NATIONAL RAIL MUSEUM, CHANAKAYA PURI, NEW DELHI, INDIA.

The journey of the Indian Railways.

File fact, National Rail Museum, New Delhi: Founded in 1997, the National Rail Museum’s 10 acres compound houses a sizable cache of unique rail engine models, saloons, coaches and rail equipment that appeared at various stages during the last 100 years. Presently India has around eight rail Museums located in New Delhi, Pune, Chennai, Mysore, Ghum, Kolkatta, Kanpur and Tiruchirappalli – source Wikipedia.

In the year 1853 India was a vastly different country from what it is today. Cities and towns were sparsely populated and widely separated. People lit up homes with oil lamps; fetched water from ponds and wells; died in childbirth and of smallpox; and relied on domesticated animals to transport goods and themselves through inhospitable tracts of land infested with brigands and carnivores with or without poorly armed escorts.

This, while a squabbling and quarreling bunch of native rulers disputed over territories and engaged in diplomatic maneuvers to keep their thrones safe from aggressive British policies.

The introduction of the railway during this era did not exactly alter the course of events. Things would pretty much continue for a good many years to come. However, when the first steam powered train chugged into India, it did make the common Indian stare with wide eyed amazement at the iron beast that fed on steam and moved without teams of horses, oxen and mules to haul it forward. The monster shook the very ground he stood on and made his sturdy ancestral home tremble. Fearful at first and later with unconcealed glee he awaited his turn to commute on board this magical device only the Gora Sahibs could have thought of.

Though the railway in India did not play that significant a role as it did in the United States, it did bring about a revolution in overland travel as it had elsewhere in the world. Importantly, it gifted a future populous nation of 1.21 billion people their favourite mode of transport – in present times nearly 25 million people commute in trains each day.

The Museum.

An Indian Railway undertaking the museum represents the rail heritage of India unveiling a nostalgic age when nobility and dignitaries rode privately owned carriages customized with embellishments; rail engines ranged from midget to giant size power houses sometimes with over sized chimneys; railway platforms came with rustic charm; and kids ran alongside whistling and chugging iron serpents with joy in their hearts and dreams of one day driving them.

The origin.

The railway was introduced by the British in the mid 18th century.  British engineers accompanied by Indian laborers surveyed, selected and laid out railway lines while enterprising British companies produced unique engines and coaches for ferrying troops, cargo and passengers. The National Rail Museum Delhi represents the rail heritage of India right from its pre-independence origin.

Indoor and outdoor exhibits.

The museum houses a sizable collection of rail engines,coaches, saloons and rail equipment dating back to the 18th century.The 10 acres compound is divided into an outdoor exhibition space and indoor gallery with miniature train models, old photographs, bit and pieces of antique equipment and the skull of an elephant that collided with a moving train.

The outdoor exhibition space features standing vintage models, antique architecture and a toy train for touring the premises. There is a souvenir shop right next to the indoor gallery. Audio guides are available for an additional fee at the reception located close to the main entry.

Some of the star attractions.

Prince of Wales Saloon. Maharaja of Indoor Saloon. Maharaja Gaekwar Barado Saloon. The milky white Vice Regal Dinning car constructed in 1889. Patiala State Monorail Trainway. A fireless steam locomotive. A massive crane train .One of the two existing Morris- Belsize fire engines in the world .Sir Leslie Wilson, a first generation electric locomotive. The Dynometer car. The EM 922, a steam locomotive that changed names with the dignitaries it carried from Lord Clyde to Roosevelt to Queen Empress.

Visit.

The National Rail Museum is located inside a quiet neighborhood in Shantipath, Chanakyapuri,South Delhi. The closest metro station is the Jor Bagh metro station from where visitors can hire autorickshaws. En route to the museum lies the Nehru Park and the Bhutan Embassy.

Finding autorickshaws upon exiting can be difficult some days and one might have to walk all the way to the main road. The museum is closed on national holidays and Mondays. Photography is permitted inside.

Timing.

The museum is open from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. In winters the compound is a favourite haunt for school children. There is a canteen located in the centre that serves tea, coffee, cold drinks, biscuits and pre-packaged light snacks. In afternoons one can also find Indian street food sellers, ice cream and a cigarette shop right outside.

  • Travel tip.

A famous resident of the museum, the Fairy Queen, currently transports passengers to and fro from Delhi to Alwar in a 5 to 6 hour journey. Constructed in 1855 and a troop transport during the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857, the historic steam locomotive is the oldest in service today.Those interested in a ride can enquire at the museum reception for details.