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There are more museums in India than you’d imagine. The oldest museum in the country dates back to 1814 and a bunch of latest ones were established much recently in 2019. Over the years, while some have taken to the tourist circuit, others remain hidden like gems waiting to be discovered. Here are some of the most iconic museums in India that are akin to a beginner’s guide to the country’s multi-faceted heritage. By Rashima Nagpal
Calico Museum of Textiles, Ahmedabad
Established in 1949, it is home to one of the world’s finest collections of antique and modern Indian textiles, all handmade and up to 500 years old. From Kashmiri shawls and double-ikat cloths to tribal costumes, the Calico Museum of Textiles tells a fascinating story about the textile heritage of India.
Preserving the noteworthy rail heritage of the country, the National Rail Museum in Delhi is fascinating, to say the least. Among the many things here, you learn about The Patiala State Mono Rail Tramway, which is perhaps the oldest monorail concept that started in 1907; you get to see the only steam monorail locomotive and coach in working condition; the oldest working steam locomotive ‘Fairy Queen’; the only solid rubber tyre working vehicle ‘John Morris Fire Engine’. It makes for a fun trip for kids and adults alike.
Designed by Sir Arthur Bloomfield, as a residence for the Maharaja of Jaipur, the butterfly-shaped building with a central dome was built in 1936 and was converted into the National Gallery of Modern Art in 1954. The eclectic art collection here includes around 17,000 artworks tracing the development of Indian modern art. Expect chronologically displayed works of the likes of Tilly Kettle, Thomas Daniell, Raja Ravi Verma, Anjoli Ela Menon, and Amrita Shergil. After the renovation last year, the experience at NGMA has only gotten better.
The world’s first museum on partition quickly got famous after its launch on October 16. They call it a People’s Museum, as it pays ode to all those who lost their homes or loved ones during the historic partition of 1947. Spread over 17,000 square feet in the iconic grand Town Hall building in Amritsar, it offers an engaging experience across 15 state-of-the-art galleries. Think oral histories playing on video, original artefacts donated by refugees of the time, newspapers, magazines, photographs, letters, and gazetted documents from the time, along with world-class art installations.
Touted as the oldest as well as the largest multi-purpose museum in the country, Kolkata’s India Museum celebrated 200 years in 2014. Housed in a colonial building on the city’s Jawaharlal Nehru Road, it is home to multiple themed galleries—some of them being Bharhut gallery, Gandhara sculpture gallery, Bengal painting gallery, mask gallery, Egyptian gallery, rock and mineral gallery, bird gallery, and etc.
Previously called the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya opened in 1922. Located within the Fort region of Mumbai, it is home to a vast collection of art forms from India, the Far-Eastern states, Nepal and Tibet, and Europe. Extremely charming with its Indo-Saracen facade, it has more than 50,000 artefacts as well as a great collection of sculptures, terracottas, bronzes, miniature paintings, porcelain, and a natural history section too.
Heritage Transport Museum, Taoru, Gurgaon
Comprising a total of 10 galleries, the Heritage Transport Museum is a must-visit for a motor-enthusiast. The museum charts the evolution of transportation in India. For instance, the Automobile Gallery, home to more than 75 vintage cars, showcases the evolution of the Indian car industry, as well as cars that have been used in India since the advent of motoring. At the Pre-Mechanised Transport Gallery, you will find a neat timeline of transportation in India, beginning with the story of the wheel. Also on display are palanquins, howdahs, bullock carts, horse carriages, and camel carts. Similarly, the Two-Wheelers Gallery shows the evolution of two-wheelers in the country–all kinds of bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, and mopeds.