A horse doesn't care how much you know until he knows how much you care.
Matheran, a small little hill station nestled close to Mumbai, perfect for a weekend getaway. But this story isn’t about the green hill station, it's about the people that make the hill station. Everyone writes about Matheran, about its beauty, about its greenery, about its horses. Yes, horses; a word almost synonymous with Matheran. This story is about those invisible men that help make Matheran what it is, the horse keepers of Matheran.
Big green trees shaded the cobbled streets from the hot rays of the sun, I cast my eyes up and down the deserted street, and in the distance, I spotted him. My knight in shining armor, quite literally as he was riding a pale grey horse. Arun Namdeo, the guy who generously took me behind the famous horse scenes of Matheran. The story of this one guy is the story of all.
Having lived there for 25 years, he has seen all the shades of Matheran, seen it evolve and grow. When he started his work here, around 10 years ago, the rate for an hour’s ride was INR 150, today it stands at INR 500, and INR 300 during the off-season. Being a hill station I assumed that off-season for them probably meant monsoon or maybe winter. But I soon learned how wrong I was, when Arun let me know that there was never an off-season. Around the clock, the weekends always saw a hoard of tourist activities. On his last active day, he earns around INR 1200. But is it enough to meet the expenses of his household as well as the upkeep of his horse?
Yes, he lets me know. Taking care of a horse, costs around 6000 a month, and this includes his fodder consisting of wheat, bajra, ghussa, and chana. It’s only when the horse falls sick that the costs tend to go on the higher side. Despite having two vets in town, all the horsemen here are self-proclaimed interns, each knowing the kind of dosage and medicine required for their own horse.
So what’s the story of Star Magic I ask him, the horse he so gallantly came riding upon. He sets off to recount this interesting horse acquisition tale.
“Most horses here are imported from Nashik and Aurangabad. Some of us go there and get them. Every Tuesday there’s a Horse Bazaar where the horses are auctioned off. The bidding can go as high as 2-5 lakhs. But only those interested in using their horses for commercials bid that high. I got star magic for 50,000.”
If you’re wondering whether he broke even, just as I did, yup he did, within 2 years. Thinking of making a professional shift, I ask him how easy it is to come here and start the horse business. For starters, I’d require a license and permit from the govt, both for me and my horse. Moreover, according to a new law, not more than 460 horses are allowed in Matheran at any point in time. Plus I’d have to pay a yearly rent of 6000 for the stables.
He took us to the stables where I was surprised to see 3 more horses. A pure white horse caught my eye. “Those pure white ones cost around 1 lakh, they’re the best”, said Arun.
Mental note: Maybe the horse business isn’t all that feasible because I’d even have to train the horses.
“It took me just 20 days to train Star Magic” Arun proudly boasts.
They even train people in horse riding. Jackie Shroff is one of their regular customers, visiting at least thrice a year. A three-day course, 4 hours each, at a meager cost of INR 6000 is all you need to master the basics of the art of Horse riding, Arun assures me.
He then took us to an open racecourse, wherein the month of May horse racing is a big fad. Other times it’s used as an open ground for the horses to run freely since running in the streets of Matheran isn’t permitted. It’s also where they impart horse riding lessons.
I got a golden opportunity to try my hand at riding a horse. Even though I was disastrous at it, the sense of freedom and royalty that comes when you steer a horse all by yourself is worth the saddle soreness.
While the day had been fun, it was the night that was the best. We set off in the dark, trotting on our horses through dense thick forests. A dim street light only every 1 km transports you back in time to Victorian England. The clip-clop of the horse’s hooves on the cobbled streets, with the occasional owl hooting, is the only sound. Erie? Yes, a bit, but thrilling? Definitely.
You won’t find this in any guidebook, but do horse rides in the dark, after sunset. It’s the most thrilling and enriching experience ever.
Satisfied with the story I got, I bid Arun and Star Magic farewell. Matheran is truly beautiful, but in its beauty, we often forget the most obvious, the horses and their owners. If you’ve been to Matheran just try and imagine the hill station without its horses, and you’ll see their value and importance.
It’s the horses that make Matheran.
Arun Namdeo: 9420651104
My knight on Star Magic, do call him if you go to Matheran. With him you’re not just horse riding, you’re making your own story.
So book your flight tickets to Mumbai and set off to the horse town of Matheran.