Nitin Sonawane left his hometown in India three years ago and has spent every day since travelling from country-to-country by foot or bicycle. He was inspired to complete the mission to mark 150 years since Gandhi’s birth (on October 2 2019). Now, aged 28, he is walking across the UK.
Nitin, an Information Technology graduate, left his small town of Rashin, near Pune, Maharashtra, India, in November 2016 leaving behind his job as an electronics and telelcoms engineer. Inspired by Gandhi, he is meeting peace groups and anti-racism organisations, and speaking in schools and colleges along the way. Over the last three years he has walked and cycled through: India, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, Japan, USA, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.
He reached the UK in August, arriving in Glasgow to spend 44 days walking 600 miles to London where he will celebrate Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. Over the next 12 months he’s planning to travel through Europe and the Middle East including Turkey, Israel, Palestine and Iran, on his way back to India.
How are you funding your trip?
“I’m surviving off about £4-a-day which I spend on bread, peanut butter and vegetables. Each night I arrive in my latest destination and look for somewhere to pitch my tent. It’s the same little tent I started the journey with three years ago. Tonight someone has directed me to a Sikh temple so I’m on my way there now and hoping to camp outside. I used to work for Maharashtra Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, a peace organisation, who are sponsoring me when I need it. I’ve also been supported by Gandhi Serve Germany, Gandhi Library Houston, and Shanti Fund who helped me with visa and travel expenses. The Indian community around the world always supports me.”
How easy is it to find hospitality from strangers?
“In a big city it’s more difficult because people are more isolated. The friendliest place I’ve been so far was Sudan. Yes, it’s in the middle of a revolution but I was there talking about peace and the people were so welcoming, asking about my journey. It’s a country without riches but with great hospitality. People were saying ‘Come to my home’ and giving me food.”
What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced on your journey?
“The greatest challenge is physical. In Rwanda I injured my foot from wearing the wrong shoes and I couldn’t walk for three weeks. If I can’t walk and need to take rest it’s very difficult to survive. In Honduras and Guatemala I couldn’t find any place to stay and I knew there were problems with violence there so that felt a little dangerous. But in Mexico I talked with gang members and shared my stories.”
Have there been times where you’ve felt culture shock?
“All the time! I’m changing countries all the time and life is different in each country. It takes time to understand the culture. I found Sudan a culture shock because I had never been in a Muslim nation before. Culture across Africa is totally different to culture across South America. I didn’t know anything about South America when I lived in India. That was a totally new continent and I didn’t know what to expect.”
What has surprised you most on your journey so far?
“I was surprised in the USA. People say it’s one of the richest countries in the world but I found it was one of the poorest. I was in San Francisco walking down the street and it was an area with lots of bankers and international business people and nice places to eat and drink. One left turn and I see so many people sitting on the street, homeless. It was such a difference and I felt so bad for that. I’ve never seen such a stark contrast between rich and poor in the world.”
What do you miss most about home?
My family. My mother especially. I’m not from a rich family and my father died when I was 14. It was hard for my family to understand why I wanted to set off on this journey and still now, it’s hard for them. Three years now I’ve been out of my hometown and out of India. It’s challenging. I was the first person in my family to study. Life is a struggle in India, my two brothers are working so hard, they don’t understand global issues and they couldn’t see the reason for my journey. But when they see me on the news and on TV they’re happy for me.”
What do you want the world to know about Gandhi?
“The most important thing Gandhi taught was to seek your truth. He taught that you should find your truth through your journey, through exploring, through reading, through nature, and then follow that truth with non-violence. Each and every person has their own truth and it’s up to each of us to find it.”
What is your truth and what will you do next?
“I understand that human beings aren’t the only ones on this planet. I want to work on climate change and anti-discrimination. I’m from a lower caste in India and I’d like to fight against caste discrimination.”
What would Gandhi make of current global affairs?
“For me and what I understand about Gandhi, I believe he would be fighting against climate change. He would take a lead on the environmental movement and he would definitely approve of Greta Thunberg!”
What is the greatest lesson of your journey so far?
“People everywhere, all over the world, are so kind. It’s just a matter of how you reach out to them. Peace is possible. I’ve found that all across the world, in every country I’ve been to.”
Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary takes place on October 2 2019, but India has declared the two years either side of this date as dedicated to celebrating the anti-colonial peace activist. Nitin will finish his walk in India on October 2 2020.
Nitin will be travelling through Europe and then Middle East for the next year. His epic journey will finish in Lahore on October 2 2020.
A group of peace activists will be leaving New Delhi on October 2 2019 to walk 9,000 miles, over 365 days, through 10 countries to Geneva. The Global Peace March of 250 walkers is organised by the Jai Jagat campaign and will be training people in non-violence along the route.