Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Wednesday paid rich tributes to Mahatma Gandhi during his visit to the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad and played Holi at Raj Bhavan on the first day of his maiden trip to India.
He arrived at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Airport in the city in the evening and headed straight to the Ashram, the former home of Mahatma Gandhi which also served as one of the main centres of India's freedom struggle.
The Father of the Nation had established the Ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati river in 1917 and lived in Ahmedabad till March 1930, when he launched the famous 'Dandi March' and vowed not to return to the place till India attains freedom.
Albanese, who is on a four-day trip to India, was welcomed at the airport by Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel, who also accompanied the visiting leader during the Ashram tour.
Though it was not mandatory for visitors to remove footwear while walking on the open ground of the Ashram, the Australian PM did so out of respect for Mahatma Gandhi and the iconic place, said Ashram trustee Kartikeya Sarabhai.
The visiting dignitary also saw 'Hriday Kunj', a room inside the Ashram where the Indian independence hero lived.
"He (Albanese) was amazed to see how khadi is weaved using a spinning wheel. The word 'khadi' was new to him, so our trustee Amrutbhai Modi, explained the entire process to him," Sarabhai told reporters.
On behalf of the Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust, Sarabhai and other trustees gifted to the visiting leader a book written by Australian author Thomas Weber on Mahatma Gandhi's historic salt march.
The Ashram gifted another book depicting the Father of the Nation's life in Ahmedabad from 1915 to 1930, and a replica of 'charkha', or spinning wheel, to Albanese, who spent nearly 20 minutes on the premises.
In the visitor's book, the Australian leader wrote that Mahatma Gandhi's values and philosophy still inspire the entire world.
"It is a great honour to visit, to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi whose philosophy and life values continue to inspire the world today. We have much to learn from his example," wrote the Australian PM in the book before leaving for Raj Bhavan.
Late in the evening, Albanese celebrated Holi at Raj Bhavan in the state capital Gandhinagar. He was welcomed by Governor Acharya Devvrat and Chief Minister Patel at Raj Bhavan by applying colour on his face as a mark of Holi celebrations, said a state government release.
The 'Holi celebrations' event was organised by the Governor in the honour of the visiting dignitary and his delegation.
Artists from different states, including Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, performed their traditional dance forms at the event.
The Australian leader posted photos from the event on Twitter and wrote, "Honoured to celebrate Holi in Ahmedabad, India. Holi's message of renewal through the triumph of good over evil is an enduring reminder for all of us."
"No matter what your faith is or where you've come from -- we celebrate and value what unites us," he said in another post.
Speaking at the event, Albanese said though it is his first official visit as the PM, he came to India as a youngster way back in 1991 and stayed in the country for six weeks.
He thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for inviting him, and added he is excited to watch the fourth cricket Test match between Australia and India in Ahmedabad.
The two PMs will watch the first day of the Test between India and Australia beginning at the Narendra Modi Stadium at Motera on Thursday.
Speaking separately, the visiting leader announced his country and the Indian government have finalised the Australia-India Education Qualification Recognition Mechanism.
Albanese made the announcement at a programme where it was officially announced that Australia's Deakin University would set up an international campus at GIFT City in Gandhinagar.
“There is a significant development in our bilateral education relation. I am pleased to tell you that we have finalised Australia-India Education Qualification Recognition Mechanism,” he said.
"The new mechanism means that if you are an Indian student who is studying or have studied in Australia, your hard-earned degree will be recognised when you return home. Or if you are a member of Australia's very large Indian diaspora --500,000 and growing -- you will feel more confident that your Indian qualification will be recognised in Australia,” Albanese said.
He also announced the launch of a new scholarship -- Maitri -- for Indian students to study in Australia for up to four years.
Albanese said it was a great honour for the Deakin University to set up its international campus in India.
Speaking on the occasion, Chief Minister Patel said Gujarat has made it its mission to become a national and international education hub under PM Modi's guidance.
He talked about the sister-city agreement that Gujarat entered into with New South Wales in 2018, and said Gujarat and Australia have enjoyed people-to-people connect for a long time.
"Free trade agreement has become a new medium to give a new height to the bilateral relations between India and Australia. Gujarat is a growth engine of development, and I am sure it will get special benefit of bilateral relationship with India and Australia," Patel said.
Vice-Chancellor of Deakin University Iain Martin said he hoped the international campus at GIFT City would become operational from 2024.