I left Chennai on Saturday, March 29 and spent two nights in the Seaside Guest house in Pondicherry. I connected with a friend from Albuquerque, Victoria, and her daughter Aria. The three of us spent Sunday doing some shopping and treating ourselves to a facial, an inexpensive treat in india. On Monday morning, we all climbed in Suresh's taxi and he gave us a ride out to Auroville. Those of you who have been with me for a while may remember my earlier visit and report from there. I don't want to repeat myself, so it might be good to take take a look back at it. http://www.travelswithgranny.blogspot.in/2014_01_01_archive.html
The Center Guest house where I stayed in Auroville.
I dropped my bags at Center Guest House where I was staying and went over to the Buddha Gardens for a tour and a bit of history. The Buddha Gardens is one of about 120 small communities that comprise Auroville. I think any Aurovillian who has a vision and the means to realize it can start a community. These are usually focused around a set of values and goals, or sometimes around a particular handicraft or project. They are not religious groups. Religion is entirely a personal matter in Auroville, and any proselytizing is strictly prohibited. The communities vary in size, from just a handful to maybe forty or fifty tops, I believe. The Buddha gardens was started many years ago on one acre of land by a very dedicated woman named Priya. Her vision was to have a totally self-sustaining organic garden. The one acre of hard packed dirt has grown to be 10 acres, with raised beds that have rich soil and yield produce that is used throughout Auroville. Short term volunteers can contribute by working in the gardens any weekday morning from 6:15 to 9:00. The reward, in addition to the camaraderie, is breakfast. I helped out on Friday morning.
I was warned that it would be very hot in Auroville at the time I chose to visit, and indeed it was. In fact, between the hours of about 10 and 4, it was difficult to be out and about. I had intended to do some bike riding there. In fact, many people get around that way, although motor scooters are the preferred method of transportation. But it was so hot and the bikes were in such poor condition that I opted to just walk. I found plenty to do just in the area that was within walking distance.
Auroville is large and spread out. It is laid out in a circle with about a 5 km. diameter, although some of the communities lie outside that circle. Auroville currently owns about 3000 acres of land, mostly within the circle. Most of the 120 settlements welcome volunteers who are willing to come and work for a period of at least two weeks in exchange for room and board. The room is often dormitory style and the meals are very simple, usually vegetarian and locally grown. And the work is hard. There are also quite a number of guest houses where one can pay a fairly small fee for daily room and board. The cost varies according to the room. I stayed in one of the nicer rooms. I paid about $20 a day for my room and three meals a day, laundry service, and the use of a bicycle, such as it was. It costs a little more in the high (cooler) season, and it fills up fast. The rooms are already taken for next winter. Many people come for an extended stay.
The bulletin board outside our dining hall was filled with interesting offerings. I could have easily stayed at least a month and found interesting things to do every day. As it was, in addition to Buddha Gardens, I managed to enjoy an excellent yoga class for women; a live play, Romeo and Juliet, put on by Aurovillians; a full day seminar on Kaya Bodha, body awareness; a trip to the little village of Kuilapalyam where I bought more souvenirs and gifts that will make my luggage weight an even bigger problem; a tour of Sadhana farms, a settlement focused on water conservation and reforestation where Victoria and Aria are doing their volunteer work; an hour long meditation for world peace; a fabulous Ayurvedic oil massage that lasted 1 1/2 hours and wasn't nearly long enough. I also spent some time enjoying the view of the Matrimandir from outside, and was able to get inside for a meditation session. The latter was the highlight of my stay. I am not particularly fond of the appearance of the Matrimandir from the outside, from a distance. But once inside the inner circle, the gardens are truly beautiful. The inside is stunning, all white marble, like being inside a white marble globe. The light all comes from a hole in the top of the dome that directs light in a ray down to a crystal ball that then sends light out to the whole room. That's in the meditation room, which is on the top floor. To get there, one walks up a spiral ramp. Everything is white. At the bottom there is a pond in the shape of a lotus, with flowing water that makes designs that no human could replicate. I can't do it justice, and no photos were allowed.
The people are what makes Auroville really special. Their dedication to caring for the earth and all its creatures and to living in true community is exceptional. And the visitors were people I really enjoyed getting to know. Auroville isn't really India, although it is most definitely influenced by India. Only about half the people who live in Auroville are from India; the other half come from 50 different countries. The visitors, of course, are even less likely to be from India. I've decided there is a New Mexico connection somehow, because two of the Americans I met at Center Guest house had spent the last year living in Taos. There were also people from Rome, Germany, Korea, France and I don't remember where else. The last night I was there we ordered pizza, which took forever to be delivered. Tom and Brian had the group reciting "Sally sold seashells..." in about 7 different languages. A fun group, and I hated to leave. Another place I hope to come back to one day. Next time I will come when it is cooler, I will stay at least a month, and I will rent a motor scooter. I was offered a ride a few times, and always accepted. It is the best way to get around here.
Volunteers weeding at Buddha Gardens.
Tom and I worked on collecting green waste to feed the compost bin.
Working on the compost bin was hard work made great fun by the mischievousness of the mostly young volunteers.
Getting a tour of Sadhana forest. Thanks to the water conservation and reforestation work they have been doing over the past 10 years, their neighbors wells no longer run dry in the summer. The water table has been raised 6 meters. They have started similar projects in Haiti and in Kenya. Very dedicated and inspiring folks.