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Peter Beckingham

Former governor in Turks and Caicos Islands

Part of UK in India

10th December 2010

Walking 358km in the footsteps of Gandhi

Peter and Jill Beckingham with Jagjivan Chokshi, a 97 year-old former freedom fighter and fellow prisoner with Mahatma GandhiOn  Thursday 18 November forty  people gathered  pre-dawn at one of India’s most historic sites, the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, where Mahatma Gandhi lived for many years. The occasion was the beginning of an India-UK Friendship Walk, which my wife Jill  has organised with massive support from members of the Association of British Scholars in Vadodara, without whom it could never have happened. After meditations, prayers and chants from members of the Ashram we set off down one of Ahmedabad’s main roads for the start of a 350 kilometer walk following the route that Gandhi took for his famous Salt March of 1930 to Dandi.

The aim of the Walk is to raise money for three NGOs in Mumbai started by British people who have made India their home, working mainly for the most disadvantaged children, and three local organisations in Gujarat for the hearing impaired, leprosy patients, and tribal communities. The Walk has the support of Gandhi’s great grandson Tushar Gandhi, and one of cricket’s greatest ever players, Sachin Tendulkar.

The Walk has caught the imagination of many in Mumbai and Gurarat, and so far raised over £70,000 with generous donations from some of India’s largest corporations, and received national print and television coverage. A website, wwwindiaukfriendshipwalk.com, gives details of all the sponsors and captures something of the atmosphere.

In the first four days that I accompanied the walk – I return again for the last 8 days, for a week’s “holiday” from the Deputy High Commission! – these are a few of my most vivid impressions.  First, and least romantic, the sheer volume of trucks as we left the major city of Ahmedabad was overwhelming.  One of my Indian companions explained that there used to be a tax for heavy goods vehicles entering Ahmedabad, so they all parked on the outskirts. The tax has long gone, but newer city restrictions are in place, so thousands of lorries park every day on dusty fields disgorging and collecting goods before returning to the National Highway along which we carefully walked for most of the first two day – for British readers, a bit like a two lane version of the M25 at peak time, but with 90 per cent lorries! The huge number of trucks on the Highway is also due to much easier and cheaper distribution by road than train. I thought optimistically that the volume of heavy vehicles would fall at the weekend –  but in India, as we discovered early on Saturday morning,  trade is a 24 hours a day  7 days a week  pre-occupation.

En-route DandiThe walk became more relaxing as we started to be surrounded by Gujarat’s fertile countryside. Until you get out of the big cities of a State like Gujarat it is impossible to sense the crucial importance of agriculture for millions of Indians.  Rice and wheat grow alternately in many areas of Gujarat, and soon (or at least after 80km!) we began to see fields of tobacco. Small landownings are the norm, and on occasions we saw farmers using bullock-drawn ploughs which must be similar to those at the time of Gandhi’s walk eighty years ago.  Despite the continued use of animals, Mahindra –one of India’s largest conglomerates and among the sponsors of the Walk – manage to sell some 3000 tractors a year in Gujarat alone:  which gives some idea of the scale of the agricultural market.

Throughout the first  days of our trek through the highways and byways we were overwhelmed by the warmth and hospitality of the people we met. On our first evening, in the village of Aslali, after a greeting by a local band and the (on holiday) schoolchildren, some of the locals watched as we struggled to set up some solar heated showers in a make-shift tent purchased over the internet. We needn’t have bothered using modern technology.  After seeing our difficulties a friendly local bank manager invited some of us to his home where we had the luxury of hot water. Not content with that, after dinner in the grounds of the local school, he took us to see two local temples. Before we knew it we were then on a tour of several private homes packed together in the village, entertained with ice-cream and tea by neighbours bursting to show their hospitality.

One of our most memorable encounters was not at a home, but in the grounds of a Hindu temple we stayed on the third night, near Nadiad, another of Gandhi’s stopping points.  Before dinner I was introduced to someone who had come especially to see us:    Jagjivan Chokshi, a 97 year-old former freedom fighter and fellow prisoner with Gandhi from the 1930s.  With the help of an able translator, who nursed out of the visitor some wonderful stories,  Jagjivan  told us that  he yearned for a return to the values of honesty that Gandhi espoused.  Under 18 in 1930 he had not been permitted to join Gandhi’s march.  He had come, he said, to pay respect to the Walk, which he had read about in his local newspaper. We discovered subsequently that he had travelled over 100km by public transport with a younger companion to see us!  On the following morning, having slept on the floor of the temple grounds, Jagjivan  quietly presented my wife with a cheque for Rs. 50,097 before leaving us to proceed with our walk through the fields of Gujarat – inspired by his dignity and grace.

About Peter Beckingham

Peter was the Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands from 2013 to 2016. Before this, he was British Deputy High Commissioner to India, based in Mumbai, the commercial capital,…

Peter was the Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands from
2013 to 2016. Before this, he was British Deputy High Commissioner to India, based in Mumbai, the commercial capital, where he had a responsibility for developing UK-India trade and investment. His earlier appointments have
included Consul-General and Director-General of Trade and Investment in
Sydney, and British Ambassador to the Philippines, where he initiated
the UK Government’s involvement in a peace process with the Philippine
Government and Muslim rebel groups.
Peter is married to Jill, a teacher of special needs, and they have
two grown up children. His outside interests include cricket, golf and