Matheran is situated at a height of 803 m above sea level. Since 1907, a narrow gauge railway line connects Matheran to Neral in the plains. Motor vehicles are completely banned in Matheran, making it quite peaceful despite the thousands of visitors that come here, mostly from Mumbai. There are a number of lookout points that provide spectacular views of the surrounding hills and valley.
Matheran is a plateau with a reasonably dense forest cover. Being a hill station it is pleasant almost throughout the year. In winter, the nights can get a bit chilly though.
The best time to go to Matheran is post-monsoon. It is truly spectacular at this time of the year with lush greenery, waterfalls and the lake full with water. The best times to visit Matheran are between: Sept.to November; Feb. to March. (Dec & Jan are pretty chilly here). However, people from Mumbai (Churchgate to Virar & C.S.T. (V.T.) to Kalyan) are seen visiting every week end mostly with their family as a part of their outing and relaxation. It is also a good place for Sadhana (Meditations), retreats and yogas.
There is a entry fee (of Rs 40 for adult visitors and Rs.20 for children from May 1, 2012)to Matheran. The proceeds from this is used for the upkeep of the place considering its fragile ecosystem.
You can catch either
from CST (a.k.a. VT Mumbai, India) on the Central Railway to Neral Station.
If coming from Pune, catch any Mumbai bound train and get off at Karjat (Around 95 kms from Pune).Then catch a CST bound local train from Karjat and get down at Neral (21 kms, would take around 15 min).
From Neral Station , there is a toy train which runs to Matheran about 4 times in a day. This toy train is not operational when railway route is under maintenance or when there is a perceived hazard e.g. the monsoons. Unfortunately, the only way to find this out is at the Neral Station.
Neral to Matheran tickets as of Novermber 2009 costs are 1st Class 210Rs, 2nd Class Reserved 35Rs, 2nd class unreserved 20Rs. Tickets can be booked from 3 to 1 day in advance, and then on the day of travel from 45 minutes before the train.
The train is often full, so turn up in good time to ensure you get a ticket. You can also book the ticket online through IRCTC. If there's a queue of unmoving people at the ticket window with a salesman who's reading the paper, then all the 2nd class tickets are sold out. Jump the queue to the window and ask for 1st class as the're usually available.
The toy train times (as of Nov '09) are:
Matheran -> Neral:
Here is a list of local train timings from Neral back to CST: 0246,0356,0425,0517,0532,0607,0654,0716,0734,0808,0837,0718,0954,1109,1232,1331,1416,1440,1553,1631,1705,1729,1837,1854,1954,2056,2141,2223,2256,0222.
There is sadly no convenient express train to get back to CST in the evening. You can get a local train from Neral to Karjat (away from Mumbai), and then an express train back from Karjat into Mumbai. But this will take longer than just getting a local train from Neral back into town.
Cars are not allowed within Matheran. However you can drive up and park your car at Dasturi car point, or take the newly introduced mini bus shuttle from Karjat or Neral railway stations upto Dasturi. From Dasturi you must take a 40 minute horseback or man-pulled rickshaw ride to Matheran along a mud track.
Alternately you can walk from Dasturi along the rail line & make your way up to Matheran - 20minutes to half an hour. The rail track route is slightly shorter, more scenic and very much more comfortable than than the rubbly, dusty main road route. Coolies or porters are available at Dasturi to carry your luggage. Remember to negotiate rates in advance. You can also go with group booking or alone.
There are several walking trails which ascend the Matheran Plateau. These are used by local people commuting to the hill station as well as the occasional intrepid holiday-maker.
From the Eastern side, trekkers start at Neral (see above).
You can also approach from the Western side, which has the distinct advantage that you can be in the shade for most of the ascent if you start early in the morning. One route recommended during monsoon starts from the village of Dudhoni and brings you to Sunset Point in Matheran. It is suitable for beginners, and the ascent only takes 2 hours or so. There is apparently a side trip to a waterfall, but I have not done this. Dudhoni can be reached by autorickshaw from Panvel (accessible by bus or central line train). The trail is obvious in most places; when in doubt, ask a local.
As motor vehicles are banned, there are two ways of getting around in Matheran.
The truth is that almost all the points offer pretty good sunrise, sunset, mountain and valley views, so walk or horse ride or take a rickshaw to whichever you prefer. Remember that the more popular points will be crowded, especially at sunset. Watch out for the aggressive Matheran macaque monkeys who will not hesitate to snatch your belongings especially anything remotely resembling food!
Some of the popular sights include: Lake Charlotte - a spectacular waterfall overflows from the lake during and shortly after the monsoons. At other times, it is peaceful surrounded by dense evergreen forests, bird song and pretty butterflies.
Due to the prohibition of cars, Matheran is a relatively peaceful place. So walking is an activity that will be richly rewarding, especially for nature lovers, and more so just after the monsoons when wildflowers are in full bloom with their attendant butterflies. When the mass blooming of Karvy or Strobilanthes Callosa takes place, it is a spectacular sight.
It is not uncommon to sight Golden Langurs, snakes and the Matheran Giant Squirrels [Ratufa indica elphinstonii]. Apart from the ubiquitous bonnet macaque or aggressive Matheran Monkeys !
There are numerous points all over Matheran, many of which provide some fantastic views of the valley below. While the central area and marked vistas are crowded, it is quite easy to find yourself all alone if you step off the beaten track. There are numerous forested trails leading to most of the Points. Wear thick soled footwear and carry a walking stick for greater comfort as some of the trails are very rubbly, nothing more than dry river beds.
Horse riding is also quite popular way of getting around in Matheran. Finding a horse is not very difficult, as there are many of them around. It is a great way to travel for people who prefer not to walk, but rates must be negotiated in advance.
One must do adventure in Matheran is VALLEY CROSSING . Its from Honeymoon point to near Louisa Point.Its basically a U- shaped mountain and you have to go from one side to other side ( approx 900 feet) hanging on rope with 1000 feet valley below(!) It works worth 3 ropes,pulleys and Gravity. So its one way. So coming back is by walking or you can ask your Horse-Man to come to that point to pick you up. Mind you - Its definitely not for weak-hearted. But you get a bird's eye view of the valley. And its definitely a once in life-time experience.
There are all kinds of restaurants in Matheran serving various cuisines. Most hotels offer packages including all meals. Try the Gujarati Thali, or the Maharashtrian style Vada-Pav (Indian Burger)which is available at the various points. Also, try the chikki which is available in different flavors in the main market. Unlimited Gujarati Thali At Hotel Gujarat bhavan (INR 175 DEC 2010) and Hotel Regal (INR 250, Dec 2010) are famous. Hotel Laxmi Offers Limited Gujarati Thali (INR 80, Dec 2010), the food here is very homely, less spicy. Though a limited verson the quantity of food is enough for average apetite.
Meat is available in some restaurants, notably in the popular and modern Khan's, which does very good Kebabs. Diwadkars opposite the station does very tasty non veg and veg thalis, kababs, etc at a reasonable price, they also serve alcohol. Shabbir's Biryani house is very famous for it's meat preparations, but it is not a very neat place and if you are looking for a proper restaurant with people waiting on you then Shabbir's might not be the place. Shabbir Bhai's is a authentic home-run hotel,serving tasty Moghlai food.To reach here take the right from the Masjid and walk up for 2 minutes.A plate of mutton biryani at Shabbir's costs Rs.75 (As on 22th June 2009). Hakimi's is a good place,where you can find good Chinese,Moghlai and Punjabi at a very very reasonable rate.It is right next to Pramod Bar (The only bar in Matheran).Also worth trying is the big Indian breads ( called "pav" ) which you can find in the store right opposite to Pramod Bar.
There are all kinds of restaurants in Matheran serving various drinks, try the unique Kokam Sherbat there. Liquor is available only in certain hotels and restaurants.
During the peak season, when it is very busy, prices are often as high as four times the off-season (winter) price. Be ready to shell out minimum of INR 2000 for a modest non AC double bed room on a weekend. As it is a popular weekend trip from Mumbai, mid week is less full so you should be able to negotiate better prices. While there are many hotels in the centre of town, there are more secluded hotels down the paths away from the central buildings. Its always better to stay in hotels in the market as you can roam around there once it gets dark.In far off hotels you would get locked up in the room as it wont be advisable to venture out in the dark in forest. Better do not book any rooms from the agents who would surround you at Nerel Station.There are many rooms (Hotels,Cottages,Resorts) up at the Matheran Market and it is better to actually check the rooms and then deal directly with the owners as this can save money as well as the disappointed of being dubbed into a poorly maintained and sub standard room! Given most hotels can offer food, it needn't be an inconvenience being out of the town centre. Due to the space in Matheran, hotels often have extra facilities from ping-pong tables and swings to swimming pools.
Another good budget option for the families is Woodlands Hotel. Situated in the forest as the name suggests but just 10 mins walk from the Station/Market. Homely atmosphere with good food and service. Animal lovers will be happy to know that pets are more than welcome here.
There are plenty of hotels to suit all budgets. Maharashtra Tourism's site MTDC has a list of home stays as well. Most Matheran hotels and resorts advertise in the local Mid Day travel classifieds so it is easy to compare prices.
Most of the above mentioned websites do not mention the following small hotels which allow you lodging and boarding:
Despite the natural beauty, entrancing landscape and scenario that Matheran Hill Station offers and the amount of tourists flock here, esp. during the vacations, its pity that Maharashtra Government (esp. the Matheran Municipality (Nagar Parished) has done very little or meagre in this regard. The money collected from the tourists by Municipality supposed to be utilised for the maintenance and the development of the place. But the reality is far from true. Matheran witnesses a lot of water scarcity, terrible electricity cut-outs, no proper medical aid around and the railway station is unhygienic. I think it is high time that the Maharashtra Govt looks into this and tries to rejig it before it is too late and provide some better facilities for the tourists and the locals.