‘Poyekhali!’ When India Went Gaga Over Yuri Gagarin

After Yuri Gagarin, the first earthling to go to space, returned to planet Earth and went on a world tour. Everywhere Gagarin traveled, he was decorated with the highest honours and welcomed by a huge crowd.

Almost seven months after his space adventure, he came to India and spoke in front of a jammed Shivaji Park in Mumbai on 29 November 1961.

“He was wearing his uniform and was handsome, humble and friendly. And the atmosphere on the ground was magnetic,” Prakash Reddy, who was 10-years-old in 1961, told Hindustan Times.

For more than 30 minutes, he spoke in Russian, and his speech was translated by an interpreter.

India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru also entertained Gagarin and his wife Valentina Goryacheva. A five minute reel of his India visit shows a smiling Gagarin being shown across India.

Nehru entertained the Soviets at his Teen Murti residence in Delhi, attended a cultural program, and also joined the couple on an open-air motorcade through Rajpath.

Ramesh Borkar, who was 12-years-old, told Russia Beyond:

"Gagarin spoke in Russian and there was a simultaneous translation. I wasn’t even this excited when Indian won the (cricket) World Cup in 1983."

The Russian website blog further mentions that Gagarin appreciated the adulation of the Indian audience the most. Nikolai Kamanin, a Russian pilot who accompanied Gagarin on the trip, wrote, “I was reminded of my naive childhood impression of Christ meeting his people... Gagarin satisfied the people’s hunger with his appearance alone.”

The cosmonaut also visited Lucknow and Hyderabad before heading to Sri Lanka.

Gagarin’s Earth Journey And Space Odyssey

“To boldly go where no man has gone before!” is one of the most quotable dialogues from the introductory text which appeared before Star Trek episodes from 1966 onward. But Yuri Gagarin, who actually reached the great beyond, did it five years before the first episode was aired.

On 12 April 1961, he became the first human being to fly into outer space and witness that the Earth is indeed round.

Eighty-seven years ago, Gagarin was born on 9 March 1931 in a small village near Moscow. As a kid, he helped his family survive an attack by the Nazis.

A Mathematics and Physics enthusiast, Gagarin found his love for flying in 1955 at a club in Saratov. But it was in 1957, when after graduating with top-ranking honors from Orenburg, Gagarin became a lieutenant in the Soviet Air Force and soloed the MIG aircraft.

This was also the year when Gagarin married Valentina Goryacheva, who was a nursing student.

How Yuri Became The Chosen One

In 1960, after extensive scrutiny, Gagarin was chosen, along with 19 other pilots, for the Soviet space program. But it wasn’t as simple. To become the first cosmonaut of the Vostak programme, Gangarin went through the elite training procedure of the group called 'Sochi Six'.

The recruits underwent heavy physical and psychological endurance. Chief Designer Sergei Korolev, the head of the Soviet space program, who had chosen Gagarin for the flight said, “when everyone had more than his share of concerns, apprehensions, and anxieties, he alone seemed to keep calm,” says Russian Archives.

Gagarin’s candidature was also supported by some of the other recruits.

Yuri Gagarin.

Also Read: Remembering Cosmonaut Laika, First Living Animal In Space

108 Minutes That Changed Human History

On 12 April 1961, Soviet Air Force’s Senior Lieutenant Yuri Gagarin became more than just a pilot – he became an icon, a legend.

“Poyekhali!” said Gagarin to the launch control room over radio communication when the Vostok 1 took-off. 

The rough translation of Poyekhali, means ‘Let’s go,’ and the phrase marked the beginning of Space Age for humans.

The Vostok 1 orbited Earth at an altitude of 302 kilometers for 108 minutes. After finishing the orbit, Gagarin parachuted from his capsule.

A farmer and his daughter in Engels town of Russia saw Gagarin descent. It has been largely reported that the cosmonaut, on his return, said:

"When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow! "

Three days later, thousands gathered in the Red Square in Moscow to celebrate the Soviet cosmonaut’s achievement. “Triumphant music blared across the land. Russia's radios saluted the morning with the slow, stirring beat of the patriotic song, 'How Spacious Is My Country,” wrote TIME magazine in their cover story of the event.


On 27 March 1968, at just 34, Yuri Gagarin was killed when a training flight routine went wrong and his MiG-15UTI crashed.

His ashes were buried alongside other Soviet heroes in the Kremlin Wall. Yuri Gagarin is survived by his wife Valentina, and daughters Yelena and Galina.

A cosmonaut lays flowers at the statue of Yuri Gagarin at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia.

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