A travel’ode to Auroville – City of Dawn

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Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. That’s the vision of this unique universal town, an utopian experiment of its own. The township is set between villages, along the scenic coromandel coast of South India, around 150 km south of Chennai and 10 km from the town of Puducherry.

Having heard lot of good reviews about the place, I had been aching to feel the place first-hand. Riding through the winding shaded narrow roads en-route to our cottage on a Scooty the overnight bus journey seemed a distant memory. That was all but second only to the experience at Gaia’s Cottage (Gaia was the name Greeks gave to Mother Earth). Surrounded by dense vegetation, constant chirping sound of birds, beautiful purple and white bougainvilleas and a serene calmness we were lost for words. The kind of place where you unburden all your worries and savor the warmth. Like in a mother’s lap.

Auroville is not a tourist place which you should visit on a tight schedule with a checklist. Its quite the opposite. The only check practically you should keep be of the hours/days spend. We got a feel of it just an hour into the trip. Casually chatting with the German family, a young couple and two sweet kids, who were leaving the cottage while we were checking-in, Freida almost took an offense when we mentioned that ours is a two-day trip. The concept of staying in Auroville for such a short duration seemed to be undigestible to her. Saying goodbyes, what I noted was that howsoever we prompted them discussing on the places we were planning to see the next couple of days there was only a smile and ‘yea, that place is great’ reply from them. The small township that Auroville is, we ran into them a couple of times later the same day.

Gaia's Cottage - Auroville

Being a small township the eating-out options are not many unless you include the not-so-far Pondicherry beach road. However all the cafes are in the vicinity and will impress you one way or the other. The cafe next to Auroville Bakery was our breakfast ‘adda’ for both the days of our stay. With bare minimum facilities and freshly home-made food pick any cafe and you wouldn’t be left wont for anything, except luxury and prompt service. But then everyone coming into Auroville has plenty of that, time. Roma’s Kitchen was a serendipitous discovery while driving aimlessly down a mud road. A good 2 Km inroad and with a deserted look the restaurant had a thatched roof shelter for parking. With not much hopes we dug into a Chicken Chettinad curry and Chicken Casserole; and we kept digging. The best we had had ever. Reading a bit into the place we found the rolly-polly lady we had met at the place was actually the founder, Roma Hira, and had been running the place for seven years.

Half way into this post I would want the chance reader who has come here not to prepare an itinerary with the reviews here in mind, rather to explore and write your own story. Visit to Matrimandir, the soul of Auroville, was an experience beyond words. A 2 Km stroll from the Visitor’s Center the dome situated in the middle of an expanse of empty green space looks majestic and a work of beauty. Though a meditation inside the dome will need prior booking you will get the feel of it from a distance as well. As we sat down at a park bench sinking into the experience we noticed this frail looking Tibetan lady meditating facing the Matrimandir. A khaki saddle bad by her side. The noise made by the kids from a School trip or the hustle-bustle of the teenagers posing for selfies didn’t seem to bother here. Her face seemed so calm and vibrant, soaking in the light reflected from the golden outer of the dome. I did try to follow her suite. But terribly failed in about 5 minutes, timed by my friend, which to a fidgety person like me felt a lifetime.

Matrimandir - Auroville

For those of you who want some action there is Pondicherry beach, a 15 minutes drive from Auroville, with its long line of cafes and busy beach-side walks. Before settling down on your cottage porch at night a walk on the beach and a couple of drinks at a cafe might be the perfect ending to a satisfying day. You can always carry a wine back for the night. It helps that the booze comes pretty cheap in this part of the country.

The only regret I had waiting for the return bus was that I wont be waking up to the experience that is Auroville the next day. Well that’s one more place added to my yearly sojourns. Right beside Goa. Peace.

PS: For those of you planning to visit the township, this might be of some help.

1. Accommodation: You can drop in a mail to avguests@auroville.org.in for booking guest house/cottage and be assured of a prompt reply.

2. Getting Around: Have a map of Auroville in handy and rent a bike (mopeds to bullets) from any of the bike rentals lining the Mission Street, Pondicherry.

3. Food: Walk into any cafe and you wont be disappointed.

4. Shopping: Souvenir shops are in the main market, near the Auroville bakery.

Mumbai Local – A Heartless Pulse

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Mumbai local.

7.5 million. That’s the number of daily commuters taking the Mumbai suburban railway – mumbai local. That’s more than the population of many countries, put together. It has been called the pulse of mumbai, the lifeline and so on. For a girl coming from a romantic and serene state like Goa, the chaos that is Mumbai local was frightening and at the same time exhilarating. The rush of catching the train by the seconds; the calm before the storm at bandra station; the people both ruthless and going out of their way to help; the guilty pleasure of a harmless touch in the crowd.

Its filthy, the local trains. Ruthless, arrogant, pushy and maddening. Why should I take a local train when a cab ride is so comfy. The traffic never bothered me anyway (‘Frozen’ tune playing in head). ‘Pudhil station thane’ ! Aargh…why is that repeating in my head.

I had made up my mind to tell him what I felt. He definitely must have a hint of what I have in mind. I am sure he feels it too. But does he? Why does he act so distant at times then? What was he thinking taking me to that restaurant…Bagdadi! eh..what a dump. Girl, focus! Pudhil station Ghatkopar. My heartbeat seamed to have been synced to the rhythm of the train. Okay, here it goes.

The silence was overbearing. Steady rhythm of the train almost reaching a crescendo in my heart. Feeling of numbness. ‘I am sorry. I don’t think I can see you that way’, that’s what he said. In the gushing wind through the open compartment a silent cry escaped me. He mustn’t have heard it. How can someone be so near, yet so distant? I waited all these years for this moment. To be turned down by the first guy I opened my heart to. Somethings not right. This is not how it was supposed to be. I wanted the train to stop. I needed it to feel with me. It meaninglessly kept on its stride.

To think I loved travelling on the local. So naive I was. It doesn’t have a rhythm. Just a static pulse. A heartless static pulse.

The Buddha City

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Buddha City

Bangalore.

A city with no serene beaches or breathtaking mountain views. Traffics a mess here and city planning seems to have been done by underpant gnomes(South Park). A city of blood-sucking-parasite-of-rickshawallahs and dreamy software folks. India’s Silicon Valley with innovations borrowed and adapted from the West & a Garden City bleeding concrete.

Yet the city thrives. With a calming pulse unlike any other city. Its a pulse which is not captured in those wide angle-skyscrapers cityline-flashing traffic-late night shots. Its right here in the middle of this stalling silk-board traffic. Or there by the white sand on the madiwala lake side. Or in any one of the numerous cafes mushrooming in the city. Roll your windows down, shuffle your playlist and zip up your jacket. There is no hurry. Its a city you don’t have to get away from on a weekend.

A romantic’s view this is. Nevertheless I am sure many people will reflect similar sentiments. I have a good mind to call this the Buddha city. That has a nice ring to it. Calm in the eye of the storm feeling.

But then this might be the reflection of the state of my mind. I choose not to believe that as it has been definitely inspired by this place and it has to be given credit for what it is. And I see a cloud creeping into my mind. Is it the place or the people here?

Well lets keep that for another post, another day. For now let me dwell in this calm. Of the Buddha City.

P.S: Thanks 7-themes.com for the image.