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: 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!!!!