Museums are a window into the past. They bring alive the tales that we heard in childhood or read in a textbook through some tangible objects. Some contemporary ones are also a collection around a subject. They can put so much light on a subject that you may be inspired to explore it further. No matter what kind of a museum, it widens the horizons of your knowledge and sometimes let you think of new ideas.
I am one of those few people who like to explore museums. I have often interacted with fellow visitors and realize that most people are too lost in the museums. The exhibits are too much to take in. And people feel too shy to ask about objects for the fear of sounding ignorant. What they do not realize is that in a museum – even the best of experts will feel a bit ignorant. For it is meant to be a storehouse of knowledge on one or more subjects, often the subjects that are no longer relevant.
Let me help you plan your museum visit so that you enjoy them as much as I do. Here are my tips on how to make the most out of a visit.
Read before visiting Museums
Most museums have a well-defined website or a brochure that you can get from tourism offices. Read it to find what the museum has to offer, how big it is, any special exhibitions that are going. Most display a very small percentage of the objects they own. Both due to the paucity of space and for upkeep required to maintain the antique objects. Each has at least one unique object in its collection that is its star object. And you should never miss this one. For example an Egyptian Mummy at AP state museum in Hyderabad.
A Museum in a day
Big and old cities like Delhi and London that are full of museums and would leave you confused with choices. On a shorter visit sometimes we tend to fit in more than one museum in a day. This can leave you mentally exhausted and bored. Never plan to see more than one in a day. You may not realize but visiting a museum is a mental exercise. You mentally move into a different space and time and absorb a lot of information both consciously and unconsciously. Save your energy by not putting more than one on the menu for a day.
To take or not to take a Camera?
Museums are not camera friendly places. A lot of them like ASI museums in India do not allow photography at all. Some allow for an additional camera fee while others are generous and open to photography. Whatever the case may be, be sensitive to the fact that flash can be harmful to many artifacts especially old paintings. Never use flash on paintings and anything with a sensitive surface even when photography is allowed. Never try to steal a picture when it is not allowed. Unfortunately, a lot of objects like stone sculptures that can be photographed easily are kept behind glass panels with bad lighting that makes it very difficult to take pictures. Unless you really need to use the pictures like for writing a blog or for any other specific purpose, ditch the camera and simply enjoy the museum. You can always use a brochure or website for reference.
Do not miss
Check out the highlight collection/object of the museum in the beginning so that you have all the time and energy to absorb it. Some examples are Miniature paintings gallery in the National Museum, Delhi. Or Didarganj Yakshi in Patna Museum, Veiled Rebecca at Salarjung museum in Hyderabad. Chola Bronzes at Chennai Museum or India’s first printing press at the Goa state museum.
Cut the big ones in pieces
Big ones like the National Museum in Delhi or British Museum in London or State Museum in Bhopal can be too big to be seen and absorbed in a day or even in a few days. For these, pick up a gallery or two that interest you to explore. And browse through the rest of it as time permits. If it has good documentation and interesting audiovisual displays like Schindler museum at Krakow you need a lot of time to inhale them in.
Take audio tour wherever available
Audio guides are becoming the norm. My recommendation is to go for it whenever you have an option. They allow you to see the museum in a systematic way and at your own pace. They give you the intimate stories sometimes like the voice of a royal scion telling you about his childhood at Laxmi Vilas Palace in Vadodara. Audio guides also create an environment for you with the right sound effects to port into the era it is presenting. For examples in armories, you may hear the clash of swords. At a place of worship, you may hear the devotional music. It enhances your experience manifold and never lets you feel lost in the middle of innumerable displays.
Check for guided tours
Very few museums in India offer guided tours. But where they are – they are conducted at defined hours in a day – usually one or two. Never miss them if you can – there is no better way to hear the stories. Bhau Daji Lad in Mumbai, for example, offers a guided tour by the curator only on weekends.
Be prepared to be surprised
Sounds ironical but ‘Wonder’ is the true joy of any kind of travel, so why miss it in museums. I usually like sculpture, miniature paintings, textile kind of galleries and usually, avoid armories that I do not understand. But at a couple of places, they were so well explained that I was bowled over.
You are on a time travel in a museum. You certainly do not want to be transported back to your time and space. To truly enjoy a museum – Go Solo. If you are traveling in a group, split at the entrance. And agree to meet at a designated time and place after few hours or for coffee/lunch.
Double Check the time and weekly off day
Museums, at least in India follow their own calendar. As a thumb rule, a lot of them have an off day on Monday. But I have been to some that are closed on Fridays, Wednesdays or even Sundays. Check out the deal for national and other holidays. Check out the timings as well. Though most are open during office hours with a lunch break, there are those that are open only half a day or have a strictly guided tour only visits, like the Calico Museum in Ahmedabad. At one place we were refused entry because a film shoot was taking place, though it was technically an open day for the visitors.
Treat them like you are visiting a muse – to be sensually experienced.
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