Thursday, 8 March 2012

Tuesday - A trial separation.

When we wake up in our new room it has no power either and we can hear the people adjacent changing their minds. We do have a cracking view of the sunrise. Back in our original room we order our bed tea. When it arrives we are a bit slow to close the verandah door and have to fight off a monkey that fancies our toast. The verandah is pretty well monkey proof as long as you remember to shut the door and the monkey spends several minutes failing to get in before D shakes the camera monopod at it.

Breakfast is vadas (like small savoury donuts) with coconut sauce followed by mixed veg omelette. We take a walk along Main Bazaar to try and find the photgraphic shop which sells maps of Matheran and succeed this time. Armed with this we set off for a short walk through a wooded area to the Alexander Point viewing area. We catch glimpses of birds including an eagle (we think) and are passed by a couple of people on horeseback being led by the pony boy. Riding is a big thing here and you can't move for people trying to inveigle you into hiring one. The view is worth the walk, looking out over a deep valley towards a knife edge ridge.

The walk back is very hot and dusty but we do manage to see a couple of birds, a red whiskered bulbul and a braminy starling, both quite eyecatching. Back at the hotel the pool beckons and we do not resist. A cool swim sets us up for lunch after which D will leave on the train to take photographs and have fun! R will do the best she can with a siesta and a lazy afternoon drawing and more swimming (well someone has to!).

Warning - This bit is almost exclusively about trains.

D had booked 2S class tickets for his trip down to Neral and back at a cost each way of Rs 45 - a real extravegance. At the station NDM1 class diesel No 501 waits with the train which was pretty close to full. About a mile along the line, near the stables area, a whole load of people get off the train and D is able to bag a seat next to a door and even better the door itself.

Viewed out of an open door the ride is even more spectacular as it winds back and forth down the face of the mountain. This really is the only way to travel. There is only one problem - it isn't possible to be on both sides of the train at once. At one point on the journey a family break into song, including Mere Sapnon Ki Rane, the DHR song. At another spot a water pipeline has sprung a leak by the track and is spraying a great fountain of water through the coach windows.

As the train pulls in to Neral Junction we pass the engine shed where two steam locos are visible - No 794 ex-DHR built in the US by Baldwins in 1917 and one of the Matheran's own locos - No 738. D regrets that he is ignorant regarding the builder of this loco, and the makers' plates appear to be missing. A member of staff tells D that the locos are never used - what a great shame.

A couple of main line trains call in, packed with people including two milk vendors who unload their empty cans on the non platform side of the train. People cross the line only yards in front of moving trains. Do they expect them to swerve to avoid running them down? D leaves the station to find a taxi office and books a car for Thursday's trip to Mumbai. With time to kill he nips into the railway howff* for a swift beer. Even the State brewery pubs in Carlisle weren't as bleak and cheerless as this one. At least the waiter emptied the glass before pouring in a cold Kingfisher.

Back at the station there was a complicated set of manouevres as the loco for the uphill train is brought out of the shed. This is the same NDM3 class that we had yesterday but it is facing in the wrong direction so has to be turned using the triangle layout. This is supervised by a lady in a lime green sari who changes points, waves flags and even blows a whistle. Eventually the loco is backed onto the front of the train which is then pulled forward and reversed into a siding to collect the brake van which is fully laden with supplies for Matheran.

The trip uphill is fairly uneventful. D has lashed out Rs 210/- (£3) for a whole first class compartment to himself plus a souvenier cardboard ticket. At one point we stop for the driver and assistant to throw rocks at monkeys on the track and at another place to make an offering and ring a shrine bell. The scenery as the sun sets over the hills of Maharastra is spectacular.

Back at Matheran R is waiting outside the station and we retire to the Divadkar Hotel beer garden for a refreshment. At the table next to us twio affluent looking Indian gents decide to argue about the bill. This goes on for quite a while and involves an ever growing cast of characters. The waiter looks grateful when we pay up without quibble and even leave a small tip.

Lord's has only a few diners tonight who enjoy a real treat. The menu is chicken soup, some kind of freshwater fish then chicken curry. The crowning glory was jam roly poly pudding. We waddled back to our room, where some of the lights had now been fixed. Somewhere nearby a full blast disco had started up but a couple of short power cuts soon sorted them out.

* = Low life drinking den

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