Monthly Archives: November 2011

A solid gold hole in one, or a pyrite mulligan…


Auroville, Puducherry/Tamil Nadu

About 15 kilometers outside of Puducherry is the experimental community of Auroville. Named after Sri Aurobindo and founded by The Mother, it is an utopian community that “is meant to be a universal town where men and women 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.”

I had read about Auroville before I left on the trip, and found the concept interesting and I wanted to see the 44 year old community to see if it lived up to it’s claims of being “a place where money would be no more the sovereign lord and individual merit will have a greater importance than the value due to material wealth and social position”.

The drive to Auroville via autorickshaw was revealing in itself. Puducherry is a fairly clean city, especially in the French quarter and near the beach. But as you approach Auroville and look at the area adjacent to it, the garbage and litter start to pile up and the commercialism of Auroville is everywhere. Road signs and billboards advertising tours of Auroville or Aurovillian crafts for sale litter the highway and surrounding community. They stop when you reach the parking lot for the visitors center.

The visitors center is full of information on the community and includes a bookstore, a boutique, and a cafeteria (where they make their own cheese). There is information about how the community came to be, the town charter, and how to join the community if you wish.

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There is also information about the structure at the heart of the area. The Matrimandir, or The Temple of The Mother, a large golden golf ball/Epcot centre structure that took 37 years to build situated in a garden that is simply named “Peace”.

In order to see The Matrimandir, you first need to watch a 10 minute video outlining the rules of visiting the temple, and then they issue you a pass and point the way to a 1 kilometer hike.

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The walk in is scenic with lots of sign posts describing different projects in the area like self sufficient energy (solar and wind), irrigation advancements, composting and recycling facilities and experiments in organic gardening and other advancements for the greater good (the improvements in drinking water by letting the water listen to Mozart and Bach made me rise an eyebrow though).

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At the main gate into Peace, you get to see the Giant banyan tree. Apparently in 1968, The Mother pointed to a map of the surrounding area around Puducherry and said “this is where we will build”. When they went to the place, they found a dry and arid plain with nothing except a 100 year old banyan tree. Every other tree and plant was planted later around this amazing tree. Banyan trees are a type of fig tree that creates arial prop roots, or new trunks that look like someone has propped up the branches with a big stick. A banyan tree can have over 100 separate trunks.

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Past the banyan tree, Peace starts. An immaculately tended garden that uses vegetation and ground contours to create an acoustically quiet place. No traffic noise, no wind noise, just the occasional bird tweet or squirrel squeak.

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As the path winds, The Matrimandar pokes its head out over the trees…

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…and then the walk opens up to the viewing point with meditation spots on a perfectly sculpted lawn and red rock blocks to sit on.

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When I arrived, I was the only person at the viewing point, so it was dead quiet. I took a few pictures, and then sat on one of the blocks. It may have been one of the most tranquil moments of my entire life.

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A few more people arrived, and after about half an hour, a school group came by, but everyone was respectful of the silence.

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I took a few more pictures, put a donation into the donation box, and headed back.

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After you have visited The Matrimandir from the outside, you can apply for access to the inner chamber and the mediation room where the worlds biggest optical perfect crystal resides. Using a mirror on top of the temple, sunlight is reflected into the center of the crystal and the inner chamber is lit. It also works with moonlight.

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I’m not sure about the experiment that is Auroville. There are a lot of aspects that sound like they were decided during an intense session of magic mushrooms and a bong (which would explain the abundance of vendors selling Doritos in the area). I half expected the guides to be wearing tinfoil hats and hemp pants. And it seems like it takes an awfully long time for the area to finish projects. Even Winnipeg finishes strange shaped buildings faster than this place.

I applaud the attempt though, and I really appreciate the space they have created for people, ANY people, to come and sit in silence and contemplate whatever they want to.

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The pitter pat of rain and a pat on the head


Puducherry.

At the Lotus Bay View Hotel, as with many hotels in India, a breakfast is provided. The difference with this hotel is that it has no restaurant, so they have breakfast brought in from next door and you order it the night before. At 8:30 the doorbell for the room rang and I received a plate with two packages wrapped in tin foil, some jam and butter in dishes, coffee and orange juice.

The coffee turned out to be instant coffee, and the orange juice turned out to be Tang (which is really weird considering there are fruit trees all over Tamil Nadu). I opened the larger of the foil packages to find some “toast” (warmish bread) and wondered if they had forgotten the omelette. I opened the last foil package which was long and thin, expecting to find some cutlery, but instead, found my omelette. I guess I was supposed to smoke it.

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After I finished my egg reefer, I went out exploring Puducherry. There is a shopping district that is loaded with sari shops, jewelry stores, and sweets shops on the western side of town, and restaurants, coffee shops and craft stores on the east side. There is also the Sri Aurobindo ashram that has a constant procession around the building filled with pictures and artifacts relating to Aurobindo Ghose

There are also a fair number of temples interspersed among the buildings in town.

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One of the temples is home to Puducherry’s largest resident named Lakshmi, who gives out blessings in exchange for money or food.

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I watched her for a longtime, and was amazed how gentle she was, even with little children. A gentle soul who happily interacted with devotees and tourist alike. I gave her a 10 rupee note, that she gently held with her trunk, and then she patted me on the head, giving her blessing. After she collected a fair amount of coins and bills, she held her trunk out to her handler, who sat underneath her, took the money, and deposited it into the donation box for the temple.

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There is also a stall that sells fruits and bunches of grass that Lakshmi likes to eat. If she accepts your offering of food and eats it (and she doesn’t accept them all) you are considered blessed. The money from the stalls also goes towards the temple.

Lakshmi is only out in front of the temple for a limited time each day, the rest of the time she can be found near her paddock, or occasionally on the beach, walking with her handler.

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The next morning I decided to skip the Omelette doobie and search out breakfast somewhere else. I ended up at “Le Cafe” which is not to be confused with “Le Club”, “Le Gourmet”, “Le Pizza”, or “Le Mom And Pop Joint That Serves A Variety Of Foods And Doesn’t Really Know What Category It Falls Into Bar And Lounge”. Le Cafe is a coffee house right on the beach where all of the tables are open to the air but covered. I had a very nice dish of scrambled eggs with toast and a large (no really, it’s a large) cafe latte. The restaurant was almost empty except for a group of three at another table.

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As I was finishing my coffee it started to rain. Then it started to blow. Then it started to rain more. Then it rained lots and lots more, in sheets, and you couldn’t see anything outside the building. The staff of Le Cafe started to look concerned, and I started to wonder if there was a reason that the walk to the restaurant was suspiciously devoid of people… in India.

Once the rain started flying sideways and the wind was blowing debris around, the staff motioned for everybody to move into the main building where they closed the doors and shutters. I ordered another coffee from the terrified looking barista while various members of the staff started to pray. I think I heard someone say “Dear God, I’ll be a good employee if you get me out of this”.

After about 15 minutes of wind and actual torrential rains, it slowed to a breeze and a sprinkle, but the damage had been done. The street in front of Le Cafe that runs along he beach was flooded, as was many other sections of town.

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The swim back to the hotel revealed downed power lines, a lot of deadfall, and a neon sign from a different hotel smashed on the street.

The storm also washed out some roads, disrupted train services, knocked out phone and internet, and a village had to be evacuated. Many of the stores in the shopping district were using pumps to get the water out of their basements and there are many signs for flood damage sales, and the waves on the ocean were so high that all boats were grounded. Made for some lovely surf against the rocks though.

But everything has returned to normal now, so I think I’ll go back and wander the beach and maybe visit Lakshmi for another pat on the head for an apple.

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