Goa and the Art of Self-Discovery

I have has been to Goa a few number of times, thinking of each visit is like deep diving into memories of various phases in my life.


Of caves, impregnable forts and the poor man's Taj..


Of foggy woods, gurgling waterfalls and rains that painted the hill green..


Of ferry rides, seagulls and (almost) private beaches...

Andamans (Part 1)

Of Island hopping, underwater adventures and different shades of the sea...

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Gulmarg: Mountain lover's and Skier's paradise

Having planned an end of winter trip to Kashmir, we immediately set off to Gulmarg from Srinagar airport after landing. For skiing enthusiasts and for those who are looking for a vacation in the snowy mountains, Gulmarg is the place to be.

Enroute to Gulmarg
The roadtrip from Srinagar to Gulmarg, seeing snow-capped mountains for the first time, will be etched in my mind for a long long time. The journey is via Tangmarg where you have to either take a 4 wheel drive or get chains attached to your vehicle's wheels as the roads are mostly snowed in. As the road is barely wide enough for two vehicles, it may take anything from 40 minutes to 2 hours. This however, gives you more time to take in the view of the valley spiraling down below with tree tops sprinkled with powdery snow on either sides.

They say Kashmir is ‘Paradise on earth’. I see snowfall for the first time in my life, those tiny white flaky drops of magic and I stop wondering why.  
Trees sprinkled with snow
We checked into Khyber, which lays claim to the best view in Gulmarg. With a room facing the magnificent Mount Apharwat, many hours were spent having hot chocolate and watching our very first snowfall.
View from our room
Once you get accustomed to the cold, one has to take the Gondola ride to Phase I and Phase II, to reach atop Mount Apharwat, a height of 14,500 ft. This Gondola ride is supposed to be the world's highest. As you go up in your Gondola, you can see the commercial area of Gulmarg, and watch tiny lines on snow being drawn by those skiing their way down. Our guide who had come along with us for the day pointed out tiny wooden cabins being made by the Gujjars to live in when the winter is over. Skiing, or Sikkiing as the locals very endearingly refer to it, is the most popular activity around here, with visitors from India and abroad flocking in for their dose of adventure.

View from Phase II
As soon as we reached Phase II, regular breathing became a difficult task for sea-level dwellers like us, let alone any physical exertion. Our guide pointed out to peaks far away, our first view of Pak occupied Kashmir. Having grown up hearing stories about the various wars waged with Pakistan, actually seeing the land which we lost and the military build-up everywhere (including on top of Mount Apharwat), the true intensity of it all hit home. Seeing the extreme conditions which the Indian army battle to keep the rest of the country safe, it is difficult not to feel immensely proud and respectful towards those brave set of people.

View from Phase I
Phase I is pretty abuzz with a lot of activities such as skiing, snow cycling, snow mobiles around. But the price they usually quote is quite absurd and after a lot of haggling (true to Indian spirit) you will see the price dropping to almost half. This seemed to be the case wherever we went in Kashmir.

During summer, it is said that wild flowers will be everywhere, giving it the name ‘Gulmarg’ – path of flowers. As for us, we were content with the picture snow had painted us.

General Info:

Stay: A lot of budget to luxury options are around to cater to the budget skier as well as those who want a luxury stay in the mountains

Getting around: Being a small town, major attractions are walkable if you don't mind the cold, heavy wind. Alternatively you can hire a cab at Rs 1000 for 5 attractions or snow ledges are also available which comes at 300 rupees from one point to another

Clothes: You can either bring your winter wear or rent everything from shoes, gloves to jackets at around 500 - 1000 per pair

Activities: There are a lot of activities around here, but be prepared to haggle a lot. Skiing training sessions are around 3000 rupees and if you want to ski down the Phase I that will set you back by another 3000 rupees. Snowmobiles are available for 1000 rupees, even though the ride will last only 15 minutes, the breath-taking views make it worth the while. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

My most memorable Shatabdi journey

This is the unedited version of the story that won the 'Holidays by Shatabdi' contest by Lonely Planet in June 2013. You can read the published story here
It was 1997, I was all of ten years, travelling to the great Indian North for the very first time. After losing myself in the fascinating Mughal stories my Dad told us while travelling around Delhi, we were headed to Chandigarh.
Shatabdi was going to be our ride from Delhi to Chandigarh. I was excited about travelling in chair car for the very first time, but mostly it was because my mother had informed me that these tickets came with food included. Being an ardent lover of train food, I was happy about not having to throw a tantrum to get the parents to buy food on train. It was to be a short journey of around 3 hours and all of us boarded the train. Being the youngest in the family gave me the privilege to the window seat and there I happily sat looking out at the lands whizzing  by  while munching on my breakfast.
Around two and a half hours later, I informed my mother that I had to go to the toilet urgently and she dutifully escorted me to the train’s toilet. It was already occupied and there was a small occupied sign that appeared on the door when it was locked from inside. A door that could tell you the toilet’s occupancy, to my ten year old mind it was like magic! So when I got in, I had to lock it so that the door could inform the outside world that it was occupied. Of course, my mother who was waiting for me outside could do just the same.
After completing my business, I tried opening the door and soon found out that the door had gotten jammed. I asked my mother to open it from outside (nothing a mother cannot do when you are that age) and when she also could not, panic mode set in and loud bawling followed. Soon enough I could hear my entire family outside trying their luck at opening the door frantically since we were to reach our station in a few minutes. Finally thankfully someone from the pantry came and had to break the lock and bust the door open.
The brief moment of happiness when reunited with the family was followed by a lengthy scolding from the parents and to my amusement a few other passengers we did not know. We finally got down at Chandigarh and continued with the rest of our trip.
I have had a lot of Shatabdi journeys since then, but this definitely is the one I will be telling my grandkids about.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Andaman: Of Island hopping, underwater adventures and different shades of the sea - II

..continued from Part I

Havelock Island 

The next day we presented ourselves at the jetty at the earliest only to see a long queue of impatient folks waiting for the 8 am ferry to Havelock. The few policemen (and women) who were trying to control the crowd very often stopped to chit chat with the Islanders in the queue. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, evident in the way they were enquiring about family matters and kids’ studies, the kind of closeness in societies one doesn’t see in cities anymore with people caught up in their own busy worlds.

If there was any true test for Indian-ness of people there, the mad rush to get onto the ferry was it. Those who were patiently waiting in the queue till then turned into a mad frenzy once the ship arrived. After doing something similar to what one does to get onto a Virar fast from Dadar, and a small controversy with the captain throwing out people who were literally pushing the others out, later, we finally got in.

The rest of the 30 minutes journey was pretty uneventful except for the beautiful sea around us and the plan in my head to think of ways to move and settle down here.
Havelock is the most popular tourist destination amongst the islands of Andaman and after the peaceful stay at Neil Island, this felt like getting back to the city.

After dropping off our bags at a resort, we rushed to the famous Radhanagar Beach. Radhanagar Beach, which was once voted as ‘The most beautiful beach in Asia’ (in the year 2005 and still riding on that wave), is a quick 20 minutes ride from the area where most resorts are located at.

Radhanagar Beach
I fell in love with the beach the minute we got there. We could see the beach extending till both ends of the island, with the mangroves outlining the land and the sea trying to reclaim it. Wherever you looked, the sea seemed to don a different shade of blue. Soon after we jumped into the sea, dark clouds came threatening along. The minute it started raining almost everyone started running to the little bamboo huts for shelter, but hey, we were already drenched and proceeded to stay in the sea with much glee.

The next day we woke up, all excited to go Scuba diving. We had pre-booked with the well-acclaimed Barefoot group for this and by ten we presented our nervous selves to the instructors. After getting into the wetsuit and a quick boat ride later, there we were in the sea being given instructions. Now, I am an avid and confident (at times a bit too much) swimmer, but suddenly it hit me that we were going underwater and panic attack followed. I remember mumbling to my instructor about not being able to make myself do it and then I saw that the rest of the folks in our party were calm as cucumbers, all set for the dive. Sudden change to I-have-to-do-this-or-never-live-this-down happened, and a few minutes later we were swimming into the open sea to look at the best place to dive. Once we went under the water, I was slightly hyperventilating (surprise! surprise!).

 However, as soon as I saw the school of bright yellow fishes swim by, a feeling of wonder overpowered every other sense of mine. Orange colored urchins, red and blue corals, the beautiful sea anemones and the fishes, the bright beautiful fishes - it is such a fascinating world, it suddenly becomes real how wide and diverse underwater life is!

We set off to Kalapathar beach the next morning. The ride to the beach has tall, thick and very green trees of the tropical rainforest on one side and the blue waters suddenly jumping at us at every other turn. Kalapathar is a pretty small stretch of bright blue waters and due to the fact that it is crocodile infested, we did not get into the sea. We sat there for some time, just looking at the beautiful sea, thoughts wandering.

The beautiful Kalapathar Beach
One of the things we were looking forward to most was the seaplane journey back to Port Blair. Now, for the past two to three days, the weather had been pretty rough with the skies pouring down every now and then. We had gone to the seaplane office to inquire the day before and we were told that the seaplane to Havelock had been cancelled for the past two days and when they said it was still uncertain if they will fly tomorrow, in my mind I saw an enraged Poseidon.

Much to our surprise, the weather that morning was fine and the trip was on. So we “checked in” at the cutest little airport which was more of a bamboo hut (mind you, our luggages were thoroughly checked with utmost seriousness), with the 4 other passengers who were from Havelock. A shy smile and a chocolate offering to the kids with them later, they asked us about our vacation and if we were having a good time. The father, who had been born and lived his whole life in Havelock, spoke to us about how it was one of the hidden gems of the Andamans until recently, when tourism suddenly boomed. He mentioned that his house was along the shorelines and it used to be similar to what the farther ends of Radhanagar beach is currently, lined with mangroves earlier and then the tsunami struck when the sea reclaimed a lot of their property. For him, ferries and seaplanes getting cancelled seemed like a regular ordeal.

We took a two minutes boat ride to a floating platform in the midst of the sea where we excitedly waited for the seaplane to show up. The minute we could see if from far, there followed a lot of excited finger-pointing and cries from us, which was the matter of much amusement for the Islanders. The plane landed on the sea and we pretty much hopped on. It seated nine people including the pilot and co-pilot, and with butterflies in our stomach we took off from the sea. We watched as we went higher and higher, the sea embracing the island from all sides, little white patches wherever the waves hit the rocks and them outlining Havelock Island and the other many small Islands we flew over. We saw the ferry in the middle of the sea, slowly making its way to Port Blair. This is one of my favorite memories of the whole trip. Of course, the Islander kids slept through the whole journey!

View from the seaplane that took my breath away
Flying over another Island, view from the Seaplane

We landed in Port Blair and made our way back to our hotel, dropped off our bags and wandered around the Island since we had already spent two days covering most of it earlier. The next day’s plan was to visit Ross Island, Coral Island and Viper Island. Ross Island’s proximity to Port Blair made it a smart choice of place to stay for the British guards of the Cellular Jail, and the remains of their settlements can still be seen. Ross Island which by virtue of acting as a cover from the sea on one side to Port Blair, we were told was one of the major reasons why Port Blair was not heavily hit during the Tsunami of 2007. Ross Island took most of the brunt of the Tsunami and a lot of the settlements were destroyed during this period.The sea was still very rough and all the trips to the various islands were cancelled. In fact, we heard that not only the seaplane, but the ferry itself from Havelock to Port Blair was cancelled due to rough seas leading to many people being trapped there. I remember thinking, we have the best technology to travel on land, sea and air but when nature wants us to stay where we are, we stay where we are. It just goes to show how our lives are decided by the different shades of the moody sea.

The ten days spent on the various Islands have been an eye opening experience for me. I went expecting a relaxing beach vacation, but came back with so much more. The sea has always been a favorite of mine, but being on a small island, watching the sunrise on one end and getting to the other end just in time for sunset, now that is the kind of experiences that makes Travelling what it is.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Andaman: Of Island hopping, underwater adventures and different shades of the sea - I

Andaman& Nicobar Islands, for a perennial beach lover like me, was like stepping into a dream – one made of white sandy beaches with the sea so clear and blue, it put the skies to shame.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a group of around 600 islands (out of which only 38 are inhabited by humans) in the Bay of Bengal, which even though is a part of India, is closer to Thailand and Indonesia. Port Blair is the only Island connected via air and it is reachable via flights from Chennai and Kolkata.

Taking off from Chennai, we flew over many tiny islands as we neared Port Blair and watched from above the blue waters and the green slices of land embedded within. After this tiny peep into what we were in for the next ten days, I was buzzing with excitement.

First sight of the Islands
After months of planning and pouring over travel blogs and sites, we had chosen a hotel which is at a walking distance from the airport. The entire experience at that hotel was pretty much what we saw throughout the Islands – everyone we met were extremely helpful (Bengalis and Malayalis form a majority of the Islanders and being a Malayali myself did help) and more importantly, genuine. We met a few locals along the journey and when they asked us if we liked the Islands, it seemed like it was important to them that we liked their place and had a good time. The kind of trust and friendliness shown by the people there is unnerving for us mainlanders (Ripos Das, a travel agent we reached out to book tickets on the seaplane, went ahead and booked it for us before we even made the payment!). I guess this attitude comes from being part of an Island community where you have to rely on each other to get through daily life and this sense of community has sort of become a way of life for the natives, a friend who hails from there once told me.

Port Blair

Port Blair was the base for our visits to other places in the Islands, as it was the only place with connectivity to the Indian mainland in the island archipelago.

We enquired at the hotel lobby about places to visit and were given the directions to Cellular Jail and a few museums nearby.

We proceeded to the Aqua museum and ooh aah-ed at the marine life captured there and made mental notes so that we could identify them when we went Scuba Diving. There also might have been an unhealthy obsession with a fish which seemed to be fascinated by what the bubble maker in the tank did to its posterior area.

The museums there were a good way to get to know the Island in depth. Legend says that the name Andaman is derived from the hindu monkey deity ‘Hanuman’ who is believed to have used these islands as stepping stones on his journey across the sea to Sri Lanka to deliver Rama’s message to Sita.
It has such an interesting history with the various indigenous tribes some going as back as the hunter gatherer times and the Sentinelese, the last tribe in the world to be living in complete isolation. Most of the other tribes have more or less become assimilated with the rest of the population even though tourist visits to most of the Nicobar Islands are still not allowed. In the 1900s, it became important in Indian history due to the part it played in the Indian freedom struggle, when it became the location of a jail where the freedom fighters were exiled, and later during WW II, it became a Japanese colony.

On the first day, by around 5 pm it was pitch dark, and we were scratching our heads wondering “Where did the sun go?!?”. Then we found out that the sun rises at 4-4:30 am and sets by 4:30 – 5 pm in the Islands. Needless to say our bodies remained confused about the whole deal and by the time we got used to sleeping at 9 pm (there is not much to do post sunset since nightlife is almost nil around there), it was time for us to get back to the mainland. For weeks post getting back, 9 pm sleepy time was followed, much to the amusement of many.

We then proceeded to the Light & Sound show at the Cellular Jail. Seated in the midst of the common area, the show spoke about how the Cellular Jail was constructed in the most deviously creative manner. It has 7 wings arranged like the spokes of a cycle wheel, each of which had tiny cells, each containing one prisoner. Extreme lengths were taken to ensure that the prisoners could not mingle with or speak to each other such as the front of each wing faced the back of another. It is one thing to study and read about the freedom struggle and the atrocities forced on the freedom fighters but seeing the cell of Veer Savarkar where he spent 10 years, 10 of the most important years of one’s life, from 26 till 36, or seeing the museum with the endless photographs of people who passed away during their struggle here and seeing the small room in which they used to hang prisoners, is a whole different experience which hits you hard.

Entrance to the Cellular Jail
It made me think of how much these people sacrificed for the country, what vision they must have had for the nation and how they let down they would be  if they saw the current state of the country which is divided by religion and driven by corruption?

Neil Island

The first island hop from Port Blair was to Neil Island. We were glad to have booked the ferry tickets early on, since the ferry was pretty much packed. It was very easy to identify the tourists, who were busy running around the ship, most of them trying to get the best possible shots of the sea and the Lighthouse, and the bored Islanders, yawning and sleeping off in the seats. There was also one old man selling I:heart:Andaman T shirts to the happy-to-buy tourists.

Riding the waves 
Neil Island is a small Island, only 14 km across, and is yet to reach the level of tourist madness seen at Havelock, the most popular island in the Andamans. We checked into our place in Hotel Tango, one of 2 or 3 places to stay at Neil Island, a bamboo hut right infront of the Laxmanpur Beach.

Beautiful sea near the Natural Bridge, Neil Island
There are only a handful of roads throughout the Island and we quickly arranged for a scooty to help us hop from one beach to another. The folks at the resort were very helpful in planning an itinerary and our first stop was the Natural Bridge at one end of the island. It was a pretty cool natural structure which is reachable only during low tide.

Post lunch and siesta, by 4 it was almost sunset and we proceeded to Laxmanpur Beach. After an adventurous two wheeler ride through the wilderness with hardly any roads, we finally got there. The white sand was so soft, it would put Persian rugs to shame, thick mangrove forests lined the shore till the eyes could see and the orange rays of the setting sun glazed across the blue waters. There were a handful of others scattered across the beach, but everyone seemed to be lost in their own world, possibly enchanted by the beach as much as I was. 

Blue, White & Green  and a sunet I will never forget at Laxmanpur Beach

..to be continued

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Goa & the Art of Self-discovery

The Old Goa with the beautiful churches for admirers of Portuguese architecture, beaches crowded with families looking for a good vacation, beach huts on secluded beaches with soft sand for ones looking to get away from it all or if hippie crowds and a bit of ‘heaven’ that you are looking for, Goa showcases herself in whatever manner you expect her to be, and more.

I have has been to Goa a few number of times, thinking of each visit is like deep diving into memories of various phases in my life.

There was the time during engineering days, we were a big bunch of students excited to be there under the pretense of an ‘Industrial Visit’. The trip majorly consisted of visiting and ticking off the list the major tourist attractions in Goa – the churches, old, big and beautiful, which never cease to bring me some kind of peace, the famous beaches –Baga, Calangute and a quick trip to the famous ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ point (I can see everyone of my generation who has been to Goa nodding along). For someone who had been pretty much the ugly duckling throughout her life, this was the phase during which my braces came off and to my embarrassment (and mostly secret high) a random not-creepy guy hitting on me.

Then there was the Goa visit during post-graduation times, the inner wild child stepping out and making up for the lost times. And of course, a walk along the beach, getting to know a certain someone which at this point seems to be turning into a life long journey J

From getting caught up in a traffic jam at 1 AM to having a cab driver tell us ‘Drugs try kiya hai? Ek dum mast hai! Sharab toh kuch bhi nahin’, I got to know Goa much deeper this time.


With great stay options in and around, Baga is the quintessential crowded beach lined with great shacks and fantastic water sports (protip: while bargaining always start at 50% of what they are saying). Calangute is the beach nearby similar to Baga with sports activities and great Goan style restaurants facing the sea (Souza Lobo is not to be missed!)

Sunset at Mandrem Beach
Arambol, in North Goa, is a good 30 minutes long drive from Baga/Calangute  the beach you go to if you want to peep into the hippie culture Goa once so lovingly embraced. It gets mostly foreigner backpacker crowds (one part of the beach is lined with basic amenity bamboo huts) and en-route you pass by a few small stretches of secluded beaches as well. During this journey is when we came across Mandrem beach, which pretty much turned out to be the discovery of our trip. With a sole restaurant named ‘End of the Universe restaurant’ (hat tip to Douglas Adams?) with good food and a few bamboo huts right on the beach, this is the ideal beach vacation we all dream about on Mondays.

A line of stalls at Saturday Night Market
Anjuna, near Baga, is best known for being host of the famous Saturday Night Baazaar (‘the world’s local market’ as they like to call themselves) is one of the must-do’s while in Goa. Having roots in the hippie flea market that arose near Anjuna during 60’s, this has become one big flea market party, colorful and vibrant and wonderfully weird.

Fort Aguada, near Vagator Beach, is a joy to be at during sunset. It is around 20 minutes drive from baga and is usually free from crowds. Sitting on the edge of the the broken fort, looking down at the Vagator beach, I remember thinking ‘This Life is not too bad at all’.
 View from Fort Aguada

The most recent trip was basically eloping from the corporate life into something that was familiar and fun. We stuck to blissfully doing nothing by the beaches and such simple joy it is, the Goan way of being laid back and taking things slow, our own ‘dolce far niente’.

Getting there: Goa is well connected by rail and road. By road, it is an overnight journey of close to 12 hours from Mumbai as well as Bangalore. While buses are frequently available, trains are not too many and one needs to plan well in advance and book tickets if planning to travel by train.
Where to stay: The most convenient location would be Baga or Calangute. You can find a lot of homestay options as well as hotels around here. 
Getting around: Best way would be to hire a bike (Rs 300-350/day) or a car (Rs 500/day) and explore Goa on your own.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Gokak : Of mills and (water)falls

Gokak, a quaint little town, around 70 km from Belgaum is home to Gokak mills which is where my Uncle works. So that brought us here for an Independence Day long weekend trip from Bangalore.

The car journey  from the railway station was spent playing hide and seek with the river and ooh- aah ing at the old world charm of the English style cottages inside the Gokak Mills compound.

The mills which was started during the British Raj in India, later got taken over by the Tatas in ’57 and is now owned by Gokak Textiles Limited of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group. They say the British recruited inmates from TIhar Jail to construct their cottages and to work in the mills. This explains the old world English style buildings and cottages everywhere.
Nowadays, the mill is the major source of employement for the residents of the town.

Gokak Mills

From our house itself we could hear the rumbling of the majestic Gokak falls, which is formed by the river Ghatprabha running through the Gokak town. Once we settled down, the evening was well spent walking around exploring the place starting from the park facing the river on one side.

It seemed like every other family from nearby villages/towns were here to appreciate Gokak falls’ beauty as well, there were family picnics everywhere.

Beautiful Gokak Falls
The Gokak falls is a pretty majestic gesture by the River Ghatprabha and adding to the charm is the hanging bridge right on top of the falls with a brilliant view of the river flow henceforth. There is a very old river-front temple dedicated to Lord Mahalingeshwara, built in the later Chalukyan style of architecture.

We went walking past the mills, past the Campbell house, which is a big English Cottage with a brilliant view of the waterfalls  (apparently for the VVIPs and guests of the MD of the Mills), to the Voltar Rock from where you can get a good view of the falls, it was almost sunset when we reached and you cannot but give in, sit down and watch her run her course.

Little trivia: Sunil Gavasakar’s dad used to be an employee at the mills for 30 long years, there is a playground dedicated to both of them.

The next morning armed with good ol’ hindi songs from the 80’s, we were off to Godchina Malki waterfalls which is this series of small waterfalls forming a step like phenomenon.

On the way we must have gone by at least 2 or three schools, with kids being formed into a line for the independence day flag hosting, girls in pigtails cycling off to school giving us shy smiles in reply to our waves, cornfields with small (happy) sunflower fields here and there,  women with their pallus and pots over their heads, walking in the middle of the road… “Samaa hai suhaana suhaana”, Kishore Kumar crooned in the background.
Godchina Malki waterfalls

The Godchina Malki waterfalls in her morning glory, we went early in the morning (around 10) to get there before the other handfuls, is breathtaking to say the least. As you walk, getting closer and closer to the falls, you can slowly start hearing the gurgling and then you take a turn and there she is, flowing so gracefully. These sights however well caught on camera do not do half as justice to the real thing, the peace that comes over you.

Tales from an amused aunt at how there are birdie nests on every window sill, waterfalls and corn fields, Gokak is a place what it is because it is so off the usual tourist radar and has been able to retain her unique flavor of history. And for us, it was an Independence Day well spent getting to know at least a bit of the real India.

How to get there: Gokak  is approximately 550 Kms from Bangalore, which is 13-15 hours of drive from Bangalore. There are frequent buses to Belgaum which is 2-3 hours from Gokak (There is  just one bus that runs from Gokak till Bangalore). You can also take a train and get down at Gokak Road or Belgaum. 

Where to stay: There is one place to stay called ‘Hotel Gokak Resort’.  Being a place that does not get too many tourists, I don’t know how good it would be.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Matheran: Of foggy woods, gurgling waterfalls and rains that painted the hills green..

Matheran, one of the most beautiful hill stations near Bombay, in my opinion is I guess what resulted when God dropped his green paint all over the canvas (Then again, so is Kerala).

It is weird how my first memory of Matheran is...Well, not mine. My sister had gone on a night trek to Matheran a few years back and what I remember vividly is her saying how wonderful it was to look down from the top and see the valley all lit up with the many many fireflies. 

I have been to Matheran twice, once last year right after the monsoons and this year during. 

The first time I went was right after the monsoon and it was just a day trip. We left early in the morning, after a series of unfortunate events including mixing up Neral and Nerul stations, 5 hours later we reached the foothills of Matheran. A horse ride to the market and a light lunch later we decided to walk around. 

There was the lake, the wild yellow flowers all around, the breath taking view from Louisa point and the echo point. There was rappelling going on, scary, between two mountains and only one among us had the courage to actually go through with it. 

The highlight was the Louisa point. We walked and walked through the dense trees and we had absolutely no idea what we were in for. And then, we were there! Beautiful meadow with flowers scattered all around, you can almost hear people on the other side, the echo point. It fills you with serenity, that all you want to do it to be quiet and be there, in every way. We left after watching the sunset.

This time around, we made sure it was during monsoon and we stayed for two whole days. 
The cab drive till the foot hills gave us a little preview of what we were in for. The clouds looming over the mountains, the tip you can hardly see because of all the fog. We walked in the drizzling rain (oh the joy!) and the fog made sure we couldn’t see beyond 50m at times and reached our hotel by the time it was dark. The roads were all slushy and slippery with all the rain and the horse poop (trekking shoes please, unless you want your feet to smell like horse shit), but it is pleasant on your ears that the only sound you can hear besides the swooshing of the leaves are the horse’s clip-clop hooves every now and then. 

The next two days were kept aside for exploring Matheran. 

The market was about ten minutes from our place and from there we decided to move towards the charlotte lake. From the last time, I remembered a cliff near the Charlotte Lake, this time around the fog was too thick, we could just see the shadow of the lake and the going to the cliff edge was outta the question because the earth was too slippery. We missed the beautiful carpet of flowers that people were going mad taking pictures of last time. 

Walking along, through the woods, one realizes Matheran is one of the best kept hill stations just for the reason there are no vehicles allowed. There are roads diverging all throughout and with hardly any signboards, you just have to go by your gut feeling.

So, we just kept going. The walk in the woods is the best part about Matheran I feel, because take away the horses that come your way every now and then, it’s just you, him and the whole wide world. We walked for hours and yet the cold/fog keeps you fresh, the woods keep you going. 

The Louisa point as I remembered from last time was a beautiful stand alone meadow with yellow wildflowers and trees scattered around. The air is that of silence and contemplation and you can see the echo point across the valley. I was in for a surprise when we reached Louisa point this time. The monsoon had drawn a sensual blanket all over. The long tall grass had dew drops on it making it slippery and dangerous as it was sloping towards the valley, not that we could see it because of the fog. There were people venturing into it carefully, but we weren’t too plucky and choose to sit around watching the fog play hide and seek with the valley.

Nearby is the Lion’s point which true to its name has a large rock shaped like a lion’s head. From the lion’s point also there is a fabulous view of the valley and the river below. We sat around next to the lone leafless tree, squinting our eyes trying to figure out the ‘lion’ in Lion’s point.

Then we were on our way to Sunset point, lost our way and ended up somewhere else. It looked just the same; there was a couple happily clicking away each other’s pictures to glory. Not wanting to be ‘kabab mein haddi’ we left them in their own world and moved on. 

Matheran apparently is one of the favorite weekend getaways for couples and it is pretty obvious if you observe the crowd as well. With plenty of ----around, the various points and the paths that lead to it are beautiful and deserted; the crowd is small compared to the other options from Bombay. Then there is the cold that makes you crave for warmth. Hmm, I guess I can see why.

Finally, the Sunset point. Not that we stood a chance of witnessing sunset with all the fog. But you can see the several mountains that close in on Matheran and because it was monsoon, the very many waterfalls- the small ones, the tiny almost-there ones, and then there was this really long/high one. It is indeed one of the good things in life to watch from a distance a waterfall take life, go in and out through the rocks and join the lake down below. 

And me, come December chills, I will be packing a good book, a cozy blanket and good music to go with the mood and be off. Again. 

How to get there: Get down at Neral station on the central line. Matheran is around 20 km from there and there are plenty of share cabs available from the station till the foothills (Rs.60). From there-on no vehicles are allowed, the options available are the toy train, horse ride (bargain. A lot!)  or a healthy hour trek till the market (recommended).

Where to Stay: We stayed at Hotel Woodlands (around 2k per night) which is a ten minutes walk from the market. Decent place, with good food. There are lot of not-too-expensive places providing good home food. 

What to see:  There are almost 35 points to see around Matheran. The map is printed on the back of the ticket or you can pick up a copy of the hotel. And half the fun is walking from one point to another, getting lost in the woods. One full weekend would give you perfect time to see everything at your own pace.