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Peter Beckingham

Former governor in Turks and Caicos Islands

Part of FCDO Outreach

21st December 2010

A 350 km walk through the Indian countryside, £100,000 raised for charities – and memories for life

I am proud and a little relieved that my wife completed her trek in the footsteps of Gandhi.

I am proud and a little relieved to write after my last blog that my wife completed her 350 kilometre trek in the footsteps of Gandhi’s famous Salt March of 1930 at the beginning of December.

The final days of the march, which I joined again from Vadodara, took on an increasing energy and excitement. We walked through some pre-dominantly Muslim areas, where we were greeted in one city by the local MP, who had brought along a number of his constituents with relatives in the UK – a reminder of the size of the Gujarati community in Britain.

In Surat, where we took a short break and were met by one of the top businessmen, we had an opportunity to appreciate yet again the sheer scale of some of India’s “second tier” cities.  A river at least the width of the Thames in London  flows through Surat which, after an outbreak of disease some years ago, has now become one of India’s cleanest and best lit cities – although that didn’t stop us getting lost on the way out! We  finally reached our vans for a night’s sleep parked next to a local landowner’s barn, where he proudly showed us his cows and horse the next morning,  and told us – another reminder of the connections – that a former resident had gone on to become Miss England!

Our route took us through more beautifully cultivated fields, and one of my Vadodara companions, a former farmer,  reminded me that the irrigation which worked so well had probably been in place for hundreds of years, dispelling very quickly any fanciful notions that the canals were a legacy of the East India Company. We visited schools with less than 200 hundred pupils, boasting a handful of computers and some rather more old-fashioned desks which would have prevented any child nodding off to sleep in the afternoon sun. We passed agricultural workers returning to their homes with scythes which could have been used 80 years ago, and we were given a warm welcome by a school band of deaf children when we arrived in Navsari, famous in India as the birthplace of the founder of one of the country’s largest conglomerates, Tata, which accounts for over 50,000 jobs in Britain.

After visiting the school for the deaf and handicapped – which receives large contributions from Indians in the UK as well as the US – we set off on our final day’s walk. The 20 kilometre road from Navsari to Dandi, on the Arabian Sea, was magnificently tree-lined and dead straight,  until we took a small diversion to visit the Karadi Ashram where Gandhi had spent about 20 days after his march, written to the Viceroy, and was eventually arrested. As one of my colleagues, Suhasini Kirloskar, who joined us from Pune for the concluding days, put it “seeing this gentle, peaceful place, with a scenic pond and schoolgirls singing some of the Mahatma’s favourite bhajans,  was an overwhelmingly touching experience”.

But there was little time to savour the tranquillity or eat our final vegetarian lunch of the march  as we were joined by literally hundreds of tribal women, dressed in their best and most colourful saris, who were supported by an NGO, the Bhasha Centre, which was one of the six organisations for which the Walk was raising money. I am sure that everyone who accompanied these women, chatting excitedly among themselves in one of the dialects which their impressive  NGO founder, Dr Ganesh Devy, is studying as part of a review of the 50 plus languages and many more dialects spoken across India, could not have failed to be moved as we entered the final straight into Dandi, where a monument stands testimony to the original 1930 march.

After some closing ceremonies with still more village children, who gamely turned out on a Saturday afternoon to sing and play music, we savoured the miles of sand with the tribal women and other visitors, some enjoying a camel ride and others sampling the  local sugar cane delicacy.

The Walk has raised over £100,000 for charities in Mumbai and Gujarat and clearly captured the imagination of the thousands who encountered it first hand or heard about it through the media. My business contacts across Mumbai have all sung its praises.  It would simply not have been possible without the tireless energy and support to my wife by members of the Association of British Scholars in Vadodora; there are too many to name here, but they all know who they are, and what they accomplished. I hope they agree that, by participating in this adventure across a small slice of rural India, they have made a contribution to the work of some valuable NGOs, and taken part in an event which all the participants will cherish for years to come.

(More background on the walk and the NGOs it supported, and company sponsors, are on www.indiaukfriendshipwalk.com)

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