In one of the most inconspicuous of settings, in the very heart of Kolkata, evading the frenzied Kolkatans, lies a fascinating museum. It is ‘Smaranika’ (meaning ‘memorabilia’), the Tram Museum located at Esplanade Tram Depot. A commendable initiative of the Calcutta Tramways Corporation (CTC), it uses a real tram to showcase a 140-year-old heritage. After all, it is undeniable that this ubiquitous mode of transport lends the city its unique character.
This museum, ‘Smaranika’- CTC-142, was officially built in as long back as 1938 and has been renovated to form an interesting museum in the rear 2nd class compartment, while the 1st class compartment has been modified to accommodate a classic, fully air-conditioned cafeteria, which predictably is a major attraction for the visitors.
As we come to the overtly crowded Esplanade Bus Terminus, we knit our brows in frustration in our effort to evade hawkers and pedestrians while crossing over to the Tram Depot. The first thing on reaching the congested area that draws our attention is the beautiful lush green park inside which awaits the heritage tram, ready to take us aboard.
As we enter the tram, we cross the cafeteria through a vestibule and enter the second compartment which houses the museum. You can view photographs of not only different kinds of trams down the ages, but also of tram tickets and badges, caps and other apparel worn by the conductors. There is also various equipment used during the archaic eras. One can even find a few fascinating models of tram cars of yore and now.
A beautiful narrative by Kshitindranath Tagore about ‘Evolution of Trams in Kolkata’ right from the time of horse-drawn trams to steam-propelled engine trams and eventually the electric trams is displayed. A unique section of this intriguing Tram Museum depicts references to the tram in Bengal’s literary and cultural scene. The references include writings of Rabindranath Tagore and Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay.
This museum-on-wheels also narrates the relationship that trams have shared with eminent people. There’s a detailed write-up that provides a long list of stalwarts and an insight into their association with the city in bygone eras.
Badges and Tickets
There are exhibits of Training School Badges which are used by trained staff during the training period for identification. These badges include: badges of conductors, janitors, inspectors, time-keepers, starters and senior inspectors. Buttons made of brass with emblems used in uniforms by the staff can also be seen in the museum. Interestingly, uniforms of employees who completed 20 years of service sporting a ‘Star’ on the shoulder lapel is also on display.
The Calcutta Tramways holds a special place since its advent in 1873. Till date it has issued different types of tickets, coupons and passes. The monthly tickets of 1971 for Route 24 and 25 along with monthly ticket holders are presented as exhibits in the museum. A first-class pass of 1968, a couple of pre-Independence discount coupons, student-concession passes, all-day-long tickets and a centenary celebration ticket are some of the articles of great interest. Tickets with a transfer slip for travelling on more than one route in a single day, pre-Independence transfer tickets as well as Howrah Station tickets can also be seen. Like coins and postage stamps, tickets used in government transport are of great interest to collectors.
A point bar is used by a pointsman to shift the tongue of a switch-point. It helps in selecting the intended track at a junction where tracks diverge in two directions. Another aspect is that the pointsman pulls the overhead wire clinger so that the pantograph of the tram also goes in the desired direction. A coin exchanger with punch and ticket pockets used in the 1950s by the conductor for giving change of correct denomination to passengers is seen on display.
Other Special Tram Cars
You can see the miniature models of the Byomkesh Bakshi Tram Car and the Horse-drawn Tram Car. The Byomkesh Bakshi Tram Car is a double-bogie wooden tram car #567 of the year 1931. It was specially designed at the CTC Nonapukur Workshop in the year 2013 for shooting the Hindi film ‘Detective Byomkesh Bakshi’. The horse-drawn tram car began its service between Sealdah and Armenian Ghat, via Bowbazar Street, Dalhousie Square, Customs House and Strand Road in 1873. You can even see the miniature replicas of Balaka, the single compartment Tram Car, Flat Wagon Tram Car and the Watering Tram Car.
Since its inception in February 1873, the tram has come a long way and has witnessed innumerable changes and in the process has transformed itself from the horse-drawn carriages of the late 19th century to the steam-driven cars and finally into the present form, ‘the electric-driven ones’. The first electric tram car in Asia ran in 1902, from Esplanade to Kidderpore on March 27 and on June 14, from Esplanade to Kalighat, which made us boastful about Kolkata.
While sipping coffee in the cafeteria we realised that the Tram Museum is indeed an excellent attempt to bridge the gap between the perceived disconnect between this slow-moving vehicle and the fast-paced urban life. At the same time it evokes a sense of nostalgia and pride for the city.
Smaranika – the Tram Museum
Esplanade Tram Depot
6 Sido Kanhu Dahar, Kolkata 700069
Days closed : Thursday
Timing : 1:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Tickets : Rs 10 per head
Photography : Not allowed
Parking : Not available