A HILL STATION - First of all, allow me to guess what comes to your mind when you hear the word Hill Station; greenery, fresh air, serene and peaceful locales, relaxation and above all Vacation time.
Vacation time when we can log off from the virtual chaos, mundane routines and spend our time doing just about anything without giving second thought, even if it means simply whiling away precious moments.
The incident, in the following narrative is about one experience, I had during one such visit to a hill station, which happens to be a favorite weekend get away destination for people living in and around Mumbai and Pune. Readers who happen to be acquainted with my husband would have surely guessed the place from the above statement.
Yes, I am talking about Matheran - one of the smallest Hill stations in India. It is located on the Western Ghats at an elevation of around 800 m from sea level and only about 90 Kms away from Mumbai in Raigad District. Its proximity enables the city dwellers to visit this place on any weekend in any season all year round.
One such weekend, shortly after our marriage, my husband and I decided to visit this place. We zeroed in on the first weekend of January. It was year 2012. Being close to the Arabian Sea, people living in Mumbai and its suburbs experience more or less same kind of weather the year round except when it pours cats and dogs during the monsoons. The weather at Matheran is cooler though, because of the altitude and the green cover. Which is also obvious why its termed as a Hill Station.
We packed a few essentials in our back packs and started our journey towards a promising weekend. Having lived in the Mumbai suburbs all my life, this was not my first visit. Nor was it my husband's visit as he too had visited the place twice with his friends after he located to Navi Mumbai in 2004. However, it was our first visit together to this place and as such we were looking forward to new experiences, visiting some obscure points not usually frequented by tourists, neither visited by us on our earlier visits to this place.
We reached on Saturday around 10 am and checked in the hotel. We covered most of the popular points - Rambaug Point, Little Chowk Point, One Tree Hill, Charlotte Lake, Paymasters Park and Sunset point, the same day. We also tried looking for the Panther's cave but couldn't figure out the route. The most interesting and novel thing about visiting Matheran, is that no vehicles are allowed on this Hill Station. Tourists have the option of covering the points on their own two feet or can get a horse ride. The last place until where vehicles are permitted is called the Dastoori Naka. From Dastoori Naka, one can reach Matheran by foot, or by riding a horse or if lucky enough get a seat on the toy train which runs from Neral station to Matheran, with some stoppages in between.
When we started out for Matheran, our plan was to visit some new and obscure point and as Saturday was drawing to a close, we were thinking of how to make that happen. So we pulled out the tourist map and started searching for points to visit the next day. We wanted to see the sunrise and looking at the options available when suddenly, my husband mentioned about the Panorama Point. It is the farthest viewpoint in Matheran. Almost 7.5 km from the Matheran marketplace where our hotel was located. Covering that distance to and fro on foot didn't seem feasible. While trying to arrange a horse ride for next morning, my husband faced a lot of resistance from the horse owners as no one was ready to take us to that point for sunrise. Instead, they all advised to watch the sunrise from nearby Rambaug Point. Finally owing to our sheer determination, we could convince one horse owner named Santosh to take us there for a handsome amount of money and he asked us to be ready at 5:30 am next morning.
As promised, the 22-23 year old, Santosh was waiting for us at 5:30 am just outside our hotel. The initial 2.5 km route was uneventful as it took us to the parking area at Dastoori Naka. The route to Panorama Point branches out from the Dastoori Naka's parking area on opposite direction to Matheran. The road from that point was neither well-lit nor maintained as very few tourists visited this spot. Even Santosh told us that he was visiting Panorama Point after 3 years or so.
Matheran was discovered by British Collector of Thane District Hugh Poyntz Malet in 1850. Just like any Hill Station discovered/founded by Britishers, Matheran too has its share of history of pre-independent India. Though not as big as Simla, Mussoorie or Darjeeling, Matheran too has its share of folklores and haunted stories. In last 100 years or so, many tourists have reportedly seen a figure of a British lady in white dress standing in their way. It is believed to be the Ghost of a lady named Louisa, who had committed suicide by jumping from a cliff in late 19th Century after her family refused to her plans to marry a local Hindu boy. Though the Ghost of Louisa has never harmed anyone, but the sight of a British lady in white dress standing in your way in the jungle in the dark is enough to give a Heart Attack.
As it was dark and the forest cover was dense and our minds were full of apprehensions, Santosh used his mobile torch to locate the path and take us in the right direction. Although a bit scary initially, the 20-25 minutes ride to Panorama Point was pleasant and the horses were calm and amiable with an expert like Santosh managing them. Also, Louisa decided not to bless us with her appearance on that morning.
We reached the viewpoint with 5 or 10 minutes to spare before the sunrise. The view from this place is simply breathtaking to say the least. With the first rays of sunlight shining out of the clouds, we could see the Sahyadri ranges as well as the sleepy villages in its lap below, the small rail track used by the toy train of Matheran and also the winding roads one takes from Neral (nearest station) to reach Matheran and could feel the silence calling out to us. The scene is etched in my mind to this day and I feel very nostalgic as I write this.
As we were savoring the beauty stretched far and wide before our eyes, the silence was broken by a group of boys whom we had passed on our way to this spot, and who were unhappy at having missed the sunrise by a few minutes. But even they felt silent quickly on seeing the nature's beauty. We took some photos and decided to head back satisfied by the fulfilling journey.
Sunrise @ Panorama Point
While going back to the hotel and somewhere just before reaching the parking place, my horse suddenly came to a halt. As the path was narrow, I was in the front, while my husband was following me on the second horse.
Santosh, who was managing both the horses deftly until that time, also seemed confused by this odd behavior of the horse and nudged him to continue, but the horse just didn't want to move ahead. Both the horses were somehow reluctant to move and stood rooted to the spot.
After some more minutes of cajoling and coaxing, the horses finally relented and started moving. Though we were surprised, soon we forgot about this minor incident and reached the hotel. We spent some more hours shopping and buying local knickknacks and started our journey back home. With nothing else to do, en route our destination, I started looking at the pictures we had clicked on this short trip.
All the pictures were nice and clear and we were already feeling sad to be heading home, when suddenly we came across a snap which had caught something unnatural. There was a white shapeless patch on the top of the pic. The entire snap was clear barring one spot which was hazy. We were debating over the reasons for the patch, when we noticed the time stamp and realized it was taken on our way back from the Panorama Point. Then we remembered another point, the fact that the horses had behaved in a peculiar manner and were reluctant to go further.
So, the question is, was it a Ghost or some unnatural presence at that spot, which had scared the horses and the reason behind their odd behavior or were we reading too much into it? We narrated the experience and showed the pic to our both sets of parents and needless to say, received a good earful from them. We also showed it to our close friends and sent it to a society dealing in paranormal science but got no response.
We have visited Matheran 4 more times in last 8 years including twice after arrival of our daughter, but never made any attempts to visit the Panorama Point again. My husband visits Matheran at least once a year with friends/colleagues, but he too never visited the Panorama Point again. I advise everyone to visit the point at least once. Maybe, someone someday will experience what we had on that morning of January 2012.
It could be a camera snag or something to do with the play of camera angle and light, though it was fairly dark at the time, we couldn't be sure. But what I am sure of is that the horses had felt something and as mute as they are, we shall probably never know what.