The history and culture of India is well-preserved in its various museums. This International Museum Day, let’s take a look at this list of museums which should be on any enthusiast’s travel plan. Although they are not open right now, but you can always prepare your future travel itineraries accordingly.
National Museum, Delhi
This glorious museum is full of treasures. Mind-bogglingly ancient, sophisticated figurines from the Harappan civilisation, almost 5000 years old, include the remarkable Dancing Girl, and there are also some fine ceramics from the even-older Nal civilisation. Other items include Buddha relics, exquisite jewellery, miniature paintings, medieval woodcarvings, textiles and musical instruments. Don’t miss the immense, five-tier wooden temple chariot built in South India in the 19th century. Allow at least two hours for a proper visit.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai
Mumbai’s biggest and best museum displays a mix of India-wide exhibits. The domed behemoth, an intriguing hodgepodge of Islamic, Hindu and British architecture, is a flamboyant Indo-Saracenic design by George Wittet (who also designed the Gateway of India). Its vast collection includes impressive Hindu and Buddhist sculpture, terracotta figurines from the Indus Valley, Indian miniature paintings and some particularly vicious-looking weaponry.
Human Brain Museum, Bengaluru
Located on the campus of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS), this museum will literally blow your mind, especially when you are given the opportunity to actually touch a preserved human brain, under guidance of course. An attempt by NIMHANS to promote awareness about the brain, the museum offers an educative talk and, with the help of hundreds of specimens, a peek into how the brain grows, develops, and also sickens for various reasons.
Indian Museum, Kolkata
India’s biggest and oldest major museum celebrated its bicentenary in February 2014. It’s mostly a lovably old-fashioned place that fills a large colonnaded palace ranged around a central lawn. Extensive exhibits in various galleries include fabulous sculptures dating back two millennia (notably the lavishly carved 2nd-century-BC Bharhut Gateway), Egyptian mummies, relics from the ancient Indus Valley civilisation of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, pickled human embryos, dangling whale skeletons and some 37 types of opium in the library-like commercial botany gallery.
National Rail Museum, Delhi
A contender for one of Delhi’s most enjoyable museums, the National Rail Museum has steam locos and carriages spread across 11 acres. Among the venerable bogies are the former Viceregal Dining Car, and the Maharaja of Mysore’s rolling saloon. The indoor gallery includes some hands-on exhibits, a miniature railway, and two simulators. Outside, a toy train, a joy train and a steam train chuff around the grounds.
Entry: adult/child ₹50/10, Sat & Sun ₹100/20
Central Museum, Jaipur
This museum is housed in the spectacularly florid Albert Hall, south of the Old City. The building was designed by Sir Swinton Jacob, and combines elements of English and North Indian architecture, as well as huge friezes celebrating the world’s great cultures. It was known as the pride of the new Jaipur when it opened in 1887. The grand old building hosts an eclectic array of tribal dress, dioramas, sculptures, miniature paintings, carpets, musical instruments and even an Egyptian mummy.
Government Museum, Chennai
Housed across from the striking British-built Pantheon Complex, this excellent museum is Chennai’s best. The big highlight is building 3, the Bronze Gallery, with a superb collection of South Indian bronzes from the 7th-century Pallava era through to modern times (and English-language explanatory material).
The museum also includes the National Art Gallery, Contemporary Art Gallery and Children’s Museum, on the same ticket.
Calico Museum of Textiles, Ahmedabad
This museum contains one of the world’s finest collections of antique and modern Indian textiles, all handmade and up to 500 years old. There are some astoundingly beautiful pieces, displaying incredible virtuosity and extravagance. You’ll see Kashmiri shawls that took three years to make, and double-ikat cloths whose 100,000 threads were each individually dyed before weaving. A single tour is offered each day the museum is open; booking weeks in advance is absolutely essential as spaces are limited to 20.
Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad
This vast collection was amassed by Mir Yousuf Ali Khan (Salar Jung III), who was briefly grand vizier to the seventh nizam. The 39 galleries include early South Indian bronzes, wood and stone sculptures, Indian miniature paintings, European fine art, historic manuscripts, a room of jade and the remarkable Veiled Rebecca by 19th-century Italian sculptor Benzoni. Do not miss the little clock display every time the clock strikes an hour.
Shankar’s International Dolls Museum, Delhi
Set up by K Shankar Pillai (1902–89), a renowned political cartoonist, who started collecting dolls in 1950 after he was given one as a gift from the Hungarian ambassador, this museum, right beside ITO metro station, has an impressive if quirky collection of more than 7000 costumed dolls from 85 countries.
Entry: adult/child ₹30/12
HAL Aerospace Museum, Bengaluru
For a peek into India’s aeronautical history, visit this wonderful museum past the old airport, where you can see some of the indigenous aircraft models designed by HAL. Interesting exhibits include a MIG-21, home-grown models such as the Marut and Kiran, and a vintage Canberra bomber. You can also engage in mock dogfights at the simulator machines (₹50 to ₹100) on the top floor, though the queues for this can be considerable.
Crafts Museum, Delhi
Much of this lovely museum is outside, including tree-shaded carvings and life-size examples of village huts from various regions of India. Displays celebrate the traditional crafts of India, with some beautiful textiles on display indoors, such as embroidery from Kashmir and cross-stitch from Punjab. Highlights include a huge wooden 18th-century temple chariot from Maharashtra. Artisans sell their products in the rear courtyard. The museum also includes the excellent Cafe Lota and a very good shop.