India’s Eco-friendly destinations – Matheran, Asia’s Only Car-Free Hill Station

In this eco-friendly travel blog, we discuss why Matheran is one of the best eco-friendly destinations in India that will inspire you to pack your bags and hit the road to Matheran right away!

With mass tourism skyrocketing, many metropolises and even hill stations are dealing with pollution and constant honking, affecting the natural surroundings. So traveling to a pollution-free zone to rejuvenate once in a while is slowly shifting from a hobby to a necessity.

Today, finding a peaceful, pollution-free, and clean place is hard, but not with Matheran. Located in Maharashtra, some 90 km from Mumbai, Matheran is Asia’s only car-free hill station! No vehicles are allowed inside Matheran, making it one of the best eco-friendly destinations in India.

Let’s find out the various benefits of Matheran being declared an automobile-free hill station and what makes it a must-visit place before you die!

Automobile-Free Zone

A car-free zone? Means no honking? No pollution? Yes! Matheran was declared a car-free zone in 2003, and till date, many travelers from nearby cities like Mumbai choose Matheran for a rejuvenating weekend getaway. No vehicles are allowed beyond the Dasturi Point, so you are promised a honking-free, peaceful zone to relax, fill your lungs with fresh air, and spend quality time with yourself and your loved ones.

The only automobile allowed is an ambulance that the Municipality operates. The local exploration can be best done on foot, horses, and hand-pulled rickshaws.

Eco-Sensitive Region

Matheran is an eco-sensitive zone declared by the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India. It’s hard to imagine a place in today’s world where no vehicles are allowed, but Matheran has been doing it for a long time and has been successful. Letting no motor vehicles inside has protected the ecology of this ecologically-fragile region from mining, quarrying industries, etc. Also, any new constructions have been banned along with the use of plastic and felling of trees.

Even roads here are not metalled and are made of red laterite earth. Further, Matheran is blessed with semi-evergreen and evergreen forests covering the tabletop, enhancing natural beauty and making one feel closer to nature.

Offering Peace And Tranquility

Who doesn’t enjoy a weekend of peace while returning to school or work? Living in the cities can sometimes make us forget how rejuvenating being in nature is. Right? Matheran is the perfect example of that. You can spend an entire weekend without hearing the sound of a single honk!

Mumbaikars and Punekars plan a short weekend trip here, and you can also visit to return home with a rejuvenated & refreshed body and mind.

Cleanliness

Plastic has been banned in Matheran for over two decades now. The municipal council organizes special cleaning programs to ensure the cleanliness of the hill station. Matheran is only 7.25 square kilometers and is Asia’s only pedestrian hill town. So if it gets dirty, it will be fast. The council earlier used school dropouts to participate in the cleanliness drive in Matheran and provided INR 100 a day.

As a result, Matheran was litter-free and a protected livelihood of 95 cart pullers and 700 horse owners. Hotels, too charged INR 40 per room for garbage collection.

Biodiversity

Snuggled on top of the Sahyadri Hills, Matheran is an alluring eco-sensitive region. It is home to many colorful birds that you wouldn’t get enough of! Many watchers will have a great time watching the rare sightings of the Malabar Whistling Thrush, the Whistling Schoolboy, the Malabar Trogon, etc.

Along with this, Matheran has thriving wildlife. You may get a glimpse of Crested Serpent Eagles, elusive Leopard, or Pied Hornbills. If not, Hanuman Langurs, Palm Squirrels, Bonnet Macaques, and Parakeets can be easily spotted.

Natural Attractions 

If you are not a fan of seeing wildlife, Matheran has more than 35 viewpoints, offering breathtaking views of the picturesque landscapes. For instance, Panorama Point is a major tourist attraction, providing a 360-degree view of the surroundings and the Neral town. Sunrise and sunset are two major attractions that lure nature lovers to Matheran. Another famous place is Louisa Point, where you can see crystal clear views of the Prabal Fort.

Charlotte Lake is a prime highlight you can visit for a fun picnic with your loved ones and enjoy a peaceful environment. Monkey Point, Porcupine Point, One Tree Hill Point, Hart Point, and Rambagh Point are other famous viewpoints in Matheran.

Retreat To Beat The Summer Heat

Planning a summer getaway? Choose Asia’s only automobile-free hill station Matheran near Mumbai. There is a bit of a history of why Matheran was chosen as one of the best hill stations to escape the heat. The then-district collector of Thane, High Poyntz Malet, found this place in May 1850. Nestled amidst the western ghats, he found Matheran charming. Ironically, Matheran is called the ‘forest of the forehead”.

Later, Lord Elphistone, the then Governor of Bombay (now Mumbai), laid Matheran’s foundation for the hill station’s future development. Till today, Matheran is said to be one of the best summer escapes in India.

Ways To Commute 

Did you know that “E-rickshaws” have been introduced between Dasturi Naka and Matheran station that will ease the load on crowded shuttles between Aman Lodge railway station and Matheran? Yes. Earlier, there were only ponies, horses, or hand-pulled rickshaws, which also work till today. But a retired teacher and a Matheran resident, Sunil Shinde, sought allowance from the Supreme Court for e-rickshaws to replace hand-pulled rickshaws.

About 90 km from Mumbai, Matheran is a no-motor vehicle zone. Thus, the vehicles are stopped at Dasturi Naka. From there, you have to walk or take a pony. Being an eco-friendly destination in India, Matheran is connected to Neral by a narrow gauge railway, which started in 1907. 3 toy trains run from Neral to Matheran with stops in between. And about 8 trains operated between Matheran and Aman Lodge.

Tourists Can Enjoy A Stay in Colonial Bungalows 

Matheran was declared a car-free zone in 2003, but until the 1880s, the European elites built homes in this newly-founded hill station. In the decades that followed, several Indian businessmen bought a piece of land and built bungalows. Many of them were Parsis that were otherwise concentrated in Mumbai and some areas of Gujarat.

Parsis have a key role in Matheran’s development. Most homes were built in the late 19th and early 20th century, which today are in ruins due to lack of maintenance. Many are converted into hotels and resorts, including the 18th-century colonial bungalow Parsi Manor, which Saffron Stays manage today.

Climate Conditions 

Being a place for eco-tourism in India, Matheran’s weather in Matheran is pleasant throughout the year. It rarely goes above 35°C even during peak summer months. The mild temperatures allow visitors to move around swiftly and enjoy the beauty of nature. When city dwellers need a respite from the summer heat, Matheran always comes to the rescue.

Summers are great for short treks and attending the global forest celebration called Matheran Green Festival in May. It promotes and stands for nature and environmental conservation. Monsoons are beautiful as the rain enhances the lush greenery, and waterfalls and streams roar loudly. Matheran in winter is best for honeymoon trips and adventure tourism. Endemic and migratory birds like Indian Blue Robin, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, and Brown Wood Owl are also seen near the streams.

What contributions can you make to maintain the eco-sensitive Matheran? 

  • Be respectful of the culture of Matheran.
  • Try not to carry plastic bottles as it is banned in Matheran. Wooden or steel bottles always come in handy and are durable.
  • Stay in homestays as it will help the locals build the economy.
  • Do not talk too loudly, especially near forests, as it can disturb wildlife.
  • Take part in local cultural activities.
  • Prefer local restaurants and support Matheran’s local economy.

How does being a responsible traveler help eco-friendly destinations in India?

  • It positively impacts visitors and local produce.
  • It minimizes social, behavioral, physical, and psychological impacts.
  • It provides unique experiences to travelers who can raise sensitivity to local communities.
  • It helps develop the infrastructure for hospitality.
  • It recognizes a place’s local values, beliefs, and art and empowers them.
  • It builds cultural and environmental awareness.

We are in an era where even the most remote destinations in India are starting to suffer from air, water, and noise pollution due to the increase in automobiles. Then how can a hill station claim to be free of such ill effects? Well, surprisingly enough, Matheran is the one.

If you wish to visit Matheran – Asia’s only no-automobile hill station, we encourage you to be a responsible traveler, as enjoying a holiday without disturbing nature is quite rewarding. Plan a Matheran tour with us and customize it however you like.

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Manmeet Kaur

A writer by profession and a storyteller by heart, Manmeet has a passion for traveling and treating her taste buds to different cuisines. Besides, she loves to binge-watch movies and series every now and then. She is also an avid reader, which keeps her engaged.