What is it? It's Mahatma Gandhi's former home in Paldi, a suburb of Ahmedabad, in Gujarat state, west India. Gandhi opened the ashram a century ago, in 1915, when Paldi was little more than a tiny, snake-infested village, on his return from South Africa, where the "Great Soul" worked as a legal adviser. Today the 22-guest ashram is included in Maroon Migrates' "Live Like Gandhi for a While" holiday.
So it's a holiday destination? Yes. Gandhi's former residence has been opened as a guest house (top). You can now stay where he slept, walk where he walked, pray where he prayed (below) and eat what he ate. Provided you renounce violence and materialism. And remain chaste.
Err, chaste? Correct. Visitors have to take the 11 vows his first guests took, sexual abstinence being one of them. It's all part of learning self-control, to "control your appetite" - all appetites.
So what else is this Kochrab place and "Live Like Gandhi" thing all about? Guests get to do plenty of meditation but lots of work, too, chipping in with the gardening, cooking and painting. It's all part of the guest is god; living is giving; the dignity of manual labour; selfless service philosophy that lets visitors sample the lifestyle of India's famously ascetic independence leader and Hindu hardliner.
What are the rooms like? Just as they were in his day; small and spartan, with glassless but shuttered windows. Visitors stay in former spinning workshops (above) and can try their hand at using the period charkhas, or spinning wheels. Those taking the weaving lessons wear khadi - hand-woven cloth suited to the hot climate. The early morning devotional songs are optional. An electric fan and a communal European/colonial-style toilet are among the few concessions to comfort. Guests are encouraged to sign up for charity work within the city slums and in the outlying villages and a self-purification course starts at 6am.
Sounds a bit hippy dippy to me. It's not. The objective is to allow people to experience a sustainable lifestyle. You don't have to renounce materialism permanently, but you might become a better servant of society. Gandhi was the first responsible traveller; he visited villages, stayed and tried to find solutions to the locals' problems - with minimum impact on their environment. That's what responsible tourism is all about; creating better places for people to live and visit.
What else is there to see in Ahmedabad? Jain temples or derasars; ancient step wells; Indo-Saracenic architecture; the 17th-century palace of Shahibaug; the Bhadra Fort; and the shaking minarets of the Sidi Bashir mosque - when one minaret is shaken, the other rocks in sympathy, allegedly. You can also visit the Sabarmati ashram, to where Gandhi moved in 1917 and began his civil disobedience movement. The ashram and his Hridaya ("heart") Kunj cottage residence, a simple bungalow with a verandah, was the nerve centre for the Indian freedom movement and is now a memorial, museum and library.
What's the food like? Minimalistic but healthy, and served communally. In town is the café Seva, where you can wait tables or wash up to help pay for your meal.
What's the bottom line? A room is 1,800 rupees (HK$210) per night and includes food, khadi clothes, local transport and airport transfers. For details, go to www.maroonmigrates.com.