Tourists invited to live like Gandhi

Updated 03 November 2013
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Tourists invited to live like Gandhi

Tourists searching for peace and simplicity can for the first time check in to Mahatma Gandhi’s most famous ashram in India. But don’t expect modern comforts. And chastity is required.
For 1,000 rupees ($16) a night, tourists can sample the lifestyle of India’s famously ascetic independence leader by staying at the first ashram he established, set up in 1915 in the western state of Gujarat.
Guests at the ashram, which opened to holidaymakers earlier this month, can try their hand at spinning, visit local communities, pray and meditate, all while wearing khadi — hand-woven cloth — during their stay.
But they must adhere to Gandhi’s 11 vows that he promoted including non-violence, no possessions, use of local goods, working for daily food, self restraint, including chastity, and control of diet.
And they are also encouraged to follow Gandhi’s austere daily routine, such as waking at 5am and undertaking domestic chores.
“The objective of this program is to allow people to experience a sustainable lifestyle, to enjoy the simplicity of Gandhi, experience the virtue of Mahatma,” said Nischalavalamb Barot, a travel agent who helped develop the program called “Live Gandhi for a While.”
“This might change perceptions of tourists towards life, society and our natural resources. This might also help tourists find peace and satisfaction within,” Barot told AFP.
Gandhi went to stay at the bungalow, now called Kochrab Ashram and then owned by a lawyer friend, after he returned to India from South Africa in 1915.
From this base, in a village on the outskirts of the city of Ahmedabad, he rejected material wealth and developed some of the ideas for which he became famous.
In one incident, he upset neighbours by inviting a low-caste man, a so-called “untouchable”, to come and live at the ashram as part of his campaign against India’s rigid and deeply ingrained caste system.
The ashram is managed by a nearby university called Gujarat Vidyapith, which Gandhi himself founded in 1920 to “liberate the Indian youths from the shackles of British colonial rule.”
The “Live with Gandhi” program was launched on Oct. 2 to coincide with the 144th anniversary of the birth of Gandhi. Tourists have not yet made bookings, but Barot stressed there were lots of inquiries.
India has plenty of museums and monuments to honour the country’s independence icon, whose personal philosophy and ideas are considered outdated by many in rapidly modernising India.
Known as Mahatma or Great Soul, Gandhi spearheaded a non-violent campaign against the British Raj that finally saw India gain its freedom from colonial rule in 1947. He was shot dead by a Hindu hardliner in New Delhi just months later in 1948.
Despite the many commemorations for Gandhi, Barot, who developed the program with the university, said he hoped the ashram offered something different.
“This is the first time that we are attempting to understand the value and principles of a sustainable life, which Gandhi believed in and practised,” said Barot, who operates a sustainable tourism agency.
However he stressed a stay at the ashram would not be an easy one.
“They will have to follow the vows that Gandhi himself followed in the ashram.... They will also wear the khadi throughout the program.”


Iraqis turn to budding ecotourism to save marshes

Updated 22 May 2019
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Iraqis turn to budding ecotourism to save marshes

  • The Mesopotamian marshes are a rare aquatic ecosystem in a country nearly half of which is covered in cracked desert
  • Legend has it, they were home to the biblical Garden of Eden

CHIBAYISH, Iraq: Thirty years after Saddam Hussein starved them of water, Iraq’s southern marshes are blossoming once more thanks to a wave of ecotourists picnicking and paddling down their replenished river bends.
A one-room home made of elaborately woven palm reeds floats on the river surface. Near it, a soft plume of smoke curls up from a firepit where carp is being grilled, Iraqi-style.
A few canoes drift by, carrying couples and groups of friends singing to the beat of drums.
“I didn’t think I would find somewhere so beautiful, and such a body of water in Iraq,” said Habib Al-Jurani.
He left Iraq in 1990 for the United States, and was back in his ancestral homeland for a family visit.

Tourists sit in a canoe as they are shown around the marshes of the southern Iraqi district of Chibayish in Dhi Qar province, about 120 kilometers northwest of the southern city of Basra, on March 29, 2019. (AFP)

“Most people don’t know what Iraq is really like — they think it’s the world’s most dangerous place, with nothing but killings and terrorism,” he said.
Looking around the lush marshes, declared in 2016 to be Iraq’s fifth UNESCO World Heritage site, Jurani added: “There are some mesmerizing places.”
Straddling Iraq’s famous Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Mesopotamian marshes are a rare aquatic ecosystem in a country nearly half of which is covered in cracked desert.
Legend has it, they were home to the biblical Garden of Eden.
But they were also a haven for political opposition to dictator Saddam Hussein, who cut off water to the site in retaliation for the south’s uprising against him in 1991.
Around 90 percent of the once-expansive marshes were drained, and the area’s 250,000 residents dwindled down to just 30,000.

This picture taken on March 29, 2019 shows geese swimming in the marshes of the southern Iraqi district of Chibayish in Dhi Qar province, about 120 kilometers northwest of the southern city of Basra. (AFP)

In the ensuing years, severe droughts and decreased water flows from the twin rivers’ source countries — Turkey and Iran — shrunk the marshes’ surface from some 15,000 square kilometers to less than half that.
It all culminated with a particularly dry winter last year that left the “ahwar,” as they are known in Arabic, painfully parched.
But heavier rains this year have filled more than 80 percent of the marshes’ surface area, according to the United Nations, compared to just 27 percent last year.
That has resurrected the ancient lifestyle that dominated this area for more than 5,000 years.
“The water returned, and with it normal life,” said 35-year-old Mehdi Al-Mayali, who raises water buffalo and sells their milk, used to make rich cream served at Iraqi breakfasts.

Wildlife including the vulnerable smooth-coated otter, Euphrates softshell turtles, and Basra reed warbler have returned to the marshlands — along with the pickiest of all species: tourists.
“Ecotourism has revived the ‘ahwar’. There are Iraqis from different provinces and some foreigners,” Mayali said.
A day in the marshes typically involves hiring a resident to paddle a large reed raft down the river for around $25 — not a cheap fare for Iraq.
Then, lunch in a “mudhif” or guesthouse, also run by locals.
“Ecotourism is an important source of revenue for those native to the marshes,” said Jassim Assadi, who heads Nature Iraq.
The environmental activist group has long advocated for the marshes to be better protected and for authorities to develop a long-term ecotourism plan for the area.

An Iraqi boy pets cattle by the marshes of the southern district of Chibayish in Dhi Qar province, about 120 kilometers northwest of the southern city of Basra, on March 29, 2019. (AFP)

“It’s a much more sustainable activity than the hydrocarbon and petroleum industry,” said Assadi, referring to the dominant industry that provides Iraq with about 90 percent of state revenues.
The numbers have steadily gone up in recent years, according to Assaad Al-Qarghouli, tourism chief in Iraq’s southern province of Dhi Qar.
“We had 10,000 tourists in 2016, then 12,000 in 2017 and 18,000 in 2018,” he told AFP.
But there is virtually no infrastructure to accommodate them.
“There are no tourist centers or hotels, because the state budget was sucked up by war the last few years,” Qarghouli told AFP.
Indeed, the Daesh group overran swathes of Iraq in 2014, prompting the government to direct its full attention — and the bulk of its resources — to fighting it back.

An Iraqi tourist grills fish by the marshes of the southern district of Chibayish in Dhi Qar province, about 120 kilometers northwest of the southern city of Basra, on March 29, 2019. (AFP)

Iraq’s government declared victory in late 2017 and has slowly begun reallocating resources to infrastructure projects.
Qarghouli said the marshes should be a priority, and called on the government to build “a hotel complex and touristic eco-village inside the marshes.”
Peak season for tourists is between September and April, avoiding the summer months of Iraq when temperatures can reach a stifling 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).
But without a long-term government plan, residents worry that water levels will be hostage to fluctuating yearly rainfalls and shortages caused by Iranian and Turkish dams.
These dynamics have already damaged the marshes’ fragile ecosystem, with high levels of salination last year killing fish and forcing other wildlife to migrate.
Jurani, the returning expatriate, has an idea of the solution.
“Adventurers and nature-lovers,” he said, hopefully.