Collective appeal

Today, on International Museum Day, Mukul and Shilpa Gupta present to you a roster of obscure and tangential Indian museums. Quirky and inventive, they wow, amaze and fascinate...

Forest Research Institute that houses the FRI Museum, Dehradun

As an ode to the past and a celebration of the present, here’s a look at some of the ingenious museums of India. They may be small in repute, but are big on vision, substance, and often, heft, too. Here’s why they
deserve to be recognised and preserved:

Cavalry Tank Museum, Ahmednagar, Maharashtra

The only museum of its kind in Asia, CTM is a homage to that perfect mix of armour, mobility and firepower: the intimidating tank — that is the mainstay of our army’s armoured corps. Established by the Indian Army’s Armoured Corps Centre & School in 1994, the open-air museum methodically charts their evolution. Many of the vehicles are from WWII vintage and were captured from the Germans and the Japanese. Bearing the swastika, there’s a 1934 armoured vehicle, the 8-RAD, from Hitler’s fleet. There is also the Stuart Light Tank that India, during its war with Pakistan in 1948, airlifted to Zoji La in the Himalayas, the highest altitude in the world where tanks have been deployed.

Trophy tanks (denoted with their guns in a lowered position), like the Chafee and Patton, were captured from the Pakistani side during the 1965 and 1971 battles. Not just main battle tanks (MBTs), the museum is also a repository of howitzers and anti-tank guns, apart from housing tanks that provide ancillary services, like laying of bridges and detonation of mines. Also worthy of a look are the two Memory Halls and Heroes’ Gallery that document the glorious armoured/cavalry regiments, and the unmatched heroism of the black berets.

Cavalry Tank Museum, Ahmednagar
Cavalry Tank Museum, Ahmednagar

Tribal Museum, Silvassa, Dadra & Nagar Haveli

The virginal union territory has maintained the cultural and traditional influences of the many tribes who have inhabited it over several years. This museum, though small and relatively unknown, is a good place to understand the anthropology — social as well as cultural — of the tribal denizens. Photos and clay models, and the display of bows and arrows, masks, jewellery, musical instruments, fishing tools, handicrafts and everyday items of utility depict the lifestyle and living conditions of the tribals. There are spectacular murals of Warli art, too. A souvenir shop adjoins the museum.

Butterfly Museum (Entomological Museum), Shillong

This unique museum is the manifestation of a single man’s perseverance and tenacity. Naturalist S K Sircar started collecting butterflies, moths, beetles and insects mainly from the North-East Khasi and Jaintia Hills in the 1930s as a hobby. In no time, he found a worthy mention in the book Little or Unknown About Asia by Charles Alexander of Amherst University, Massachusetts, way back in 1935. The impressive collection eventually turned into a Kaleidoscopic Museum in 1973, curated and cared for by his family. His daughter, Werwina Wankhar, tends to the exhibits and personally monitors every detail of the museum that now showcases rare specimens of butterflies from all over the world, and provides an insight into their habitat and life cycles.

Losel Doll Museum, Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh

Set amid the zen-like Japanese gardens of Norbulingka Institute that aims to preserve Tibetan arts and culture, this is the world’s largest collection of Losel dolls and is a delight for all ages. It houses dioramas of over 150 dolls dressed in traditional costumes from various regions of Tibet. Detailed, meticulous and life-like, the dolls depict life in Tibet and were painstakingly handcrafted by a group of monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery (the Losel Doll Project was started in 1983 to document and preserve the traditions of Tibetan costumes). They are made of wire, clay, cast metal and papier-mache, and dressed up in costumes and jewellery that are close to the real thing.

Zoroastrian Museum and Information Centre, Udvada, Gujarat

With a huge well in the foreground (wells are a prominent feature of Parsi households, particularly in Udvada, a town revered for the holiest of Zoroastrian fires, the Iranshah Behram), this museum is a crash course on all things Parsi: their origin and journey from Sanjan to Udvada, rituals and ceremonies like weddings and the navjote, and customs like the toran, loban and divo. Also displayed prominently, in room after room of the museum, are pictures and write-ups on famous Parsi personalities.

DHR Ghoom Museum, Ghoom, Darjeeling

One of the three museums of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways (DHR; the other two are at Kurseong and Sukna), better known as the toy train, this one’s situated right above the country’s highest rail station at Ghoom (7,400 ft). Started a year after DHR was accorded the UNESCO World Heritage status in 1999, it showcases its unique heritage through artefacts, rare photographs and displays. Take a close look at ‘Baby Sivok’, the oldest engine of DHR that provided the first rail link through the mountains in 1881. If you’re a toy train passenger on the Darjeeling-Ghoom sector, entry to the museum is free.

Auto World Vintage Car Museum, Ahmedabad

A Mercedes Benz from Germany displayed in Auto World Vintage Car Museum, Ahmedabad
A Mercedes Benz from Germany displayed in Auto World Vintage Car Museum, Ahmedabad

A for Austin, B for Bentley, C for Chrysler, D for Daimler… Name any make of car and you should find it here — the marquee of perhaps the largest collection of privately owned vintage and classic cars anywhere in India. There are also motorcycles, buggies, utility vehicles and an X-ray van collected by Pranlal Bhogilal and his family, some of which were used by erstwhile royalty of India and the world. If you’re willing to shell out a little extra, some of the handpicked vintage cars are also available for a chauffeur-driven spin.

Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary Museum, Siliguri, West Bengal

The sanctuary extends all the way from the plains of Jalpaiguri to the hills of Darjeeling. In the plains of Siliguri lies the entry point to the sanctuary and wildlife museum. Though decrepit, the museum is a veritable repository of wildlife, flora and fauna of the area. A particularly poignant display is an elephant foetus, recovered from its dead mother’s womb. A short walk from the wildlife museum stands the Museum of Non-Timber Forest Produce dedicated, of course, to forest produce.

FRI Museum, Dehradun

Spread across acres of lushness, Forest Research Institute is a Raj relic that’s formidable in girth and appearance. The expansive building, where forest officials are trained, is almost 1,000 ft long and houses six museums in as many humungous halls. They are based on specific aspects of forestry like pathology, silviculture, timber and entomology, and convey the imperative of adopting forestry as a serious discipline by employing dioramas, paintings, specimens and books. The most compelling exhibit is a cross section of a 700-year-old deodar tree.

Revi Karuna Karan Memorial Museum, Alleppey

There is the Taj Mahal. And then there is the RKK Memorial Museum, both borne out of intense love and bereavement. This fascinating museum — sprawled across 28,000 sq ft and fronted by an impressive 7-ft-high statue of the Biblical ‘The Prodigal Son’ made by renowned Israeli sculptor Sam Philipe — is a tribute to the memory of a man who was once the largest exporter of coir products. More than that, it is a ballad to the abiding love Betty Karan has for her husband. RKK Memorial Museum showcases an enviable collection of art and artefacts purchased from all corners of the world by three generations of the family. It has one of the largest private ivory collections in the world. Exquisite specimens of Lalique and Baccarat, and delicate porcelain masterpieces from Dresden, Lladro and Wedgwood are on display. It also houses arguably the biggest Swarovski collection comprising countless rare pieces.

Indian Naval Maritime Museum, Kochi

Located on INS Dronacharya (the Navy’s gunnery school), Naval Museum is housed in two WWII bunkers and documents the genesis and evolution of the Indian Navy whose prowess ranks among the top 10 in the naval world. Beginning with the Indus Valley Civilisation and moving on to the colonisation of the subcontinent, the incremental growth of shipbuilding, ammunition and technology in our country is chronicled with charts, maps, documents, paintings and murals. A separate section is dedicated to post-Independence and contemporary exploits that highlight India’s maritime potential and reaffirm the valour of the Indian armada. Of special mention are the projectiles, missiles, weapons, badges and uniforms displayed here.

Kochi Naval Museum
Kochi Naval Museum

 

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