It struck me as I was browsing through the photographs on my Monument this week, that I had never gotten around to posting about our visit to Gandhi Smriti during our trip to India at Christmas. As one of the highlights of our trip, I couldn’t let it pass unmarked.
Located on Tees January Road in New Delhi, Gandhi Smirti, formally Birla House, is the place where Gandhi spent the last part of his life and where he was assassinated on 30th January 1948. It has since been turned into a museum detailing Gandhi’s life and teachings and is situated only a stones throw away from The Claridge’s Hotel where we were staying.
Entrance to Gandhi Smirti is free although you do have to register your visit at a small booth by the entrance gate. A guard there took our nationality and some other details before waving us through and into the grounds of the house.
As a kind of monument to a national hero, there is a quiet reverence about Gandhi Smiriti. We visited on a beautiful sunny day in late December and so the feeling of silent respect around the site was all the more magnified. No doubt our early visit also played a part in this as the school children who came later were yet to arrive.
Upon entering you first come to the rooms where Gandhi lived for the last 144 days of his life. You are able to go inside and view the roped off areas of the rooms which have been left as they were when Gandhi lived there.
From his rooms, you can notice the window through which Gandhi left to attend a prayer meeting on the day that he was assassinated on the lawn just outside the house. From the window, Gandhi’s footprints have been cast in stone and you can follow these along the path he walked to a small memorial further up the lawn on the spot where he was killed.
The walk from the house to the lawn, beside the stone cast footprints, is a moving and thought provoking experience, at the end of which you can remove your shoes and visit the memorial on the grass. At the time we visited, we were the only ones around and so the experience was all the more poignant.
After spending some time on the lawn, you can make your way back to the house along a covered walkway featuring a timeline of events from Gandhi’s life. We read most of the boards and found them to be very informative whilst also trying to supervise an impromptu photo session which some other visitors had begun with our children. As with many places in India, pictures with our kids were in high demand although given the nature of the place it seemed a little inappropriate.
As the morning passed, the draw of Gandhi Smriti as a school trip destination became more and more apparent as children arrived by the bus load. As a wannabe grumpy old man and a school teacher myself, I normally cringe at the sight of a school bus arriving anywhere that I am visiting, but these school pupils actually added to the joy of the visit.
Never have I encountered more polite children than those who went out of their way to find out more about us at Gandhi Smriti. They had questions about where we were from, how old our children were and what we thought of India. It was also nice to be referred to as ‘Aunty’ and ‘Uncle’ by children we didn’t know. We took some time to speak to several groups and all were very interested in us and incredibly respectful.
By far the highlight of our trip for the children though were the rooms of dioramas in the house itself. Each little scene is housed within a TV style display box and shows an important moment from Gandhi’s life. The quality of the dioramas is questionable in parts (Gandhi is instantly recognisable although King George in particular looked suspiciously like my old Action Man, Duke) although they do a good job of visually retelling the story of his life. And whilst our 5 year old and 3 year old didn’t understand everything they were looking it, they did enjoy the scenes and understand enough to christen Gandhi ‘The Man Who Died’; a name that has stuck with him ever since.
We enjoyed Gandhi Smriti for its poignancy and its historical relevance but we also enjoyed it because it provided such a refreshing change from the other tourist hot spots in India. It was calm and peaceful. It wasn’t full of touts trying to sell us things or convince us to avail of some unnecessary service or photo opportunity. It was nice to be able to relax, knowing that nobody was going to force a toy into our children’s hands that we were then going to have to take off them through tears because we didn’t want to buy it.
I’d recommend Gandhi Smriti to anybody visiting New Delhi. It’s central, its peaceful, it’s informative and its free. What more could you want?