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Travel: Auroville, Pondicherry and more
Aurobindo, after whom Auroville is named, might not have wanted this place to be a tourist destination. Neither would The Mother, whose spirit guides Auroville. However, Pondicherry and Auroville has now become a tourist destination. People visit Auroville when they visit Pondicherry or now known as Puducherru.
The youngsters visit Puducherry for a reason - when the neighboring states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu had restrictions on Liquor consumption, Puducherry was their closest watering hole. The Sea and the Shore add a certain zing to the drinking fest.
I visited Puducherry to see Auroville. I was told it is a great place, especially for those who are interested in meditation or concentration. Not that I am a great fan of meditation or do a lot of meditation myself. I was also told that there is a Great Golden Globe called the MATRIMANDIR. Yes, that is what I wanted to see. And got to see much more.
Puducherry is about 150 Kilometers from Chennai. We took the route out through Tambaram. About 110 Kms down, we took a left at a flyover. You are likely to miss the board which says that Pondicherry it to the Left. If you accidentally take the flyover (the other way goes to Thindivanam), you can take a u-turn and get under the flyover towards Pondicherry (actually 2 u-turns). You have two toll gates in between, each charging about Rs. 30/- for a return trip. (The third toll-gate just outside Puducherry was not operational as of the time of the writing.)
How to reach
The easiest way to reach Auroville is to just take a left just before the toll gates of Puducherry. You will find a board directing you to the Auroville Tourist Information Center. The road is slightly narrow (compared to the wider highway roads) and it advisable to drive with care.
The tourist information centre has ample parking space - you pay Rs.20/- for the car parking. The centre has an informative gallery displaying the mission, Charter, the writings / saying of the Mother, models of the proposed city and photos of Aurobindo and The Mother. It will take a good hour to browse through all the material. There is a model of the Golden Globe and pretty impressive. Here you get free passes to watch the Golden Globe from outside (from about half a KM far). You are asked to watch an informative video before going to look at the Globe. I will not tell you what is in the Video. I strongly suggest that you watch it. You might not want to go to watch the Globe after that. That is fine and sometimes the right decision. Do not worry.
The passes are issued Monday to Saturday between 9:30 to 12:30 PM and 2:00PM to 4:00 PM. On Sundays, the passes are issued only between 9:30 and 12:30 PM. Remember that the pass allows you to view the MATRIMANDIR from outside. It is not a pass to get inside and meditate. Also, the Matrimandir closes at 12:50 pm and 4:30 pm sharp. So it is advisable to plan your trip before the deadlines. General Guidelines from the pass: You are requested to maintain quiet, cleanliness and discipline in the Matrimandir area. The Matrimandir Gardens are under development: Please follow the instructions given to you by the persons on duty. Picnics are not allowed. People under the influence of alcohol or drugs will not be allowed inside the compound. The instructions are printed in English, Hindi, Tamil and French (I guess).
For a chance to meditate / concentrate inside the Matrimindir, you will have to request for a separate pass. Information on this is available at the information center.
Well, I decided to go on to watch the Golden Globe. It is a Kilometer by walk through a mostly covered path. You pass through a green forest full of beautiful trees, some rare, some medicinal (I believe all trees are medicinal). There is a pathway for motors and you come across some fast riders too. At the places where the walk way intersects the motorway, there are men-in-blue guiding the walkers. A few meters before the Globe is visible, you will be asked for the Pass that was provided at the information centre. The Sun was shining brightly, the atmosphere warm and humid, close to what you feel in Chennai. However, the trees provided the necessary shade and cooling that was needed.
You will get a good view of the Matrimandir and the Great Banyan tree from the view-point. There are three information boards about the Matrimandir and the Banyan Tree. You will find a lot of tourists around this place taking pictures of the globe and of themselves. And you will fine a few men-in-blue watching over you, so that you do not attempt to breach the boundary and try to enter the lawn. You will find two types of people - one set who are loving the beautiful sight of the Matrimandir and the other set who are tired of the one Kilometer walk and raring to go back to the information center to grab something to eat or drink. And you will find the third set, the ever-bubbly children, the epitome of true love, submission, purity, eternal bliss, and all the good things in life, who care a damn of what is around and play to their heart's content among the trees.
A few facts about the Matrimandir: It is supposed to have 4 entrances, each named after Goddesses. It has about 1400(0) disks, each disk is gold plated. More when I get inside the next time.
After we took a few photos, we headed back in the direction we came from. Did not feel like walking. We were also told that there is an electric vehicle (zero emission???) that would ferry us back to the place, but it was lunch time, so the vehicle would come only after an hour and would only pick up those who could not walk. We found a willing auto driver who helped us cover the distance back for Rs.40.
The first priority now was FOOD. There is a good restaurant with a variety of food. The rates are reasonable for that area. Both veg and non-veg food is available. The inside has a (great) smell of processed fish. You have the option of sitting outside where the non-veg food smells will not bother you. You can order Pizzas (great variety) or South Indian food (again a good variety). Also available are coffee, tea, milk, flower shakes and so on. However, after a sumptuous South Indian Lunch, there was not much space in the stomach to try the flower shakes. One great thing about the place - the use of Plastics was minimal and disposable glasses and plates were non-existent. That was great planning on the thinkers there to keep the environment clean.
Shopping in Auroville
If you are interested in shopping around, you have a few shops selling clothes, accessories and organic foods. While Auroville Boutique is one of the few having a collection of great fashion wear, there are dedicated book stores and paintings. The shops have an interesting collection of Books (for those oriented towards spirituality, concentration and much more) and memorabilia. There are books for children on the great Epics. If you are a fan of incense sticks, natural perfumes and herbal products, this is a great place to shop till you drop.
The building plans too seem to have some sort of optimization on the use of energy. There was no need for any artificial lighting during the day time. I would have liked to stay there longer to study the building technologies and the planning. However, we were told the beach is a great place. So we headed off to the beach.
The Shore and more
We missed the Aurobeach. And ended up on the shore front. Since it was after the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, there were young boys asking for Ganesh Idols. Looks like these boys take the Ganesh Idols and dip them into the sea. We had none, so did not need to stop. We also missed a place where there was some sand and we could get our feet wet. The rest of the beach was rocks with slippery moss over it. Decided not to venture in. After a few minutes at the shore-front, we went to the Ashram. The place is calm and quiet. There is a Samadhi. Not still sure if it is of Aurobindo or The Mother. People were too quiet and were talking in hushed tones. So did not bother to disturb the peace there. There is an attached library and a few people inside, again conversing in hushed tones.
After this, we decided to head back to Chennai. We were told the ECR (East Coast Road) route would be scenic with the sea beside us for quite some time. Our driver was not enthusiastic about the sea - he had too much of sea in Chennai - and said that the route we came in was more greener and quicker. With not much bargaining power, we headed back in the route we came. The trip back took about 3 hours, almost equal to the trip in the other direction.
One thing you could do on the way back - Petrol and Diesel are cheaper than in Chennai - So fill your fuel tanks before you leave the Union Territory. Another gyan that I got after I returned back was - there is another beach (more of an Island) approachable by boat. This place has lots of sand. Twin advantages - you get to travel in the sea and you get a better beach experience. The last boat back from this island beach is at 6:00 PM and do not miss it.
Other things you will observe - the Police Dress and caps are Different. The Traffic Police dress too is different. People speak Tamil and are very helpful with the routes. You will find a good number of people of European origin moving around on two-wheelers. Not sure if these people have made Pondicherry their home.
Overall, it was a pleasant experience. If you are into concentration, mediation, etc. it is a must visit place.