on September 8, 2013
A lot of Indian museums are hard to describe as much more than a bit rubbish and the Himachal State Museum Shimla is not exactly world class. I’ve been going to India for nearly two decades so I know what to expect and I've learned to love and celebrate museum mediocrity. Anyone can be impressed by state of the art multi-media displays and interactive exhibits but that’s so much less of a challenge than amusing yourself in a museum that could have been collated by the school librarian. I am guilty as charged for the sin of ridicule but I still keep hunting down local museums and enjoying them.HSMS is not a place you can stumble across by accident because it’s not actually in the city. The museum is on a hilltop a mile or two from the centre. I would struggle to tell you that it’s worth the cost of a taxi ride to visit it but if you are planning to visit the Viceregal Lodge nearby, then you might as well pop into the museum as well. It's a relatively gentle walk of less than a mile from there to the museum. The museum looks like a cricket pavilion in an English village. It's very much in Shimla’s ‘old England’ style with its stripy blue and white painted exterior and green corrugated metal roof. In Shimla even the posh places have these metal roofs because they are the only type that naughty monkeys can’t destroy.The original inhabitant of the building was Lord William Berresford, the Viceroy's Military Secretary. After he headed home to England, it became home to various other senior civil servants. In 1974 it opened as the Himachal State Museum Shimla with a relatively small collection of a few hundred exhibits and has expanded ever since to now hold thousands of odds and ends that visitors can ‘enjoy’.Don’t go on a Monday as the museum is closed. This is very typical in India. The rest of the week you can go from 10 am to 5 pm. The cost is 10 rupees if you are Indian and 50 rupees if you're a foreigner. Flash-free photography is permitted on payment of 50 rupees for locals and double that for foreigners. I was not expecting much so I decided to check what was in the museum before deciding whether to pay for the permit. My only photos are of the outside of the building which tells you that I wasn’t tempted by the exhibits.The ground floor has displays of archaeological artefacts, wooden carvings and lots of sculptures. Whilst the displays were competent and well lit they were not very exciting and I didn’t linger too long. Upstairs we found some more interesting sections. History lovers will appreciate the displays on Mahatma Gandhi and the Shimla Conference (one of the many gatherings at which negotiations for Indian Independence took place). Although the documents and photographs were fascinating to me (because I’m rather obsessed with that period) the displays were a bit shabby and I couldn’t help wondering how long the letters and photographs would survive. There were displays of coins and stamps, similar to those which seem to be standard in all Indian museums, some displays of clothing from different regions and a display of dozens of dolls dressed in the traditional clothes of the different regions of India.The collection of miniature paintings – both Rajastani and Pahari miniatures – was impressive and we benefited from the place being nearly empty, since we could get up close to appreciate the workmanship in these paintings. They also had displays of some unimpressive ‘modern art’ and paintings by local school children which were cute but not particularly artistic. It took us about half an hour to wander around the museum including time to check the small sale counter which offers postcards and publications about the museum’s collections. It was nice to have the place pretty much to ourselves but when we left we discovered the downside to this because we were in the middle of nowhere without the slightest sniff of a passing taxi. We eventually found a wedding venue where the receptionist kindly agreed to call us a taxi. After a short wait we were heading back to the city.
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