5 Strange Museums You Should Visit in India

Chamber pots, cooking utensils, and other curious collections.

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Besides exquisite porcelain toilet bowls from Europe and a replica of Louis XIII’s throne, the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets also has ancient scrolls detailing bathroom etiquette. Photo: Anshika Varma

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Some quirky, even downright wacky museums can be found around the country. Here we list five of these spaces that are quite out of the ordinary. While they may not depict the country’s rich culture or heritage, these museums are curious enough and certainly warrant a visit.

The Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, Delhi

In this age of rapid technological advancements, one doesn’t really stop to value the long evolutionary journey made by the toilet, something so essential to our well-being. Sulabh international, an organisation that promotes sanitation in india, is out to change that. The Museum of Toilets in Delhi has a detailed collection of all things related to the commode—from facts and pictures to water closets and chamber pots. By charting the evolution of toilets, and the technology and social norms surrounding them, the museum hopes to promote an appreciation for sanitation. It’s probably best not to visit with a full bladder. (Open daily 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; closed on national holidays; opening time varies with season; www.sulabhtoiletmuseum.org; 011-25031518/19.)

Butterfly Museum, Bhimtal, Uttarakhand

Hidden among deodar and pine trees near the village of Bhimtal, is Freddy’s Place (also known as Jones Estate), home to the Smetacek family and a collection of close to 2,000 species of butterflies and moths. The museum was single-handedly created by Frederick Smetacek, Jr. an ecologist of German origin who was born and brought up in Bhimtal. He began collecting butterflies in 1962 and stopped when it became illegal in the late 80s; his interests extended to spiders and other insects as well. The star attractions are the Snow Apollo, a rare butterfly species found in the Himalayas, and a collection of pale yellow-winged butterflies found in England from which the name “butterfly” is said to originate. (Open 9 a.m –5 p.m.; 05942-247068; call before visiting.)

The Vishalla Utensils Museum, Ahmedabad, Gujarat

Since 1981, the VECHAAR charitable trust has worked to preserve the creativity and craftsmanship that goes into fabricating household utensils, on the premises of the Vishalla restaurant in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. A collection of 3,500 pots and pans may not seem particularly glamorous, but the exhibits—ranging from pitchers to betel-nut boxes and nutcrackers—have been painstakingly made from an array of metals including copper and bronze. The museum draws attention to the skill and thought that goes into designing not just useful, but aesthetically pleasing utensils. (Open 1 p.m.-3 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10.30 p.m., closed on Monday; www.vishalla.com; 079-26602422.) 

Shankar’s International Doll Museum, Delhi

Started by political cartoonist K. Shankar Pillai, this doll museum in Delhi has grown to become one of the world’s largest collections of costume dolls and is a treat for all ages. A walk through stacks of over 60,000 glass-cased figurines is like a brief world tour—you will encounter everyone from Mozart to a veiled Muslim woman and a flamenco dancer from Spain. Attached to the museum is a doll-making workshop where workers create intricate little masterpieces that are given as foreign gifts or sold. (Open: 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m., closed on Monday; www.childrensbooktrust.com/dm.html; 011-23316970/74.)

Mayong Central Museum and Emporium, Mayong, Assam

The hill town of Mayong, 40 km from Guwahati, has been called India’s capital of black magic and witchcraft, some say, since medieval times. It is still a source of many supernatural tales. Even the village’s name “Mayong” is said to be derived from the Sanskrit word maya, which also translates to “illusion”. The Mayong Central Museum contains ancient manuscripts that provide details on black magic practices. It also has artefacts like swords and pots that are believed to have been used in mysterious black magic rituals. There are occasional magic shows where ancient healing spells are performed, giving visitors a glimpse of the magic that’s believed to characterise this place. (Several travel agents organise day trips from Guwahati to Mayong, which include a boat cruise to the village, a trip to the museum, and a magic show.

Appeared in the December 2012 issue as “Curious Collections”. Updated in November 2015.

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