February 22 – 25
Accommodations: Nest Guest House; 1100INR/night, (bookings.com). We loved the Nest: a small but very clean and stylish room and very quiet. Sure, it was at the top of several flights of stairs but it was worth every step. The staff were super friendly and helpful (in our books that goes a long way) plus the shower was capable of pouring out hot water.
Transportation: Well… we finally got to experience what most Indians experience when they ride a train: super density. Luckily it was only for a few hours. Amazingly the locals maintain a sense of humour and compassion despite the crush. Babies and bags got passed overhead and people laughed as they swung themselves up into the overhead luggage racks or squatted down on the floor. Once off the train we were at the mercy of auto-rickshaw drivers (Sue finally broke down and ran from some pesky drivers until she found one she liked). And, of course, the mad bus ride… swerving and honking and even exchanging insults with another bus’s conductor. This was our day to be assaulted by the worst of Indian transportation habits. We did have a couple of very considerate auto-rickshaw drivers, however, so fear not, they’re out there. They’re the quiet ones hanging back.
Food: We happily ate several times at Daily Bread, just behind our hotel (excellent coffee and breakfasts). Not so great was Anada Bhavan (which appears to be a chain); we think we both suffered upset stomachs after eating their greasy noodles. On the upside were: E’space (cocktails at their rooftop bar); Xtasi (excellent pizza); Madame Santhi (great intercontinental fusion in a rooftop setting) and Artika Cafe Gallery (relaxed space and great juices).
We originally chose to visit Pondicherry as it’s close to Auroville, where the brother of a close friend has been living for over 40 years. And then we read about what a fun enclave of French culture Pondy is and decided to spend a few days there.
After our claustrophobic and agitated journey there (as noted above) we relaxed in the sea breeze from the Bay of Bengal while walking the seafront promenade. The historic French Quarter’s quite chill; most of the touts and traffic occur around the main streets. Sadly the heat and a bit of stomach upset got to us both and we didn’t get around as much as we would have liked to. However, we didn’t just hole up in our room (as comfortable as it was)…
We spent our first day relaxing and rejuvenating. Some wandering around the old French Quarter, lazing around the park and a night time dash towards the bazaar.
But it was our second day and our visit to Auroville that truly dazzled us. I felt as if I’d walked into an episode of Star Trek. Auroville, an intentional community, began building in 1968. It’s citizens come from around the world, including large numbers from India. It interacts/connects with the surrounding communities, providing work and healthcare for its neighbours. We were truly blessed in that we had an inside connection. We not only saw the Matrimandir from the outside (as most visitors do) but we were guided in to sit for a few minutes in the wonderful calm inner chamber. A beam of sunlight came through the dome’s centre, passing through the world’s largest optically correct sphere, to finally light upon the stones in a water feature at the base of the sphere. The sound of slowly dripping water only added to the calm of the softly glowing upper chamber. Surrounding the sphere are smaller meditation pods, each with a distinctive colour theme. The Peace zone surrounds the Matrimandir: concentric rings of stone and garden, including an old, old Banyan tree (ever expanding). Beyond this centre housing, schools, health centres, galleries, workshops, gardens and nurseries radiate outwards. Currently the permanent population is over 2000, some of whom are third generation inhabitants. It is possible to be a ‘guest’ at Auroville and to volunteer. Most visitors only see the visitor zone with its Information Centre, boutiques and a viewing platform for the Matrimandir. Beyond this zone, however, is a huge expanse of re-forested land with homes and busy workshops, keeping the community thriving. I came away from our visit with more questions than I had before we arrived, but also feeling hope and optimism for the future of intentional communities and their effect on our troubled world.
A few more photos of Auroville can be found in my Instagram feed.