Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum, Goa

posted in: Asia, Goa, Heritage, India, Tips | 106

One of the interesting things that I did to discover “Goa beyond beaches” was visiting the Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum in Panaji. I know that a name like “Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum” does sound uninteresting and you kind of wonder – What??? Is that even a museum? I did too, but when I visited it, my image of it completely changed. It was one really interesting and unusual museum. It was like delving into the minds of a customs officer as he battled against the notorious smugglers.

I have traveled and moved homes across seven seas and never once, did I give customs a second thought. I always considered it as a thing that must be done and frankly, a bit of an inconvenience. However, after a tour of this museum, I realize what a tough job it is for these customs officers and how the entire business is a game of chess. The Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum explains the history of customs and taxes, shares the various ingenious ways in which smugglers try to sneak things in or out of our country and also, shares the treasures recovered by the smart and vigilant custom officers. The museum is well thought-out and interesting. Here are the quick highlights of the same:

Customs Heritage Gallery

The entire museum is set in a heritage building known as the “Blue Building”. Owing to the heavy rains, I could not take a picture of the literally “blue” building. This was an ancient Portuguese building that was used as a Customs office but now has been converted to a double storied museum on Indian Customs and Central Excise. The first section that you encounter here is devoted to the ancient history of taxation – the first evidence of that leading to the Port trade at Lothal during the Harappan Civilization of 26th century BC.

Diorama of Lothal taxation system at the Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum

Replicas of various seals used by the Harappans at  Lothal, by the Mauryan civilization (4th Century BC) and coins from all these eras as well as the latter ones of the 16th century Mughal Era have been displayed here. The coins are the ones that have been recovered by the various customs in India. Have a peek at them.

 QUIZ: Can you spot the unusual Mughal coins with hooks on them?

Harappan Seal from Lothal at the Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum
Coins from the Mughal Era at the Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum

The section also, brings to fore the ancient laws of taxation that have been written by Chanakya in Arthashastra. The highlight of section was an actual page from Akbar’s Ain E Akbari is displayed here. The page displays the taxation laws in the 16th century AD as made by Mughal emperor Akbar. This is one of the originals that was recovered by the Patna Customs.

Ain e Akbari at the Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum, Goa

 Battle of Wits section

This is an interesting section that has some really crazy ideas that the notorious smugglers employed to get their wares across. Take for example this car with an engine missing 🙂

Smuggled goods through cars - case displayed at the Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum
Opened up engine of the car to track smugglers. Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum

Or these cycle tyre tubes that were filled with opium.

Artifacts used to cheat the customs - Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum

Or the gold bars that were seized in the toilets of a ship.

Gold bars hidden in the lavatory of a ship - Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum

The section has some interesting cases on display that made me think of the lengths that people do to achieve their means. It also, made me realize how “full of wits” is this game, where the customs officer has to be one step ahead. Definitely raised their esteem in my eyes.

Seizures section

The seizures section of the Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum had me feeling angry and proud at the same time. Angry to think the various treasures that people were attempting to steal and proud that to some extent our customs department had managed to thwart these. The section is quite well curated to different sections. Here are some quick clicks from each –

Ancient sculptures & pillars

A replica of the Amin Pillar at the Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum

The original Amin Pillar was seized in UK and brought back to India. What you see above is just a replica of the original treasure.

Replica of the Natraj Statue seized by the Kolkata Customs

This one has an interesting story. The original Natraj statue belonged to a Royal family and was being smuggled out of India through Kolkata. The same was being passed off as a package of books to USA. The Kolkata customs caught on and this became one of the sensational captures of that year.

Tibetan Gilted statue of Buddha, called as Jambala, seized by the Gorakhpur customs

The statue above was another amazing catch by the Gorakhpur customs. This one was filled with semi precious stones as well.

Antique Arms

Antique Arms seized at the customs, displayed at Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum

Restricted and Banned Wildlife items

Ivory seized by the Mumbai customs

Turtle shells, snake skins, animal furs and ivory articles were the most common ones seized by the Customs. The exhibit anove are Tusks of an African Elephant with intricate carving on them. These are banned items and were seized by the Mumbai customs department.

I spend considerable time on this floor as I found each artifact and its story of what it was and how it was recovered quite interesting. It felt as if I was reading a crime novel. As a part of the experience, we were also, treated to a small Audio Visual on the various achievements of the Central customs and excise teams in India. It really made me proud to see their achievements. From here, I moved up to the 2nd floor where there were models of the chemicals and forensic team as well as stories from the dreaded narcotics section.

Diorama of the farming of Opium at the Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum, Goa

Aside from the Diorama on Narcotics, I personally did not find this section very engaging. Besides the diorama that you see above, there was one of the famed Dandi march. This was in the taxation section as a reminder of the unfair laws of taxation laid by the British.

Representation of the Dandi March by Mahatma Gandhi at the Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum, Goa

With this, my tour of the Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum came to an end. I found myself pleasantly surprised with this museum. I found the displays quite well-arranged and the information adequately placed. The museum is a small one and is quite central to Panaji. It is a quite an eye-opening experience on a subject that most of us are unfamiliar with. Definitely another gem in the “Goa beyond beaches” itinerary.

Here is a pin to remind you to spend some time at the Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum of Goa – definitely an experience from the crime novels that you so enjoy.

Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum, Goa

Getting to the Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum

  • Goa has its own airport and is well connected to the rest of India by road and rail as well.
  • The Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum is located in front of Panaji Jetty. It is also, referred to as Captain of Ports Building. You can reach here with any public transport – bus, car or an auto.

Travel Tips:

  • You can visit this museum on all days except Monday – between 9:30 am to 5 pm.
  • The entry fees for the museum is just INR 10. You can avail of an audio tour by giving a small deposit of INR 50 for a tab. By pointing the tab at designated locations, you can get a complete audio tour of that section.
  • The museum is a small one and one requires only 30 mins – 1 hour for it, depending on your interest.
  • There are no charges for the camera.

P.S: I was hosted by Goa Tourism Board for this trip. However, the views expressed on this blog post are completely and honestly my own.

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