There is an arch on one side of Neral station leading to another platform, which is slightly stunted in height. Also the ticket counter, the food stalls, and the train. All in all, carrying the effect of mysterious platforms in fairy tales (everything proportionately smaller), albeit the characters. Which are people like us, traffic-jam weathered, weather-beaten, battered and in varying stages of decay and destitution: the vada-pao eating, local train rallying Mumbaikars.

This platform offers two alternatives: either we can take the train, which meanders leisurely over the slopes of Western Ghats piercing the canopy of dense deciduous forests, or we can take the jeep, on share, which takes the highway to the nearest village of Dasturi Naka and we can trek the rest (some 11km). Jeep is cheaper, jeep is faster. We (the two of us) climb on, both of us cramped in the front seat of a Maruti Omni. The nondescript journey takes us a few metres higher, and few kilometers closer…

We buy a ticket to the hallowed summer resort, the find of Hugh Poyntz Malet, the district collector of Thane, circa 1850. Walking into the ochre and haze shrubbery in early morning lights one suddenly dates back some hundred years. Tanga rick wallahs come promise you to carry across the 11km stretch to Matheran market. Horses are also there, looking tired and despondent, ruminating and waiting. We decide to walk, the path (keeping in mind, we are just two hours from the bustling Bombay), is suspicious desolate. Chiaroscuros, in mauve and sap greens, guide us through pebble and redstone dirt.

The suspicion is not unfounded, a man in his late thirties, wearing a moustache and checked shirts and cotton pants, joins us, form behind the cedars. Tells us about the short-cuts and the prices of horse rides, and chikki shops in markets, and inquires how long we will be around. A day or two, maybe three, not too sure. Frowns. Where are you put up? Come to Hotel Such-and-Such, we have lounges, hookah bars, disco… We scoot!

Martheran Market: chikki shops (chikki, being the specialty and highest export of the place, find its way to any discussion you have with locals here), south Indian hotels, north Indian hotels, hawkers selling chappals, a lounge bar, beer bar, park, banyan trees, horses, smell of horses, horse dung, monkeys, some more hotels, and we are out of the Matheran Market.

Matheran is a small place (though the horse-ride sellers says it is 300 miles), and remarkably easy to go around. Wherever the lanes forks, a sign reads out where it leads it to. Both the lanes equally red and dusty, both pock marked with hooves, both equally empty, equally inviting…

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