The sleepy town of Taoru in Haryana has become an unlikely addition to our list of must-see places for anyone visiting Delhi. And it’s got everything to do with it being home to the beautiful Heritage Transport Museum that opened its doors in December last year. The museum is the first of its kind in India and is the brainchild of Delhi-based Tarun Thakral who’s been passionately collecting all that’s on display here since 1994. He wanted a place to exhibit his collection, but the larger goal was to showcase the evolution of transportation in India.
You get the impression that this is not your average museum even before you make your way to the exhibits. After all, how many museums have you seen that have motorcycle handlebars as door handles and lights in the shape of oversized automotive bulbs? Or a reception desk carved out of a Morris Minor?
Inside, you’ll find everything from classic cars, bikes, scooters and buses to bullock carts, horse carriages and palkis. There’s even an immaculately restored Jodhpur Saloon railway coach from 1930 that sits on its own period-themed platform. And you just can’t miss the 1940 Piper J3C Cub aircraft that’s suspended from the roof.
I take a leisurely stroll through the non-mechanised, railway and aviation sections but it’s the automotive display that I’m really looking forward to. I’m not disappointed. The setting recreates scenes from days gone by with cars of different makes and time periods sharing space under the spotlight. It’s a place where you’ll find a Standard Herald, the original VW Beetle and a Fiat 1100 parked together as if it were 1965 once again. You’ll also see the original Hindustan Ambassador in the company of the 1948 Hindustan Twelve and the 1954 Landmaster. The Amby looks so much more special here and puts things in perspective – it was not always the taxi or neta-mobile it’s best known as today.
But more than anything else, it’s the American manufacturers that are best represented here. The oldest car at the museum is a Chevrolet Phaeton from 1932. I’m told it’s in perfect running order, just like all of the other models on display. Sadly, my request to be allowed to crank it to life is not taken too seriously. Soon enough, I get distracted by the sight of a 1959 Plymouth Belvedere’s derriere. It’s got fins large enough to give your average great white shark a complex. But it’s the 1960 Chevrolet Impala that really does it for me. I’m told it was the Audi Q7 to movie stars of the time. Massive, glorious and over the top, it fits the image I have in my mind of the typical American car.
In the midst of other Chevrolets, Dodges and Oldsmobiles close by, I’m drawn to a car on the Ford side of the exhibit. It’s a Fairlane 500 Skyliner with its motorised retractable hard top roof paused mid-way in operation. You read that right – it had a retractable hard top, that too in 1957! But as you’d imagine, the mechanics were much simpler back in the day. The roof didn’t quite perform the space- saving yoga asanas you’d see on a modern BMW Z4. Rather, the roof just split in two and folded as was into the vast trunk.
Oddly, in the sea of glimmering metal here, a 1935 Buick Series Limousine stands out for its decrepit state. I’m told it’s part of the museum’s ‘Adopt a car’ programme whereby you can contribute to help breathe fresh life into ageing beauties as these. That’s a nice way to get more people involved in the museum. But there are also some cars you’d hope remain relics of the past, like the Sunrise Badal – yup, that’s the three-wheeled fibre-glass bodied four-door ‘car’ from 1975. At least against the backdrop of a blown-up brochure, it looks half digestible.
As I make my way through the displays, I figure why this museum is so inviting. There’s just so much automotive art and memorabilia interspersed with the actual car displays. You simply can’t rush through here. Car ads right from the 1930s, car grille-shaped decanters and even a full mock-up of an old petrol pump are some of the finer examples. There’s also a section dedicated to toys and working models of car systems. Simply awesome! What’s more, the museum is open to hosting bits of transportation history from other contributors too. This promises a fresh and unique experience every few months. I’m a confirmed repeat visitor.
But don’t just take my word for it. Make the 60km drive out of Delhi and see the Heritage Transport Museum for yourself. You’ll get more than your time and money’s worth inside. Prepare to be amazed!
What: Heritage Transport Museum
Where: Taoru, Haryana
Getting there: Drive out of Delhi on NH8. Turn left on to Major District Road 132 at BilaspurChowk. Continue for 7km.
Timings: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 7pm
Ticket price:Rs 300 for adults and Rs 150 for children below 12 years