Photos: When Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara visited India

Images from the government archives of the iconic leader's 1959 trip to India.

In 2007, Om Thanvi, editor of the Hindi daily Jansatta, became curious about Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara’s visit to India in 1959. Che was an icon on T-shirt, but why was so little known about his trip to the subcontinent? The journalist thinks it's because Indian Communists chose to forget the Argentine’s visit because of Che’s comments against Russian communism.

Gripped by curiosity, Thanvi sent a colleague to the photo division of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Officials there said Che never visited India because, if he had, they would have displayed the photographs in the diplomatic gallery. When Thanvi showed them evidence that Che had indeed come to India, they finally looked hard and found 14 photographs.

In official records, the officials explained, Che was mentioned by his official name, Commander Ernesto de la Serna. All over the world, it was much later that he came to be known as Che Guevara, and that is why it had been so difficult to find his photographs in the archives.

When Thanvi first published these photographs in Jansatta, some people did not believe them. So he went to Cuba to find out more about Che’s India visit. Among other things, he found a copy of Che’s report on the trip, Nehru’s memento to Che, and three photographs of Calcutta taken by Che.

Thanvi also traced KP Bhanumathy, who had interviewed Che for the All India Radio. She showed him her article recalling the interview. She also provided Thanvi some photographs taken during the interview. Thanvi also found some photographs and reports in the Hindustan Times archives.

Here are the amazing photos from the government archives and the other treasures Thanvi discovered:

Prime Minister Mr Jawaharlal Nehru welcoming Che Guevara in his Teen Moorti residential office on July 1, 1959). Photo by Kundan Lal of Photo Division, Government of India.

Che meets Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon, 3 July 1959.

Che visits a school in the Pilana Block near Delhi. Photo courtesy: Photo Division, Government of India.

At the Planning Commission of India.

Commerce ministry officials presenting Che Indian tea, coffee and cigars.

Checking out a metal detector at the laboratory of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.

An old villager in a Gandhi cap garlanding Che during Cuban team’s visit to a Community Project Area in Pilana Block near Delhi. Photo courtesy: Photo Division, Government of India.

Sketch of Che drawn by Abu Abraham in Hawana in 1962 for The Observer of London. On the collar are Che’s signatures.

Che and his colleagues arrive at the Palam Airport on June 30, 1959. In turban is DS Khosla, Deputy Chief of Protocol, MEA, who received the group at the Airport. On extreme left (next to Che) is his bodyguard who was personally trained by Che himself. Photo courtesy: Photo Division, Government of India.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in a happy mood after receiving a box of cigars as gift from the Cuban delegation on July 1, 1959. Photo courtesy: Photo Division, Government of India.

Mr SK Dey, Minister for Community Development and Cooperation, receiving Che at his office in New Delhi on July 3, 1959. Photo courtesy: Photo Division, Government of India

The Union Minister of Commerce Nityanand Kanoongo with the Cuban delegation led by Che in the Minister’s office on July 1, 1959. Photo courtesy: Photo Division, Government of India.

Picture of Che taken in New Delhi by Photo Division photographer Kundan Lal. 

At the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in Delhi, sampling an improvised variety of wheat.

AP Jain, Union Minister of Food and Agriculture, receiving Che when the latter called on him in New Delhi on July 4, 1959. Photo courtesy: Photo Division, Government of India.

Che Guevara being shown a Lathe Manufacturing Machine at the Okhla Industrial Estate in New Delhi on July 1, 1959. Photo courtesy: Photo Division, Government of India.

KP Bhanumathy while interviewing Che. Photo by PN Sharma, provided by KP Bhanumathy.

KP Bhanumathy while interviewing Che. Photo by PN Sharma, provided by KP Bhanumathy.

Part of the front page of the Hindustan Times on 2 July 1959.

An official of the Centro de Estudios Che Guevara showing the khukri presented by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to Che Guevara on his visit to India in 1959. Photo by Om Thanvi, 2007.

Goddess Durga engraved on the cover of the khukri presented to Che by Jawaharlal Nehru. Photo by Om Thanvi, 2007

Photos of Calcutta by Che Guevara

From the book Self Portrait by Che Guevara, published by the Centre for Che Studies, Havana, in collaboration with Ocean Books, Australia.

For a detailed account of Che's trip to India, click here. 

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