If there is one place in Kolkata that is the very definition of a ‘hidden gem’, probably the boat museum would be it. Yes, you read that right. It is the only one of its kind in the country and surprisingly not many of us know about it. Tucked inside the iconic Ambedkar Bhawan, the Boat Museum is a tribute to Bengal’s rivers and its indigenous craft of boat-making.
Enter the museum and a Bachhari boat (from Bangladesh) is the first to greet you. Long and narrow in shape, with a chhoi (cover) to provide shade, these boats are mainly used as water taxis. From the ancient boats of Harappa to the v-shaped dholais to the still-in-use dinghies, the museum houses 46 models of boats from Bengal, Odisha, and Bangladesh. As you explore further, you will realise that each boat is unique and was designed for a particular purpose. Maintaining the centre of gravity and buoyancy are two of the many things that a boat-maker has to keep in mind.
Crafted by the Rajbanshis (woodcraft artists of West Bengal), the boats on display can be classified into five categories - Ferry Boats (for passengers), Cargo Boats (for goods), Fishing Boats, Racing Boats and Luxury Boats. The most interesting ones are the luxury boats. There is a brilliant miniature of the Padma boat, a luxury boat on which the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore began translating his famous work Gitanjali from Bengali into English.