddhist site in the country with the most number of cave excavations on one hill.

These include chaityagrhas (places of worship), viharas (monasteries), podhis (water cisterns to harvest rainwater), rock-cut benches and plinths that functioned as beds and a wealth of Buddhist sculptures, relief carvings, paintings and inscriptions dating from 1st century BCE to 10th century CE.


The massive complex has 109 caves interconnected by steps cut into the rock surface. The double-storeyed vihara of Cave 1 has two large pillars framing its entrance while Cave 3 dubbed ‘the Great Chaitya’ (the second largest in India after Karla), has two imposing Buddha statues, an inscription of Yajna Sri Satakarni (170 CE) on the doorjamb and a massive pillared prayer hall.

Cave 4 has a solid dagoba or stupa with relics used for meditation. Caves 5 and 6 were actually water cisterns highlighting the emphasis laid on water conservation using rock cut channels. Located in a gully formed by a torrent, Cave 11 also called Maharaja or Darbar Cave was where grand assemblies were held.


Cave 34 is the only one with traces of lovely unfinished paintings on the ceiling. A rare depiction of an eleven-headed Avalokiteshvara is seen in Cave 41 and the walls of Caves 90 and 93 bear ornate carvings and sculptures of Buddha and his attendants. The trail continues to the summit from where you behold the entire landscape of western Mumbai from Versova to Gorai islands and Powai’s high-rises on the other side.

Despite the unwelcome shrieks of overzealous visitors and wild troops of monkeys, the trudge uphill promises a sense of peace. By dusk, the caves of Kanheri return to their original state, the way they were centuries ago. The wind wafts through cool dark chambers, echoing the sonorous chants of monks who once dwelt within.



Distance: 27 km from Mumbai, 159 km from Pune
Time: 1 hour from Mumbai, 3hr 20 min from Pune
Route: Head north on the Western Express Highway to Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali and drive 7 km from the main gate to the ticket counter
Link: goo.gl/b1FF41
Stay: 3-member family tent (Rs.2500) and 14-member dorm tent (Rs.4200) at Sanjay Gandhi National Park. For booking, contact Nature Information Center (NIC) Ph 022-28868686 Email nicsgnp78@gmail.com https://sgnp.maharashtra.gov.in
Excursions: Tulsi Lake, Lion & Tiger Safari (Adult Rs.61 Child Rs.24), Nature Trails, Gandhi Tekdi memorial, Boating (2-seater Rs.36, 4-seater Rs.73) and Mini Train (Adult Rs.31 Child Rs.12) at Sanjay Gandhi National Park
Top Tip: Don’t visit on public holidays to avoid crowds. All activities except Gandhi Tekdi and Kanheri Caves closed on Monday & lunch time (1:30pm – 2:30pm). Wear comfy footwear with good grip because of the rocky surface. Carry a picnic hamper, though water, snacks and chai are available at a small tea stall at the entrance.


Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 9 Sep 2018 in Mint Lounge newspaper. 

Kundalika River Run: Mumbai to Kolad


ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go rafting down the Kundalika at Kolad, Maharashtra’s only white-water rafting site

Rafting at Kolad IMG_1053

Jaded city dwellers from Mumbai or Pune needn’t go as far as Rishikesh or Dandeli to experience the rush of white-water rafting or wait for the monsoon to ride the waters. The Kundalika River in Kolad, Maharashtra’s only white-water rafting site, is open all year round. Being a dam-fed river, it’s doable 365-days-a-year, as easy as morning poha! We set off early from Mumbai to avoid bottlenecks at Pen and took a diversion off NH-17 towards the undulating Mulshi-Pune state highway, punctuated by scenic fields, farms and the Kundalika river.

Since the waters are released from the hydroelectric power station at Ravalje on the Bhira Dam around 8.30am, we needed to be there well before water levels receded. Purists often dismiss a ‘dam-fed river’ as a tepid choice against the thrill of tackling natural rain-fed torrents. Not true. The 14km stretch had as many Grade II-III rapids that transform into Grade IV during monsoon. A few rafts had already been launched, as we geared up and practiced our commands.

Kolad Rafting IMG_9459_Anurag Mallick

While the first river run took place at Kolad in 1996, the sport became immensely popular only over the last few years. Like most white-water tracts, the rapids have ingenious names. The river kicks off with a prayer – ‘Good Morning Buddha’, the first rapid.

Thereafter, our raft bounced past ‘Hilton’, ‘Pumphouse’ to ‘Fisherman’, named after a fishing spot for local villagers and tribals. At ‘Butterfly’, waves curled and gracefully flapped around the rocking raft, drenching us and eliciting delighted squeals before swooping into a wicked eddy called ‘Crow’s Nest’.

Kolad Rafting IMG_9480_Anurag Mallick

The next series of rapids come fast and furious forming the main highlight of Kundalika. ‘Key Wave’ unlocked a portal of waves, ‘Bush on the Bend’ glided us smack into a tree growing in the water and before we recovered, we were engulfed in the thick of ‘Morning Headache’.

Pema, our Nepali instructor explained, “If you go overboard in this 2km stretch of rapids, it’s a headache to haul you out!” If that wasn’t enough, the most ferocious rapid ‘John Kerry’ whacked into us before hurling the raft drunkenly into ‘Johnny Walker’.

Rafting at Kolad IMG_1060

From here, we were dragged aboard ‘Rajdhani Express’ a set of non-stop rapids and floated into ‘Boom Shankar,’ which concluded the wild part of the ride. The tame course from here, prompted us to fling our paddles and dive in to swim and bodysurf, soaking in the beauty of the surrounding forests and hills. Friendly villagers along the banks chatted and cheered us along.

Clambering into the raft near ‘Broken Bridge’, we rowed to the finish line – Kamath Village; completing the exhilarating journey in one and half hours! The workout tempted a grab of vada paav and kanda bhajiya (onion pakoda) at the local tea vendor’s stall though the drive down to Orchard Café (10km) and Namrata Dhaba at Kolad offered a wholesome bite.

Kolad Rafting IMG_9470_Anurag Mallick

While many do Kolad as a day trip, some extend it into an overnight stay at camps and farms like Sai and Sanskriti in and around Kolad for a taste of rustic life amidst paddy fields and groves of betelnut, coconut, chikoo and guava. The food is simple besides gharguti or ‘home-style’ meals of chicken, rotis, rice, dal, vegetable fry and salad. Explore the scenic countryside, laze on hammocks or chat around a barbecue or bonfire. Poojas Farm has cottages set on the backwater’s edge with riverside walks and bullock cart rides.

Adventure outfits offer rafting packages that include lunch, stay or activities like treks, river crossing, kayaking, canyoning and rock climbing around the area with expert instructors. Nature Trails Empower Activity Camp offers ATV rides, river crossing, paintball and corporate training programs while Kundalika Rafting Camp run by Nature Trails has luxury tents, and given rafting experiences to 33,000 adventure enthusiasts since 2006. Being Maharashtra’s only rafting site right in the midst of nature, Kolad is just the shot of adrenalin you need to escape from urban tedium.

Kolad Rafting IMG_9505_Anurag Mallick

Distance: 138km from Mumbai, 96km from Pune
Time: 3-4 hours from Mumbai; 2hr 40mins from Pune
Route: Take NH-17 (Mumbai-Goa highway), cross Nagothane and 1km after Kolad, turn left on to SH-60 towards Pune via Mulshi. Saje village, the start point is 22km from the highway. The 14km rafting stretch from Saje to Kamat village has 14 Grade I-III rapids. Catch a Goa-bound bus and hop off at Kolad.
Link: goo.gl/AkbDYP

Raft: Kolad Rafting; Ph 9820299088, 9821454434 https://koladrafting.co.in; Wild River Adventure; Ph 98801 31762 http://www.indiarafts.com; Quest Adventures; Ph 8657195551 https://adventurekolad.com; Mercury Himalayan Explorations; Ph 92728 82874, 7276061111 http://www.kundalikarafting.in; Snow Leopard Adventures; Ph 9209265657 http://www.snowleopardadventures.com

Costs: For rafting Rs.600/person weekdays, Rs.1200-1500/person weekends, Rs.400/meal, Rafting+lunch+activities weekend package Rs.1400-2000, Farm stays range from Rs.2,500-4,000/day, Parking Rs.50, Local autos charge Rs.700/auto for ferrying people between the end/start points.

Kolad Rafting IMG_9449_Anurag Mallick

Stay: Empower Activity Camp, Sutarwadi; Ph 9422691325, 7720873330 http://www.empowercamp.com; 6 AC cottages & 12 Swiss tents, 2 AC dorms (each 20 beds) Tariff Rs.2,600-3,900/person/night including meals. Nature Trails Resorts, Kamath Ph 8080807341 http://www.naturetrails.in; 20 luxury AC tents, Rs.3192 (luxury), Rs.3864 (super deluxe), includes tax, meals and adventure activities (Zip-line, Tarzan swing, Kayaking, Burma bridge, Treasure Hunt). Check-in 5pm, check-out 3pm; Sanskriti Farm, Muthavle; Ph 9987501613; Sai Farm, Ainwahal; 6 rooms, 2 cottages Ph 98691 18763 http://www.saifarmkolad.com; Tariff Rs.1500-1700/person ; Poojas Farm, Dhagadwadi; Ph 9209484178 www.poojasfarm.com; 11 cottages, 4 tents. Tariff 1500/person, including meals

Excursions: Sukeli waterfall, 10km from Kolad and a 1½ hour hike through a forest. Carry drinking water and snacks.

Top Tip: Timings for rafting are strictly 8–11am, so start from Mumbai by 5am. Late-risers may leave a day prior to stay overnight at Kolad. Wear light clothing, swimwear and apt footwear. Carry a change of clothes and towel. The last 5km is flat and requires strong paddling, though ideal for a swim and bodysurfing. Minimum age 14 years, not suited for asthmatics and heart patients. Weekday rates for rafting are cheaper by about Rs.600.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 28 Dec 2017 in Mint Lounge. Here’s the link to the original story: https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/76T8vxnYFoJ4yNkZs6YbxI/Mumbai-to-Kolad-Kundalika-river-run.html


Feel the Rush: Rappelling down Vihigaon waterfall


Adrenaline junkies ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go over the edge for some waterfall rappelling down Maharashtra’s 120 ft cascade Vihigaon


We didn’t want a lazy weekend. Enough ennui had been injected into our bones by the grey clouds hanging heavily over the Mumbai skies, too weary to rain. It was time to step out of our cave and get wet. Piqued by the loud whispers floating about monsoon treks and weekend rappelling expeditions in the rains, we decided to find out. We were in luck – the adventure group Offbeat Sahyadri had an upcoming canyoning trip to Vihigaon waterfalls.

As we set off early on NH3 via Mulund and rolled our windows up and down in the intermittent rain, the tall buildings in the skyline redrew themselves into strange-shaped mountains. At first, the Sahyadris or the Western Ghats looked like a broken row of gargantuan green teeth and alien fingers before gradually transforming into a heady contrast of dark rocks and slopes of iridescent green. Every now and then, fields of freshly planted paddy would shock us with their brilliance; amplifying the bizarre proximity of pastoral charms to the mayhem of city life.


It was pouring when we halted for tea at Star of Highway Dhaba in Kasara, incidentally the nearest place for a meal or a decent washroom! Making the most of the early hours, several vehicles swished by on the highway at top speed raising fountains and clouds of mist at their wheels. The road was slick and shone like gelled hair. In minutes, we were cruising towards Vihigaon, a small hamlet 13 km from Kasara, set amidst paddy fields surrounded by hills. We parked among other mud-spattered vehicles in a clearing as the road ahead was a sludgy track that narrowed into a thin thoroughfare.

Thankfully, our travels had taught us to wear the right footwear and to carefully negotiate wet terrain, potholes and slush to avoid slipping; but few others weren’t so lucky. We watched helplessly as they slid elegantly like ice-skaters in a rink, limbs splayed, only to suffer the ignominy of a clumsy fall. We hiked past a cluster of tiled houses and huts, a small school and nondescript structures. A shepherd guided his goats to the side and we heard cows mooing in darkened sheds as roosters crowed and floundered along the walls, unaccustomed to early guests. At the threshold of a rustic home, an old lady with a toothless smile gestured the way towards the dhabdhaba (waterfall).


Shortly, the unmistakable crash of water filtering through the greenery drew near. The path had petered out. To the left, a stream tumbled down the mountain into a small bund, which overflowed into a tiered cascade plummeting 120 ft off a precipice on the right. A bunch of unruly boys thrashed about like orcas on a hunt under the small 15 ft cataract, doing their best to drown out the sound of the crashing water.

A trail of crude stones ran drunkenly towards the edge – this was where all the action took place. Some gingerly peeped over the cliff; others sat in the shallow waters looking at people disappear down the ropes. We watched the scene from a slight elevation. The instructor divided us into groups of ten, allotted a number to each and after an exchange of hand signals with the main crew, asked us to wait.


Soon, we strapped on our harness and helmets, wondering if the thunderous sound was really the waterfall crashing on the boulders or the chorus of our hammering hearts. The same manic glaze of excitement in the eyes and the cheesy nervous smile was mirrored in everyone’s faces. There is really nothing that compares with the rush of blood in adventure or extreme sport. One by one we clambered down cautiously towards the stream, grabbing at branches and rocks to avoid slipping. Some kicked off their shoes and paddled around in socks for better grip while others felt more comfortable barefoot. ‘It doesn’t matter, you’re going to slip anyway’, remarked a cheerful tourist from Deolali.

A large boulder in the middle of the brook was wrapped with ropes that swung over the cliff. Every rock was smooth and slick with slime as we crossed the stream and slithered towards a small overhang. An expert hooked us to the rappelling device, locked the carabiner and proceeded to give a crash course on how to rappel, right at the edge!


“Keep your legs comfortably apart and lean back using one hand to grip the rope in front and the other behind your back, which you must release to lower yourself. Don’t bend your knees, keep it straight. Don’t touch the safety line. Don’t worry and don’t look up!” he instructed, his voice barely audible in the cascade. That was it. Deep breaths. More deep breaths… and clinging on to the rope we made a slow descent of the first tier, until our feet were literally on the edge.

From there on it was an endless sheet of moving white that battered us from all sides. Suddenly, one felt lightheaded. Visions of Spiderman flashed as feet danced down the rock wall like Christopher Walken in Weapon of Choice and the trainer’s advice “Lean Back… lean back” played like an old hip-hop track in our ears. Or, maybe it was vertigo.


Hanging by a string, 100 ft off a wide vertical rock face, wrapped in the diaphanous veil of water with one’s feet searching for a foothold every second, does things to you. And 100 ft is a long way down. After a few minutes of intense concentration, the other senses kick into action. The water feels cool and tastes sweet. Voices filter in over the roar – shouts of glee, collective “omigod”, and hoots of encouragement ride up and down the cliff.

There are people at the base, some swimming and others watching those rappelling down, taking pictures, seated on rocks or standing. But the one hanging by the rope is focused only on where or how to place his or her foot. One misstep could result in a nasty graze to the knees or elbows. In under 10 minutes, it’s touchdown.


There’s someone grabbing your hand, unbuckling you and helping you wade across to the bank. You’ve made it… and you are already wishing you could do it again. But the next guy is waiting for your gloves, harness and helmet and you have to trudge up the hillside to return it. We lolled in the shallow waters as others awaited their turn to rappel down. 

The sun came out briefly at lunch time. While most visitors preferred to carry packed lunches and snacks, a few decide to have some local food and a kind villager obliged. He quickly rustled up a simple meal of dal and rice. There were strict instructions to carry back all the trash and plastic. The Offbeat Sahyadri website made it amply clear – ‘Absofreakinglutely no littering!’

A late afternoon stroll around the village took us across lush rice fields and deposited us on a curving road to Jawahar. Beyond a chipped milestone was a metal railing on the side of the road to prevent people from falling into the dense wilderness. It proved to be the perfect viewpoint to catch the majesty of Vihigaon waterfall, crowned by a scenic range of hills in the distance. Yet, we weren’t the only ones there. Passing vehicles and villagers, too, slowed down or stopped to watch with bewilderment and awe, the strange breed of people running down the waterfall.


Aaditya Mahadik, our young guide from Offbeat Sahyadri explained that rappelling down waterfalls was a relatively new adventure sport in Maharashtra. Apart from being the first canyoning site explored in 2007-8, Vihigaon outscored other waterfalls like Bekare at Bhivpuri near Karjat, Dudhani near Panvel and Dudhiware near Lonavala.

The 30 ft wide rockface was large enough for three to four ropes to rappel down, which meant less waiting. At most other sites, there wasn’t much to see apart from the cataract. But the small dam, cascades and scenic plateau at Vihigaon ensured that visitors had enough to while away time after their turn was over.


Being monsoon waterfalls, the season was short, lasting from mid-June to Sep end. Weekends saw nearly 80-100 people each day. Five years ago, this sleepy corner of Maharashtra must have only seen a few trekkers pad across to the mountains or a trickle of tourists cooling their heels by the stream. 

Over the last three years, with the waterfall open to rappelling, monsoons and weekends at Vihigaon have never been the same as outdoor outfits from Mumbai, Nashik and Pune lead their groups to this hidden adventure paradise.



Contact: Offbeat Sahyadri, Priti Patel 9987990300, Rajas Deshpande 9664782503 offbeatsahyadri@gmail.com

Getting there: Vihigaon is 124km (2-3 hr drive) from Mumbai. Take NH3 towards Igatpuri/Nasik via Mulund. Cross Star of Highway Dhaba and just before climbing Kasara Ghat, take the first diversion to the left. The road goes under a railway track and reaches a fork. Get on to the road towards Jawahar/Khodala to reach Vihigaon (13km from Kasara). Park near the village school and walk for 15-min to reach the waterfall.

Itinerary: Meet at 6am, Swami Narayan Mandir (Gate No.4), Opp Railway Station, Dadar East. Depart by bus for Vihigaon, Breakfast on board, Introduction/demo at Vihigaon followed by rappelling, depart for Mumbai at 5:30 pm

Fees: Rs.750/head (includes to/fro travel by private bus, rappelling/instructor/gear charges, breakfast and evening snacks), Rs.400/head for those joining directly at Vihigaon.

Pack: Rain gear and waterproof cover for phones/valuables, ID proof, 2L water, lunch, snacks, change of clothes

What to wear: Windcheater, shoes/floaters, socks, close neck T shirts, scarf/rubberband to tie long hair

Nearby attractions: Tribal king’s palace at Jawahar, Igatpuri with its famous Vipassana centre for meditation, Kalsubai the highest peak in Maharashtra, Bhandardhara Dam and the spiritual hub of Nashik, also famous for its grapes and vineyards.  

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the September 2012 issue of Rail Bandhu, the Indian Railways magazine.

Matheran: Riding into the Sunset


ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY explore Asia’s only pedestrian hill resort on foot, palanquin, horseback and a heritage train only to find the experience anything but pedestrian


The steady clip-clop of horses, reminiscent perhaps of an old OP Nayyar song, could be heard from the moment we hopped off the slow train to Matheran. Just under 100km and a few hours from Mumbai, the hill retreat was established by the British in the upper reaches of the Sahyadris to escape the burning heat of the plains. Literally ‘A Forest atop a Mountain’, Matheran was a wooded Eden meant for leisurely walks, romance and rides into the sunset. What made it truly unique was that it was the only hill station in Asia where private vehicles were banned. The chief modes of transport were horses, manually drawn carriages, bicycles or foot. In an age of mechanized mayhem, the only motorized sound we could hear was the hum of an airplane 30,000 ft above in the sky.

How and when the grazing ground of adivasis like the Thakur, Dhangar and Kathkaris became a posh retreat for wealthy British officers and Parsi businessmen is anybody’s guess. But records mention that Matheran was ‘discovered’ by Hugh Poyntz Malet, the former District Collector of Thane in 1850. Lord Elphinstone then Governor of Bombay laid the foundation for its development into a hill station and sanatorium for the British. But it was Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy’s introduction of the Matheran Hill Railway in 1907 (later accorded a World Heritage status by UNESCO) that made the journey as special as the destination.

As we clutched our manually stamped Edmondson tickets, the train chugged up 20km from Neral over two hours, hugging the curves of mountains, gorges and valleys. We slipped into the fleeting darkness of One Kiss Tunnel, cheekily named by a British officer, as the length of the tunnel offered just enough time to steal a romantic peck. We halted at Jummapatti station for the downward bound train to cross us on the single track. A few hawkers sold berries, meetha imli and other stuff to passengers who seemed more interested in clambering on the engine and getting photographed on the train.


Waterpipe our next stop was where the engine was cooled. A little later, around a curve, a massive image of Lord Ganesha, vibrantly painted on a boulder suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Mount Barry, Panorama Point and Simpson Point slid by as lush forests spread like glinting sheets of emerald as we pulled into Matheran station in the heart of town.

The idea of hailing down a horse or hand-pulled carriage instead of a cab or an autorickshaw seemed novel but we decided to walk along the bridle path instead. Kapadia Market with its arched entrance and rows of shops displayed an assortment of leather belts, shoes, bags, dried flowers, chikkis and other colourful knick-knacks. The air was scented with a residual sense of lavishness as we walked past several bungalows that had seen better days. Luckily, we were headed for the finest address in town…

Neemrana’s The Verandah in the Forest, the former home of Captain Barr, was the second bungalow to be built in Matheran. A beautiful heritage property, the white, colossal two-storeyed structure was set in a wooded patch with a pretty wraparound verandah overlooking Prabal Garh. At 30 ft, it boasted the highest ceiling in Matheran. The spacious rooms were named after prominent Parsis and citizens – Jehangir, Jeejeebhoy, Peerbhoy, Kotwal, Petit, Albert Sassoon, Chenoy, Shankarshet and Kapadia. 


Malet Hall served as the dining area whereas the royal suite Elphinstone was on a lower level alongside ‘before and after’ photographs of Neemrana’s renovation efforts. The regal reading room, colonial décor, polished crockery and attentive staff ensured that we got a true taste of a Burrah Sahib’s luxurious life.

As an Englishman observed years ago in the 1924 Handbook to Matheran ‘Roaming and riding seem to be the main business at Matheran.’ The 38 scenic points were spread across three different ranges covering an area of 8 sq miles and an 18-mile circumference. Each site bore an intriguing name, often attributed to a geographical position, natural feature or some individual of note. In the magic glow of the late afternoon sun, we strolled across to the shimmering Charlotte’s Lake. Juice stalls ran a brisk business as tired visitors, unaccustomed to walking, stopped for a breather. Monkeys trapezed in the trees around the ancient Pisarnath (Shiva) Temple.

After a brief stop at Lord’s Point and the elevated Celia Point, we came to Echo Point, which opened into a deep valley that bounced off every shout. The deep gorges and craggy reddish rock acquired a mesmeric beauty as the evening softened, painting them in colours of dusk. A group of Parsis and foreigners sitting quietly on park benches shushed a loquacious Gujarati expat to watch the sunset in silence. As if on cue, the red sun dropped down a perfect V-shaped silhouette of Prabal Garh with the uncanny outline of the Indian peninsula!


Silvery moonlight filtered through the canopy as we returned for a hot shower, a sumptuous meal and restful sleep at The Verandah. We realized in Matheran, you learn to leave your cars and cares behind. At dawn, we hopped over to the tree house for some birdwatching and after a hearty breakfast, headed to The Byke, Matheran’s oldest bungalow built by Captain Hugh Malet and named after his favourite racehorse. The original bungalow was intact with five heritage rooms while The Byke had developed into a popular resort.

At Hope Hall, another old property, we met Maria who lamented about Matheran’s fast changing landscape, ‘In 1875, Lakshmi and Hope Hall were the only lodgings. Today anyone with a roof claims to be a hotel while heritage properties can’t do any renovation or alteration without government permission. There’s rampant poaching of the Malabar Squirrel by adivasis, Maharashtra’s state symbol.’

After a delicious lunch near the bazaar we went on a 12-point horseback tour (Rs.350) to the famous lookouts. A frisky black racehorse called Rocky waited impatiently while his more sagely partner Bobby stood majestically as we slipped our feet gingerly into the stirrups and grabbed the reins. Santosh who trained horses as a kid took pride in how the animals responded instantly to his low whistle. “I earn Rs.250-300 for the 7km ride from Dasturi car park to town. That’s the nearest place for any motorized transport. The only vehicle here is an ambulance,” he said with a smile.


Lakshman, another guide said, ‘Jaisa gaadi showroom se nikal ke ata hai, ghoda bhi waise hi milta hai.’ We learnt there were about 462 horses in Matheran, procured mostly from Nasik and Shirdi. They are about 2-3 years old and cost Rs.25,000-40,000 for a gauti (country) or Rs.50,000-80,000 for Sindhi, Marwari, Punjabi or Kathiawari, which is like an all-terrain vehicle better suited for colder climes like Matheran. Arab horses didn’t fare well here.

We trotted past King George and Landscape to Honeymoon Point, which was linked by an exciting zip-line Valley Crossing to Louisa Point, the southernmost extremity of Matheran’s westward range. Developed by Edward Fawcett in 1853, Louisa was one of the oldest points and the earliest to receive an English name. The vertigo-inspiring vantage overlooked a deep valley and a rocky outcrop in the shape of a Lion’s Head. On a clear night, one could look beyond the historic Prabal Fort to see the distant lights of Mumbai! 

As per a romantic legend, Prabal Garh was once the stronghold of Maratha ruler Shivaji and guarded by his deputy Prabal Rao. Being a devotee of Lord Shiva, he prayed regularly at the old Shiva temple near One Tree Hill, named after its lone tree. However, Matheran was under the control of his adversary and Mughal lackey Ramaji Rao, who wielded strange powers over a ferocious lion. This made Prabal’s daily visit arduous. One day, Prabal Rao aided by Shivaji, launched a surprise attack and killed the lion and Ramaji. The precipitous route he took came to be known Shivaji’s Ladder and the Lion’s Head was linked to this legend.


The northward trail continued past Malang to Coronation Point, created in 1903 to commemorate Edward VII’s coronation. Laxman regaled us with anecdotes of how the locals thwarted the Ambanis’ plan to take over Matheran after they bought properties like Rugby Hotel and Gulmohar. ‘The impounded vehicle in the police station belongs to Nita Ambani’ he smirked.

The saddle of a frisky horse wasn’t the best location to hear about the tragic tale of a skilled rider who lost her balance and fell off the cliff, along with her horse. Danger Point or Janjeera, a narrow path with a deep valley on one side, got its name from the grave danger of falling off the cliff because an ocean of mist filled the valley, making things invisible. We finally came to Porcupine or Sunset Point, the farthest extreme on the western range. The spectacular precipice afforded a breathtaking view with smoke billowing out of chimneys in a Thakar settlement down below.

With the southern circuit of Olympia Race Course, Alexander Point, Rambag and Chowk still on our list, we rued our impending return to Mumbai. At the busy bazaar area, we bought the famous Nariman chikkis and fudge, finally settling for a moonlit dinner at The Byke. A brisk morning walk led us back to the station and our train huffed out at 7am. Engine driver Rajaram Vaman Khade invited us over to ride in the engine. Co-incidentally, the Ganesha rock painting we saw enroute was made by him, taking time out of his busy schedule. He stalled the train at the temple for a brief prayer and rang the bell before hopping back on the train.


From types of engines to railway hierarchy and Matheran’s viewpoints, Khade was a tome of information. ‘You know what locals call Panorama Point in Marathi? Pandurang Point!’, he cackled, before continuing ‘On 1st May 1913 Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy gave his famous picnic party here in honour of WD Shepherd, commissioner of the southern division. A special train had run on the occasion from Matheran to Panorama Point!’

We learnt Alexander Point was named after the husband of Mr. Hugh Malet’s niece. Rambagh overlooked a dense forest of tall trees and Mr. Malet used the path to the foot of the hill on his return from Matheran. Navara-Naveri (or newly wedded couple) got its name after a wedding party travelling from Badlapur to Panvel mysteriously disappeared enroute.

‘You must come in the rains to fully enjoy the beauty of Matheran, when the landscape is lush green and small waterfalls criss-cross the tracks. Even though the train service is suspended in the monsoon, one train runs daily to inspect the tracks. You can ride with me!’ As we made our descent, we looked dejectedly at what we were leaving behind – clean air, peace and the rejuvenating spirit of Matheran. The only things that stuck were memories of stunning views and red dust on our clothes and shoes.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 24 June, 2012 in the Sunday edition of Deccan Herald newspaper.