In trip India 360, we didn’t aim to travel by any theme. The goal was to cover as much of India as we could in one year, seeing each region during its best weather. After covering a large part of India, we could easily identify patterns among some of the places we visited. One such pattern is a Mahatma Gandhi trail. As we were reviewing our trip, we found that we covered a lot of cities important to the life of Gandhiji. A thematic tour around those cities forms a great blog post.
Porbandar is a coastal city in western Gujarat. This is the city where Gandhiji was born in 1869. His birth home is now maintained as a museum and a place of worship known as Kirti Mandir.
The capital of Saurashtra district, Rajkot, is where Gandhiji went to school. The modern day Alfred High School, now renovated by the Nawab of Junagadh, stands at the same place where Rajkot English High School once stood. This is where a young Mohandas Gandhi attended school in his childhood.
With Gandhiji’s plea for creating and using Swadeshi goods, came his idea of building a place where people from all over India would convene, learn basic skills like weaving and thus be independent of British goods. His flagship project for promoting self-sufficiency and for people to work together still stands today on the western bank of the Sabarmati river at Ahmedabad. Gandhiji decided to start with his own state and to mentor the Gujarati speaking population. He tried his idealogy locally before he took his movement pan-India.
To break the back of the Indian resistance, the British introduced the Salt Act. They imposed a tax on the purchase of salt, making the daily commodity extremely expensive for the common Indian. In an act of defiance, Gandhiji, with thousands of followers, walked the 240 miles (384 km) from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi beach near the city of Navsari. On reaching Dandi, Gandhiji picked up a fistful of salt from the sea and asserted to the followers that the salt was theirs and it was their right to use as much of it as they needed without paying taxes. He encouraged Indians to make their own salt, thus boycotting the British sold salt. Thus Gandhiji used an item used every day to teach a form of non-violent defiance (Satyagraha) to his fellow countrymen. The Salt Satyagraha became an iconic movement as the message of peaceful non-cooperation and self-reliance reached the masses.
Gandhiji studied in London and later worked in Transvaal, South Africa. But it is an often forgotten fact that he stayed in and practised law in erstwhile Bombay, soon after his education and after his return from South Africa. Mumbai was home to Gandhiji for 17 years. It is in Mumbai city and other places in Bombay Presidency (present day Maharashtra) that he met with mentors Lokmanya Tilak and Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Gandhiji stayed at Mani Bhavan, a mere 100 metres from the famous Marine Drive promenade and Chowpatty beach, which are legendary landmarks in Mumbai. The August Kranti Maidan, frequently used by Gandhiji and his mentors to address the public of Bombay, is right behind Mani Bhavan. The building is now a museum exhibiting Gandhiji’s life.
Angered by the ‘Quit India’ movement and the constant demonstrations crying, “British, Go Back”, the British resorted to putting Gandhiji, his wife Kasturba and his secretary Mahadev Desai on a two year house arrest between 1942 to 1944. The arrest was at Pune’s Aga Khan palace. Both Kasturba and Desai got terminally sick during the arrest and were cremated inside the palace grounds. Both the deaths were huge blows to Gandhiji and he came out of the arrest, a sad and broken man. But the burning desire of Indian freedom made him go back to the freedom struggle soon after the arrest.
Geographically ideal Sewagram is located on the bank of the Wardha river. The village is about 10 km from Wardha city and 70 km from India’s centre, Nagpur. It was from Sewagram that Gandhiji could travel in any direction with equal effort, not being confined to a corner of the country. Sadly, his last departure from Sewagram Ashram was his ill-fated trip to New Delhi in 1948.
The majestic stance of the Himalayas and the calmness of this Kumaoni village was so inspirational for Gandhiji that he wrote his work his own Yoga work named as the Anasakti Yoga. An Ashram was established at a hill with a commanding view over both the village and the VIP peaks of the Himalayas, i.e. Nandadevi, Trishul, Chaukhamba, Nandighunti, etc.
Every evening at Anasakti Ashram comes a time for prayer, when Bhajans written by or practised by Gandhiji are sung, e.g. Vaishnava Janto, Raghupati Raghava, etc. In addition, you are also requested to sing a Bhajan / devotional song of your choice.
Shimla, Himachal Pradesh
At one end of the mountain, where Shimla city flourishes, is a majestic building named the Viceregal Lodge. This was the seat of the Viceroy of India, with Shimla being the summer capital of India, to escape the heat of New Delhi. The fledgling Indian National Congress and Gandhiji met with the British Viceroy Lord Wavell at a round table conference in 1945 to discuss the provisions for self-rule of India by Indians (independence) and also a seperate federation for Muslims (which culminated in Pakistan).
Today the Lodge is a museum showcasing the storyline of the conference. It is also an excellent specimen of opulent woodwork, high ceilings, lighting and interior decoration.
Madurai, Tamil Nadu
On a trip to Tamil Nadu by the third class compartment of a railway train, Gandhiji noticed that the locals were wearing western clothes and what looked like western finery. When he asked them to renounce those foreign clothes and adopt the khadi, the locals told him that they had no money to buy any clothes, khadi or otherwise. The western dresses he was seeing were in fact hand-me-downs from the British families in whose mansions they worked as servants. Stung by the harsh reality of poverty, on reaching Madurai, Gandhiji renounced his expensive khadi fineries and started the practice of wrapping himself in a long, white khadi loin, thus leading to the iconic image of Gandhiji that we often see.
In January 1948, India were four months into independence, but were facing the bitter effects of partition, betrayal and communalism. In such conditions, Gandhiji visited the House of industrialist Ghanshyam Das Birla in New Delhi. While going out for his daily prayer, he was shot dead. His last words were “Hey Ram”. Those words have been immortalised on a memorial right under India’s most important monument for martyrs, the India Gate.
Being to the same places that Mahatma Gandhi had been was an eye-opening and experience for us. We were so lucky to have travelled and watched India from some of the same places that the Mahatma has been to, watching the country exactly as he did with his eyes. It has been a pleasure to be all those places that went on to become some monumental moments in his life. If not all of India 360 in a year, the Mahatma Gandhi trail is something that you can definitely plan and execute in a matter of 2 weeks.