5 “Hidden” Museums of Mumbai that you never knew existed

Art, Cities, Maharashtra

On the occasion of International Museum Day, take a look at 05 “hidden” Museums of Mumbai that you probably never heard about

For most Mumbaikars, the word “museum” is synonymous with the venerable Prince Of Wales Museum (or the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya as it is known now). But Mumbai has many other museums that cover both the history of the city as well as some of its traditions. This month, on the occasion of  International Museum day, let’s discover five of these hidden gems.

Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum

Timings: 10:00 am to 06:00 pm, closed on Wednesday and some public holidays.
Entry: Rs. 10 for Indian citizens, Rs. 100 for foreigners 

Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum
Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum

The Dr. Bhau Daji Lad City Museum was formerly called the Victoria and Albert Museum, and is the oldest museum in the city. It was established in 1872. Over the years , the museum fell into disrepair and was shut for an extended period in the 1990’s. After extensive restoration, the new museum was thrown open to the public in 2008. Since then the museum has attempted to bring interesting events and exhibits to the city through photo exhibits, art installations and events like lectures, movie screenings etc.

Situated at Byculla, right outside the City Zoo, the museum is a quaint little building. As soon as you enter, the first thing that strikes you is the sheer beauty and splendour of the great hall of the museum. Its only after taking in that view do you really start looking at the artefacts.

The ground floor of the museum holds various artefacts from different parts of India and the globe. The emphasis is more on traditional artistry and this is the unifying theme that ties the artwork held in the museum. The floor above traces much of Mumbai’s history and gives a look at life in the years gone by, through interesting dioramas. The lawns outside the museum sometimes hold interesting art installations as well as some outdoor collections like statues, the most famous of which  is the elephant statue from which Elephanta gets its name.

RBI Monetary Museum

Timings: 10:45 am to 05:15 pm, closed on Monday and bank holidays.
Entry: Free

The RBI Monetary Museum is housed in a small little building on Sir. Pherozesha Mehta Road at Fort. The building is a little off from the main RBI building and takes a little searching to find. After checking in your bag and cellphone (yes, cellphones are required to be switched off or surrendered) you enter into, what I would call possibly, the most concise depiction of journey of currency in India.

The small one floor museum has an extensive collection of both coins and notes and traces the history of money, coinage and currency in India, right from almost ancient times through the medieval ages to modern days. The museum also traces some of the history of the venerable Reserve Bank of India, the central bank of India, through various documents and issued currency. If you are crazy about money, do visit this fine museum that shows you how money changed from shells to those wonderful crisp notes in your wallet. Highly educational.

BEST Transport Museum

Timings: 09:00 am to 05:00 pm, closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Entry: Free

Situated at the Anik Bus Depot in Sion, the BEST Transport Museum, captures the evolution of the BEST, which is one of Mumbai’s major providers of public transport. The museum recently reopened after a month of renovations and promises to grow and present even more interesting artefacts in the days to come.

Currently the museum hosts relics from the city’s transport history including old bus tickets, hand operated ticket vending machines, miniature models of buses and other items unearthed at various BEST properties. The star attraction of the museum is the actual chassis of a 1938 Daimler double decker bus !!! Overall, it is a fascinating glimpse into how public transport evolved in the city of Mumbai.

CST Railway Museum

Timings: 03:00 pm to 05:00 pm, closed on weekends.
Entry: Rs. 200

Outside the CST Museum
Outside the CST Museum

This is probably one of the biggest secrets of Mumbai, more so because it’s only open on weekdays. A little ahead of the main entrance to the CST station is this little side entrance that is barred shut for most of the day. But come 03:00 pm the door opens for a special heritage tour of the train station. The first stop of this tour is a little one room railway museum that hosts model trains, blueprints of the station, old train tickets etc. tracing the history of the railways in Mumbai and the country.

The tour then takes you into the CST station where you can admire the intricate carvings that adorn the walls of the station, marvel at the CST central dome from within and finally even look into the station from quaint little galleries that are usually closed to the general public. The tour finally ends with tea and snacks in a small guest room close to the top of the dome.

For the sheer novelty and the look at an interesting slice of history, its definitely worth taking some time out to visit this museum.

Ballard Bunder Gatehouse Museum

Timings: First Sunday of every month, check with the Navy for timings (Lion Gate,  Shahid Bhagat Singh Road, Fort).
Entry: Free, Open only to Indian Citizens

Ballard Gatehouse (courtesy Robert Cutts via Flickr)
Ballard Gatehouse (courtesy Robert Cutts via Flickr)

Did you know that Bombay was actually a dowry gift? Or that the Bombay dry dock is the oldest in Asia? Or that The Star Spangled Banner was composed on a ship built in the Bombay dockyard? Or the historic Treaty of Nanking, that handed over Hong Kong to the British, was signed on another ship built in Bombay?

Bombay has a rich and varied maritime history and it is a shame that the city does not have a regular maritime museum to celebrate this. But for a brief period of the time the Navy, taking note of the number of heritage buildings in their dockyards, attempted to change this.

On the first Sunday of every month, the Navy used to organize a free heritage walk within the dockyards. During the walk, you could learn various tidbits of naval history as well as look at some heritage buildings that would otherwise not be open to the public. The star of this walk was the Ballard Bunder Gatehouse.

The Ballard Bunder Gatehouse was built in 1920 to commemorate Ballard Pier being developed into Ballard Estate1. After independence, the gatehouse became part of the Naval Dockyard and fell into disuse for over 50 years. Then in 2005, the building was restored as a Maritime museum.

The museum includes scale models of ships from various eras, giant anchors up to 6 ft tall  among other maritime artefacts. Old maps and photographs of Mumbai and its diverse communities that show the evolution of the Mumbai dockyard are also on display.

Sadly, with the accidents aboard a submarine at the dockyard in 2013, the Navy no longer conducts regular walks to this wonderful little museum.

Dance of the Fireflies
The Great Holi Drive to Tarkarli


  1. Ballard Bunder Gatehouse. (2012, September 28). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia