Matheran Light Railway chugs towards UNESCO's heritage list

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Matheran, Maharashtra, Dec 16 (UNI) Fascinated with the scenic beauty of Matheran hill station, nestling in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra, a Mumbai-based architect stumbled upon an audacious idea of connecting the hilly terrain with a rail link.

That was in 1900 AD.

When Abdul Hussain, the architect and son of a business tycoon Adamjee Peerbhoy, divulged his plan to his father, the latter reluctantly accepted it because of his son's passion for the project to be accomplished at an elevation of 800 meters above the sea level.

It costed Sir Adamjee a princely sum of Rs 16 lakh in 1907, but the result was the spectacular Matheran Light Railway (MLR), a 20-km narrow gauge line from Neral to Matheran. The first toy train, hauled by a steam engine, chugged on April 15 of that year, completing its journey without any difficulty.

Nearly a hundred years later, the MLR is close to being inscribed on the UNESCO's World Heritage List and the Central Railway, which runs the train, seems very optimistic.

"The Matheran Light Railway has already been shortlisted by the UNESCO for its inclusion on the Heritage List. We have given the necessary documents to the UN body in this regard,'' Somya Raghvan, General Manager of Central Railways, told the journalists.

Ms Raghvan said a UNESCO team would soon visit to Matheran to evaluate and inspect MLR for necessary documentation. The team would submit its report to the UNESCO after inspecting the train, tracks and its surroundings during its stay in Matheran, she added.

However, it is not likely to happen before 2009. This is so because the UNESCO General Assembly scheduled to meet in Canada in July next year, will first take a final decision on declaring the 104-year-old Kalka-Shimla railway as world heritage site in 2008.

The UNESCO's heritage list consists three Indian railways -- Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the 'Toy Train' (1999), VT Station rechristened Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai (2004) and Nilgiri Mountain Railway (2005) in its list.

Besides, the Railways has also planned to push up the case of the Kangra Valley Railway (Joginder Nagar-Pathankot).

The Matheran hill station, 100-km from Mumbai, is one of the few places in the world where all mechanical vehicles are banned, making its ambient squeaky clean.

More importantly, Matheran, having a population of around 6,000, is solely based on the toy train, whose uniqueness draws tourists from both India and abroad. In particular, tourists from Germany, England and New Zealand come to Matheran in droves, just to enjoy the toy train ride.

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