My brush with Mahabalipuram continues. After spending some time in Five Chariots campus, we came to India Seashell Museum which is just a few minutes’ walk away. There was not much crowd inside the museum and hence we were able to spend some good quality time inside. The location of the museum is not that great as it is tucked at the obscure corner of the town and if you are coming from Chennai side, then the location is the extreme end of the town. Probability is that you may not even come to this part of the town unless you are aware of it. Even when you are coming from Puducherry side which happens to be the other side to enter the town, you might drive past it without even noticing it as there is not much prominent signage around about the museum.
Once inside the museum, we were awestruck and the view was jaw dropping seeing such a huge collection of sea shells. All the shells have been neatly placed with a brief description behind each of the seashell. Though we had not planned to spend when we entered the museum, we ended up spending about 2 hours as it was very fascinating to watch those shells and get a peek-a-boo inside the throbbing and rich under-water marine life. There was one section where most of the seashells resembled fruits and I am sure if they are kept in form of someone outside of the museum, for a while the person will confuse them with real fruits.
I would say that apart from the collection, the best part of the museum is the manager of the museum Syed. He is not only extensively knowledgeable about the shells but he is passionate about the subject and has the patience to answer all your questions. He is always ready to volunteer to give you a walk around of the museum. Syed gladly walked us through all the four galleries explaining about the wide variety of shells as well as narrating the history behind those shells. As our curiosity grew on these, he shared lot of back stories about the shells and the history behind them. I would suggest if you are going to this museum, budget sufficient time for it.
Raja Mohamed, the man behind this museum, has spent 33 years traveling across the beaches of the world collecting sea shells of various creatures like oysters, snails, cowries, scallops and many others. He had a childhood passion towards collection of seashells and later made this as a lifelong passion. He has now been collecting seashells since then. His collection includes the smallest as well as few amongst the largest seashells that are available. His vast collection took a shape of museum in 2014 and now the museum has about 40,000 seashells under its roof.
I was told that this is the 4th largest seashells museum in the world. As I am a big fan of offbeat things, this museum definitely adds up in my list of recommended museums and I must say it is one amongst unique but first of its type museums in India after Rock Garden at Chandigarh and the International Dolls Museum at Delhi. I also got to know that there is a Stones Museum near Nashik and it is now on my bucket list.
The museum is a must-visit for students of marine history as well as for those interested in the study of Conchology. If you happen to be visiting Chennai, I would suggest that do not miss the opportunity to have this unforgettable experience. Apart from the seashells, the museum campus now has a section which has aquarium and a unique market called Maya Bazaar which has a huge collection of items ranging from personal wearable to decorative items that are all made from shells. In addition to these, there is a seafood restaurant for the seafood lovers.
Travel tips for planning the trip
One can plan a day-trip from Chennai to Mahabalipuram as its just 60 kms away. Apart from Seashell Museum, you can also cover Shore Temple, Five Chariots and spiraling campus which has many sculptures going back to 7th Century.
Another option is to plan a weekend-trip to Puducherry which is about 170 kms from Chennai and about 100km ahead of Mahabalipuram. One can start early morning from Chennai and stay overnight at Puducherry and then start return journey on 2nd day evening. Ideal is to have a 3 day trip but even 2 days can do a good justice to the trip.