Loyal horses and their dashing masters, a mystical forest and cliffs with magical views. Matheran, for all its flaws, leaves you smitten
It is afternoon in Matheran, and the world is asleep. It must be a deep kind of sleep, as you can’t even hear a breath. The forest too is quiet—no twigs snapping, no birdsong and no leaves rustling. The clock on the wall decides it’s time to speak, and it ticks away. Then there is another noise in the room, a thud. Could that be my heart? Anything is possible in this quiet. The Matheran kind of quiet, you could call it. It’s strange for city folks, who ache to get away from all the noise, to suddenly realise that the soundtrack of their lives could undergo such a complete change. I stop myself from speaking, scared I might just ruin the moment.
It’s that kind of quiet. Even the air is different. It has a distinctly new bearing. It is cool, calm and collected, as if it knows exactly who is in control here. It’s not me for sure. It teases, and it refreshes, and then it prods me—it’s time to take a walk.
It’s evening and the world is waking up. The breeze leaves my side to go play catch in the trees, disappearing with a whoosh. The silence dissolves into another kind of quiet, one that makes me suddenly feel like looking up the exact meaning of Zen: could this be it? The birds are having their evening tea time gossip and a wily creature of some kind keeps playing the tambourine in the trees. It could be the forest telling me I need to get up now. There is, after all, a walk to take.
Oh yes, I am now living my own Alice in Wonderland moment. Beyond my room, there lies a forest, and who knows what lives there? I can see a deserted porch, an empty pond and a mermaid statue. There is also a swing that is swaying. I could go and sit there, but I have a feeling it’s taken. I walk on. It’s a winding dusty path and the forest stands right beside me. A few metres ahead, I encounter a monkey. It wants to see if there is anything to eat in my bag. I give in. He shakes the bag, gives me a disapproving look, and stomps off. Thank God, he missed the Parle G in my pocket.
I explore the joys of Matheran’s delightful public transport system: horseback. It’s my first time on a horse and Veer seems to know that. He is gentle on the slopes and firm on the steep climb, and he does not let me slip. It’s been a tough day for him. But this horse is a tough one and he keeps up—clip-clop, snort-snort, clip-clop. Veer’s master is Matheran’s resident Raja Harishchandra, Pankaj. He leads Veer and me down the winding lanes and tells us a story—his story. He’s a man of morals, I can tell. If the other jockeys charge Rs 500 for a horse ride, he won’t charge a paisa above Rs 300. It’s just the way he is: honest and with a deep sense of justice, even if it makes the other jockeys hate his guts. He says he doesn’t want to get married. It may just corrupt him, you see. So it’s him and the horses, and that’s the way he likes it. He looks tough too, and reminds me of yesteryears’ Sanjay Dutt. A personal question later, he admits, smiling, that yes, Sanju Baba is an inspiration for him. There was a time when he saw himself as an actor, but struggling was not his thing. It was the horses that finally drew him to Matheran. “I have tamed the wildest of horses. It’s my thing,” he says. I believe him. He has that kind of vibe.
We have reached the edge of a cliff, and what a view it is: a gorge, a vast nothingness, surrounded by mountains. As I sit there, my feet dangling off a cliff, a monkey beside me and nothing but space and air beyond, life suddenly seems simple. It’s all about the bare necessities—food, water, air and the simple pleasures of life. There is a whiff of fresh vada pav, a honeymooning couple drunk on love, taking picture after picture, and a bunch of silly schoolboys talking about heading to Mumbai where the action really is. If only they knew.
The ride back is just as still. Matheran seems to be preparing for night and it could be time to sleep again. The horses walk through a dark path now and the forest has decided to stop talking. The mermaid on that porch seems to be waking up, though. I hurry back. That night, my dreams star Pankaj and Veer, and I keep seeing the mermaid in the background. I am going to miss them.
I am sad leaving Matheran. Like a Bollywood tune you can’t get out of your head, it seems to have taken hold of me. The big city lights seem exasperating, not exciting. On the way back, our mini train chugs along, descending the mountain like a snake. We enter the One Kiss Tunnel, and the darkness comforts and reminds me of the forest, my quiet, blissful forest. Matheran, you surprised me.