“ A memorial of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. It is now a museum and tourist attraction. „
Victoria Memorial Hall is based in Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) in India and is a tourist attraction which was dedicated to Queen Victoria and inaugurated in 1921. The building and surrounding grounds were built as a tribute to the British Empire although from my knowledge locals in Kolkata who visit tend to just see it as a place to visit for fun rather than as a remembrance to why it was originally erected.
I had heard of this attraction many times over the years but never got around to visiting myself until December 2009 and enjoyed my visit so much that I went back again in December 2010.
WHAT IS IT?
Victoria Memorial Hall is a museum show-casing portraits and statues/sculptures of people from India's history (mostly British key figures from the British rule). It also houses portraits of prominent places in India from bygone days as well as examples of weapons (such as daggers, guns and cannons) used in the past and costumes worn by Queen Victoria herself.
Victoria Memorial Hall is housed in large beautifully maintained grounds. When discussing the place with friends and relatives in India they always refer to it as Victoria Memorial as they include the grounds as part of the experience. The Hall itself stands in grounds of 64 acres and houses memorabilia from Queen Victoria and the British rule of India. Just before you reach the actual Hall is a rather large statue of Queen Victoria which to be perfectly honest is really not very flattering at all.
It is interesting to note that the Victoria Memorial was not funded by the British government during its rule of India but funded by Indian states under British rule. It's said it was built to butter up the British government so favours could be had.
I don't really feel the need to go into the full history of how Victoria Memorial was built and its dimensions as all this information is available in full detail at the website should anyone be that interested.
I was quite in awe the first time I visited as it was my museum visit in India since my childhood, although it was quite rushed due to our late arrival. On my second visit a year later I took my time walking around looking at the portraits in the galleries, the old weapons and descriptions of them in the glass cabinets and some of Queen Victoria's clothing. They tend to have rope barriers in front of the portraits so people don't touch and/or damage the exhibits but this is slightly annoying as it's very difficult to read the descriptions of the items from a distance of 5 or 7 feet.
I have to admit to finding old Indian paintings rather amusing. I've felt this way since childhood, sadly this amusement hasn't gone away with age. I found myself grinning at some of the Indian paintings on display in the Memorial Hall. They just looked very amateurish to me. I enjoyed seeing the paintings of old ruins in India dating back to the 1700s and numerous watercolours by various artists such as William Hodges, Samuel Davis and Richard Barron.
There are armed guards wandering around who do make their presence felt and I found their presence irritating rather than intimidating and they didn't appear at all approachable. There didn't seem to be any staff available to ask questions of on both occasions when I visited and I thought it rather odd that they didn't seem to have any guided tours.
All in all you can wander around the whole Museum in about 90 minutes at a leisurely pace - if you wanted to you could probably stretch this out to maybe 2 hours but I can't imagine needing to wander around inside for longer than that.
You're not permitted to take photos inside the Memorial Hall but it is allowed on the palatial stairs outside and within the rest of the grounds.
I have to state here that on both visits I looked around to see if there was disabled access to the Memorial Hall but I didn't spot any ramps. The only way to enter seemed to be by going up the stairs so this would not be suitable for wheelchairs users. There is limited seating inside for those who need to rest and I have to admit to not needing the toilet on either of my visits so I could not say how well maintained these are (to be honest I didn't notice any toilet facilities). From my experience of other places in Kolkata that I've visited the toilets are usually rather unpleasant but I couldn't say that for a fact about Victoria Memorial.
My cousin advised me that when they had visited in the past you were able to go up to the first floor to see more items but on my visits we were only able to wander around on the ground floor. I didn't feel a burning desire to see what was upstairs to be honest.
GETTING IN / PRICES / OTHER STUFF
Please skip this section if you don't want to know about my experience in evading paying the higher "tourist" entrance fee...
I was advised before going to Victoria Memorial to get my cousin to purchase the tickets to get in as there is one price for locals and another for foreigners. The price for local people (correct at December 2010) is 10 rupees each (at the time of writing about 70 rupees = £1.00) and for tourists it was 150 rupees each. I only know the tourist price as my brother visited with his wife a few weeks before me in 2009 and paid that amount whereas on both of my visits my cousin queued up to buy our tickets. To be honest, I didn't feel guilty as I had paid well over the odds for many other things during my stays in Kolkata over the years and if they were really that bothered they would make more of an effort to check the tickets when people walk in. If you just want to visit the grounds the entry price is 4 Rupees - you can buy a monthly pass for 100 Rupees or an annual one for 1000. Entry is free for uniformed Army personnel and uniformed school children up to the age of 12.
Depending on when you go there seems to be very long queues to buy tickets or no queue at all. We went early afternoon on both occasions (at roughly the same time of year) and the first time there were 3 or 4 people in the queue, the second time there must have been about 50 people ahead of us. Once you purchase your ticket (and give them their dues, they serve customers pretty fast here) you present your ticket at the entrance to Victoria Memorial where someone checks it and you're waved in. It's roughly a 5-10 minute walk from the entry gate to the actual Hall but you do need to take your time on your first visit as the grounds are all part of the experience so we strolled along at a very leisurely pace taking photos and looking around which took us about half an hour.
Victoria Memorial is open to the public from Monday to Saturday with the Museum closed on Mondays. The grounds are open from 5.30am through to 7pm but last entry to the Museum is at 4.30pm as this closes at 5pm. The first time I visited we didn't realise what time it closed and we approached the entrance to the Museum at just after 4.30 after taking an hour or so to walk around the grounds, we were allowed in and although we somewhat rushed around trying to see as much as we could we didn't leave till nearly 5.30pm.
If you're in Kolkata and planning on visiting Victoria Memorial it's worth checking the public holiday dates beforehand as the site is closed on dates such as Republic Day (26th Jan), Independence Day (15th Aug), Dusserah, etc.
WOULD I GO AGAIN?
Yes, most definitely. When I am next in Kolkata (which is likely to be in the next year or two), I fully intend to visit Victoria Memorial again. At the price I've paid to get in it's a really nice day out in Kolkata and it does give you a sense of history when within the grounds.
For detailed information about the history of Victoria Memorial you can check out the website here: www.victoriamemorial-cal.org/ but be warned, the website doesn't run very fast!
Any taxi driver will be able to take you to Victoria Memorial if you're in Kolkata. Bus routes run past but as taxis are so cheap I'd suggest getting a taxi rather than any other means of getting there and they're also quite easy to hail when you leave. There is no car park nearby - we usually go by hired car and get the driver to come pick us up when we're finished.
Address: Queen Victorial Memorial, 1 Queen's Way, Kolkata 700071, West Bengal, India
Tel: (from UK) 0091 33 2223 1890/1891
A memorial of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. It is now a museum and tourist attraction.