On Gandhi’s trail in the capital
IN MAHATMA’S FOOTSTEPS In past few years, Delhi has emerged as a popular Gandhi tourism destination, with tour companies taking tourists on the Gandhi trail
NEW DELHI: It is a Tuesday afternoon and Paul Mulraney, his face solemn, is looking at exhibits related to Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination at Delhi’s National Gandhi Museum. Mulraney is part of a group of tourists from Australia, the UK and Poland, which is on a guided tour called “Gandhi’s Delhi”.
“Gandhi’s life, his idea of truthfulness always fascinated me. He remained committed to non-violence and paid the price with his life. He is an example to the world as to how one should lead his life,” says Mulraney. “I have always wanted to explore the places associated with Gandhi, and Delhi has many such places.”
The national capital has, in recent years, emerged as a popular Gandhi tourism destination, with several tour companies taking foreign tourists on the Gandhi trail across the city—from Gandhi Smriti, where the father of the nation spent the last days of his life and was assassinated on January 30, 1948, to the National Gandhi Museum, Raj Ghat, the Gandhi memorial, and Gyarah Murti,a statue depicting the Dandi march, among others.
“We conduct a private and group tour almost every day; our group comprises five to 50 people,” says Komal Darira, manager, Delhi Urban Adventures, which launched Gandhi tours in the city five years ago. “Those taking the tour already know a lot about Gandhi and wish to gain a deeper insight into his life, philosophy, and lifestyle by visiting places associated with him. They are the tourists who want to explore Delhi beyond its Mughal monuments.”
Sachin Bansal, founder, India City Walks, testifies to the growing popularity of Gandhi tourism. “The tour is a great success, and people from all over the world join it,” said Bansal.
“We started exclusive Gandhi tours after a lot of foreign tourists visiting Delhi demanded that we should also take them to places associated with Gandhi. So we launched Gandhi tours a year back and these i nstantly became popular, ” says Suraj Jha, founder, Go City Adventures, another city-based tour company.
In fact, there are many tourists who come to Delhi after doing the Gandhi trail in Gujarat. Take, for example, Lara Tumilovics from Australia, who came to Delhi in the last week of January to explore the city’s relationship with the Mahatma after visiting Sabarmati Ashram i n Ahmedabad a day earlier.
“I first learnt about Gan- dhi in school, and have always been fascinated by his life. The places associated with Gandhi were on top of my agenda as we made our plans to visit India,” she said, taking a selfie at the Dandi March statue. “You think of India and you think of Gandhi,” said Patrick Michell, her husband, as he tried to fit into the frame.
Adriel Grabowski of Poland is disappointed that on January 29, his group could not enter Gandhi Smriti, which was closed a day before the Mahatma’s death anniversary, for security reasons. “Any place associated with Gandhi is sacred to me; I have read a lot of books on Gandhi, his work in South Africa. Now I know a lot more about what he did for India,” he said. “Delhi is such a city of contrasts; Indians abroad are so rich and influential, but here in Delhi I have realised there is a vast population of poor people.”
According to tour guides, of all the places on the Gandhi trail in Delhi, people are most moved by the Gandhi Smriti. “They are very intrigued why a man of non-violence would be put to death in such a violent manner. The Britishers find more affiliation with him than tourists from other countries. Everyone wants to know if the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence is practical in today’s stressful and intolerant world,” said Chetan Shankar Jha, a travel guide at Intrepid Travel.
“The most common question tourists ask us is if Gandhi is still relevant in India, especially to millennials,” says Sanjeeta Agrawal, who conducts the tour for Delhi Urban Adventure.
The Gandhi tours --- which last four to five hours and even figure on Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor--- are mostly booked online, and cost anything between Rs 1,500 and Rs 3,000, depending on the size of the group. Delhi has great potential as a Gandhi tourism destination, Jha said. “We need to market it well. Gandhi, a global hero and a role model for millions across the world, has a deep connection with the city.”
The Mahatma visited Delhi 80 times between 1915 and 1948, spending 720 days in the city, including the last 144 days of his life. His relationship with the city was recently chronicled in a book -- Gandhi’s Delhi -- by writer and journalist Vivek Shukla. Shukla said he started exploring the subject after a meeting in the 1990s with Ben Kingsley, who played the Mahatma in Richard Attenborough’s 1982 biopic ‘Gandhi.’
“He said ‘Gandhi and Delhi are inseparable’, and that is what set me on Gandhi’s trail in the city. I researched and met several people associated with Gandhiji, who spent more time in Delhi after his return from South Africa than in any other city in India. His footprints are all over Delhi,” said Shukla. “Very few people know Gandhiji taught English and Hindi to young people when he lived at Valmiki Temple in Delhi.
His book points out that Gandhiji first arrived in Delhi on April 12, 1915, and stayed with Sushil Kumar Rudra, the principal of St Stephen’s College, at his residence on the campus. “His last arrival in Delhi was at Shahdara station and we should have a plaque there stating that. Gandhi’s footprints are everywhere in the city,” said Shukla.
Shukla is not exaggerating. While Raj Ghat and Gandhi Smriti are two of the most famous places on the city’s tourist trail, there are little-known places such as Valmiki Basti and Kasturba Kutir near Kingsway Camp in north Delhi where Gandhi spent a lot of time.
For example, the Mahatma lived for 180 days at Kasturba Kutir in the 1930s and 40s with Kasturba Gandhi. While Kasturba Gandhi lived on the ground floor, the Mahatma lived on the upper floor. Many top national leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhimrao Ambedkar and Sardar Patel used to visit him there. Kasturba Kutir was restored a couple of years back and is now a museum, but it does not attract many visitors. “Until last year, very few people came. Recently, we had a group of Russian tourists. I think we should promote this place more,” said Shantana Shukla, the caretaker of the museum, sitting at a table with a pen and a visitors book.
Delhi Tourism, to commemorate the 150 birth anniversary of Gandhi, has brought out a calendar featuring Kasturba Kutir and 11 other places associated with Gandhi in the capital.
“Our endeavour is to promote the city as a place to learn about the life and times of Gandhi,” said Sudhir Sobti, chief manager, public relations, Delhi Tourism Located at Birla House, this is where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948. He lived in this house from September 9, 1947, to January 30, 1948. The room where Mahatma Gandhi lived, and the prayer ground where he held a mass congregation every evening have been preserved. A martyr’s column stands at the spot where he was assassinated. This temple at Harijan Basti at Mandir Marg has a room where he lived for 214 days from April 1946 to June 10, 1947. Not many people know that when he lived here, he taught Hindi and English to youngsters and was called Masterji. The room has his desk, spinning wheel, his pen and aasan (seat). At this Gandhi memorial, a square platform of marble marks the spot where he was cremated following his assassination in 1948. Designed by Vanu G Bhuta, the memorial has a large expanse of green lawns with pathways of stones. It is dotted with plants placed by various Indian and international dignitaries who visit Raj Ghat to pay their respects to Gandhi. Created by renowned sculptor Deviprasad Roychowdhury, ‘Gyarah Murti’ at Mother Teresa Crescent displays the historic salt satyagraha to Dandi. Apart from Gandhi, it features 10 persons — all in a posture of forward movement with Gandhi leading them — and backgrounds to showcase India’s diversity. This new museum in Connaught Place has a large, stainless steel spinning wheel. It is 26-foot long, 13-foot high and weighs around five tonnes. The charkha, perhaps the biggest in the world, is installed on an open platform. A few feet away, inside a room, is a collection of 14 antique charkhas.
A group of tourists inside National Gandhi Museum opposite Raj Ghat. The museum has a rich collection of relics, documents and photos related to Mahatma Gandhi.
Gandhi’s relationship with the city was recently chronicled in a book — Gandhi’s Delhi — by writer and journalist Vivek Shukla.