Kolkata is the only city in India where trams, the slow-moving old-fashioned mode of metropolitan transport, continue to operate, preserving the tender, old-world charm in a rapidly changing modern city.
In its 140-year-old history (starting from February 1873), the tram has seen innumerable changes, and in the process, has changed itself many times — from the horse-drawn carriages of the late 19th century, to the steam-driven cars, and finally the electric trams.
The first electric tramcar in Asia ran in 1902, from Esplanade to Kidderpore on March 27 and on June 14 from Esplanade to Kalighat, which made Kolkata the first city in India as well to initiate the system.
An appealing history of this momentous mode of transport is being presented in a unique fashion in the City of Joy. The Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC) has come up with an extraordinary model of a museum within a tram, named 'Smaranika' ('unforgettable').
Smaranika houses collectables such as photographs of different kinds of trams down the ages, different tram tickets, badges, and caps and other apparels worn by the drivers and conductors, along with different kinds of paraphernalia which have been used in the glory days of the tram.
A section of this captivating ‘museum on wheels’ features the various references of the tram in Bengal’s literature and culture. The mentions include the writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay and Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhayay.
Visitors can also sit and sip tea at a counter inside the tram, which mostly stands at the Esplanade depot of CTC in central Kolkata. The tram Smaranika itself is an antique piece built in 1938, and renovated for this purpose in the workshop of CTC.
“This is the only archive depicting the history of an urban mode of transport. There are railway museums, but nothing like this can be found anywhere else in the country,” said Nilanjan Sandilya, MD of the Calcutta Tramways Company.
Sandilya argues that even though trams are not the most preferred form of transport today, mainly due to its intrinsic tardiness, it still remains the most clean and environment-friendly mode of mass transport.
“We have about 269 trams at present, of which 90-100 are functional each day. The CTC cannot operate all the trams as some of the routes have been truncated and in many routes repair work is going on,” said Sandilya.
Along with the conventional trams, CTC also has a few air-conditioned trams running. About twenty-seven abridged routes are still functional.
Not wanting to lose the old-city magnetism, the tram museum is a great initiative to connect tourists as well as upcoming generations who have missed out on the slow yet amorous essence of travelling in such coaches in the city.
AC tram coach in Kolkata (Source: Tripadvisor)
Top image source: The Hindu