Wednesday, September 25, 2013

An Auroville experience (Day 4)

This is part 4 of a 4 part series titled 'A trip that made a difference: Auroville'

Click here for Part 1Part 2 and Part 3

“I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be.” Douglas Adams. This trip to Auroville couldn't have been defined in a better way.

The sunrise

Time flew and the final day at Auroville had arrived. Watching the sun emerge from the deep, being our last, at least for a while, woke us up long before the sun rose. After breathing in the nature as much as we could, we packed our luggage, had one last gaze at the beautiful room and headed to the breakfast area. We were joined by our new friends and together we relished the breakfast.  

The dip in the sea

Three days spent at the distance of 50 meters from the beach and we hadn't taken a dip. That was an injustice to the shimmering water we had been looking at since the day we reached. The half an hour dip turned into three hours of absolute unadulterated fun.

Black Coffee
After the madness, we sipped on the black coffee watching Shailaja (a charming girl from the village) and Renojay play. Shailaja possessed an incredible appetite for colors and paints and with her immaculate English, unusual for her age, she would run to me and show her piece of art. We browsed through all the travel magazines and she identified the colors and the animals with copious enthusiasm.

A picture speaks more than a thousand words and to seize the moments in our memories, we clicked pictures: The pictures which would allow us to relive this remarkable experience at some point of time in the future. At 5.30 in the evening, we finally pushed ourselves out of Auroville.

The French Colony
We reached Pondicherry, a city with a dual personality, an interesting mix of the East and the West. We decided to explore the streets of Pondicherry on foot. Known as The French Riviera of the East, the white colony is lined with colonial style houses, bakeries and restaurants serving fine wine. French is widely spoken as Pondicherry was the largest French colony in India. We were hypnotized by the distinctive architectural style and the feel it has been carrying along with it for all these years. After a good 1.5 hours, we had our last coffee in Pondicherry at Cafe Zuka.

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”- T S Eliot

When I landed in Bangalore, I was a changed person. That is what travel does to you, it gives you a new perspective towards life and unclutters your mind of the unnecessary thoughts holding you back from living your life to the fullest. The road towards the search for complete liberation will keep me moving. But it sure was an important milestone achieved. Life, to me, means much more than it did before this trip to Auroville. I realized the importance of taking a pause and examine whether I am on my path to the ultimate goal of my life or running on a treadmill. 

Pondicherry to Bangalore:
Travels: Sharma Travels, sleeper coach
Journey: 7-8 hours
Cost: Rs 600

This is part 4 of a 4 part series titled 'A trip that made a difference: Auroville'

Click here for Part 1Part 2 and Part 3

Sunday, September 22, 2013

An Auroville experience (Day 3)

This is part 3 of a 4 part series titled 'A trip that made a difference: Auroville'

Click here for Part 1 and Part 2

“Tourists don’t know where they have been, travelers don’t know where they are going” - Paul Theroux. 

We had booked the guest house for two days and were to drive to Mahabalipuram to explore the historic town and, if left with some time, visit Chennai. But, the place had mesmerized us to such an extent that if given an option, we would rather wrap up our lives from the illusive rat race and start afresh, right there, in the town brimming with art and marked by compassion, where wisdom is aimed for and, when achieved, is the only possession, where life is all that is. So, we decided to stay back and request Donata to let us stay for one more day. She agreed.

Breakfast at Samarpan
The morning followed the previous day’s agenda: To spend the morning in the lap of nature. I came to realize the power of our minds and the games it plays with us. There are those otherwise dull days when mornings are the most cursed parts of the day and such starts when leaving the bed when the entire world is in deep slumber seems effortless. ‘Amma’, as they call her, prepared delicious breakfast, enough for us to skip lunch. Samarpan was overflowing with people by now.  

Travel not only treats you with splendid landscapes and diverse cultures, it gives you an opportunity to meet people who, in certain ways, touch your lives. I believe in the circle of life, that there is always a reason behind your coming across somebody at a certain point of time. 

We met a family from Bangalore who were to stay in the guest house for a day or two. We built an instant rapport with them: Piyusha, a quick witted, fun loving lady with incredible sense of humor, Narendran who, in the beginning, seemed silent, their adorable son Renojay and the sweet girl Anita.

We decided to stay indoors for the rest of the morning. It is said, ‘Music is a healer.” but when already at peace, it is meditation. Music overwhelms you and a spring of emotions rush to your mind carrying you in a different state of awareness.

Farm Fresh
Time flew and it was noon. We were a tad hungry and had come across this small yet cozy place called Farm Fresh. The departmental store sold organic products inside and the sandwiches, burgers, organic pastries and fruits were served outside. The chefs, two young guys were diligently working towards providing the best eating experience to the guests. We ordered a Tuna sandwich and the honey-ginger-lemonade. Right across the road is Auroville bakery which is known for its fresh breads, croissants and quiches. We had our share of dessert with walnut and pineapple cake.

The changing colors of the shimmering water

By the time we came back, it started drizzling; we took a long walk on the beach. I have a strong affinity towards water bodies. They spawn confusions in my head and give me clarity at the same time. The sound of waves reverberates within me and the breeze feeds my soul. The waves kissed our feet just enough to greet us, inviting us to play with them with open arms.

Donata had promised us an italian meal. While she was cooking, with the rain and blackie with its usual energy in the backdrop, we, with our travel mates, engaged in what seemed like an endless conversation. That night, we had the most delicious pasta.

"In my end is my beginning" - T S Eliot

The thought of leaving the next day made us a little cheerless but the day ended with a promise: A promise to return to this fasctinating town of Auroville.

Eating out in Auroville: 

  • Solar Kitchen
  • Visitor's centre cafeteria
  • Dreamer's cafe
  • Tanto
  • Farm Fresh
  • Auroville Bakery

Apart from these, there are various options to eat in Auroville as well as on the way to the heart of Auroville.

This is part 3 of a 4 part series titled 'A trip that made a difference: Auroville'

Click here for Part 1 and Part 2

Thursday, September 19, 2013

An Auroville experience (Day 2)

This is part 2 of a 4 part series titled 'A trip that made a difference: Auroville'
Click here for Part 1

Our obsession with being occupied and surrounded by people all the time leaves us with a feeling of emptiness when all that reaches your ears are the sounds of the waves crashing the shore and the buzzing of the insects. The silence took some time to sink in but once it did, I slept like a corpse.

The Sunrise
The day started when it was still dark. In order to not miss out on sunrise, we freshened up and rushed to the beach. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the sun rising from the sea, gracing the earth, announcing the brand new beginning, new promises and hopes to linger on. What can be a better way than starting your day looking at the sun casting the beams on the water making it glow like molten gold, changing the color of the sky and the sea with every passing second? This sweet realization left me in awe and a smile for the simple reason of being able to witness it again the next day.

Instructed to reach the visitor's area by 8.45am, we reached before time. At 9, we were directed towards the video room. They played the video on the history of Auroville. It lasted for 15 minutes. We hopped onto the bus to Matrimandir. The architectural significance of Matrimandir was explained by a French resident, essentially for the people who had not been to the visitor’s area before. It was followed by a question answer session. She explained the protocols to be followed inside Matrimandir:

1. No photography is allowed. The luggage including mobile phones have to be submitted outside.
2. The shoes are to be removed before entering.
3. We need to put on a pair of white socks provided by them in order to keep the interiors clean.
4. Once you enter the inner chamber, no religious practices are to be followed.
5. Pin drop silence has to be maintained.
6. After 15 minutes of meditation, the focus lights are turned on. You need to quietly get up and take an exit.

 Photo Courtesy :

My excitement knew no boundaries. We entered and found number of volunteers helping maintain the decorum. Guided through the alleys covered with the white carpet, we reached the inner chamber, the place I had wanted to experience since the day I read about it.

  • The cool interiors and the pure white carpets, woven in Agra with the finest of wool imported from New Zealand, was a stark contrast to the warm exteriors. 
  • The crystal globe in the middle of the chamber is the largest optically perfect glass globe in the world. The heliostat directs the sun ray in a way that it strikes the crystal exactly in the center.

 Photo courtesy :
White mats are placed around the crystal for the people practicing meditation. I sat there in stillness for 15 minutes and came out with an experience that is ineffable. The energy in the chamber transcends you to a different level of consciousness, you float, you let go, and you are free. Something has changed in me since then.

   The art workshop

By the time we returned to the visitors' area, it was lunch time. We headed straight to the cafeteria and ordered a meal.  Once we fueled ourselves, we went to the day long free art workshop organized in the open area next to the Dreamers’ Café. From someone who hasn't touched a brush in life to a professional artist, everybody was invited. We had a chat with the organizer, a young art teacher in Auroville. “The idea is to spread joy, to open up your senses and to let the expressions flow.” she said. I couldn't have agreed more. My art was definitely a work of an amateur but it served the purpose. So artistically stimulated was I, if skilled, I could have created The Last Supper, then and there.                 
“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” Thomas Merton has captured the essence of art in a single line.

                        Tea by the sea

We returned to Samarpan, took a nap and woke up to the aromatic tea we could never get enough of.             Donata had invited us to accompany her to Pondicherry for a Manipuri dance performance. Unfortunately, the rain played spoilsport and we had to return to Auroville. We insisted Donata to have dinner with us. We went to an Italian restaurant called Tanto. A couple from Italy volunteers in Tanto for four hours a day. Over a chat with them, we ordered Chicken Cotoletta served with salad and French fries and Tiramisu for the dessert. The food was lip-smacking and the company made it more delightful.

The day came to an end with the realization that it doesn't take much to stay happy in life. Geared up for the next day, we slept in peace.

Activities: Check out the notice board near visitor's area cafeteria to find the various activities in Auroville.

This is part 1 of a 4 part series titled 'A trip that made a difference: Auroville'
Click here for Part 1

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

An Auroville experience (Day 1)

This is part 1 of a 4 part series titled 'A trip that made a difference: Auroville'
Click here for Part 2

Hill stations are the most sought after holiday destinations during monsoons. Karnataka hill stations attract people from all the directions, making it a major tourist attraction. This was the sole reason a friend and I refrained from travelling to any of those. The purpose of this holiday was to spend a few days in tranquility, away from the nerve-wrecking traffic of Bangalore. After mulling over for days, we finally decided to head to Pondicherry. The initial plan was to stay in Pondicherry for two days, rent a bike and ride to Mahabalipuram, spend the next two days exploring the historic sites, ride back to Pondicherry and take a bus to Bangalore. But travel, for us, is a continuous process of rediscovery and planning every second of it kills the fun of the whole experience. Hence, we prefer following our instincts.

Bangalore to Pondicherry
Travels : GreenLine travels, sleeper coach. 
Journey time :  7-8 hours.
Cost : Rs. 600

The view from Le Cafe
We headed straight to Le Café. The café overlooks the sea and offers a splendid view. It is pretty crowded in the evenings but a weekday morning gives you the privilege of sipping your coffee and gorge on the nature’s opus. The food served at Le café is moderate but the striking location comes to the rescue. I ordered a mushroom omelette and tea, and relished at a pace much slower than my usual routine that I often get done with.                   

The much needed Breakfast: Mushroom Omelette
After a sumptuous breakfast, taking a walk on the beach seemed difficult as the scorching sun had started playing its role. We took an auto, which charged us Rs. 150 for mere 6 kms of distance but haggling doesn't work in tourist places like these. You need to accept the fact and go with the flow.

Stay : Samarpan Guest House, Around 7 kms from Pondicherry.
Cost: Rs 1100 per day for the room we opted for. 

We had booked a guest house for two days which wasn't difficult, given the days didn't fall on the weekend. Without much difficulty, we reached the guest house in Auroville. With quite a few unpleasant experiences in the past, when in the search of solitude, I had booked resorts in the middle of nowhere; I silently prayed the heavens to spare me the horror. Not that I regret them. Such experiences are a part and parcel of the journeys enriching your life. 

                    The adorable pet

Coming face to face with a black dog with an unconventionally huge frame, when you have never had a pet, wasn't a very good beginning and to be true to my heart, it freaked me out. On ringing the bell (literally), hung on the front gate, a lady approached from the front porch. She was fair, carried an infectious smile and a distinctive aura. “Donata?” I asked. “Oh yes I am Donata.” came the reply in a husky powerful voice with an Italian accent.

The view from the window

After the exchange of the pleasantries, we were shown the rooms to pick from. We immediately selected the one on the first floor overlooking the sea. It was a fairly big room but didn't have an attached bathroom; instead, it was on the ground floor exclusive to us. 

Simple yet elegant
The room had a bed with a mosquito net, two pairs of tables and chairs with the bulbs dangling right over them in order to not deprive the readers/ writers to have a love affair with their true love, their books; a table fan and small bedding on the floor with beautiful cushions with hand woven covers, placed neatly on the floor. The window faced the sea, a view so beautiful you can spend the entire day basking in the nature’s glory. Such are the times when you realize how simple things hold the power to make your life worth living.                   

By the time the room was cleaned, we were offered tea by Donata. The aroma and the flavor of tulsi and the perfect mix of the water and milk made it one of the best teas I have ever had. The exertion from the journey and the previous day at work vanished in a split second. We relaxed for half an hour, had a shower and headed to Auroville, which is about 6 kms from Samarpan, on our rented two wheeler. 

Local Transport : You can opt for a moped. 

Charges : Rs 200 for a day.
Lush green Auroville
Auroville is an international township where people live by the philosophy of unity in humanity. They are not the victims of the conditioned consumerism and they don't let their life pass by in the futile pursuits of happiness and contentment through the materialistic possessions in order to fuel their egos. They work not out of the slavery for the endless needs but for the sheer pleasure and passion for it. Auroville is an artist's paradise. It has schools and institutes teaching various forms of art such as dance, music, painting, sketching, pottery, dramatics, candle making, etc. One can opt for an internship at these institutes and learn any of these arts. People here grow their own vegetables, crops, grow spices, prepare oils and garments. Put in a nutshell, it is a self sufficient township and so are the people which amuses me the most. 

Solar kitchen offers free food to all the travelers or at a very low price. Volunteers can either cook or help in other ways.

We had to collect a visitor’s pass for a concentration session in Matrimandir, the heart of Auroville for the next day. we reached at 11.30 am and were told by the attendant that the registrations will re-open at 2.00 pm.

Lush Green Auroville
We had two and a half hours at hand to explore this then barren land but lush green now. The credit goes to the residents of Auroville who have planted more than 1.5 million trees in a span of a few years. The visitors' room had the pictures and the writings describing the history of Auroville (City of Dawn), an experimental township, founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa, also known as The Mother. It has a population of close to 2000 people. It is home to the people coming from 43 nationalities. It doesn't favor any religion hence people spend their lives in peace.

Drip Coffee at Dreamer's Cafe
The Dreamer's cafe in the visitor's area was bustling with people. Sandwiches packed for the residents, cool drinks sipped by the visitors, the kids relishing their ice-creams. I, due to some strange reason, ordered drip coffee in the blistering heat and a vegetable sandwich. I sat in the open area next to the café and reflected on the Auroville’s purpose of existence. 
It was difficult to hold ourselves from having a glimpse of Matrimandir, the outstanding architecture and the heart of Auroville. We grabbed a guest pass and walked down to Matrimandir, just to have a look from a distance. It is incredible how the excitement and the willingness to witness a place as grand as Matrimandir can pull you through the insane heat and fatigue.

The magnificent Matrimandir
The moment I laid my eyes on this magnificent structure, I instantly fell in love, the deep, insane love, the kind where you don’t want to avert your eyes from it, the gold, the design and the vibes. The globe is covered with the golden discs which reflect the light providing the structure its characteristic radiance.We sat there in silence, away from the chaos and confusions of life, away from the greed and the need to prove your identity every single second.
Our lovely host
With the promise of returning back the next day, we left for the visitor’s area and headed back to the closest I had ever been to the sea in terms of the stay. By 4 pm we were with Donata, sipping on her impeccably prepared tea and, for the first time since we met her, we had an informal conversation. Donata is a passionate lady who had traveled to India, thirty eight years back at the time when she could neither understand nor speak a word of English. The country made such an impact on her psyche, she knew she had to come back, this time not as a visitor. She shared stories from her youth, her encounters with the people who went out of their ways to help her reach her destination, her life in Italy. Her humility touched me in a way that is indescribable. I shared my travel experiences, interests and passions, to which she responded in a manner that made me sense that she was there in the past, right where I am, at the crossroads of life where life offers you endless opportunities and all you need to do is grab them and make the most of what is called LIFE. We came to an end of a conversation that would stay with me for a long time.

Life is for this
The rest of the evening was spent in the hammock, reading a book and playing with blackie who, by now, had become an inseparable part of the trip. By 7 in the evening, it started pouring. We were forced to eat at a restaurant called Goodman: Empty, expensive by its standards and a rundown place.

We returned to the room, contemplated on the eventful day of the trip, set an alarm at 5.30 am for next day to witness the nature’s another marvel : the sunrise, we couldn't afford to miss.                                  

Weather: November to February : The best time to visit Pondicherry/Auroville
              The weather is relatively pleasant during this time.

              July to September : It receives good amount of rainfall and is 

              suitable for the rain lovers.

              Summers are extremely hot.

This is part 1 of a 4 part series titled 'A trip that made a difference: Auroville'
Click here for Part 2


Monday, September 2, 2013

When the Sun casts a spell

Sunset at Kudle beach, Gokarna, Karnataka

When the sun melts in the bottomless deep,
It is the time for the rise of the dark,
It sure leaves a mark,
But it knows not that the light too has its promises to keep.