Opened in 1907, this narrow-gauge railway is a charming and rather eccentric example of an early 20th-century engineering enterprise. Traversing difficult mountainous terrain, the train chugs along a track that has over 200 sharp bends and crosses 120 bridges.
With a sometimes-cramped capacity of 100, it links the foothill town of Narel to the beautiful little hills station town of Matheran, covering a distance of 30 km (18.6 mi) at an average speed of 15 kmph (9.3 mph).
The atmosphere on board is at times one of barely organised chaos, as food vendors and rhesus monkeys climb on board and vie for your attention. The former tries to sell you pastries and the latter immediately tries to steal them - you can't help but admire the symmetry of the situation.
As it's the only motorised form of transport that is allowed to enter Matheran, the train enjoys a privileged position, but at times the pace is so sedentary that walking would be a quicker option. Matheran translates as 'Jungle at the top' and this becomes ever more real to you as the train struggles to climb the very steep tropical terrain.
The views from the train are incredible, with wide-open valleys to one side and steep, mountain faces to the other. The ozone produced by the numerous waterfalls is refreshing even on the sultriest of days. When the train finally pulls into Matheran you realise that the relaxed pace of the journey was entirely appropriate.
The town is all about taking it easy, and there's a peaceful, unhurried air about the place. There is no finer feeling than relaxing with your evening tipple on the verandah of your hotel while marvelling at the sunset over the densely forested hills.
When to visit
September to January
Duration of the Journey
- The Lookout Points - short walks take you to 38 observation points to view the stunning valley below.
- Charlotte Lake - an area of tranquillity near Matheran
- The Bazaar (in Matheran) - a local market specialising in leather goods
- The general buzz on the train
You should know
Whilst monkeys stealing your food may be a source of amusement, losing your camera or even your handbag is much more serious. You need to take great care of your possessions.