Welcome back! It’s been an exciting week since I returned from Pondicherry! If you’re following me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, you’ll know that ThatGoanGirl just won an award by the Food Bloggers Association of India for the Best Culinary Travel Blog in India for the 2nd year in a row! Woohoo! AND that very morning, I was around 200 kms away, watching baby turtles make their way to the sea for the first time in a quiet little beach town called Velas! But I’ll save that story for another time!
Anyway, if you’ve heard of Pondicherry, I’m pretty certain you’d have heard about Auroville – a serene little township that is dedicated to the philosopher, Aurobindo. The site was founded by his spiritual collaborator and devotee, Mirra Alfassa, also called ‘The Mother,’ and her vision was to create a sort of utopia where men of all nationalities and beliefs could call home, while living in peace and unity.
Auroville is a fascinating little place. It almost seems like it belongs to no one, and yet, to everyone at the same time. As if the world-weary have left their troubles at the border and come in seeking spiritual solace. Dirt roads covered in red, dusty soil lead you through forested patches with lush tall greenery on either side, making you wonder where on earth you’re headed, before suddenly coming face-to-face with a bungalow, boutique or café time and again.
Getting to Auroville
Auroville is around 165 kms from Chennai and 13 kms from White Town in Pondicherry. If you’re travelling to Auroville from Chennai, a bus would be a cheap way to get there and take around 3-4 hours. Simply get off at the East Coast Road Junction and take an auto or taxi to Auroville. The entire journey should not cost you more than Rs. 500. You can also book a cab from Chennai Airport which will take more or less the same time as the bus and will cost around Rs. 2500.
On the other hand, if you’re already at White Town in Pondicherry, then travelling to Auroville is a breeze if you have your own two-wheeler. You can rent for around Rs. 300-350/day, with petrol being extra. It will take you around half an hour and is quite a pleasant drive, from the ECR road into the little lanes. GPS is quite accurate.
It was the onset of Tamil Nadu’s blistering summer and gauging from the last 4-5 days I’d already spent in Pondicherry, it was wise to stay indoors in the afternoon. So we set off to Auroville from White Town after a quick breakfast at 8 am, hoping to be done with our visit by 10.
Literally translating to ‘Temple of the Mother,’ Matri Mandir was high on my list of things to do in Auroville, because it is, quite literally, the heart and soul of the place. This giant golden globe that resembles a Ferrero Rocher, has always been a symbol of meditation… somewhere seekers of peace go to cut off from noise and distraction; to contemplate.
On entering the premises, visitors are first led through gallery comprising of 3-4 rooms where displays of the monument, paintings, quotes from Aurobindo and the Mother are put up. Another small room plays a short clip about Auroville, Matri Mandir, the construction, architecture and more. Once done with this gallery, you can request for a free pass and begin your walk towards the Matri Mandir. We learnt that one can go and meditate INSIDE the Matri Mandir on the first available day – which, when we asked, was the following day. We decided to register for this surreal experience on our way out.
As you walk down a shady 2 km path to Matri Mandir, you’ll come across 12 slabs of rocks, each with a painting of a different coloured flower, symbolizing a human quality – sincerity, peace, equality, generosity, goodness, courage, progress, receptivity, aspiration, perseverance, gratitude and humility. The number 12 is of deep significance here. Twelve gardens individually named ‘bliss,’ ‘light,’ ‘life,’ ‘power,’ ‘wealth,’ ‘utility,’ ‘progress,’ ‘existence,’ ‘consciousness,’ ‘perfection,’ ‘harmony,’ and ‘youth,’ signify the 12 attributes of the mother. 12 red stone petals, having the same significance hold up the golden sphere, under which a marble lotus pond lies.
As we walked along the dusty, red path, the Matri Mandir rose up in front of us. Sadly, one cannot get up close to the monument and the viewing point is at quite a distance away. Apart from a huge bunch of school kids, around 50 tourists clicked selfies and pictures galore – some even doing a video chat to show their loved ones far away what the Matri Mandir looked like. I’ve got to say, this new style of virtual travel was quite amusing!
On the way out, the rise in mercury was quite apparent, and it easily touched 35 degrees Celsius. We were grateful that we sacrificed an hour of sleep in the morning to view the monument in comfort, however annoying it was to have to see it from so far away. When we finally reached the reception building again, we were sent to another building for a pass to meditate inside the Matri Mandir. And then… another let-down.
Now, just one hour later, the next available day to meditate inside the monument was pushed to four days away, and that didn’t fit into our schedule. Ugh!! The search for inner peace is quite aggravating. I heard so much about how a single ray of sunlight that filters through the top of the Matri Mandir, diffuses and lights up the place – I really wanted to see it first hand! On a side note, if you want meditate, you will need at least 2-3 days in Auroville – one day to book your slot and another to meditate inside. So plan accordingly!
Anyway, I quickly got over it on seeing a lot of amazing outdoor cafes – including Auroville Café and Dreamer’s Café on the premises. An indulgent cold coffee and the best chocolate cake at Dreamer’s Café was just the antidote to perk my spirits! A couple of gift shops, a boutique and other touristy things were present, too and the commercial hubbub of it all didn’t really vibe well with the serenity that the place embodies, but oh, well.
This is definitely a thing you must do in Auroville and Pondicherry. If you’ve managed to get the elusive pass to meditate inside the Matri Mandir, comment below, I’d love to hear all about it.
For more Pondicherry adventures, tune in to my next blog post.