Connecting Cultures - Innovating the Idea of Transportation

Evolution of Transport Systems in India

Tram near Harisson Road, Calcutta (Sep-Nov 2017)Heritage Transport Museum

Let us try to imagine a world without cars, ships, trains or planes, it seems to be a very small world indeed. And boundaries would be defined by how far we could walk. 

By James BurkeLIFE Photo Collection

This is actually what it was like for our ancestors.

A poster on transport and its evolution (1940) by Pandit ShyamlalHeritage Transport Museum

The evolution of transport systems is one of the testimonies to the fact that humankind has evolved from being a hunter gatherer to a far more socially, economically and culturally civilised race.

Transport has played a vital role in the in connecting people across various cultures.

The collection at Heritage Transport Museum, Gurgaon, India pays a tribute to the development of various transport systems in India.

Journey of WheelHeritage Transport Museum

The Wheel, one of the greatest invention made by humankind around more than 5000 years ago opened up a new horizon the way people transported themselves. The whole world is indebted to Sumerians (Sumerians were the people who lived in Sumeria, present day Iraq.)

Temps Modernes (1900)Heritage Transport Museum

The coming of the wheel paved way for the development of animal fixed carts. Those animals which were domesticated for meat, milk, and farming now meant a better and faster way of travel. The first solid wheeled carts appeared around 3250 years ago.

An aquatint engraving depicting various modes of transport in 19th Century India (1824) by IL Costume Antico E Moderno Ostoria Del GovernoHeritage Transport Museum

Pre Motorised Era

The gradual expansion of civilisation and the growth of empires created various avenues for travelling the greater distances for the development of trade with neighbours and expand territories. At the same time more efficient ways of travel were devised.

View of Bahal Cart View of Bahal Cart, From the collection of: Heritage Transport Museum
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After the appearance of wheel in India during 2500 B.C.E., the first wheeled vehicle to emerge on roads was the ox driven cart. Several representations of the use of bullock carts have been found in the specimens of Indian art. Such carts were used in various forms and purposes in India.

The female carriages called 'Bahal' had the curtains and those were made in Rajasthan.

Ambala Horse Carriage, From the collection of: Heritage Transport Museum
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Over the centuries horses became known for their strength and swiftness. A fine horse attached with a carriage or cart could be used to show personal status and wealth.

In India, lots of horse carriages were developed in the form of European carriages and used as both personal as well as public transport, to name a few those were Post chaise, Landau, Double Victoria and Tonga.

A Camel Cart A Camel Cart, From the collection of: Heritage Transport Museum
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Domestication of camels in India dates back to Indus valley Period i.e 2500 B.C.E. Since then, the camels have been employed for transportation. Camels had the ability to carry a substantial load of around 180 kilograms. Moreover, during Mughal period the camels were supplied for warfare.

Camel Seat, From the collection of: Heritage Transport Museum
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Here's a view of an ornate camel saddle. The silk cloth for saddles came from Persia, and best of the saddles were made in Kheri, Rajasthan.

A Pansway, Francois Balthazar Solvyns, 1799, From the collection of: Heritage Transport Museum
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Water transport has been active in India since the time of Indus Valley Civilization i.e 2500 B.C.E. Indians had learnt the art of navigation, and the trading relations were established with various neighbouring countries. Remains of the ancient dockyard in India can be seen in Lothal, Gujarat.

Padua Boat Padua Boat, From the collection of: Heritage Transport Museum
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Indian artisans excelled in the craftsman ship of boat building, various boats were crafted in coastal regions. One such boat crafted with unique technique is Padua boat.

This was a flat bottomed boat made by stitching of thin wooden planks with indigenous ropes. The ropes were made out of Palm leaf coir.

Masts and sails were not used in such boats as such boats did not go far away from shore. Such boats were used for fishing and ferrying passengers. Sunapur in Orissa is a minor but historical port, it is now a traditional Padua building centre.

Dandy, From the collection of: Heritage Transport Museum
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Apart from the animal pulled vehicles, the manually pulled vehicles also formed an essential way of early travelling in India. These carriages varied in form and size. The dany was an open manually driven carriage used for hill travelling.

Atlas Bicycle Advertisement (1973) by Shree Des RajHeritage Transport Museum

Humankind has been blessed with an amazing invention - the bicycle! Its social as well as economic contributions are long lasting. It was a blessing in disguise not only in the sphere of transportation but benefits could be reaped in maintaining a good health as well.

The cycle became a symbol of an Independent modern woman and her emancipation. In Puddukottai, a small district in the state of Tamil Nadu, the southern part of India, cycle became a powerful tool for promoting women's literacy campaign.

Steam Locomotive (1900)Heritage Transport Museum


The value of railed tracks was recognised many centuries ago, but it was not untill 1800s that rails were combined with steam power to launch one of the greatest transport revolutions in history.

Steaming of JungHeritage Transport Museum

Advent of Railways in India transformed the whole history of transportation. The first passenger railways commenced in India on April 16th 1853. The railway line was opened from Bombay to Thane. The newly built railways in India increased the speed of operation of transport as well as its reliability. Railways enhanced the international competitiveness of India's agricultural products. General public also accepted the railways with open arms and got used to them as well.

Kerr Stuart Steam Locomotive (April to May 2017)Heritage Transport Museum

The Jung Locomotive from Germany and Kerr Stuart are the two locomotives which form the prized possessions of the museum's railway memorabilia.

LIFE Photo Collection

The Dawn of Motor Transport

About 28 million motor cars are manufactured each year throughout the world. And many types of motor cars are designed for different purposes. The dawn of motor transport was seen in 1886 with the coming of three wheeled Benz Motorwagon by Karl Benz of Germany. It was steered by a small hand lever. This was powered by internal combustion engine.

Changing EastHeritage Transport Museum

Transition phases would be tested, like here - a motor transport and a horse carriage in competition.

Ambassador Mark ii Ambassador Mark iiHeritage Transport Museum

The launch of Hindustan Motors in India after 1947 was one of the remarkable event in the history of Motor Transport in India.

The Ambassador was one of the iconic Indian cars which was associated with royalty and often termed as 'King of Indian Roads'. The body and design of the Ambassador had been sturdy enough for the Indian roads. The Ambassador has been affectionately called Amby car.

Early Buses PoonaHeritage Transport Museum

India has the third largest road network in the world, and the buses form a popular mode of public transport.

The motor vehicles came to India in 1898, and commercial option of passenger buses came after World War I. This was a period when large number of vehicles were imported into India for defence purposes and surplus vehicles were purchased by small entrepreneurs for road transport.

As a result, the first bus service was initiated with the cooperation from BEST company on 15th July 1926. The services began on the three routes Afghan Church to Crawford Market, Dadar Tram Terminus to King's circle and from the Opera house to Lal Bagh and Arthur Road in Bombay.

An interesting feature that was added in the buses was the use of letter box in 1928-1930.

View of two wheeler sectionHeritage Transport Museum

The coming of scooters and bikes was a result of the development of cycles and four stroke gasoline engine. Mopeds were the early versions of motorised two wheelers.

The advent of the motorised two wheelers in India marked the mobility of Indian middle class in 1970s and 1980s. There was a sense of pride associated with the ride on a scooter. The sleek structure accommodated entire family with just a little squeezing, and, this image became emblematic of the India's move into modernity.

Vijay Super Scooter Vijay Super ScooterHeritage Transport Museum

Even today there is a sense of nostalgia associated Various logos and taglines associated with two wheeler companies. The popular brands in India were Bajaj Auto Ltd. & Automobile Products of India which sold the Vespa & Lambretta scooters in India respectively.

The decade of 1960s saw the establishment of the foothold of two wheeler industries when the Escorts, Ideal Jawa and Royal Enfield entered the arena.

Vijay super scooters had a significant presence on Indian roads in 1980s. Government of India gifted the Vijay Super Scooter to each member of the World Cup winning Indian Cricket team.

Discovery Section/MotopediaHeritage Transport Museum

The early cars were powered with steam and electricity, but over time it was realised that neither of the power source was ideal. As a result came the internal combustion engine in 1860 by Etienne Lenoir. This engine succeeded turning the force of an explosion into rotary motion to turn the wheels of a vehicle.

In present time all combustion engines use four stroke cycle which was first demonstrated by Nicholas Otto in 1876. Modern engines, often made from special metal alloys are much lighter than earlier engines.

The motopedia gallery provides a glimpse of the auto-mechanism.

View of Jugaad SectionHeritage Transport Museum

The indigenous transport also known as 'Jugaad' The 'Rural Invention', is actually considered to be the lifeline of the rural and sub-urban transport in India. Interestingly these appear to be the amalgamation of the disposed off parts of various automobiles.

These are beautifully painted wooden or metallic contraptions fitted with bells, chains, laces and whistles. In their optimum capacity these are loaded with people.

Common amongst these are Jugaad, Chhakda, Tempo and Phat Phat.

View of Jugaad SectionHeritage Transport Museum

Chhakda and Phat Phat are the congregation of bike fixed with a cart or carrier body. Chhakda loaded with people is a common scene in Gujarat's Saurashtra region, whereas the Phat Phats the modified Harley Davidsons formed the major tourist attraction in Old Delhi in the Pre 90s era.

View of Jugaad Section View of Jugaad SectionHeritage Transport Museum

On the other hand the Desi Jugaad comes fixed with a water drawing pump, and assembly of cart or a trolley with bonnet less engine. Other parts come from the rejected vehicles. This is in true sense a rural innovations which give life to the scrap!

Piper Cub-J3C Aircraft Piper Cub-J3C AircraftHeritage Transport Museum

Flying High in The Air

Another advancement came in the sphere of transport with the coming of air transport. Indian mythology comprises a lot of references of flying chariots. But the first contemporary record of aviation in India has been the first balloon ascent made by Joseph Lynn from the Lal Bagh Gardens in Bombay in 1877, and India's first tryst with air planes was initiated in 1910. The various flights that made ever since comprise of Humber Bi plane, De Havilland 5.0, Puss Moth, Gypsy Moth, Fokker F Vlla, Boeing, Dakota etc. JRD Tata the founder of Tata Airlines is known as the father of Civil Aviation in India. He was the first Indian to the license of a Pilot.

Warli Imaginary (2013) by Kishore Sadashiv MahshyeHeritage Transport Museum

Interpretation of Transport in Indian art

The visual documentation of the heritage of transportation is traced back to the cave paintings of Bhimbetka i.e 5500 B.C.E in various murals. The folk and tribal art of India provides a reflection of numerous customs and beliefs of people. Transport is a theme that often finds its place in such art forms. The advent of various modes of transport has brought about changes to the sedentary life style of the people living in villages. And, the artists find pleasure in executing their daily life scenes on paintings. The land, water and air transport have been depicted by Warli and Gond artists in such paintings.

Come and explore more stories with us at the Heritage Transport Museum!

Credits: Story

Curatorial Team - Heritage Transport Museum
Mr. Tarun Thakral (Founder & Managing Trustee)
Ms. Ragini Bhat (Curator)

Illustrated Science Encyclopedia- Transport by Michael Harris, Peter Harrison, Peter Mellett, Chris Oxlade & Dr. John Rostron published by Hermes House, London.

Transport - The Changing face of India, produced by Directorate of advertising & Visual Publicity, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Govt of India

The visual Dictionary of cars, Published by Dorling Kindersley, London, 1992

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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