Capital of the “land of oranges”, NAGPUR is the focus of government attempts to develop industry in the remote northeastern corner of Maharashtra – most foreigners in the city are here for business rather than aesthetic purposes. The trickle of visitors who do stop here tend to do so en route to Madhya Pradesh, or the Gandhian ashrams at Sevagram and Paunar, a two-hour journey southwest. The other worthwhile excursion is the ninety-minute bus ride northeast to the hilltop temple complex at Ramtek.
In the city itself, the most prominent landmark is the Sitabuldi Fort, standing on a saddle between two low hills above the railway station, though it’s closed to the public. North and west of the fort, the
pleasantly green Civil Lines district holds some grand Raj-era
buildings, dating from the time when this was the capital of the vast Central Provinces region.
SEVAGRAM, Gandhi’s model “Village of Service”, is set deep in the serene Maharashtran countryside, 9km from the railroad town of WARDHA. The Mahatma moved here from his former ashram in Gujarat during the monsoon of 1936, on the invitation of his friend Seth Jamnalal Bajaj. Right at the centre of the Subcontinent, within easy reach of the Central Railway, it made an ideal headquarters for the national, non-violent Satyagraha movement, combining seclusion with the easy access to other parts of the country Gandhi needed in order to carry out his political activities.
These days, the small settlement is a cross between a museum and living centre for the promulgation of Gandhian philosophies. Interested visitors are welcome to spend a couple of days here, helping in the fields, attending discussions and prayer meetings, and learning the dying art of hand-spinning. The older ashramites, or sadhaks, are veritable founts of wisdom when it comes to the words of their guru, Gandhiji.
Once past the absorbing visitors’ centre, with its photos and documents recounting Gandhi’s life, the real focal-point of the ashram is the sublimely peaceful main compound, entered a few hundred metres along the road. These modest rustic huts – among them the Mahatma’s main residence – have been preserved exactly the way they were when the great man and his disciples lived here in the last years of the Independence struggle. A small khadi shop sells hand-loomed cloth and other products made on site.