Mātherān : In the Cradle of the Western Ghats
A graceful dawn opens it’s doors to the relief of a nauseated, sleepy mind. The shy sun blushes orange on it’s cloudy cheeks, preparing for a day long hard work of providing the earth with a little warmth in the chilling winter of the Western Ghats erected strong and high in the Maharashtrian Plateau of India.
Harsh winds gush across your ears that are not mere noise, but storytellers of the universe. And as the rubber on your wheels kisses the asphalt with wild passion, Gods ride with you. The highway never disappoints…
At once, your pumping heart starts resonating with the roaring revs and breathing pistons of the bikes you and other fellow highway lovers are riding. Six Royal Enfields pierce through the curving roads leading to Matheran, a Mountainous Hill Station. Riding cruisers, the blue sky our shelter, the road our home, as free as birds and as wild as wolves; and I was one of them, right there on that Blue Bike.
It all started as just a weekend plan to visit Matheran, which has been a renowned tourist place, to kick off the heat of a very hectic work week me and my friends had had. It was as if fortune spoke through one of my friends’ mouth when he suggested we should do so on our Bikes. In not a second thought everyone had agreed like hungry pups, to ride the 200 kilometre trip and spend a weekend at the hill station.
Backpacks filled with winter clothes and all geared up with helmets, gloves, rough terrain shoes and some rainproof for ourselves and the luggage tied to the back seats of each of our bikes; a 3 hour long ride began as the dawn broke at 5 am. As the wheels rolled and touched the highway like faithful devotees honouring their deity, there was nothing more satisfying than being there, in the moment, living the air of freedom and breathing the golden light softly breaking on our brows. The destination was no more important, all that mattered was that feeling, the true spirit of travel, that measure in our brain of fulfilment and delight of being on the road, as the bikes spoke to the running trees waving us off a farewell.
After a Two and Half hours of cruising through the curvy expressway between our hometown Nashik to Mumbai, the check-post arrived from where we were to get off the highway and ride through a 25 kilometres of mountainous, narrow road pushed through a dense forest to reach the Hill station. The road in the ghat almost took me back to my childhood and my mother’s peaceful arms; such serene and soothing was the sight and such familiar was its fragrance that all my senses had a moment of deja vu, but only in my dreams had I ever seen a landscape I was witnessing. The trees along the sides of the road held each others’ hands high up above, forming a canopy of green. Rays of sunlight peeked through the gaps between the leaves, as the lower branches reached out giving us high -fives. In this silent instant, an impromptu roar of a dark cloud echoed above us and in no time, the sun hid and it now poured rain drops from the same gaps between the dense leaves. The petrichor melted our souls into thin air and we floated through the rest of the road as our minds lifted from the dryness of a longing of something this beautiful. It was surprising all this has happened and we had not even reached Matheran yet!
9 am in the morning we parked our bikes at the foot of the Matheran Hill, the point ahead of which no vehicles were allowed. Tired and rusty after a three hour long ride, we took the luxury of treating ourselves with a heavy breakfast there; full of Samosas, Onion Fries and lots of tea, nothing can be more satisfying than his in a chilled and rainy environment. From there it was a 11 kms of distance to reach the hill top where all the motels and the visiting spots were situated, hidden in the deep woods, fragments of civilisation in a jungle. We had two options, either to catch a really adorable toy train that would drop us at the top, or trek the way through the forest. Although all of us were really tempted to take the train, we decided to hike, only to our surprise, when not in 15 minutes we all were panting as our lungs were on the verge of giving up on the steep mud alleys of the hill, and men as strong as horses pulled carriages up the mud with old and disabled sitting in the back. It’s amazing what humans can do to earn a living, and these men were only of average built, competing with other people who chose to ride horses to reach up the hill which was among the many choices. Well this shaming did give us a little motivation; men always have their huge egos, and our egos crossed the rest of the distance with all the courage and strength we could gather where we finally reached to a small resort among many where we were to stay.
To our delight there was discovered a small blue swimming pool right in front of the little cottage that was to be our abode. Little skipping stones that lead to the door of the cottage, shaking in the damp pot holes created by the sudden monsoon, brought out the child inside of me. Without exchanging a single word, in no time, all six of us had dumped our luggage in the room, undressed and taken a freshening dip into the chilled water of the pool waving off the humidity the after-rain had caused. The noon was spent playing stupid games in the pool, and the water had almost washed away all the toil our minds had been through in our busy city lives. The swim accompanied some lunch and an hour of nap on the bouncy beds with the cosiest sheets one can ever have.
The dying sun had just sprayed its last sprinkle of orange and pink of the day in the endless sky that sheltered us. A peaceful afternoon had ended and now was the time to go out on the streets of Matheran to enjoy the famous markets and the weather and night lights twinkling both on earth and up above. The night proceeded as we strode and walked across the narrow streets with all sorts of vendors somehow medleying with the nostalgic and retro Kishore Kumar number playing on the radios of most of the tea stalls. The few lights that lit the whole scene managed to make reflections on the wet paths like someone had carefully spilled watercolours in an artistic passion. We returned back home after each one of us had bought some sort of a souvenir from one of the shops and the night slowly faded us unconscious, laced with the smooth lullaby’s that a few pegs of whiskey whispered down our throats.
The Sunday Sun had risen sooner than it was expected, with its chest out and full of morning spirit like a Yoga Trainer. The day was to be a long one. There are more than 50 famous tourist points spread across Matheran. Our plan was to see as many as possible and so after taking quick showers we were out and hiking. Each place we visited that day, about 3000 feet above sea level, the rocks and valleys of the Western Ghats flaunted their scenic beauty, one that would catch every admirer’s eye, not just in mere appreciation but in sheer joy of living the asymmetric aesthetics the landscape had to offer. One after the other, several lakes that mirrored our aged wishes for silence, several cliffs that measured the depths our souls could reach to enjoy every minute of being there, and the renowned Echo Point that shouted back at us in joy, vibrating against the shields of the mountain range. It was this very instant, this paracosm sort of reality my mind I had entered as I leaned against the fence on the edge of one of the cliffs overlooking one of the best views I had ever sighted before. Chilled winds caressed my hair and dried up the sweat that the long trek had broke. It was evening, the week end was about to end and none of us had yet made up our mind to leave. Stupid ideas had already sprung in our heads about staying back forever and turning into mountain men. Like every other person does, we swore someday we shall have a cottage of our own in this beauty of a place.
And in a reluctant manner we let go off the arms of Matheran and her beseeching trials, craving to be walked upon, to be explored. And into the bouquets of city lights our bikes rode back. Falling voluntarily in the traps of the same old routines, but for a long time, our heads still hanged around in the wintery escapes of the Hill Station, like dew drops on fresh leaves…