So Puducherry and Auroville take two….
I won’t write about Puducherry again as we’ve covered that already really and to be honest we did much of the same kind of thing (yes that did include cramming in even more masala dosas at the Indian Coffee House).
However, worth mentioning is our day trip to Auroville – a town about 12km northwest of Puducherry.
The ‘City of Dawn’ is an experimental township that was founded in 1968 by Murray Alfassa (known as “the Mother”) and designed by architect Roger Anger.
The purpose of the town itself is to realise human unity: a community dedicated to living in peace and harmony, above all creeds and nationalities.
The charter of Auroville below states some of its ideologies, as outlined by The Mother:
The town radiates around a large gold Ferrero Roche looking building called the Matrimandir, and is divided into zones focusing on different aspects of community life.
Made up of about 43 different nationalities, the residents are engaged in a wide range of activities including organic farming, renewable energy, handicraft, education and small-scale industries. They also operate as a largely cashless economy within their own community.
As our guidebook stated – ‘outside opinions vary from admiration to accusations of self-indulgent escapism’. Perhaps as someone with idealistic leanings myself, I was intrigued by the concept of Auroville and what it aspired towards. Lee was definitely more on the skeptical side – but curious nonetheless.
We were also drawn by the artisan nature of the community, having already seen and heard about the various handicrafts produced by the local people.
During our time in Puducherry, we’d noticed that many of the boutiques boasted handmade Auroville products ranging from beautiful clothing and jewelry, to textiles and ceramics , to organic bread and chocolate cake. Our absolute favourites were a series of lovely elephant mugs (the handle was the trunk) which we very nearly bought several times but talked ourselves out of it with the reality that they would never make it home in one piece.
Obviously we knew we weren’t going to discover the true essence of Auroville in a day, but given our failed attempt to stay the first time round, we were keen at least to pop by and see what it was like.
Our first impressions of Auroville were that it was very leafy, green and peaceful – with hardly any traffic except the odd motorcycle or people on bicycles. It was definitely a breathe of fresh air from the noisy part of Puducherry we had just come from.
We headed to the tourist centre where we learnt a little more about the formation of the town, before going to the open ‘peace’ space at the centre to sit and admire the Matrimandir (the afore mentioned Ferrero Rocher) in all it’s glory.
The Matrimandir (sanskrit for ‘Temple of The Mother’) took 37 years to build and is a huge dome covered by golden discs that reflect the sunlight. It’s known as the soul of the City and rather than a place of religion, is meant to be a place of reflection and meditation.
Lee: *cough cult *cough
Inside the Matrimandir a single ray of sunlight streams through the roof onto a crystal that sits in the middle of the white walled meditation area.
Unfortunately you have to book ahead to go inside the Matrimandir so we missed this opportunity to see this, but it did look pretty impressive from what we saw in the tourist centre.
After some quiet time admiring the impressive glow of the Matrimandir, we went in search of some lunch.
What was supposed to be a 10 minute stroll ended up being an hour long hunt for a recommended ‘hidden’ Vegetarian restaurant in the heart of the forested area. Turns out it wasn’t just hidden, it wasn’t there at all, and we’d been completely misdirected by a lady at the tourist centre.
The lengthy detour was certainly a good way to see the more ‘local’ parts of Auroville…at various points things got a bit dicey though – being stuck in what turned out be someone’s garden/plot of land with a barking dog guarding the entry and exit, leaving us with a choice of a) jumping the high garden fence onto the main road or b) retracing our steps and passing the snarling animal; passing through villages and more packs of snarling canines patrolling every property; facing a 30 minute walk back (having given up at this point) unsheltered in the intense midday sun. We also came across at least 5 or 6 sights such as this:
Having come uncomfortably close to passing out due to our midday lunch hunt, we gave up and got a rickshaw to a great little cafe called Bread and Chocolate which saved the day.
Run and owned by a friendly Swedish (I think?) woman, Bread and Chocolate had a mouth watering menu full of yummy organic salads, eggs and artisan breads, cakes and coffees. I went for a ‘smoothie bowl’ full of frozen banana and berry smoothie topped with fresh fruit, seeds and rustic chocolate granola. It was DELICIOUS and a work of art too. I’m actually salivating even as I think about it now. I will be attempting to create at home for sure!
Much as I’d have liked to have hung out at the cafe all day and slowly worked my way through the menu, sadly we had to head back to Puducherry that evening to our hotel.
Whatever people’s opinion of Auroville, it certainly seemed a very peaceful and friendly place in the short time we were there. There seemed a lot of ‘wellness activities’ on offer such as art classes, crafts and yoga, as well as plenty of volunteer and educational opportunities.
It certainly would have been nice to spend a little more time there as I’m sure some of the Aurovillians have interesting life stories to tell and I’d have liked a sunny morning to hire bikes and explore the town properly.
Back in Puducherry the next day we had a lot of time to kill before our 10pm sleeper bus to Bangalore. Here’s my favourite photo from that day to close this post.