When I am travelling to an offbeat ; I always make it a point to check out if there’s a state museum around. Usually state museums are located in capital cities and they make the best places for an introduction to a state’s culture for travellers like me. Over the course of my journeys across India and a few parts of the world, I’ve managed to always find time to spend time at museums and while this list could have stretched to more than 100 museums – it is understood that that may not be the best idea. Thereby, presenting a short list : Offbeat Museums with Cultural Treasures from different parts of India.
Chamba – Bhuri Singh Museum
Undoubtedly, one of the best museums to see in the mountains state of Himachal Pradesh. It was one place that I was really keen on seeing in Chamba and it didn’t disappoint at all. Bhuri Singh Museum has fantastic displays that bring out the rich past and culture of the ancient Kingdom of Chamba.
Bhuri Singh Museum was founded in 1908 by the then Raja of Chamba, Raja Bhuri Singh with the assistance of Dr. Vogel. Bhuri Singh Museum has a collection of more than 8500 art objects from old times related to archaeology, art and craft and cultural anthropology. There is an exquisite collection of miniature paintings from Chamba and Kangra school of paintings. Detailed descriptions are given and the museum is spread over a space of 2 floors. I remember spending the best part of 3 hours visiting this museum in Chamba.
Among important things to notice in Bhuri Singh Museum are lovely door frames with intricate wood carvings, sculptures, coins, an exquisite collection of Chamba rumals, historical documents, manuscripts, and ancient inscriptions.
Entry fee : 20 Rs and camera fee : 50 Rs.
Keylong – Lahaul & Spiti Tribal Museum
This unheard of gem is located in the tiny single-lane market of Keylong. The Lahaul & Spiti Tribal Museum is so offbeat that I didn’t even notice it on my first two visits to Keylong. It was only on my third visit that I saw a signboard and my curious and inquisitive traveller mind immediately tried to enter the museum to only realise that it was locked for the day. As fate would have it, I had to leave from Keylong for Ladakh the next day, and the Lahaul & Spiti Tribal Museum had to be missed.
When I returned to Keylong next time on my way to Zanskar, I finally walked inside the hallowed doors of this incredibly resourceful museum. It is a fascinating cultural delight of the tribal district of Lahaul and Spiti. There are old photographs of tourist sites in Lahaul and Spiti district, a fantastic collection of traditional attires worn by men and women.
There are ancient utensils on display donated by different families from the region, prayer lamps, old dance masks, traditional footwear (called pula), and contemporary photos of the local monasteries and landscapes. The tribal museum is a great way to get acquainted with the history and culture of Lahaul & Spiti.
Inside the museum, there are many rooms labeled by different regions of Himachal Pradesh displaying tribal art and other curios. Some rooms in the Museum also have displays of thangka paintings and ancient manuscripts. The collection of artefacts and antiques is stunning and names of the original givers of items have been indicated and also the use of each item has been described.
Timings : 10 to 5 am, Entry Free
Munsyari – Tribal Heritage Museum
I’d reached Munsyari and since my tummy wasn’t in great shape, I decided to walk around and got extremely lucky to come across this offbeat museum. For culture and history enthusiasts, the Tribal Heritage Museum is a wonderfully maintained private museum by retired teacher S S Pangtey. It features rare treasures of the Bhotia tribe and is the hard work of a local scholar, S S Pangtey to preserve the history of Johar Valley.
Among the various collections of the museum are : Wooden utensils used by the Bhotias in cooking that include bowls, cooking pots, spoons, vanity boxes etc. I was really really surprised to see hookahs and wine bottles made of wood, and bags made from yak skin. The museum has a rare collection of photographs of the villages of Johar valley; before and after 1962, when the trade route with Tibet was sealed and the valley was deserted for lack of other earning options after the Chinese intervention in 1959.
Among other detailed collections by SS Pangtey are artefacts, coins and a unique collection of different types of herbs that are grown in this area. Natural coloured threads are also displayed along-with traditional dresses of Bhotia men of Johar Valley. Tourists must come to this museum with a relaxed time of 2-3 hours. Do not miss the dried Himalayan flowers including the famous aphrodisiac keeda jadi, Tibetan brick tea, and Buddhist stone carvings.
Entry – 20 Rupees
Manali – Museum of Himachal Culture & Folk Art
After more than a dozen visits to Manali in all seasons, I had no idea of the existence of this museum. In September – October 2015, I was staying in Manali for a month and on a day when it rained – had the good fortune of stumbling upon the Museum of Himachal Culture & Art. This museum showcases a wealth of cultural and historical delights from across Himachal Pradesh. Even the entry door is intricately carved and gives a glimpse of the riches that lie inside.
There are interesting models of temples and forts in and around the Kullu Valley, as well as traditional textiles and costumes, musical instruments, dance masks, traditional utensils and masks representing village deities of Himachal Pradesh. Architectural models of Pahadi style of building are displayed and art connoisseurs and curious travellers are sure to find joy visiting this offbeat and rare museum museum.
Entry Fee – 10 Rupees
Kota – Rao Madho Singh Museum
The Rao Madho Singh Museum in Kota is a palace that has been converted into a museum. It is situated in the old palace known as ‘Garh Palace’ located on the bank of Chambal River and is named after the son of the first ruler of Kota. The highlight of the Rao Madho Singh Museum is the bedroom of Maharaja Rao Madho Singh Museum located in Garh Palace. A lovely Museum with wonderful Paintings. The entire area is very quiet and clean, and one can imagine himself in the past with its numerous cultural treasures.
The museum has a superb collection of Rajput miniature paintings of the Kotah school, exquisite sculptures, depiction of royal modes of transport, old photographs, frescoes and armory. The Rao Madho Singh museum also houses a rich cache of artistic items used by the Kota rulers. It is surely among the best museums of Rajasthan with regards to cultural and traditional delights. The armoury section of the museum is stunning with its exquisite collection of weapons of the Rajputs. Among the exhibits are vintage era knives, stainless steel swords, pistols, rifles.
Entry Fee – Rs. 30. 50 Rupees extra for camera.
Additional fee of INR 200 if you wish to see personal room of the King with a lot of stuff displayed. The fresco paintings inside are exquisite and worthy of a visit.
Ajmer – Akbar’s Palace & Museum
This was constructed in 1570 and was originally named Daulat Khana by Akbar. When the British were in power, they maintained a large garrison inside the fort. It was the residence of Prince Salim, the son of the Emperor Akbar. Akbar’s Palace is important from a historical point of view, in 1660 the British got a toehold in India when Sir Thomas Roe, a representative of the British East India Company met Emperor Jahangir and gained his permission to establish the first British factory at Surat, at Akbar’s Palace and Museum.
It is a huge structure and nowadays houses a Government Museum with a rich collection of rock inscriptions, stone statues and sculptures dating from the 8th to 12th century. I was particularly mesmerised with the beautiful doors and architecture of the central building inside the fort, showcasing a wealth of cultural treasures. Also on display in the museum are a collection of old weapons and miniature paintings of Rajasthan and sculptures and artefacts from the Mughal times.
Entry Fee : 10 Rupees