Friday, 29 September 2017

Khichudi Bhog, Labra, Payesh and Chutney on a Navami Morning

Hello Readers, I am back like more than a year after. Different commitments on personal and professional fronts kept me away from my blog which I missed so much. And what can be a better time to be back other than our very dear Durga Pujas.

Just as Mahalaya was approaching the smell in the air also started changing. Especially in the mornings, one could distinctly smell the Shiuli, the signature smell of Durga Puja mornings. The place where I stay has a few Shiuli Trees on the way and passing them brings back a lot of childhood memories. During the Durga Pujas as a kid I visited my maternal grandparents house. We had a Shiuli tree in the garden. My dida used to wake very early in the morning and gather the flowers fallen on the ground for doing prayers. That earthy smell of morning mist and Shiuli is something I can only talk about but one has to experience it to understand.

This time around Durga Puja is happening on all weekdays. Hence I decided to take two days off on Ashtami and Navami. Pushpanjali, Pandal Hopping and Pet Puja was the main agenda for the days. Yesterday I went for the Ashtami Pushpanjali at Apte Road. Its a Puja hosted by the Bengali Association. The Puja used to happen in Siddhi Garden on Raja Mantri Road till last year which was considerably closer to my place. But for some reason this time they shifted base to the Central Park Hotel grounds which is pretty far from my place. By chance I noticed the change in venue, when it came in paper but many were not so lucky and ended up clueless after reaching Siddhi Gardens. Hence I felt the attendance was quite less as well at the pandal. Plus the previous location seemed better in terms of ambiance and space. I felt overall look was also lackluster unlike last year. Post pushpanjali I had luchi and cholar daal at the stall and it was super! Breaking the fast with such a scrumptious dish makes your day really.
Top: Congress Bhavan , Bottom : Apte Road
The other Puja I went to was of Congress Bhavan. Its also a very old Puja in Pune. And the pratima of Ma Durga over there was really very beautiful. She was decked in my favourite colours red and gold.  Stayed there for a while and then got some misti doi and fish fry as parcel and came back home.
Fish Fry & Misti Doi
Fortunately I was home before a heavy downpour started in the afternoon. This has been a lingering problem this puja. The rains are playing a spoilt sport this time every single day. Infact we had a dust storm today followed by a heavy downpour in the afternoon. I had plans of visiting otehr pandals in the city today but considering the weather I changed my mind and impromptu decided to make a full blown Bhog on Navami. Fortunately for me the main ingredients were all avilable in the pantry, a few of the vegetables I had to get from the market. It took me whole morning to prepare and make each of them but it was super fun and the final product was so awesome that I wish I could pat myself on the back.

Bhoger Khichudi is very special to every Bengali. It not only has the flavours of spices but the aroma of dhuno, which makes it taste awesome. Now when you prepare at home the aroma of dhuno apart everything else can be mimicked. I had made many mooger daaler khichudi before but this particular recipe that I found on the net today really came out awesome! I just added a little things here and there differently from the recipe. See the original recipe here.

Niramish Moong Daal Khichudi

Preparation Time: 30 minutes  
Cooking Time:  1 hour 45 minutes
Serves: 4
Cuisine: Bengali

  • Sona Moong Daal/ Unpolished Moong Daal - 1 cup
  • Gobindobhog Rice / Kolam Rice - 1 cup
  • Fresh Ginger paste- 2 1/2 tbsp
  • Green Chillies - 3
  • Potato - 2 medium , diced
  • Cauliflower - 1 small, Cut into medium sized florets
  • Fresh Coconut - half cup cut into small pieces
  • Green Peas - 3/4 cup or as per preference
  • Raisins - handful, soaked for 5 minutes in water
  • Cumin Powder  - 1 tbsp
  • Turmeric Powder - 2 tbsp
  • Everest Sahi Garam Masala Powder - 1 tsp
  • Ghee (clarified butter) - 2 tbsp
  • Mustard Oil for frying
  • Sugar as per taste
  • Salt - as per taste
1. Wash the rice and keep aside

2. Heat a heavy bottomed kadhai and add the daal to it. Dry roast it  till some of the daal gets a light bown/pink color, while stirring continuously with a spatula. You need to continuously stir it because unattended daal might burn which will impact the taste. Wash the roasted daal in cold water. Transfer the washed daal into the same kadhai and add 4 cups of water. On medium head cover and cook the daal till its half cooked.

3. Once the daal is half cooked add the washed rice and cook them together till rice is half 3/4th cooked. Add more water if required.

4. I used frozen peas here. So thaw the peas for half an hour by putting them in water. If using fresh peas, just peel and keep them aside.

5. Take another wok and fry the cauliflower florets, peas and diced potato. Keep aside

6. Add some ghee in the wok and fry the coconut pieces till edges are lightly brown. Then in leftover ghee toss the raisins for 1 minute. Keep this aside as well.

7. Now add 2 tbsp of mustard oil and let it heat. Toss in split green chillies and add the ginger paste, turmeric, cumin powder, salt and sugar. Saute for a few minutes lowering the flame so that raw smell of ginger is gone. Add a little water to make it a paste. Add the fried cauliflower, potato, peas, raisin and coconut and fold in.

8. Add this masala to the almost cooked rice and daal. Fold in. If you feel more turmeric is required add now. I also added 1 tsp of raw ginger paste at this stage to enhance the flavour. Let it cook for a while till everything is cooked nicely. Make sure you stir occasionally so that the khichudi doesn't stick to the base of the wok. 

9. When the khichudi is almost done, add the garam masala and top it off with a generous amount of ghee. Fold everything in and let it rest. Put the lid on so that the flavours are properly infused.

Enjoy your khichudi hot!

Labrar Torkari (Vegetable Medley)

Preparation Time: 20 minutes  
Cooking Time: 50 minutes
Serves: 4
Cuisine: Bengali

  • Potato - 2 medium, each cut into four pieces
  • Sweet Potato - 4, diced
  • Pumpkin - 100 gm, diced
  • Brinjal - 2 medium, diced
  • Borboti (yard long beans) - 12, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • Fresh Ginger paste - 1 tsp
  • Fennel seeds - 1/2 tsp
  • Kalonji - 1/4 tsp
  • Fenugreek seeds or Methi dana - 1/4 tsp
  • Mustard Seeds - 1/4 tsp
  • Dried Red Chilli - 1
  • Turmeric - 1 tsp
  • Mustard Oil - 1 tsp
  • Sugar as per taste
  • Salt - a pinch

1. Cut the vegetables as mentioned and keep them in water for 15-20 minutes.

2. Heat a heavy bottomed kadhai and add mustard oil. Fry all the vegetables in the following order - Potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, brinjal. Add a little salt while frying, to get them cooked quickly. And keep them aside. Then fry the borboti separately so that you can control the color. Keep aside.

Note: Frying the vegetables separately will give the dish a better taste

3. Heat a heavy bottomed kadhai and add mustard oil. When it is smoking add all the whole spices and red chilli. When the spices are fragrant add the ginger paste and fry for 30 seconds. Add the fried vegetables to it. Add turmeric, salt and sugar and fold everything in. Fry for a while till the raw smell of ginger is gone. 

4. Now add 1 and 1/2 cup cups of water and cover the pan. Let the vegetables get cooked properly. Give it an occasional stir so that the vegetables doesnt stick to the pan.

5. When the vegetables are tender, open the lid and dry any excess water till the vegetables reach its desired consistency.

Gobindobhog Chaler Payesh (Rice Kheer)

Preparation Time: 5 minutes  
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
Serves: 2
Cuisine: Bengali

  • Gobindo bhog chal - 5 tsp
  • Full cream milk - 400 gm
  • Bay Leaf - 1
  • Raisins - handful
  • Nolen gur (optional) 2 tbsp
  • Sugar - 2 1/2 tsp

1. Wash and keep the rice soaked in water for 30 minutes

2. Heat a heavy bottomed kadhai and add the full cream milk. Add the bay leaf. Let it come to a boil and then add the soaked rice. Reduce the flame to medium. Keep stirring it continuously so that layer doesnt form on the milk.

3. When the milk is reduced to half add the sugar. Keep coking it till the rice is cooked completely.

4. Meanwhile grate the gur and make a paste of it with water and keep aside.

5. When the payesh is almost done, switch off the flame and add the gur to it. Fold in. Make sure you add the gur only after heat is switched off else the milk might curdle.

Let it rest for a while. Serve the payesh hot or cold with the bhog.

Tomato Chutney

Click here to see the recipe ->

Serve everything piping hot. Add a dash of ghee to the khichudi before serving and have fried papads on the side.

Wish you all a happy Durga Puja!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

A Monsoon Weekend in Matheran

Disclaimer : This is going to be one long photo heavy post 

Maharashtra had become my home almost a decade ago. I had come to Mumbai for the first time during the Monsoon to join my new job. Monsoon was not a very pleasant word that year as the people in Mumbai were still reeling under the memories of the deluge the year before. People were scared of rains.

But me as an outsider, I was awed by the emerald green rolling hills and scattered waterfalls in the backdrop of my office campus. I had never experienced before monsoon could be so beautiful.  Maybe that was the thing that made me fall in love with this state and I am still as much in love even after 10 long years.

Maybe it was Maharashtra's beauty that made a travel enthusiast. Now be it sunny or rainy I am always ready for a trip. Still its the monsoon that transforms everything into a fairyland. I have been to many popular destinations all over the state, yet in this 10 years I had never been to Matheran during the Monsoon. Matheran is among the top monsoon destinations of this state and yet I never had the opportunity to experience Matheran in rains. So this time when our group of friends wanted to go on a trip during rains we considered Matheran in the list of places. Ajanta Ellora however remained the first choice. But as luck would have it due to budget and time constraint the Ellora plan went kaput. Though a bit disheartened at first we came together and thought we will do this trip on the decided date to which ever place we get accommodation availability. Bhimashankar, Karjat, Matheran, Mahabaleshwar - the names kept going round the table. Finally we got some great offers though goibibo, and 4 days before the date of travel we booked the last available rooms in Hotel Premdeep (the only one which fitted our budget).

The headcount which was 11 during the Ellora plan came down to 7 when we had booked rooms for Matheran. And due to some weird turn of events on the final day of travel there was only 5 (Manav, Sai, Anup, Vartika and yours truly) of us who could finally make it. But we knew these 5 power packed people were crazy enough to ensure there would not be any dull moment during the entire trip. There were certain consequences with the room booking bit though but i will come to that later.

On the morning of 29th July, Manav picked me from my home at 6 in the morning. Sai, Anup and Vartika were about to come together to the station together. The sun was just coming up and it was nearly dark all around when I left my home. We had good spells of rain in the past few days hence we were sure about witnessing a green Matheran. With the rods being practically empty, it took us 35 minutes to reach Shivajinagar station from Dhayari. We learnt that Vartika was coming alone by Auto as Sai had ditched her the evening before. While Sai and Anup were coming by Bike. All these 3 people live in Aundh-Baner area which is closer to the station than Dhayari. And they were the ones who came in later than us. Our train was at 7 AM and till 6:45 AM only Vartika had come. We wondered whether Sai and Anup will make it on time or it will be only the three of us who would be travelling. Fortunately at 6:55 AM we saw both the guys walking down the station. They looked super relaxed while we were panicking due to their late show up.

The temple in our society at 6AM
The Shahyadri Express arrived on time and got on the train. Now the seats that we had got through online booking were scattered across the compartment. We decided to stick together in a particular area and if anyone came to claim their seats we would offer them ours. So we dumped all our baggage in one of the side upper berths and settled down in the lower berths. This particular train was taking the maximum time to reach Karjat 2 hr 48 minutes, but we didn't have any hurry anyway. The check in time of the hotel was 11 AM so we had ample time to reach the hotel, freshen up, have lunch and let off for sightseeing. But little did we know that all our planned plans were going to be changed throughout the trip.

After we settled down the main concern point was what would we do with the rooms that we had booked considering 7 people. Before that let me give you a background of how we had reserved the rooms. We had odd number of girls (3) and even number (4) of boys. Out of which myself and hubby booked a single room with double bed. The other three boys booked a room with three bed. And for the other two girls we wanted to book a double bed room as well. Now we had clicked on the book button on goibibo at the same time to ensure all our rooms our booked at same time. But unfortunately the booking of the girls room didn't go through as all double rooms were exhausted. We panicked what to do because other two bookings went through. Finally after much deliberation we decided to book the only room available with 4 beds. Though it was costing us a bit more we decided to split the extra cost between ourselves. So eventually we had 9 beds for 7  people. And to get the maximum discounts we had booked the rooms which were cancellable only till two days before travel.

And just before the day of travel two drop outs happened - my hubby and the other girls who was supposed to share room with Vartika. Now the figures looked like 9 beds for 5 people. What a sheer wastage of bed and money. So we decided to call up goibibo, explain our plight and ask them if we could get one room cancelled. Though the chances were thin we decided to give it a go. The goibibo people tried their best but the hotel owner was not ready to listen. We were even ready if he gave the room to any other tourist and gave us 20-30% of the room fare. But the owner didn't agree to that even. In any case we were not getting our money back so we decided to retain our third room as well.

Once the room bit was settled we had nothing else to do in the train. Sai was planning to sleep if we couldn't come up with anything to do. He reasoned it was a long journey of two hours so he had all rights to sleep. The rest of us were also pretty sleepy but, come on sleeping at the start of a trip doesn't make sense. So we brought out our UNO cards. People who are not aware of what UNO is let me give a brief overview. Its kind of a card game but we have a separate UNO deck of cards for it. The target is to match colours and whoever is the first to finish all their cards wins. The game had a lot of interesting rules which actually keeps you hooked to the game for hours. I was introduced to this game just a year ago on one of our group trips and from then on its a standard game we play on every trip or get-togethers.
UNO Time Masti
In between our UNO game the Ticket checker came and checked our tickets. He was a eccentric chap and kept talking to himself and to the passengers as well in a monologue. And it was interesting to listen to his banter. We had built a good camaraderie with him after he saw we were travelling as a group.  That's also the time we noticed that we had by mistakenly booked our tickets till Karjat which was a few stops before Neral station. Ideally we had to book it till Neral. We didnt tell the ticket checker about it. Sai checked the station list of Shayadri and we found that it had a stop at Neral as well. So we decided to travel the last couple of stations without a ticket. 
Breakfast time
After three-four rounds of UNO we were feeling hungry. Many vendors were selling breakfasts on the train. We bought five bowls of Kanda Poha from a women. Though the paper bowl looked pretty small but it took us a long time to finish it and the poha was really good, much better than what we got in the office cafeteria. While eating we concentrated on the landscape outside. We had left behind the city and were going though paddy fields and emerald mountains. At many places there was a thick layer of cloud over the hills. The scenary looked like a painting made out of watercolours. Being in the rain parched Pune for so long all these greenary was very much soothing to the eyes. 

After finishing the breakfast we were back to our game. Soon we reached lonavala. We knew the train was going to stop for 4-5 minutes over here so all of us barring Sai jumped on to the platform to stretch out our legs. We took some selfies on the platform. 

Photos on the Platform
After crossing Lonavala the TT came again for checking tickets. He found a teenage girl sleeping on the upper berth some two three seats away from us, without a ticket. He started giving pholosophical inputs to the girl instead of asking her strictly to get down.

"If people in your age does these kinds of things what are you going to do when you grow up? It will become a habit of travelling without ticket. Is that good?"

The girl barely brought out her face from inside he blanket and mumbled something to him. In return he said, " Do you have Rs. 400? Do you have any money on you? Then get down at next stop" The girl mumbled a yes and went back to sleeping. And of course she was still sleeping when we got down at Neral. Meanwhile the TT came to our seats, he was calling out a seat number. At that point we were very engrossed in UNO, we had just caught a penalty for Vartika who was vehmently defending herself. She actually went into a frenzy (which is very unlikely for her, as we had never seen her raise her voice, let alone scream like this anytime in office. Generally she is considered as the silent type) which was quite shocking for us as well. Sai was sitting in between me and Vartika, even he covered his ears and said, "why are you shouting in my ear?" But she didnt stop and she was actually drowining the TT's voice with all her screaming. Suddenly we heard the TT scream on top of his voice, "Aye Maskariwali ladki, shant ho ja!" There was a momnet of silence all around as we all burst out laughing, along with the other passengers around.  Vartika had turned a shade of red. Getting scolded by TT was an experience in itself. The TT then took pity on Vartika and added, "Its okay, this is the age to enjoy. carry on". From that day onwards we still tease her with the 'maskariwali ladki' bit.

We got ready with our bags after crosing Karjat, ready to run to the door if teh TT said anything. But he didnt say anything even after he saw us sitting past Karjat.Finally we got down at Neral Station. It was not very crowded, only the few travellers who got down with us from Shahyadri. The first thing we did was look around for the Toy train. The Matheran Toy train is non operational during the monsoon as the area is prone to landslides. However we saw a few bogies of the Toy train were parked on their tracks within the station. That called for a photo session and we oblidged. I handed over my DSLR to Sai and the rest of us posed in front of the train. After a couple of photos even me and Manav thought of climbing on the footrest and taking picture. No sooner we two got up on the footrest, I felt the train shaking a bit. I jumped off the footrest like a scared cat, frightened that the train would topple down with our weight! So did the others. Sai was laughing hysterically at our expressions. So much for our diet!

By then the other travellers were also inspired from our antics and the place soon became crowded. So we headed towards the exit of the station. There we saw a vendor selling platic mobile covers. I had bought them in Thailand and knew how much useful they were in water. So I suggested everyone to get a cover for their respective mobiles. And it was very cheap as well - Rs. 20 per cover. 

From left: Anup, myself, Manav and Vartika

Vartika and Sai
I had been to Matheran earlier so I was aware where we are going to get the shared cabs for Matheran drop. As we went of the station exit an autowallah asked us whether we want to visit the waterfalls nearby. I was not aware that Matheran had waterfalls. The autowallah said there are three waterfalls nearby at different distances form the station. He named them as Anandwadi, Tapalwadi and the last one as kasalwadi or something. This was a new thing for me. We all decided that we will fit this waterfall visit into our trip plan since we still had a lot of time for the hotel checkin. We asked him to take us to teh most beautiful of all the three. He said it was Kasalwadi.

At Rs. 40 per head the auto bundled all of us in. The autowalla said that we could get return autos from the point he drops us. You will find 'many' autos for coming back is what he said. And in case we didnt find any we could give him a call. Fair enough. Soon we left the main road and headed though the alleyways of a village to this beautiful waterfall. The hens and ducks ran for their lives as our Schumacher Autowallah cut through the narrow alleys at breakneck speed.  Finally after 15 minutes he came to a stop and asked us to get down. All we could see in front were picket fences of the village homes and the hens roaming about calmly.

"Where is the waterfall?" I asked. I had a feeling that this man was fleecing us to show some dead pond or lake maybe.

"You follow this mud road for some time and you will see the waterfall"

"How much time is sometime?"

"15 minutes mostly" I still eyed him with suspicion.

"Bhaiya you told there will be a lot of autos here, which we can take back to the station. I didnt see any auto while coming"

"You didnt see that green auto pass us?"

"No I didnt. Sai did you?" I asked. He also said he didnt. 

Still the autowallah kept on saying a green auto had passed us. We stopped to argue with him and asked Anup to note down his number just in case we dont get any auto. 

"By the looks of it, I think we will be stuck here for the night. We can have kombdi curry (chicken curry) and stay in village homestay, forget Hotel Premdeep" I said.

"No I wont have chicken curry" Vartika quipped.

"Okay we will ask them if they can make something in veg". 

Thus began our walk though the potholed mud road, dotted with fresh cow dung in search of the elusive waterfall. The sunrroundings were doubt extremely beautiful which kept our spirits up. Whether we found this waterfall or not, the scenary itself was rewarding.

Sai leading the way
On the way to the waterfall
There was so much greenary around that it almost hurting the eyes!
After walking for like more than 15 minutes we came to an opening. We could see a stream cutting through the hilly terrain and in far we could hear the rolling sound of waterfall. But still no sight of the Waterfall itself.  Nonetheless, the stream looked promising enough and we took off our shoes to jump into the stream water. 

The water was cold but all this walking made us hot so we didnt mind the cold water. Only thing was that the current was quite fast and the stones below were slippery so it was a bit difficult to balance ourselves on the rocks. The loose rocks also posed some problem. There was another group of ladies from all ages splashing in the stream before us. They left in a while and we still continued ot be in the water for sometime before crossing the stream and going to the other side.  Another group was coming down fromt he opposite river bank. We asked them the way to the falls, they told us we need to cross the stream and go though the small jungle.

Anup was the one who held our hands and helped us cross the stream while Sai took upon the role of photographer, clicking our postures and positions as we wobbled across the stream. The stream looks pretty calm in the photos but the undercurrent was very strong.

The mountains bekoned us
All smiles
And our trek begins
Shoes came off as we got ready to walk though the water

Posing in between the stream

As directed by the previous group we did come across a small jungle type of area after crossing the stream. It had dense growth of trees.There was ample photo oppertunity in the canopied area and we utilised it to full extent. Selfies, portraits, you name it and we have it. After our fair share of photographs we again came to an opening. 

The small 'jungle'
Monkeying around in the jungle
Still in the Jungle
And finally we reach the opening

This time in front of us we saw huge rocks and the stream that we had encountered before was cutting through these rocks. That was the time we realised, it was not a mere 'walk' to the waterfall but rather it was going to be 'trek' though all these obstacles on the riverbed if we wanted to reach the waterfall. And we didnt even know how far the waterfall was going to be. We deliberated for a moment whether we wanted to do this or rather if we are capable of dong this. We still had not reached Matheran which was supposed to be our main trip. And these rocks looked menancing enough. Especially I am a super klutz on such kind of uneven surfaces. More than others I was worried about myself of not making it till the end. But then someone reminded that the ladies group had also vanished along this way so they are also scaling the route and thus it should not be very difficult for us.Tough that was not a very convincing factor, but still we decided to give it a shot.

Thats what the terrain looked in front of us
I was deliberating whether to put the DSLR inside as the terrain was going to be difficult to scale. But Sai was not complaining. He took the camera and marched into the water. So as before he was going to be the one photographing everyone while Anup would be the one to make sure we dont fall while crossing the stream. Well it was not a mere stream anymore but a series of big and small rapids cascading down the mountain slope. We were thankful that it was not raining, as it would have been more difficult to walk then. The terrain grew wilder and rocky with each bend.

We came across a point which was particularly trecherous. Till now we were holding onto any big rock for support while crossing. In this area we didnt have anything to hold onto while crossing to the other side and the rapids were extremely strong. To top that, the area had lots of loose rocks which made us very much disbalanced. You can see form the below pictures, I practically crawled my way through the stream.
The diffucult crossing
Our trials and tribulations went on as we crossed one rock to other. Finally again we saw some clearing. A Nepali family had put up a blue tent in that area. Just in front of their tented area was a big natural enclosure of the stream water. It was a bit still here. We saw one of the male members of the family dressing a chicken under the tent. We saw some other members of their family with fishing rods in the other side of the stream. They place where they had setup their tent didnt look too comfortable, but that didnt seem to deter them form enjoying their small picnic. 

The Blue tent
Near the Tent
The natural Enclosure of water in front of the tent
The gradient of the terrain became steep from here on. We didnt have any straight path ahead. There was a thicket and we had a steep climb over rocks. I dont know how Sai was doing it but he managed to always stay in front of us with the heavy DSLR hanging from his neck. Still he took so many amazing photos of us.

In the thicket
The obstacles didnt seem to end
After the steep gradient we had to again cross over to the other side of the rapid. This is the point where we got the first glimpse of the waterfall far ahead of us. We also spotted the group of ladies ahead us. The sight of the waterfall gave us renewed energy as we lunged ahead with our heavy backpacks. After crossing over to the other side we sat down on the rocks to rest for a couple of minutes.
First Glimpse of the waterfall

The clouds in the sky was slowly closing in. The interplay of clouds and waterfall was looking stunning. We continued our climb. The sound of the cascading waterfall was echoing in the valley forming a musical cresendo. We had to form human chains to get past the final set of obstacles before we reached the waterfall.
The human chain
Our photobreaks didnt stop

The waterfall coming closer

Finally we did it! The smile says it all
And the final step
We were proud of ourselves. What a great team work it had been! There was already a huge crowd at the base of the waterfall. It was mostly aunties and uncles. But there were also families who had brought their small kids. I wondered how they managed the climb with such small kids. The most annoying thing was potbellied uncles baring their upper torso and frolicking under the waterfall. The guys in our group almost ran to be under the waterfall. Me and Vartika sat down on a rock near the base, we were already wet from all the rive crossing and didnt want to further get drenched fearing a cold. Most of the photos of the waterfall was runined by these people, the rest of the decent ones I am posting below. 

Boys under the waterfall

The clouds had nearly covered us and it had started to rain also. So we decided to go back. And anyway it was getting late, we had to be at the Hotel before the lunch hour ends. The backward trail was almost a similar story only this time the rain added to our miseries. The DSLR had to be finally put into the cover and shoved inside the backpack. The rapids became more difficult to cross as the water current increased with the rain. Somehow Sai and Anup helped us through the entire trail to come back on even ground unscathed.

While coming we saw the Nepali family having their feast under the tent. It was hardly 20 minutes form the time we had crossed them and they were already done preparing their meals. We were hungry from all the walking and thought if they would also let us participate in their picnic.

We came down at the right time. Not only the rain played spoiltsport but also we saw some groups of boys scaling the rocks, who were reeking of alcohol. There was also one group of boys who were openly consuming alcohol. 

After we came down to where we started we saw some officials checking bags of youths who were going to the waterfall. But what about the ones who were already up there? We didnt know. 

Now the next thing to be sorted out was the means of going back to the station. We took the dirt road back to the village but there was no auto in sight. There was no range in our cell phones as well so there was no chance of calling our autowalah from the morning. We were thinking whether we should walk to the main road when we saw an auto coming. It was also bringing in tourists like us. We talked with the autowalah and he readily agreed to drop us off at Rs. 20 per head. 

After a 15-20 minute ride we were dropped in the backside of the station. A local resident showed us the alleyway which led to the main road of Neral. All of us were feeling very hungry at that point. The Poha from the morning had been digested like hours ago. We stopped for some snacks at a local shop. Though the shop didnt look much hygenic at first but the food was being made then and there and served hot. We had Chai, vada pav and medu vadas. All of them were finger licking good. With some energy back in our bodies we were ready to start our original trip to Matheran. 

Some of us went to draw cash from the nearby ATM while the others booked a shared cab. It was Rs. 70 per person, standard flat rate. We bundled up in the omni and soon were off towards Dasturi Naka, the last motorable point before Matheran.For those who doesnt know, vehicles are not allowed beyond Dasturi Naka, the starting point of Matheran. In this one of a kind vehicle free zone you either walk to take a horse ride. Yes you heard it right- a horse ride in an old fashioned way.

As the ascent began for Matheran the gradient of the terrain became steeper. It was raining quite a bit and the scenary looked pristine. At many places there were sharp turns and the driver manuvered those turns at high speed. We did feel scared at times but there was not much we could do, these people were seasoned on these roads. After the roller coaster ride the taxi droped us at Dasturi Naka and we were on our own from there. 

It was drizzling outside. We had to pay some 50 bucks as entry fee into Matheran. None of the people apart from Manav and myself had carried a raincoat. I had even carried an umbrella and later on it proved quite useful. Anup was talking about some use and throw raincoats available in Matheran and we did find them bang at the entrance itself. I hadnt believed Anup then that you could get a raincoat at 30 bucks but when I saw that was really the case even I bought one for myself. Its simply a big polythene packet with sleeves. Vartika, Anup and Sai bought safari hats as well but I skipped that as I had my umbrella. So now we were fully armed with raincoat for the phone as well as ourselves. And with that we set our foot on the red soil of Matheran. 

"How much time will it need to reach the hotel?' Sai asked casually.

I had already looked up in the google maps for the location of Hotel Premdeep and it was somewhere near to the station.

"Nearly 30 minutes" I said.

"What? 30 minutes of walk" There was a joint exclaimation. I nodded in affermative.

"Please let us know if there are any more surprising information up your sleeves. It will prevent us from the shock at least!" Sai said.

A short distance from Dasturi naka was the station of Matheran. We took a lot of pictures around the tracks and the signature Matheran Platform entrance.

We followed the train tracks to the town centre. Me, Manav and Anup were walking in front and Vartika was walking behind us with Sai trailing at the back. Suddenly we heard Vartika's shriek and all of us turned back. I saw a monkey running away with a biscuit packet that he had snatched from her backpack.

Vartika was still frozen on her tracks with a stunned expression. We took a moment to realise what had happened and all of us burst laughing. Seems like she felt someone was digging into her backpack pockets and she thought it was Sai untill she turned to take a look. And we had already seem what had happened after that. After this incident we were being a bit careful with our cameras and phones but soon realised the monkeys were only after any food items and were not tech savy, which was a relief.

The hike led us through the forest of Matheran. It had rained earlier which had made walking over the puddles a difficulty at times. It again started to rain soon and we had to take out our just bought raincoats. It was difficult to fit in the backpacks and ourselves within the finite limit of the raincoat. Sai ended up tearing his slightly while struggling to get into it.I didnt bother to put my backpack in the raincoat as I had my dear umbrella. Seeing the four of us in uniform rain gears Manav also wished to buy one from the market.

On the Tracks
 The walk seemed never ending. But the beauty of the nature around ket our spirits high. Of course the monkeys also kept us entertained throughout the walk. 

When we neared the station area of Matheran we got many touts on the way asking us whether we wanted rooms or not. We already had extra room on us which we didnt know what to do with and here these people wer asking us for rooms. After a while we got so tired of these people asking us the same question that we reverted back with "Humare paas extra room hain aapko chahiye kya?" He gave us a weird look and didn't bother us further. He thought we were joking with him, when we were actually telling the truth!

Fially after a 30 minute walk we reached Matheran. Our bags and the rain was weighin us down. We wished to get to the hotel quickly and freshen up. For Hotel Premdeep we had to climb up the stair by the side of the Masjid in the market. Its like two hotels after Hotel Sayaban. The area in in a lane just behind the market, so the noise of the market doesnt reach this area which was good. The walk up the stairs was gruelling as it was a uphill climb. The rest of the distance till our hotel felt like eons. Finally we saw the entrance board and heaved a sigh of relief.

After checking in we tried to talk with the manager about our situation and the extra rooms. But as usual he didnt agree to any options, so we were eventually stuck with three rooms. We decided that the boys will stay in the four bedded room, I would be in the two bedded one and Vartika in the 3 bedded room. We girls had the luxury of owning the entire room ourselves. One downside was that all three rooms were at three different corners of the property. We freshened up quickly and made way to the lunch room. It was past 2 PM and we were the only group who were left to have lunch. 

We were so hungry at thta point that we could eat anything they served us. Hotel Premdeep and most of the hotels in Matheran are Veg hotels, so I was just hoping that the food was good at least.  Though we were the last ones, the service was amazing. They first placed all the side dishes around the plate which was kala chana sybzi, aloo subzi, patta gobi subzi, dal, moon daal vada, papad, salad and Kheer. All the dishes looked quite inviting. Then they brought us piping hot tandoori wheat rotis with a dollop of ghee on top. The rotis were so amazingly tasty that all the sides went very well with them. They kept on repeating all the dishes untill we were completely full. Me being a hardcore non-vegetarian, this particular veg thali totally bowled me over.

After a good meal we were ready to go on exploring Matheran. In the morning when we had started Manav was emphasising that he wanted to walk in Matheran instead of taking horses. But after the unplanned hike none of us was in the position to be able to walk and explore places. So we all hired horses. I was very particular of the fact that we should get big horses not the small ones, because I felt really sad to see those small horses carrying people double its weight. And not all of us belonged ot the light weight category.

So our horses were there and one by one we got on them. Though all of us were feeling a bit shaky at first but still managed. But it was Manav who was going all franatic with hishorse. Me and Sai were the first two to lead the way followed by Vartika and Anup and finally Manav. We could constantly hear Manav's bickering from the back. Especially difficult was the time when the horses walked though areas which had downward slope. More than us I felt bad for the horses. We had experienced how difficult it was to walk on the rocky paths and these horses were carrying us on top of that.

We had choosen the 12 point trip. Well I have forgotten almost all the points name except Charlotte Lake, Louisa Point, Echo Point , Panorama point, Alaxender Point, One tree hill point. All the points were covered in clouds so we could only catch glimpses of the valley below when the cloud cleared occassionally. The whole valley kind of comes alive in the monsoon. 

Charlottle lake is about 2 Km from the Market, and this lake provides water to the resident of Matheran.Pisarnath temple is located at one end of the lake. There are two view ponints around this place – Louisa Point and Echo Point. 

Around Charlottle Lake
Cloud Covered Charlotte Lake

At the last point we visited we came across this beautiful waterfall. The waterfall looked goergeous in the backdrop of the emerald green mountain slope.

While we were visiting the points, the rain's intensity increased. Myself and Manav were finally forced to buy the funny looking green hat to cover our heads. If you visit Matheran during the rains you would find everyone in a uniformed dress - transparent plastic raincoats and a funny looking green hat. After wearing teh ensembel we looked more like the star cast of Kung Fu Panda movie. The only thing that would have made the look complete would be bowl of noodle soup. Take the look at the photo.

Once we had covered all the points we headed back to our hotels. The horses were very clever, they are so used to the grind that once we went to the lats point, the horses turned their faces towards the return way - like they were telling us, get over with it, its time to call it a day!

It was almost 6 PM and it was a day well spent. We changed and got into some dry clothes. After that we went to the boys room. We discovered that the room of the boys was the best among the three rooms. Maybe it was new thats why all the furnishing and wall colours looked very nice and bright. The rains had further intensified hence we thought of not going to the market in the vening and instead we sat down with UNO cards and steaming hot cups of tea. Movies or songs played in the back ground, so whenever we needed a break from UNO we saw TV. The rounds of UNO went on infinitely till the dinner time. People who know UNo check out the card combination I had got - the best ever combination I had ever got in life!

UNO rounds
We went to the dinner table with lot of expectation from the morning. Garma garam roti and subzi was what we were craving. Instead when we reached the eating area we saw a buffet of chinese dishes laid out. Noodles, veg manchurian and pav bhaji - We checked again to make sure if thats what dinner was all about. And yes indeed. The taste of the food was worse than what it looked. We could barely eat the food. The only saving grace was the chilled custard served at the end. 

The bad food couldnt take away our enthusiasm. After dinner we hanged around the courtyard for some time. Some other guests had music on and were dancing in front of their rooms. After a while we again went back to the room for UNO session and were up playing UNO till 2 AM in the morning. When me and Vartika finally left to get some sleep it was deserted outside. 

The next morning greeted us with intense rains, worse than the day before. We didnt know that high alert for rains had been sent out for Mumbai - Pune. We had breakfast which was better than the dinner and waited for the rain to slow down a bit before we could venture out. But even till 11 AM the situation didnt change so we decided to start our return journey in the rain itself.

Muddy water on the tracks due to heavy rain

We visited the market area and everyone except myself had paan. Yes people go for falooda and corns but we are different so we had paan. The downhill walk was easier for us and even after stopping for multiple photo sessions we managed to arrive at Dasturi Naka at the estimated time. The ride from Dasturi naka was also very pretty. All the waterfalls around the mountains had come alive with the heavy rains. At every 2 mins there was a waterfall. We reached Neral and from there we took a local train to Karjat. The local trains were very much delayed that day due to heavy rains.  Our return train to Pune was at 4 PM from Karjat. So we had ample time to have lunch. Karjat also looked lush green in this weather. We found a decent veg restaurent and ordered thalis. The food was very good here. On way back I bought some really fresh water chestnuts form a women.

Once on the train we again started to play UNO. We were in 2nd seating and the compartment was filled chock-a-block, still we believed iini the saying, where there is a will there is a way. You might think we are crazy people but once you play this card game you kind of get addicted to it. Nothing much happened in the return journey except at one point the train roofs started to leak. And we were getting the feel of rain inside the compartment as well.

Overall we had a very memorable trip. My long cherished wish of visiting Matheran in the rains was fullfilled. I was sad once back home but happy as well that we had done this trip.

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