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A ‘must sea’ museum for marine enthusiasts
D Hemachandra Rao has transformed his house into a Maritime Heritage Museum and has documented the history of lighthouses, Buckingham Canal and bridges in Madras
If you are a maritime aficionado or a history buff, then you should definitely pay a visit to architect D Hemachandra Rao’s house in Virugambakkam. He has converted his house into a Maritime Heritage Museum that houses models of brass ships, dhows from Kozhikode, compasses, wooden houseboats, ship-shaped liquor bottles, ship lanterns, clocks, coins, anchors, postcards and stamps of lighthouses and canals across the country.
Before we sit down for a chat, Rao took us around his house and showed us valuables that he has collected over the years. “Stamp collection was my favourite hobby right from childhood. After my retirement, I decided to explore the lighthouses in the city, the Buckingham Canal and the bridges,” the 80-year-old starts his conversation.
After exploring the lighthouses in Madras, he took various road trips across India’s coast in the past 15 years. “I started my journey from West Bengal and ended at Koteshwar in Gujarat. As a proof of my visit, I get a postal cancellation from a nearby post office to that particular lighthouse. Apart from documenting lighthouses, during the journey, I started collecting ship models, interesting findings about bridges, shore temples, etc. When my house started overflowing with all the souvenirs I collected from these trips, I decided to transform my house into a museum,” he says proudly. In a couple of months, Rao is planning to bring out a coffee table book on lighthouses of India.
The main attraction of the museum is a 16-foot wooden boat, a replica of a boat that plied on the Buckingham Canal around 140 years ago. “I have travelled thrice along the canal — from Marakkanam to Peddaganjam in Andhra Pradesh. There are a lot of interesting stories related to the canal. I have displayed all the information with the help of images and maps,” he points to the wall of the living room that has a huge display of details related to the Canal. As a parting note, the maritime enthusiast says that he wanted historians and researchers to discover Madras and document it for the next generation.