On 16 April 1853, the first passenger train service ran from Bori Bandar to Thane, a distance of a little more than 30 kilometres. It was the start of what would grow into one of the world’s longest and busiest railway networks with a complicated and fascinating history. Mysuru’s recently renovated Rail Musuem is one place to get a glimpse of this long history, and ticks all the boxes for a tourist-friendly experience, including being a popular selfie-point, and having a virtual tour at mysururailmuseum.com/virtual-tour
The renovation was spearheaded by Aparna Garg, the then-Divisional Railway Manager of Mysuru, and was completed in 2020. " It was a surreal and rewarding experience for the team Mysuru to re-engineer, reshape and re-present this to Public, creating an iconic, truly world-class space in the tourist itinerary of the historic city ..." says Garg, who is now Principal Financial Adviser, Rail Wheel Factory, Indian Railways, Yelahanka, Bengaluru.
But the pandemic meant it stayed closed much like the rest of Mysuru’s famous landmarks, including the Mysore Palace. Once it reopened for tourists, however, it’s been drawing rail enthusiasts and the curious alike. During Mysuru’s renowned Dasara festival last year, it drew the most tourists in the city, after the Palace and the Zoo.
“The Rail Museum has become one of the major landmarks of the tourism circuit of Mysuru,” says Rahul Agarwal, the present Divisional Railway Manager, South Western Railway (SWR), Mysuru Division, “We have been regularly adding new artefacts and exhibits to keep its charm intact and to let people know the great heritage of this region as well as of the railways.”
Sumedha Sah, along with Rahul Malandkar of Apt, a Mumbai-based architectural studio, worked on the renovation in 2019-2020. They redesigned existing structures to improve circulation and free up more space for a café, a children’s play area, a souvenir shop and rest areas. “We redesigned the display galleries to achieve a better narrative, lighting, display and information." says Sah, "We made conscious efforts to make the new museum barrier-free for the physically challenged and elderly to move around effortlessly.”
The landscaped garden has vintage locomotives interspersed with installations, including one of cartoonist R.K. Laxman’s Common Man. The large avenue trees, which Mysuru is known for, are a large part of the museum experience. There are indoor galleries for the mechanical exhibits and vintage waiting room artefacts. The four-storey tower gallery has views of the Mysuru railway station, Chamundi hills and the city of Mysore. The battery-operated toy train is a draw for children and grown-ups alike, giving one the unique experience of riding a toy train while just across the wall, a real train chugs out of the Mysuru Railway Station.
“From the Railways point of view,” says Agarwal, “there are two types of exhibits. One, the technical exhibits—the type of wheels used, the type of engines used, different types of rail. For the public, there are different coaches used in the earlier days. There is the Maharani's Saloon here that gives an idea of how the royalty used to travel in the old days.” Dating back to 1899, the lovingly restored Wadiyar Maharani's Saloon carriage is housed in a large enclosure with a skylight.
For railfans, in addition to signalling and telecommunication devices and equipment of yore, the locomotives themselves are fascinating. C. Ravi, a rail enthusiast says, “We have a steam locomotive, YP 2511 (Y stands for ‘yard’, P stands for ‘Passenger’), that was the mainstay of the metre gauge system. It was used to haul passenger trains in earlier days. This is my favourite exhibit in the museum. I like it because of the very appearance and the hauling power.” Ravi says that this green and red steam locomotive was manufactured in 1963 by the Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company in Jamshedpur, the pioneers in the steam locomotive building in India.
Other enthralling exhibits include a turntable—which used to rotate the locomotive back in the direction from which it had come—and a 1925 Austin car fitted with rail wheels so that it could carry inspection officials along tracks. “When we used to have steam engines, every other station had a column which filled water in the steam engine. We recently added a functional model to the museum,” says Agarwal. He also points out a working model of a level crossing gate.
Shilpa S. Upadhya recently took her six-year-old to the museum. “While he loved the train ride, climbing into the different engines, and the hand-operated crane, both of us had one favourite exhibit—a miniature model of the Mysuru railway station,” she says.
Malandkar of Apt speaks of being a visitor at the museum. “It gives us a lot of pleasure to go back and see how well the museum is doing. I happily stood in line both times I visited the museum this year.”
This article was updated after Lounge received further information about the project