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Time To Set Record Right In Matheran

Gajanan Khergamker | Matheran

Today, a section of India is gripped with a national pride symbolised by the construction of larger-than-life statues; renaming of cities and roads as well as questioning British era nomenclature that held sway over history for almost six decades since Independence in 1947. 

Matheran, Asia’s only non-motorable hill station, and Mumbai’s best kept secret is testimony of the fact that the nation, till date, cannot acknowledge the contribution of national heroes and endorse their overwhelming efforts.

Matheran Toy Train founder
Abdul Hussain Adamjee Peerbhoy
So, if you’re looking for Matheran in the World Wide Web, chances are you’ll find the place was “discovered by Hugh Poyntz Malet who was the district collector of Thane in the year 1850.” That the name Matheran was derived from his conversation with a local woman selling wares who described the “forest on top of head of the hill” in her local lingo as ‘Mathe Raan’ is lost to one and all. 

Also, that Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj would regularly visit a spot in Matheran by traversing a flight of steps known popularly, till date, as Shivaji’s Ladder during his lifetime from 1830 onwards till 1860, is lost to all. The history, penned by the British, underline that Matheran was discovered by Hugh Poyntz Malet and that should end all discussions.

Credit for the historic Matheran Toy Train, meandering from Neral through hills and valleys, turning treacherous bends before reaching Matheran is a wonder of sorts known to send pulses racing and trigger overwhelming appreciation for the wondrous engineering marvel, is also attributed mostly, and wrongly, to the British who ‘ruled’ the nation then.

Today, 18 December 2020, marks the 102nd Death Anniversary of philanthropist Abdul Hussain Adamjee Peerbhoy who constructed the Matheran Light Railway (MLR) aka the Matheran Mountain Train in 1907. He passed away at Jaiphal Terrace in Forjett Street in Mumbai at the age of 47 in 1918.  

Till date, despite repeated efforts by his family and more recently his grandson Ali Akbar Peerbhoy to fetch his grandfather the recognition he “rightly deserves,” for building the Matheran Mountain Train and developing 50 acres of land and the construction of 110 bungalows all over the hill station, all efforts continue to go in vain.

DOWN BUT NOT OUT: Ali Akbar Peerbhoy continues to fight for his family name

Ali Akbar, at the drop of a hat, speaks volumes of how in the absence of electricity to assist in any activities, JCBs and Cranes invented years later, even aircrafts to help in aerial surveys, at the turn of the 20th century, his grandfather, then a young man privileged to visit the uninhabited hill station of Matheran on horseback was so enamored by the beautiful locale that he single-handedly commissioned a railway line to enable the average Indian to travel there.

It was by hand that workers broke the hill to carve the gradient and completed the rail line in three years. Abdul Hussain even travelled to Germany to import four engines. These were numbers 738, 739, 740 and 741, “of which 738 pulled the first train to the hill station.”

During the Matheran Toy Train’s construction, Abdul Hussain physically moved to the remote location of Matheran without any facilities even for his children’s education. 

PAST GLORY: The Matheran Toy Train would run the full stretch from Neral to Matheran

Today, the Toy Train, after frequent derailments and engine issues, plies from Aman Lodge to Matheran Station only providing a glimpse of the Neral to Matheran experience to tourists. Ali Akbar is presently recuperating in Mumbai from a debilitating COVID-19 infection that nearly turned fatal. His spirits are high and it’s only a matter of time before he bounces back to health with renewed his efforts to earn his grandfather the laurels he deserves. 

Probably now, the time’s right to set the record right. Matheran is an Indian name and its toy train, an All-Indian Endeavour. Apart from the fact that the British used the hill-station’s resources to the hilt, there’s poor little they did towards its progress. About time, facts are known.

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