Nitin Sonawane is a man on a mission.
Since 2016, the 32-year-old Indian peace walker has been travelling the world on foot and cycling to spread Mahatma Gandhi’s message of non-violence and truth. He is striving to make every step count.
Hailing from the small village of Rashin in the Indian state of Maharashtra, the first engineer in his family, he gave up his career and materialistic life to find his true calling in the spreading the messages of Gandhi and the Buddha.
His journey, which started from a Gandhi Ashram in Wardha on November 18, 2016, has taken him through 48 countries including Thailand, Vietnam, China, Japan, the US, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan, Egypt, England, Ireland, Germany, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He also commemorated the 150th birth anniversary of the Mahatma during his trip.
Sonawane has cycled 25,000km and walked 15,400km, and now he has commenced his UAE leg by starting his journey from Ras Al Khaimah on Wednesday. He plans to cover Ajman, Sharjah, Dubai and reach the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi on August 15 to celebrate Indian Independence Day.
Sonawane is in the UAE from South Africa, where his walk was dedicated to spreading the word about the lives of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela – two leaders with shared values. Here in the UAE, he is highlighting the ideals and close friendship between Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who is also known as Badshah Khan and ‘Frontier Gandhi’. Both leaders shared similar ideologies and stood for non-violence and Hindu-Muslim unity.
“My theme in the UAE is ’World peace and friendship movement’. I wish to recognise and promote the teachings and works of both leaders. When I say non-violence, it’s not just about physical violence. It’s also about taking more from nature. It’s about violence committed against nature,” he told Khaleej Times.
Amid the global focus on adopting advanced technologies as a solution to global challenges, Sonawane stressed the need for first changing the mindset of the people towards issues faced by mankind.
“Focus on climate change and environment preservation is very important. We are witnessing new technologies, which are going to transform the world, but we must also end our greed for materialistic life. Gandhi preached against materialism more than 80 years back. I aim to spread the message of love, peace, and friendship. Also, I wish to highlight the importance of being sustainable and reducing carbon emissions.”
Sonawane is well-informed about the relentless efforts initiated by the UAE’s leadership to reduce carbon footprints, Net Zero targets, investments in renewables, and the upcoming COP28 UN climate conference in Dubai. “It’s great to be here and see the vision of the late Sheikh Zayed,” he said praising the late Founding Father of the UAE and discovering how the UAE is committed to values of tolerance, peace, harmony, climate action and sustainability.
Walking to raise trust
“Gautama Buddha inspired me to go out of my comfort zone,” Sonawane noted and said that walking is one of the most profound ways to connect with nature and ourselves.
“It’s a very powerful action and has made a big impact on my life mentally and physically. It helps to connect with lots of people on the way.”
While walking he keeps saying a Japanese Buddhism chant, which means ‘I bow before every being and non-being on the way’.
He underlined that there is a lack of trust between people, and countries, which is leading to violence.
“It is important to cultivate that trust. And that’s why I’m walking to create trust between people. We have to minimise hatred in our society,” said the winner of Maja Koene Internation Peace Award.
Lauds UAE’s diversity
Sonawane hails from a Hindu family with diverse backgrounds as his mother has embraced Christianity, his father observes fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, and his grandmother follows a sect of Sikhism. And on landing in the UAE, it didn’t take much time for Sonawane to get a taste of the UAE’s famed multiculturalism and tolerance.
“I was in a taxi with a Pakistani driver and two others travelling were from Bangladesh. I had a great conversation on that ride. This country, the UAE, has brought them together. There is more trust among people here, and it is eventually leading to peaceful coexistence,” he said and narrated how people in Pakistan warmly welcomed him.
“We did a peace march in Karachi. People were so excited and were with us all day long. In Lahore, there was an emotional moment as a school added our names to their ‘wall of peace’.”
World is one family for him
Once in the Capital, Sonawane wishes to cycle on the dedicated tracks of Abu Dhabi – the first city in the Middle East and Asia to earn the prestigious ‘Bike City’ distinction.
“I’m not here with my cycle. I sent it back to India after my South Africa journey. I may rent one from a shop and cycle there. I wish to visit colleges and universities here to encourage youngsters to follow the path of non-violence and truth.”
To counter the sweltering heat, he plans to cover his whole body, wear a cap, and drink plenty of water, just like he did while walking in Egypt, Sudan, and Afghanistan.
“I know the UAE is more humid, but I can manage. I will cover 4kms an hour, and rest for 10 minutes. I am already feeling comfortable with the weather here,” said the vegan, who lives on minimal requirements.
On Wednesday morning, he commenced his journey from the National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah.
“My journey is based on the kindness of people. I have a tent. At times, I sleep on a beach or with any person’s home who hosts me. This journey is also about knowing diverse people around the world. ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, the ‘whole world is one family’, is a reality for me. I have made friends from every country I have travelled. I come with nothing but leave with rich memories and new friends.”
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