Live Like Gandhi and stay at his ashram in India

Gandhi was born 146 years ago this weekend. Kevin Pilley follows in his footsteps and visits the birthplace and family home of the influential leader in Porbandar, Gujarat.

THE “Basic Masala” crisp packets came in with the tide. Pushed up onto the beach by the Arabian Sea.

Along with the discarded “Mango Bites” and “Havmore Joly-Lolly” wrappers.

A single sandal tumbled in the surf on the Kathiawar Peninsular in the city once called Sudampapuri. And now described by some as “a city flourishing in pollution”. 

Sorathi cows grazed in the waterfront Parsi cemetery. Wild bhunds (pigs) and bakri ( goats) rooted in the rubbish near the Veer Maruti (Brave Wind) body-building gym.

A bony bullock pulled a cart (gaadu) of watermelons (tarbuch). While on the beach, paunchy, grey-chested men in bath caps paddled out into the container port shipping lanes.

Boys fished for pomfret, jinga and magru. Down the coast in the haze was the 350-room Hazoor Palace (Rajmahal), the residence of the last Jethra ruler or prince of Porbandar.

Feral, possibly rabid dogs, chased each other and barked at the scum-capped waves breaking along the Willingdon Marina Beach Park.

All this overseen from the seawall, sponsored by money lenders, by murals of the round-spectacled “Father of the Nation” — looking more like Ben Kingsley than the Mahatmaji or Bapu.

His images exhorted his countrymen: “Keep India Tidy. Cleanliness is Essential.” 

Mahatma (The Great Soul) Ghandi was born in Porbandar in Gujarat, west India (an hour flight from Mumbai) on October 2, 1869. His family home, Kirti Mandir is a national monument. 

Kirti mandir, Porbandar, Gujarat, India.
Kirti mandir, Porbandar, Gujarat, India.

The “temple of fame” opened in 1950. Its 79’ candle holder, a foot for every year of Gandhi’s life, symbolises religious integration. Gandhi respected all religions.

The museum contains photos of his brothers Karsandas and Laxmidas, sister Raliatbehn and mother, Putiblai. As well as his wife, Kasturba. 

And plenty of him, “loving a new-born calf” and “being affectionate towards a child” . 

Of Mohandas holding a prayer meeting at Birla House, Delhi (now Gandhi Smriti — Gandhi Remembrance) where he was assassinated in 1948. 

Of “The Great Soul” collecting for the Harijans (Dalits), visiting Calcutta’s Dum Dum jail, studying leprosy germs and meeting Nehru, Mountbatten and Charlie Chaplin.

As well as books, his Ayurvedic medicines and all his worldly possessions — sandals, glasses and watch.

Gandhi believed the essence of civilisation was not the multiplication of wants but their deliberate and voluntary reduction.

He said, more than once: “There is enough for everyone’s needs but not their greeds.”

The original “Pano” stone house, similar to a “havelis”, was bought by Gandhi’s great-grandfather in the seventeenth century. 

The two upper stories with cross-window ventilation were added later. 

Gandhi’s father, uncle and grandfather lived there. They were all Prime Ministers (“diwans”) of Porbandar. And of the wealthy Modh merchant class.

The caretaker of Gandhi’s ancestral home is Mr NP Mori. 

“His presence is still here. My mind is transformed every time I come into work. I become more caring. He is in us all.” 

Behind the complex is the bare-walled, dark, low-ceilinged 21-room home of Mrs Gandhi, Kasturba. Or “Ba”. They married in 1883, both 13.

“As children, they played hopscotch together,” said the janitor or “aaya”, Mr Chowokadar, before I returned to the Great Soul’s “janmastan” or birthplace. 

It is marked with “Jasud” hibiscus flowers. And a swastika.

“Swastika is a good sign in India,” said Mr Mori. 

“It’s the most auspicious symbol of the Hindu religion. From the Sanskrit, for good fortune, luck and well-being.”

Other Gandhi sites of interest include Mani Bhawan (his residence at 19 Laburnum Road, Gamdevi, Mumbai), New Delhi’s Eternal Gandhi Museum at Birla House where he was shot and “attained martyrdom” and the city’s National Gandhi Museum.

On display there are a walking stick, some of his teeth and a blood-soaked loincloth and shawl.

And a bullet.

The marble platform at his “samadhi” cremation site on the Yamura river bears the epigraph “O Ram” (O God), reputedly his last words. 

His ashes were scattered in the Nile, Thames and Volga. Some are enshrined in the Aga Khan Palace Pune and some in Lake Shrine, Pacific Palisades, California.

In the Akhiri Nivas (last abode) ashram in Sevagram (village of service), 75 miles from Nagpur, you can see Gandhi’s Adi Nivas (last hut), his sleeping cot, a humane snake trap, massage table, telephone and the palm mat on which he sat, from 1936, orchestrating “nation-building activities”.

There are also small museums at Rajkot, Gujarat where he grew up and Bhavnagar where he went to college. As well as a brand new “living museum” in Ahmedabad.

In 1915, Gandhi returned to his home state from South Africa where he worked as a legal adviser and set up the Phoenix ashram in Inanda, near Durban. 

Ahmedabad was the centre of India’s textile industry. It still has a calico museum. 

It is well-known for its Jain temples or “derasars”, ancient step wells, Indo-Sarasenic architecture, the seventeenth century palace of Shahibauch, Bhadra Keli Mendir fort and the shaking minarets of Sidi Bashir’s mosque. 

When one minaret is shaken, the other rocks in sympathy. Allegedly.

But Ahmedabad is best known for being the city from which Gandhi launched his civil disobedience or “Satyagraha” movement. 

His first Kochrab ashram, at Paldi, is now open as a bed and breakfast.

For 1,000 rupees (€14) a night, tourists can sample the lifestyle of India’s famously ascetic independence leader. In a unique working holiday. 

Guests can try their hand at self-determination, spinning on a period “charkhas” and visiting local communities while wearing “khadi” — hand-woven cloth. 

They must adhere to Gandhi’s 11 vows including non-violence, no possessions, use of local goods, working for daily food, self-restraint and chastity.

They are encouraged to follow Gandhi’s austere daily routine, waking at 5am. 

During this unique working “Living is Giving” holiday you learn that the Mahatma’s philosophy was based on the dignity of labour (you garden, cook and paint) and communal self-sufficiency in which “the good of the individual is contained in the good of the all”.

Gandhi believed in chipping in.

Your stay includes an unpaid shift working at the city’s altruistic, Gandhi-ist “Seva Café” where you leave what you want to pay for the next person and become the embodiment of “Atithi Devo Bhava” (Guest is God).

“The objective of the programme is not hippy dippy self-purification but to allow people to experience a sustainable lifestyle, to enjoy the simplicity of Gandhi and experience the virtue of Mahatma,” said Nischalavalamb Barot, a young travel agent who helped develop the unique “Live Gandhi for a While” programme.

Live Like Gandhi and stay at his ashram in India

“It’s not a normal meditation retreat. Being in the presence and sucking in his spirit from the air of his home might change perceptions towards life, society and our natural resources. 

"And help visitors find peace and satisfaction within. Gandhi was the first responsible traveller.

“The ashram is an inspiring place. We don’t expect our guests to renounce materialism. But perhaps think about becoming better sadhaks. Or servants of society.” 

Ahemedabad’s Sabarmati Ashram, where Gandhi moved in 1917 , comprises three simple one-storey spartan houses. Gandhi’s cottage is called “Nandini”.

The ashram (meaning place of religious exertion) was the nerve-centre for the Indian Freedom Movement and is now a memorial centre museum and library. 

In 1930 his 240-mile Salt March, undertaken with 48 followers , began there and ended in Dandi.

Gandhi wrote: “This is the right place to centre on the search for Truth and develop Fearlessness. For on one side are the iron bolts of the foreigners (jail) and on the other the thunderbolts of Mother Nature.” 

The ashram is now part of a modern waterfront development. And has a litter problem.

But it will be tidied up for Bapu’s next birthday.

GETTING THERE

FLIGHT: Jet Airways, flies to 73 destinations across India, including Porbandar. To book visit www.jetairways.com

ACCOMMODATION:  Lords Eco Inn, Porbandar www.lordshotels.com  

ITC Mumbai at Mumbai Airport is the recommended Indian stopover / www.itcmaratha@itchotels.in/ 

For information about Live Like Gandhi and staying at his ashram: www.maroonmigrates.com 

Includes: Pick up & Drop - All meals & Stay at the Ashram - 2 Pairs of Khadi - Local travel 

Other information:

www.incredibleindia.com  

www.gujarattourism.com  

www.mkgandhi.com  

www.gandhi-manibhavan.org 


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