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

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - METRO - Manoj Sharma [email protected]­dus­tan­times.com

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.

SANJEEV VERMA/HT

Gandhi’s re­la­tion­ship with the city was re­cently chron­i­cled in a book — Gandhi’s Delhi — by writer and jour­nal­ist Vivek Shukla.

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