My Rendition of ‘Pondicherry’: Auroville

The first thing that attracted me to Pondicherry was the idea of Auroville itself. The reality of it was more than I had expected and beyond.

Auroville is a self sustaining village located 30 minutes (drive) from Pondicherry on the ECR (East Coast Road). To fathom the idea that is ‘Auroville’ you have to see it and experience it, mere words can’t do justice to the place.

The things we merely give lip-service to: world peace, community living, spiritual life and oneness; they live them.

The idea of Auroville was conceptualized by the enigmatic follower of Sri Aurobindo, the Mother, a woman who came seeking truth from France and then became his spiritual partner. This city is built on the principle that it belongs to no one: it belongs to no nation but belongs to the humanity as a whole and the purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity.

Charter of Auroville

Lofty sounding goals yes, but they appear achievable here.

Human Unity

Human Unity

It is a universal town where people from every nationality can live; they are referred to as Aurovilleans and not as Indian, Dutch, Spanish or Italian. Their country doesn’t define them.

Matrimandir: Soul of Auroville  

The spiritual connotations indicate that this ‘temple’ does not belong to any religion or sect. It is a common meditation place. The energy I felt inside the dome is indescribable.

They do not believe in any particular religion or belief, nor do they negate the prevailing beliefs. The University of Human Unity in Auroville is attempting to understand the conception and idea of the universe we live in. It is an intriguing undertaking; I really hope they find the answers to all those hauntingly elusive questions. Cameras weren’t allowed inside so I will make do with the pictures I took at the Visitor’s Center ( and the reality is even better)

The Dome

The Dome

The Inner Chamber

The Inner Chamber

A Solar Kitchen:

Besides the fact, that most of the food here is organically grown. There is a solar kitchen where the food is entirely cooked on solar energy. Doesn’t this sound fascinating? And yes, it was.

But, eating there without a reservation can get quite tricky. So, if you plan to eat here make up your mind in advance and make a reservation.

Inside View of the Kitchen

Inside View of the Kitchen

Solar Kitchen

Varied and Authentic Cuisine:

There might be a gazillion places that brag about this. But, in Auroville, a French restaurant is run by a French person, an Italian restaurant by an Italian and most definitely a Greek restaurant by a Greek. The bakeries and patisseries had the most amazing pies and cakes. An Italian dessert, Panna Cotta, caught my fancy; it simply melted in my mouth. It was an exquisite specimen of baking.

A Learning Escapade:

Everywhere you look, you will find pottery classes, dancing classes, yoga classes, language classes etc. The local school which generally has the local Tamil population has greatly benefitted in terms of exposure and teachers. Aurovilleans spend time teaching at the school. A lot of international students come to Auroville for internships and take up community work; some even teach and get involved at this school.

Architecture:

Since Auroville claims to live beyond the usual norms of society and its expectations, the architectural landscape reflects this belief. It is an architect’s haven and has been attracting architecture students from all over the world. If you can create it; flaunt it… is their motto. The city centre and the buildings have a neo look and feel; they are oriented towards the environment and since the basic thrust is towards community living that can be seen in the designs.

Even the landscaping is supposedly man-made.

Inside Auroville

Inside Auroville

Beautiful, isn’t it?

 

 

My Rendition of ‘Pondicherry’:The Gastronomic Trail

No travel is complete without experimenting with the local Cuisine. Pondicherry brags to have the French cuisine, the Indo- French cuisine and the South Indian cuisine .The added advantage of being a coastal area gives it a foothold on sea food as well. Honestly, I am a conventional non- vegetarian, as I am allergic to red meat and I don’t relish sea food, so that leaves me with not much choice save Chicken. Fortunately, the French Bakeries had amazing things to choose from. I devoured at many places but make a mention of a few places I liked below:

Le Space- Yolande’s Kitchen

This Café looked very homely and inviting with a Bohemian setting. There was something very endearing about a young boy carrying the huge menu board around; there were no typed menus!  The Menu for the day had Petit Pate, Shrimps and Julienne de Legumes as starters. The place was crowded and rushed, it being 31st of December. Yolande came to take our order when I explained my conventional non-vegetarian taste but I insisted that I wanted to have a good French Dish – he sent the cook to speak to us. The cook made a wonderful chicken dish. He made chicken in wine and some weird sounding French sauce (I don’t remember the name) with rice. He also sautéed vegetables on the side. Though it doesn’t sound much, but trust me; this was one of the best meals I have had in a long time. Perhaps, it was the celebratory air or the ambiance which did the trick, but it was amazing!

Yolande had called a French Salsa teacher, Fred Lassere, who was teaching the people how to dance. So it was a wonderful way to welcome the New Year.

Anyone looking for an unassuming place which is not ostentatious but has good food must surely come here.

Le Café

Anybody visiting Pondicherry can’t miss this Café on the Promenade. The best part is that it is open 24 hours, and the outside sitting area is so close to the sea that you can enjoy the sea waves crashing with your cup of coffee. There was something ethereal about the sight of the magnificent sun rising from the sea, after witnessing the glorious sun rise we walked into the Café for Breakfast. Sipping my coffee and biting into my croissant with the sound of waves as the music, was a scene out of my own dream-book.

Tanto’s

This restaurant is in Auroville. The first thing you notice here is the Huuuuge clay oven being used to bake fresh pizzas. The menu has French dishes also, but basically this place specializes in Italian. The dessert, Panna Cotta with chocolate sauce was delectably delicious. Auroville has many good restaurants with authentic cuisine.

Café Daily Bread

The best part about this place was its narrow gallery overlooking the street. It is a French patisserie but also offers a food menu. Surprisingly, their Biryani was very good.

Café Coffee.com

I can’t finish my trail without mentioning this Café. The heavy woodwork inside is worth admiring. This place is run by a Family. Where the father does most of the cooking including making his own ice- cream. This Café has its own cyber area, where you can sip your fragrant beverage while checking your email.

However, Beware you are forbidden to wear your foot-gear inside. So if you don’t mind removing your shoes and hanging out, this is the place to be!

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My Rendition of Pondicherry: Introduction

Renamed ‘Puducherry’ in 2006, this coastal union territory packs a punch in terms of an unreal experience. Something about ‘Puducherry’ could not conjure the same image as ‘Pondicherry’ for me, if you ask me the reason for it, I wouldn’t know.  Interestingly, it seemed that the locals and the people in Tamil Nadu were also bitten by the same bug and they continue with ‘Pondy’ and ‘Pondicherry’, as if the change means nothing to them. But as Shakespeare pointed out, what’s in a name?

Travelers looking for peace and quiet would love Pondicherry. However, anybody expecting a Goa like party frenzy will be disappointed; this is a place to spend time with yourself and in many ways to find yourself again.

Unlike my usual trips, I decided to travel blind, where I did not research like I usually do and just randomly made a plan to go to Pondicherry; I guess I wanted to be surprised. Mind you, we were travelling there for the New Year and we hadn’t even made our hotel reservations (which is a dumb thing to do, but I wanted to do something I hadn’t done before). I was travelling with a friend so it wasn’t that foolish, but foolish nonetheless, knowing how crowded the place would be.

We took a bus to Pondi from Chennai. After the three and half hour bus drive, we reached Pondicherry, and that is when I started hyperventilating. The place was awash with tourists, and every place we went to had no rooms available. The thought uppermost in my mind was, would we never get a place to stay? After a three hour search we finally managed to book into a very comfortable budget hotel on the Captain Marius Xavier Street which was not very far from the main square.

After thanking our stars for coming to our rescue we quickly grabbed some food and set out to explore this fascinating melting pot of cultures.

The Extraordinary Architecture: A Feast for the eyes!

What stood out was the architectural divide! The French rule which ended in the early 60s had a profound effect on the architecture and the plan of the town; all the streets have retained their French names .                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

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The largest square in the city, Government square, is surrounded by all the public buildings, which can easily be labeled as the heart of the town. Wherever we went, we crossed this square at least twice a day.

In the colonial times, the city was divided into the White town and the Black town, interestingly, this can be still perceived in the architecture. The White Town (popularly known as the French Colony), is by the sea side, all the buildings are inspired by French Architecture ( usually yellow or orange)

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 which makes the whole experience of walking around them remarkable, as soon as we move a little further, we can see the buildings that are Franco- Tamil and which mark the Tamil Quarter. It was fascinating to see the changing look of the buildings.  Moving further was the Muslim Quarter characterized by mosques.

Even the churches have a Franco- Tamil feel to them

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The Beaches

The Promenade beach overlooking the Bay of Bengal is the most crowded and the most frequently visited beaches in the city. Its promenade is long and is surrounded by the White town on the other side, the promenade houses the most important memorials and statues.

The other beach, the Serenity Beach was a typical fishing beach with fishing boats and fishermen et al, unlike its name; it’s not very serene and is usually crowded, so there is nothing which can pass for a quiet and private beach around the city.       DSCN0717

The Auro Beach was also crowded with the local people and the fishermen were selling freshly cooked fish in small shacks. The locals explained that after the Tsunami raised the water level the beach here does not exist per se, a small strip of sand passes as the beach.  

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Arikamedu 

The highlight of my sojourn was a day trip to Arikamedu in Kakkayanthope, which is about 7 kms from the city.  This was a Tamil fishing village which archaeologists claim had trading ties with Rome in the pre- historic times; it was an important centre in bead making. Riding through the quiet south Indian village of Kakkayanthope (on a Scooty) was an experience I will never forget. The site looked abandoned and deserted with not  a  single soul present, after about half an hour we spotted a local on a bike; we stopped him to ask a few questions. He enthusiastically informed us how the ancient Arikameduans used an underground tunnel to transport their goods to a nearby port which would then be sent to Rome. The tunnel in question was covered by a thick covering of trees and vegetation.
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It was a surreal experience to stand at the very place, which despite being a quiet South Indian village had made a mark as an International Centre for bead making in as far back as 200 BC!  I could envision the bygone era… feel it in my bones. Today, the village has fallen into obscurity and the main site has been taken over by the Archaeological Survey of India. The artifacts, coins and pottery excavated from the site are displayed in the Pondicherry museum and some have been sent to the museums in Italy.

A Temple Town?

Like all the cities in Southern India, even this one was full of temples and shrines. The most remarkable feature about the temples in South India is that they are ostentatious and flamboyant, in a good way. Most of temple domes depict a scene from the Ramayana on the outside whereas the temples in the north have all the depictions on the inside.

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The Sri Aurobindo Ashram

No post about Pondicherry can be complete without the mention of the ‘Ashram’; the building is small and looks quite unassuming from the outside. But as soon as I went inside, I was struck with stillness, it seemed like time stood still and all my worries and inhibitions left me. The peace and serenity engulfed me as I sat there for about two hours. The energy in that place was poignant. Even now, while writing, I can feel Goosebumps on my arm just thinking about that place.

My next post will cover my gastronomic adventures and obviously Auroville!!!!

Wanderlust Explained:

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By this post, I will attempt to talk about this ‘ wanderlust’ which affects us. On reflecting, I realized that not just the humans; but even a lot of migratory animals are affected by it. Specifically, some birds never stay put in one place all their life.  Perhaps that is why they have wings; so that they can fly?

How many times have you wanted to be someplace else as opposed to where you are right now? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a place you want to travel to, it could simply be a shopping mall, a cinema, a park or a yearning for some fresh air.

Travel is just a part of the Wish:

The yearning to travel is just a part of the whole scenario.

Is it just me or everyone feels like there is something out there to be experienced, discovered and lived. Not that there is anything wrong with the way we are living our present lives but there is a vacuum, a chasm ; if you will, somewhere  deep inside which can only be filled by this pursuit of the desire to discover something which  hitherto is unknown. Think about the gazillion cultures, tribes, cults, religions, places and tales just waiting to be explored, exposed and revealed!!!

At this point, it would be wrong not to mention the Inner Travel and Outer Travel.

According to me, any travel experience which entails travelling to any place, we are not familiar with would constitute two things on a basic level, an inner experience and an outer experience.

The outer experience would embrace the aesthetic beauty which we will see, natural like beautiful beaches, valleys, mountains and also manmade like beautifully designed buildings and cultural architecture.

However, the inner experience responds directly with the soul. So, you not only see things with your eyes but also with your soul… There is something about the sight of the magnificent ocean or the never-ending snow-covered mountain range, which communicates with you at an atavistic level. It strikes you at a spiritual level and makes you realize how insignificant you really are, how trivial your sorrows and pains, how ludicrous your struggles…..

Every travel experience changes something about you or rather teaches you something about yourself you didn’t know, the reason being that we are faced with unfamiliar circumstances and situations , things we are not used to and the way we react to them acquaints us with a part of our personality we didn’t know existed. So it really helps us grow. Every travel has changed me a little, my perspective in certain things.  It makes you aware about new things; things you didn’t know existed or cared about before, perhaps.

Does it signify a yearning for Freedom/ Emancipation?

Could this mean that the human soul really desires freedom when it wants to discover new things, new places , new people? Freedom to live beyond their societal boundaries by assimilating with different cultures and different ways of life? Maybe the soul was really not meant to live in these manmade boundaries, these boundaries which define how to live and how not to live.

What is strange is that every culture has a specific way to live and deal with things, so which one is really the correct way? How do we know that?

At this point, my saner self tells me, hey everything you wish to know and discover is right beside you, with you and around you. But how will I know that unless I do this, unless I give into this wanderlust and see where it takes me?

Was this a Glimpse of Nirvana???

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We started off with a trip to Andaman and Nicobar Islands but soon realized that there was no Nicobar to visit because the tiny archipelago was made tinier by the Tsunami that rocked the Pacific Islands in 2004.

I will admit that I am a little conventional in a way and I like to fully prepare myself about a place before I travel, I read travel blogs and travelogues about it. But nothing had prepared me for the real Andaman! What awaited us there was an experience beyond mere words. Not only was it aesthetically beautiful, it being an archipelago, the view from the airplane window before you land on the Veer Savarkar Airport in Port Blair, is beyond compare. It was culturally, anthropologically and even geologically unparalleled to anything I have ever seen even on Discovery HD.

(Honestly!)

It will take me posts and posts if I tell you the  complete story of Andaman as I saw it, so I will stick to a cursory view of the island. The promenade around the ocean in Port Blair is thrice the size of the much talked about Marine Drive and ten times more beautiful. Anthropologically, it hosts many tribes, the Jarawas, Onges , Sentinelese etc  which despite the advent  of a nuclear world live in absolute ignorance of the world around them. I mean they operate in a parallel universe because their civilization has not progressed from the Cavemen stage. This is astounding. No? Imagine! They haven’t heard of TV and yes our very own ‘the Internet’ is a mystery to them.  I saw hordes of anthropologists visiting the island and studying their culture.

In the Colonial times, this island was used to dump the political prisoners, and it earned its moniker “kala-paani”. The Cellular Jail made me think that how can some place so beautiful be marred by so much bloodshed? On a tour of the jail; the place where the prisoners were hanged is also pointed out. Many people who fought for us; died here.

To cover the whole chain of islands, we decided to hire a car. We drove through the whole expanse of the archipelago, the local ferries would ferry the passengers and their vehicles across the water. It was pure joy to watch gas cylinders being ferried from one island to another. One thing which really intrigued me was that every little town had a library. The public libraries in the bigger towns were often huge buildings, that says a lot about the people there.

The Beaches! Where do I even begin? The Havelock Island had its own immigration office (which was a cute little hut), a lot of tourists moor their yachts and use speed boats to come to the island and enjoy the beach and for water sports. With coral reefs to explore; Andaman has made a niche for itself in water sports.  The Ross and Smith Islands are twin islands off the coast of North Andaman (picture above); the sight of them emerging when you drive towards them in a speed boat is unsurpassed.

I will never ever forget the sight of underwater life; the scene I saw when I snorkeled on the Jolly Buoy Island. I saw a school of sea anemone fish (the clown fish rather Nemo, if you will ). It was like watching Nemo come alive. This school was attempting to hide in a sea anemone.

There is so much to cover the cuisine, the museums and more beaches; which keep getting better… When you think that nothing can be more beautiful than this; you come across something twice as beautiful.

So! If you ever think of an Island holiday; don’t forget we live close to one of the best in the World ( even though it is unexplored; which adds to its allure)!!!!