India

India's unique carriage museum

  • 27 December 2013
  • From the section India
Carriages
Image caption The museum has three hearse carts from Goa, one (extreme right) of which has been restored

A unique transportation museum which displays nearly 70 carriages from across India restored to their original glory will open to the public soon in the state of Goa, Chryselle D'Silva Dias reports.

You may have seen horse-drawn carriages, buggies and palanquins. But have you seen a cart for carrying school children or even a dowry-chest on wheels?

Goa Chakra, an upcoming museum in the coastal village of Benaulim in Goa, has all this and more.

The impressive collection is displayed in a new 750-square-metre building which houses temple chariots, camel carts, dowry chests on wheels, hearse carts, gypsy caravans, a gig (a light, two-wheeled carriage drawn by one horse) and several horse-drawn carriages.

Other wheels also jostle for space - pottery wheels, a charkha (spinning wheel) and vintage, wooden children's toys.

"Goa Chakra is centred around the wheel," says founder and curator Victor Hugo Gomes.

"India is built on the wheel. It is on our flag, and in our history. My collection tells the story of the wheel and its role - from creating to processing. It is the story of Indian society through the ages."

It has been a 20-year-old labour of love for Mr Gomes, 45. Each of these carts was purchased in pieces or in derelict condition.

Years - and a small fortune - have been invested in restoring them using materials particular to each vehicle.

Where possible, fabric and metal original to the cart have been left intact.

Restoration

The pieces are meticulously restored by Mr Gomes and Jaswant Singh, an in-house carpenter who has worked with Mr Gomes for over a decade.

Mr Gomes says each cart, when purchased, is identified by its location of origin and brought to Goa Chakra to be reassembled at the workshop on the premises.

Image caption These carts from northern Uttar Pradesh state were used to carry bales of cotton
Image caption Gypsy carts have a 'locker' for secure storage

"Mr Singh and I have worked on the woodwork, while the polishing and weaving has been done by other people," he explains.

Weavers from different states have been brought in to restore the fabric and threads peculiar to vehicles from their region, including a cart with intricately-painted warli, a folk art of western state of Maharashtra.

Mr Gomes' personal favourite, though, is the 9m (30ft) temple chariot from south India that is still being restored.

His tales of how he sourced and rescued carts speaks of passion, of enviable conviction and love of all things old.

Challenges

One cart, he says, took almost two decades to arrive at Goa Chakra.

In the early 1990s, Mr Gomes came across a discarded cart in north India. The owner quoted a "shocking" 70,000 rupees ($1144; £695) for it. Mr Gomes had only 2,000 rupees at the time, which he paid as deposit, asking the owner to keep the cart for him while he raised the rest of the money.

The full payment, apparently took over 18 years and when Mr Gomes went to collect the cart, it had fallen to pieces.

"The owner kept his word and kept the cart for me, but didn't touch it or maintain it," he says wryly.

Documenting and re-creating some of the carriages had its own challenges.

"Putting some of these carts back together was extremely difficult as we couldn't easily find pictures or documents about them. We have spent hours wondering how certain pieces fit together. We try to be as authentic as possible in the final re-creation. And sometimes we are lucky to have visitors who give us an insight into local carts," says Mr Gomes.

Goa Chakra sits next to Goa Chitra, a much-lauded ethnographical museum run by Mr Gomes. Both are located on an organic farm, also the Gomes' home in the coastal village of Benaulim, Goa.

Goa Chitra is an unusual museum with over 4,000 traditional farming implements, furniture, musical instruments and other objects sourced from across the state, in much a similar fashion as the rescued carts in the new museum.

Both museums are testimonies to a forgotten, simpler way of life.

Chryselle D'Silva Dias is a Goa-based independent journalist.