Enchanting Matheran

                  “After every holiday big or small, you leave a part 

                                           of you behind in that space,

                                 It changes a little something in you.”

We did a weekend trip to Matheran – the simplistic no vehicle, red mud town. History says the town was developed and maintained by the Parsi community. Even till date many prominent properties are held by Parsis. The in vogue Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi – Broken is beautiful manifests itself in its ultimate form throughout Matheran. The town boasts of structures that are worn out but engaged happily in serving tourists and locals. There is a feeling of acceptance wherein people are on peaceful terms with the way things are – less developed.

Wooden framed windows, cottages and bungalows, healthy plain food, lesser busy people, lush green trees, not so concrete roads, roadside vendors expecting nothing more than the minimum, empty noon streets, poor mobile network, monkeys functioning almost like humans, horses and hand carts everywhere. That’s about it – Matheran’s description is complete. But what is vast is the silence that reaches beyond your senses to your soul. A city soul would wonder whether life can be so simple.

We stayed at Hotel Regal – given the deadly combination of lower tariffs and our high inclination towards spending we booked suite rooms to justify our standards. Little did we know that even the suite there is basic but what is advanced is the staff’s willingness to go the extra mile to serve the guests. A plain show of humility in service and self -respect for their position, their work. Many a times we experience the staff judging the visitors in premium luxury properties. There is an unsaid code to dress and behave in a particular way. But Matheran welcomes the king and the pauper alike.

The sunrise is one of the most attractive offering of the town. The way the sun gradually rises and fills the area with its light and splendor is a sight to see. In one of my Instagram posts I had put a small couplet

                      “The beauty of sunrise cannot be undermined

                        It gives each one a chance to rise and shine”

The spectacular sunrises visible from multiple points in Matheran are a physical tribute to my ode.  Charlotte Lake situated at a walking distance (2kms) from our hotel was enchanting. Surrounded by swaying trees on both the sides, the soothing breeze invites every onlooker to sit on the benches there and spend some time gazing at the calm waters. We could feel the bliss also due to the time that we chose to visit the lake – early Sunday morning. We covered all the points riding on horses that only added to the simplicity of the holiday. The market there is a small 1km stretch with pavement vendors and shops. The place is known for its handbags and footwear. We did some small time value for money shopping and I am looking forward to putting those things to use.

All the properties there boast of delicious Gujarati food probably because of the dominance of Gujarati tourists. Jaggery was a part of almost every recipe and the starters were selected such that it gives a multi cuisine look to the buffet with items like spring rolls and Manchurian. Unlimited buttermilk only added to the slumber that I entered after every lunch.

Sleep was so quiet and aimless. Why aimless? Because here in Mumbai people sleep only to get up. It’s sanctity as body’s way to replenish and rejuvenate is not recognized at all. In fact so much was the delight that I bought home the idea of calming my inner chaos completely before going to bed so that I experience a similar sleep regime. I have been fairly successful in doing the same (as I said in the beginning – some things change)

The nearest spot beyond which cars cannot proceed is Dasturi (also connoted as Aman lodge). After that it’s a 30-40 minute horse ride to Matheran, many people also easily walk it up. You can also take the toy train provided it’s functional and empty (as numbered limited seats are allotted). A peace loving town with cozy properties reminding every tourist of the old world charm where things were mended not thrown or replaced.  

Trip to Auli

Trip to Auli

Majestic mountains and untouched scenic beauty defines Auli. At a height of around 2500 meters from sea level Auli spells magic especially for people like us who hail from an illusionary busy city like Mumbai.  It brings you face to face with what survival is, because everything there just lies as it is, no tampering and slow development. You are surrounded by mountain ranges and golden sunshine spreading over the high peaks. Mt Nanda Devi is the magnificent of all, at a height of 7800 meters; the peak reminds you of how small you are in the scheme of things. People there are petite and hardworking used to the rough terrains. Joshimath is the closest town where you can get essentials from.

The silence draws you inwards, evening sets in as early as 6 pm, making you retreat to your rooms. You inevitably end up spending time with family or friends or self as the itinery is low key – not too much to do but lots to converse with.

We did a one day trip to Badrinath – the divine shrine which is a part of the Char Dham Yatra – considered auspicious by every Hindu. There were natural hot water (temperature is 40 degrees) Kunds where visitors take a bath before going inside the temple. The air was light, the skies were clear and a religious thread bonded all the devotees together.

We did a small trek too – the Gorson Bugyal trek, which is located at an altitude of 3000 meters. The kids were on mules while I and my better half tread along. The best thing about such treks is you walk at your own pace. The forests were quiet reminding me of the eternal truth that God created this Universe keeping poise in his heart.

There is a natural tuning with which He made birds, leaves, slopes, flowers, breeze – they appear to be different elements but in reality they are all one and we belong there too. Yes, we are just one of the elements. It is only in places like Auli that we get a chance to reconnect to our co elements.

We stayed at a friend’s hotel cum homestay – Mountain Rover. It had warm rooms all facing the mountains. The stay ins there are spread over the mountains – all have steps to move upwards and downwards where the rooms, dining and reception are located. The chair car and cable car are tourist attractions and a delightful experience for kids.

As I enjoyed the view from the cable car glass, I suddenly spotted a tree with pastel pink leaves – it stood out amidst the otherwise green foliage that covered the mountains. It was worthy of meditation. What was the best part about the place was its rawness.

No words are enough to sum up what I felt – it’s abstract and will stay with me forever.

Visited the mountains, taking a part of it with me
A changed soul and mind, a new lens to see
Mountains are majestic, so small I feel
The hustle is rested, took to nature to heal
Spent some time with God’s spectacular creation
The mountains of Auli, indeed a memorable vacation

Trip to Rishikesh

As a child whenever my drawing teacher asked me to draw scenery, I drew a standard one – Mountain range with half Sun showing from between, a river that begins from the mountains, flowing downwards with villages on the banks of the river. I did not know then, that I was actually creating and re -creating Rishikesh. Rishikesh is set by the banks of the river Ganga, the holy river that keeps Rishikesh thriving. It is a land of sadhus and foreigners seeking spiritual solace. It boasts of beautifully carved temples and over 100 centers that preach meditation of every possible form. Rishikesh has an air of peace and tranquility. I had visited with my husband and two kids and what we enjoyed the most were

Ganga Aarti

Though I am not a person who believes in rituals – Ganga Aarti was a serene experience. Over 10-15 Pandits perform the Aarti at the Triveni Ghat in complete sync almost like some ensemble. The light breeze and the Jyot (flame) of the Diyas involve you in the running moment.

Visit to Ashrams

We stayed at hotel Divine with all the rooms facing Ganga. The property does justice to its name. We were interested in visiting some popular ashrams though, on the other side of the city – where we had heard of people staying for month’s altogether. We went to Parmarth and Geeta Bhavan – huge areas with affordable rooms and all the essentials that one needs. In fact, Parmarth also has a tint of luxury. The walls all around are full of verses from Hindu scriptures, which coincidentally apply to your life situations. There are statues depicting the important events of Hindu Ramayana and Mahabharata. Clean temples where some chants or some prayer goes on almost the entire day. It looked so basic that it awakened my inner calling of going back to the simplicity of my childhood – where a paper boat in the rain puddle was all I needed to stay happy the entire evening.

Ramjhula and Laxmanjhula

Unlike Mumbai, that has the best of flyovers – these are humble bridges that let you cross over the river Ganga to the other side of the place. I found them to be the busiest parts of the city and they are also regarded as landmarks. At night the view is mesmerizing with dimly lit houses, hotels on both the sides of the Jhula and their reflection in the Ganga. The local markets selling cheap goodies along the road to the Jhula keeps the area lively.

River rafting

After all the soft experiences comes the one that was adventurous and thrilling. Rishikesh is famous for river rafting all over India. I did the 26km rafting with Red Chilli adventure – and the feeling will forever be etched in my memories. I am a non- swimmer, yet the idea of getting closer to the flow was very attractive. The rafts were of good quality and apart from your guide on the raft you have another one on a Kayak who stays with your raft – spelling high standards of safety.  The raft rifted through the river giving us an illusion that we were the ones carrying the raft with our oars but in reality the river was carrying us. They let you keep your legs out in the water as if you are relaxing poolside – it felt like the water has healing powers sending peace waves throughout your body. They also made me plunge in the river – yes, it was cold initially but after sometime you feel absorbed. When instructing us about how to raft, our guide Dev unknowingly taught us a life lesson – when in water do not resist the current, go with the flow. I realized yes, it is so easy to just go with the flow.

Food at Nirvana

An isolated offbeat Café that we reached (courtesy Zomato and TripAdvisor) nestled in one quiet corner of the city with wooden interiors and a pebbled outdoor area. It served the finest of Pasta, Mexican rolls and pizza – we were delighted to indulge in the same as we were on proper Indian food otherwise. What was special about the space was that no person out there was judging the other – all were in a state of individualistic Nirvana (not all were high on weed)

A walk through the city is engaging as you see a stark contrast when you see a conservative Gujarati lady in her 80’s is accompanied by a French lady in her 30’s at a stall selling sugarcane juice. River Ganga, which I cannot stop mentioning about, urges you to keep going day and night. To me the true essence of Rishikesh is where people from different countries, religions, castes come together – with a common purpose – ‘To learn how to live simple and stay humble!!’