-Walking the planet for a better world
-48 countries, 1 message
In the week in which members of the Evangelical Fellowship Botswana (EGB) took to the capital’s streets to spread their message of hate, making headline news for their protest against same-sex relationships, two Indian men quietly walked the country for peace.
Inspired by the teachings of the late, great Mahatma Gandhi, Pune native, Nitin Sonawane, has spent the best part of seven years on the road, traversing the world to promote compassion, love and non-violence.
In that time, the 32-year-old estimates he has covered an incredible 16,000 kilometers on foot and a further 40,000km by bicycle.
His journey has now, ever-so briefly, brought him to Botswana, country number 48 on his pilgrimage of peace.
Along with his latest travelling companion, Jalandharnath Channole, 48, Sonawane initially planned to walk from Gaborone to Francistown.
However, a mix-up at the border meant the duo were only given two-week visas.
With time against them, the pair had little option but to change their plans.
Reluctantly, they started their mission in Mahalapye instead, embarking on the 240km trek to Ghetto on 13th July.
Beating their special drum – an instrument Sonawane was given in Japan and calls his ‘peace drum’ – clutching their specially made banner and chanting their melodic mantra, ‘Jai Ja Gat’, they walked the A1.
“It’s Hindu and means victory for the world – nobody can lose, everybody wins!”
They arrived in the second city five days later, their bodies weary but their spirits light.
“Botswana is a special place; the people are very kind, so welcoming and friendly. For me, in terms of a warm reception, it’s the top country I’ve visited in Africa – and I’ve been from Cairo to Cape Town!” chuckles Sonawane, chatting exclusively to The Voice on Thursday.
Relaxed and rejuvenated after two days of rest, his thick beard rugged but neat, Sonawane, looks more Bollywood movie star than haggard traveller.
An Electrical Engineer by profession, he explains both Ghandi and Gautama Buddha provided the spark that ignited his desire to make a difference in the world.
“I had been working for six months but I wasn’t happy; life was all about money. I wanted more, enlightenment, to really know and understand myself better. Buddha left home and went walking to achieve this and so I followed suit,” says Sonawane, grinning as he adds, “I previously tried this at the age of 17 but returned home the very next day!”
This time, he would keep going and going, passing through the Middle East, Asia, North and South America, Africa and Europe, armed with a tent and an unwavering belief in what he is doing.
“Promoting respect and harmony between people, animals and the earth is more important now than ever before. The way the world is today – climate change, the threat of nuclear war, widespread technological distribution – there’s so much hate but we need to come together and remember that ultimately we are all humans,” insists the social activist, who preaches his message of peace in schools and universities as well as to curious observers who question him on the road.
“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,” explains the passionate vegetarian, noting nature teaches him something new every day.
Having skipped Botswana on his first visit to the mother continent in 2018, he was determined not to do so again.
“Before, all I knew about the country was: small population, good economy and lots of elephants! We’ve been in South Africa for the last two months and were desperate to come here,” says Sonawane, making special mention of the Shanti Fund, a US-based organisation committed to promoting peace and enlightenment through education, for sponsoring the trip.
“The communities here are so kind. At the border, a passenger on the bus, a complete stranger, gave us a bag full of food when it looked like we’d be left behind sorting out our visas. Then in Serule, the police allowed us to stay in their camp, gave us warm food and a hot shower. We taught them some Yoga in the morning; it was beautiful, special,” Sonawane continues, adding he has encountered such kindness all over the world.
“People are inherently good,” he declares while Channole, a remarkable man who spent 32 years in an Ashram but whose limited English makes it difficult for him to contribute to the conversation, nods in agreement.
The two firm friends are catching the early bus to Palapye the next morning, where they have been invited to speak at one of the schools, and are eager to rest up.
Before saying their goodbyes, however, they are keen to discuss their banner of peace, which depicts Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Bhimrao Ambedkar and Sir Seretse Khama.
“These four individuals lived selflessly for the better of humanity. They embody the ideals we promote: love, non-violence and peace – all are interdependent and need the other to thrive!”