AUROVILLE, TAMIL NADU
Arrived Auroville from Thanjavur as a continuation of my backpacking journey in Tamil Nadu ( Refer earlier posts and note below).
There is no direct bus connecting the above two places. I had to change bus at Kumbakonam . The entire journey was about 6.5 hours.
Thanjavur to Kumbakonam – Depart – 0700 Hrs / Arrive – 0810 Hrs / Ticket price – Rs. 22/-
Kumbakonam to Pondicherry – Depart – 0820 Hrs / Arrive – 1330 Hrs / Ticket price – Rs. 86/-
TIP : Auroville lies just 6 kms. north of Pondicherry along the East Coast road, but as the layout of Auroville itself being spread out in a circle of about 2.5 kms radius and encompassing about 20 sq.kms., it is advisable to get here by taxi or a rented moped. I hopped on a bus from Pondicherry and after getting of on the ECR at Auroville, I had to rent a rick who charged me exorbitantly (Rs. 200/-) to get to my guest house.
Best option is call up Auro Cabs (Details below) who arrange pick up-drop services from Pondicherry Bus stop for Rs. 200/-
AUROVILLE – THE CONCEPT AND THE TOWN IN BRIEF :
Auroville is a universal township in the making for a population of about 50,000 people from around the world.
It was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa (also known as the “Mother”) and designed by Robert Anger.
The main purpose as stated is ” To be a universal town where men and woman of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity.
Today Auroville is recognised as the first and only internationally endorsed expirement in human unity and transformation of cousciousness, also concerned with – and practically reserching into – sustainable living and future cultural, social and spiritula needs of mankind.
AUROVILLE – MY EXPERIENCE
Although I had intended to stay in Auroville for three days and then move on to Pondicherry for completing my backpacking tour of T.Nadu, I was so taken by the place that I ended up staying for five days and cancelling my Pondicherry stay altogether. Following were the main factors that made me stay back :
1) Pondicherry has no beach but just a promenade whereas Auroville has some lovely and secluded beaches which was a definite plus point.
2) Visiting Matri Mandir Concentration chamber is very difficult for day trippers (The idea rightfully being to avoid throngs of tourists making this place just a sight-seeing point rather than the spiritual centre it really is!!). If you stay in Auroville, it becomes quite easy as you need to book one day in advance and can visit the very next day.
3) It is more about the things to “experience and to do” rather than the things to “see” that will make you stay back. In the five days I stayed here, I did the following : Surfing lessons on the beach (two lessons organised by KASS), a one hour class on T’ai Chi, an introduction to Yoga Nidra and a one hour class on Zen meditation!!.
4) Being just six kms. from Pondicherry, it is easily accessible and it makes more sense to stay in Auroville and do Pondicherry as a day trip rather that the reverse trend. (Of course depending on what is the focus of your trip).
5) Bike rentals are very cheap (Rs.100/- per day for 100 CC) and getting one is a pretty straight forward affair in Auroville.
I stayed in Centre Guest house which is one of the recommended and affiliated guesthouses in town. This place is very close to the Solar Kitchen, the Matri Mandir and the Visitor’s centre. The beach is about 8 kilometers away. This guest house has excellent double bed rooms with large balcony’s and a common dining room (Rs. 1500/- per day for one person (A/C). Meals included).
TIP : Be aware that almost all these guest houses are not run as commercial hotels you will encounter in other places. Although the location and the rooms are excellently managed, these places have a no frills kind of a service (Read – No bed tea, no toilet papers/soaps, strict meal timings (mainly veg) etc.).
The first thing that strikes you is the efficient and meticulous way this place is run and gives you a general fell of the town spirit. The next striking feature is the different nationalities you will encounter and interact with during your stay here.
The notice board displays a list of all activities planned for the entire month and you can select whichever activity you would like to pursue. (Some activities are not open to non-residents).
For those really interested in this lifestyle, there is a five day initiation programme and you can then opt to volunteer and stay on for a longer period.
The first day, I went to the visitors centre and after watching the introductory video I booked myself for the Matri Mandir Concentration chamber meditation for the next day.
I also enrolled for the one hour surfing lesson, conducted by Kallilay Surfing school (Run by the chilled-out brother duo – Juan and Samai). The experience was so thrilling that I went for a second session the very next day. The charges for a one-on-one lesson for one hour is Rs. 1000/- and for a group lesson of 1.5 hours is Rs. 700/-.
I also did a one hour class on Zen meditation and T’ai Chi conducted at the Verite centre. Guests are expected to pay a fee of Rs. 250/- for a one hour session.
The entire stay was extremely gratifying and I had a tough time picking and choosing the types of activities I could do in the limited time I was there.
The basic concept of this experimental living was in my opinion a fun way of seeking the spiritual path by doing whatever it was that excites you, body,mind and soul…be it gardening, yoga, music or volunteering in the various projects.
1) Book well in advance (especially during the months of Dec-Mar). The recommended stay is about one week to get a real feel of the place and participate in some of the activities.
2) All guest houses listed on the official website offer a range of services and you can choose depending on your budget and choice of location. Centre Guesthouse provides free bicycle, all meals and laundry services. http://www.aurovilleguesthouses.org/
3) You can speak to your guesthouse manager for renting a bike or moped. This is highly recommended considering the widely spaced out layout of the town.
4) The first obvious stop for a first timer is the Visitor’s centre where you can watch the video and browse the library and do the booking for Matri Mandir visit.
5) Some of the places (Solar Kitchen for example) do not except cash payment. You need to apply for a guest card (provided by the guest house) and top up the same with cash at the designated offices.
6) Drinking is not allowed within the town and smoking is also not encouraged.
7) Dinner at most establishments is around 7:30pm and the all places wind up by 9:00pm.
Do catch the photo post elsewhere in this blog for more photos.
GO THERE FOR : A spiritual living quite unlike any you have experienced. No sects, no religions, no prayers. Just plain living amidst varied nationalities, a plethora of activities and an extremely positive way of connecting with one’s self, with the society in general and with nature at large!!.
HOW TO GET THERE :
Just 160 kilometers from Chennai and 6 kilometers from Pondicherry via the East Coast Road (ECR), this place is well connected by buses from either end as well as by taxis.
Try Auro Cabs – 96264 81620, 0413-2623200,2623201
As mentioned earlier, due to the vast radius this township encompasses, it is advisable to come here by a cab. If coming by bus get off at the sign post marking the entry to Auroville and hire a rickshaw to your guesthouse.
Further details visit http://www.auroville.org/
Range of options from absolute basic rooms to the high end resorts.
I stayed at Centre Guest house, very close to Matri Mandir. (See photo post). Singles (A/C)- Rs. 1500/- per day. (Meals, Guest Card, Bicycle and laundry included). Call – 2622155, 2622708
Visit the elaborate and informative website : http://www.aurovilleguesthouses.org
TIP : Most of guest houses prefer bookings via emails as opposed to telephones.
GETTING AROUND :
Although bicycles are provided by most guest houses, it is highly recommended to rent a scooty or a motor bike (Can be arranged by the guesthouse itself). A 100 CC bike costs about Rs. 100/- per day.
Most of the guesthouses offer meals (Check when booking). There are also a range of restaurants and eateries around the town. The Solar kitchen offers wholesome meals whilst the cafeteria above the kitchen is a great place to hangout, sur the net and make friends. However notethat Cash transactions are not possible at both these joints.
NOTE (BACKPACKING TAMIL NADU 15.NOV.11 TO 12.DEC.11):
This post is one in a series of posts which relate to my Back packing experience in Tamil
Nadu (from 15th Nov – 12th Dec) and any information provided should be read in that
context. Please refer to subsequent posts for my entire backpacker experience.
Following is the planned sequence of travel :
Chennai-Mamallapuram-Chennai-Kanyakumari-KMTR (Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger reserve)
The basic budget I have targeted is in the mid range segment (about Rs. 1500/- per day).