Sleeping in Gandhi’s Garden
Sleeping in Gandhi’s former home in Johannesburg, South Africa is an experience that brings one closer not only nature, but to oneself. The Satyahgraha House is a modest but lovely hotel in the Orchards neighborhood of Jo’burg that grows vegetables and herbs to supply the kitchen, with a design that takes both aesthetics and aroma into account. Certain plants, like lavender, have been chosen specifically because they are known to perfume the air, which factors into Satyagraha House’s ethereal sense of calm.
Opened in August 2011, the Satyahgraha House was named a World Heritage Site a year later. In 2015, just before a friend and I arrived for our stay, it was named a National Monument of South Africa (joining the ranks of the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower in their respective countries) in terms of international and cultural importance. According to manager Mohamed Elselhab, this “live-in museum” is all about simplicity– an homage to Gandhi’s cultural legacy.
True to its nickname as “Gandhi’s Garden”, the house was home to Mohandas Gandhi from 1908 to 1909, when Mahatma created and developed his philosophy of passive resistance: Satyagraha, which according to definition is “a pacifist method of protest that he employed in India to lead the country to independence” (it also means “insistence on truth” in sanskrit).
What would become the Satyahgraha House was built in 1907 by German architect Hermann Kallenbach. Today, there are bowls of oranges and and orchids in every room, and the hotel staff dress in all white and speak softly when spoken to. Shoes are discouraged, and guests can partake in morning and afternoon meditation and/or yoga sessions with a private instructor– an offering that I thoroughly enjoyed one morning before our homemade breakfast was brought out. All of the rooms feature big windows that open into the home’s interior garden– which was curated by a historian, a curator, an architect, two interior designers, and their respective teams. By the time the Satyagraha House was fully restored in 2011, several rooms (included by own) were bequeathed original copies of Gandhi’s novels, old pictures of the late pacifist, as well as articles of his clothing, tools, and several commemorating plaques.
Gandhi was in South Africa for 21 years, and his former home– the Satyahgraha House– is now a registered part of South Africa’s historical heritage as a unique concept linking its guesthouse to the museum.
In all, seven rooms are spread out between the original house, which is called the Kraal in reference to its resemblance of a traditional African farm. A cottage was added a few years later, and a modern wing was built in 2010.
A museum retracing Gandhi’s experiences in South Africa and is installed in the very heart of the house’s seven rooms (all rooms sleep two people). In this way, “a peaceful and meditative atmosphere channelling Gandhi’s life within these walls” inhabits the property, which comes alive as the sun rises over its peaceful garden.
In the evening, a vegetarian dinner is served on white chez lounges in front of the foyer of the museum. My guest and I walked there barefoot and stuffed ourselves full of homemade squash soup, vegetable curries, and desserts featuring local African cacao.
Satyahgraha House isn’t widely advertised– people come here because they hear about it from their friends– and that, according to the managers, is what makes it such a unique place to stay. I heard about the home from a guide book while planning a trip to South Africa from a beach house in Maine, and in that moment I had never felt more connected to a space even before I arrived. I felt like I absolutely had to go there, even from across the Atlantic.