Thursday, October 7, 2010


Greg had his first three day weekend a week ago. We headed to Matheran, a hill station about two and a half hours away from Mumbai. The wonderful thing about it is no cars, except for one ambulance, are allowed. A break from car honking and having to be so aware of vehicles when walking down the street! Our friends and upstairs neighbors, Jen and Brian, planned on going too and allowed us to tag along. Drew and Wacuima also joined. We met early Friday morning, piled into two taxis and headed for the Dadar train station. We decided to take second class for the train ride, which ended up being 17 Rs (20 cents). We waited for the Deccan Espress to wizz us to Neral, where we would catch a taxi to the entrance of Matheran. We got on a train car we thought was second class, but quickly realized that these were reserved seats. We asked a man sitting on the uncrowded train and he said not to worry and just sit. When he found how much we paid, he was not happy because it was so little (typically its about 67 Rs). He tried telling us we needed to get on a different train because this one was not going to Neral. Brian assured us this was the correct train. The train got increasingly full and we kept getting bumped from our seats. But, we made it and no one came by to check tickets. In Neral, there were taxis lining the roadway. Brian bargained for two taxis since we would not fit into one. The one that Jen, Wacuima and I took was...mmmmm, I questioned its ability to take us up the winding mountain. Bald tires, a bit of rust. I think if it had been raining it would not have made it. The road was very steep in some places. Looking at where we were headed, it was hard to see how there was a road up the mountain side. Again, we made it, passing private cars along the way. I kept wondering how Greg was doing with the windy roads since he tends to get car sick. At the car park, we paid our 25 Rs entrance fee and hiked up the steep, rocky road. We passed groups of 5-8 men pushing large carts full of bricks. It was insane! I don't know how they did it. Greg said at one point, he imagined the cart rolling backwards at a point where Jen and I were behind the cart. He said he realized he wouldn't be able to save us from the cart rolling over us. He'd only be able to shout for us to run. What a happy thought, Greg.
The hotel we stayed at, Woodlands hotel, was set back on the thickly wooded hillside, off a side path. I really had the sense that we were at camp. All the hotels and homes were far apart, the paths and roads pretty rocky, a thick forest, fresh air and I could hear birds and insects filling the quiet air. Woodlands was rustic, had large, open porches, and a friendly staff. We enjoyed the wonderful food that was included. The manager had stocked up of beer for us and I brought some wine. A nice relaxing weekend. The only issue for me were the sheets and the uncomfortable bed. Next time, I will be bringing sheets with us. I think this might end up being a rule for us, always travel with your own bed never know.

Our first introduction to the potentially aggression of the Matheran monkeys, which were roaming everywhere, was during our light breakfast we had in town. After getting settled at the hotel, we walked into town, which was one dirt road lined with shops, restaurants and hotels. There were horses clip-clopping along. It felt "old west" in a colonial India sort of way. Matheran was a popular destination for the British and when they left after independence, they gave their land to the Parsis. The Parsis (Hindi for Persians) came from Iran in the 6th or 7th century and have remained a non-partial group, living their lives without upsetting Hindu-Muslim tensions. Their population is declining because they don't marry outside of their community, but they are still very financially powerful, owning about 1/3 of Mumbai's property.
At the restaurant, which was one story above the street and open-aired, we ordered our food. Then the waiter handed Drew a long PVC pipe. This was to fend off the monkeys. At some point, the tin roof came to life with banging as the monkeys jumped on it and ran around. A couple paws appeared from the roof and then a head, peering down. All it took was seeing the pipe, they had learned before what that meant. The pipe was proudly displayed on a chair in the middle of the restaurant during our meal. At Woodlands, they had air rifles to scare the monkeys. They were not loaded, much to the males' disappointment in our group. But they still enjoyed shooting it off when given the opportunity. The other funny thing at this restaurant was what Brian ordered. He decided to have the French Omlete. When it came, it was an omlete covered with french fries. We were all laughing our heads off and decided we all wanted to add "French" to our orders since the potatoes were tasty.
There were many points to hike to in Matheran. Both mornings, Jen, Brian, Greg and I took a morning run to different points. Then we hiked to several others. It reminded me of Hawaii - lush, steep mountainsides with watrefalls gushing down everywhere. The waterfalls disappear as the monsoon becomes more and more a distant memory. For the most part, I felt like there were very few other people around except when we went to Porcupine point at sunset Saturday night. The crowd kept building and building. It's a spectacular place to see the sunset and everyone knows about it. The walk back to the hotel was a bit crazy, dodging people riding horses and slower walkers. I was thankful that was the only time I realized what a popular place Matheran is for Mumbaikars. Besides hikes, the rest of the time was spent lounging, lounging, and more lounging. It was a great relaxing weekend.

For the trip home, we piled into a taxi that took us back to Bandra. Immediately, the driver blasted techno music and was encouraging us to groove to it. All westerners love techno, right? Brian, who was sitting in the hatch back trunk of the van, lost a bit of his hearing since the speakers where right next to him. Greg and I decided next time, we will probably opt for a train ride back. It was just too soon to be back in the craziness of traffic, stopping and going, honking, and near misses. We will be heading back soon.

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