One of the most popular outings to take from Bombay is to Matheran. Matheran is a hill station at the end of one of the local trains, approximately 3 hours away from downtown. The trip out of the city is one of my favorites. Bombay is a great example of Urban sprawl. When taking the “suburban” train north from downtown, you see miles and miles of non stop city. Even the suburbs over an hour from the city center would be considered urban by western standards (Manhattan urban, not Brooklyn urban). Then, after an hour or so, the city abruptly ends. If you stand on the last street, on one side you will see normal busy city streets and on the other side there is nothing but overgrowth. It’s a surreal site.
One of the main draws of Matheran is a ban on cars, a true respite from the pollution and constant horn honking of Bombay’s over-congested streets. The downside to this is that getting up to the hill station from the train station is a little complicated. We took a half hour shared taxi up from the train station, then hiked another half an hour from there into Matheran. The hike is pleasant walk in the cool air through a path on the side of the mountain. As you walk down the path, you are passed by horse riders, riderless horses, men pushing carts of materials, and monkeys. The path narrows somewhat at times and it can get a bit dangerous as horses run down the mountain towards you at full speed. At one point we saw two horses begin to fight just as they passed us. They continued jumping and ramming one another until one of them shoved the other off of the path, where he fell 3 feet down the mountain.
The Matheran area was quaint. There are lots of wooded paths, most of which lead to the top of cliffs and provide a nice view. We walked on these paths for a while, had some lunch, and then started heading back to the city. Aside from taxis, the other way to get to and from Matheran is to take a “toy train.” This is a small narrow gauge train that slowly winds its way up and down the mountain a couple times a day. I was especially excited to ride it because last time I was here the train was under repair. The ride is extremely popular and the line to get tickets was long. As with all trains in India, this one has multiple classes, but by the time we got up to the counter, second class was sold out and there was only one first class ticket remaining. We were extremely disappointed. We went to the train and started offering people money for their tickets. We started by offering three times the price and went up to as high as 15 times the price, but nobody budged. A number of Indians noticed our dilemma and tried to help us. They suggested that we ask the train conductor to make an exception, which he would not. Eventually, someone suggested just buying the remaining ticket and having the other person hop on at the last minute and ride without a ticket. He said that at the other end, we will receive a fine that was about the cost of a first class ticket.
We did just that. I hopped on at the last minute and we crowded into the first class compartment–we were numbers 8 and 9 in a compartment meant to take only 8. The other people in the compartment didn’t seem to mind–this is India after all. In fact, an older couple went so far as to offer us many of the homemade snacks they had brought along, which were delicious. The ride down the mountain was beautiful and one of the second class cars was full of school children who sang songs the entire way. It was a fitting way to end a nice relaxing day outside the city.