India fascinates me; its vibrancy, history, diversity and a cultural heritage entwined with Britain for over 400 years.
2017 is the UK-India Year of Culture, marking 70 years of Indian independence. But shaping modern India wasn't straightforward: “Father of the nation” Mahatma Gandhi, spent over 30 years campaigning for freedom won in 1947. Since then India has used British legacies to flourish into an emerging superpower.
My aim is to walk the length of India, over 4,000km, exploring and learning about the people, the country and its historical connection to Britain. I will explore and study Gandhi’s role in India’s struggle for independence and how gaining freedom has shaped both Indian and British culture today.
This journey will take a different look at the India-UK story, reflecting on historical and modern-day views of our shared cultural heritage and highlight the unique ties between our countries. Post-Brexit, it’s paramount we understand this significant relationship and how our colonial past could shape our future.
I plan to start in April 2017 at Op Baba, a military outpost at the end of the Nubra Valley that sits close to the Line of Control in the disputed territory of Kashmir in the north of the country. From there I will walk over Khardung La, one of the highest motorable passes in the world to Leh. I will then make my way south, over the mountains to New Delhi to visit Birla House, the site of Gandhi’s assassination. On leaving New Delhi, I head south west to Jaipur and Ahmedabad where I will visit Sabarmati Ashram, Gandhi’s home for over 12 years and the starting point of his Salt March, a 380km walk in protest of the British salt tax that kick-started the Indian independence movement. I will walk the Salt March route to Dandhi, and continue south to visit his political campaign headquarters for over 17 years in Mumbai. Pune, a colonial hill station, will be my next stop to visit Aga Khan, the former palace where Gandhi was imprisoned for two years over the Quit India movement, and now home of the Gandhi National Memorial Society. From Pune I will progress south through the Western Ghats, celebrating Indian Independence Day on 15th August in a small village with the locals. I will end my journey at the southern most tip of the Indian Subcontinent, Kanyakumari, where Gandhi’s ashes were held for public viewing before being scattered into the ocean.
This journey will be physically and mentally challenging, what I believe will be my hardest to date. I will be travelling alone, only conversing with the local people I meet. I will carry all the kit that I need for the journey, walking between 10 and 12 hours per day in order to cover the distance. I will be walking through some of the toughest terrain and harshest condition out there; that of the Cold Desert and high altitude in the Himalayas; the intense heat of the arid regions in the middle part of the country; and the tropical and humid regions in the south. I will be trying to get as far south as I can before the monsoon hits at the beginning of June.
The expedition has two purposes.
1) Education: Throughout the expedition, I will investigate the cultural connection between Britain and India, and how this has evolved since 1947, into what it is today. I will be recording and sharing the stories of Indian, British and Anglo-Indian elders who experienced British rule before these memories are lost forever, as well as seeking the opinions of young Indian, British and Anglo-Indian’s on their multi-cultural history. It will create a permanent record of the stories and views of each group, preserving rapidly disappearing memories and opinions.
2) Inspiration: The expedition will demonstrate that through some careful planning, hard work and determination it is possible to follow a dream. It will show that the human body is resilient, can be pushed harder than one believes and is capable of achieving amazing things. It will encourage people to turn their heads on mainstream media and realize that the world is a good place. It will open their eyes up to what else is out there, inspiring them to travel, discover and experience more of our incredible planet.
I aim to share this historical journey with a broad audience online as I travel, in particular students via lesson plans, online films and Skype Classroom chats. Upon my return I aim to create a documentary about the expedition in celebration of Britain’s connection to India. I will also undertake talks, sharing my stories and experiences with schools, adventure and travel groups, giving them the opportunity to learn more first hand from my experiences.