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Published: October 11th 2010
I'm back in sweltering Mumbai this morning after a weekend in Matheran sucking up some fresh air.
Matheran is the nearest hill station to Mumbai, about two hours' drive away. It's about 800m above sea level in the Sahyadri Hills, a range of the Western Ghats.
The area was more spectacular than I expected. A six kilometre taxi ride took us from the dusty base of the hill up a series of switchbacks into lush forest. Scattered among the trees are tumbledown colonial mansions, and
all motor vehicles are banned except for a miniature railway, which heroically winds along a 21km route up the escarpment. There's still paan-wrappers and crisp packets dumped everywhere, though.
We followed signs to the Bombay View hotel, where we had a reservation, even though it seemed abandoned. An hour or so later we walked back to the station and checked into Lord's hotel instead. It was far nicer, with dark, cool rooms randomly furnished, a badminton court and magnificent views.
We spent the afternoon wandering out to three or four lookouts along forest tracks with red volcanic soil. Our ultimate aim was the northernmost point - a fairly simple objective, you'd think
- but after a few hours we found ourselves standing near our starting spot having completed a full circle.
A little embarrassed, we headed back to the hotel for tea. Then I got mugged by a monkey.
We were both hungry so I had gone out to buy some chips from a roadside stall. One of the larger monkeys saw my food purchase. It instantly jumped down from wherever and swaggered up, hissing and baring its teeth. I didn't make much of stand and instantly threw the bag of chips away. I required rescuing by a young man with a stick.
The town itself, though, is scrappy like any Indian town and is not particularly interesting - just a string of shoe shops and snack shops - so after tea I challenged Tom to a game of badminton and won. He has since developed a keen interest in international test cricket. Australia had better win.
The following day we checked out and walked 7km or so through the forest to Garbut point. This lookout felt far more remote, at the end of a long path with views to one side and forest to the other. We
sat at the edge for a while, listening as chatter and yells rang up from a village huddled a few hundred metres below. It had no road access, and no powerlines either.
While we were there, some golden langur monkeys swung up, made a noise and swung off again. These ones are different from (and much nicer than) the temple monkeys which hang around towns and steal crisps. They've got long, creamy fur and black faces.
We also noticed a path that leads all the way up the ridge to the point, which looked like an interesting way of getting to Matheran.
In fact the potential for walking in the Western Ghats seems enormous. We finally made it to the northernmost point just as we were leaving, and from there you could see a separate range of jagged hills which, had they not been so green, could have been in Utah.
At the moment, though, we're too scared to do any proper hiking because of snakes. In two days, we saw four. One was dead and another was about four inches long. The third was far enough away to be OK. But the fourth was sunbaking
in our path. It looked to me like a python, so we scared it off then walked past. But after looking it up on the internet, it appears to have been one of India's most deadly snakes, a Russell's Viper.
We made our exit from Matheran via a Suzuki minivan crammed with nine people, plus a driver who seemed to dislike brakes and gears. But we made it home without plunging off the edge of the mountain, and that evening set about making lime pickle. There is now a two-week wait while it 'matures'. Mmmm.
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