Culture, India, Offbeat, Reflections, Tamil Nadu, Unique Places to Stay
Comments 24

Auroville: Utopia or Something Like It.

I lie across a ledge on the open terrace of Auroville’s Solar Kitchen. Inspiring my words are the soothing melodies of an aged man’s flute. His music attracts chirping birds to the lotus pond below, from their hiding spaces in the surrounding forest. I feel a sense of déjà vu, like I’ve seen this place before, maybe in a story I once read. I come here on some evenings to read Thoreau in the fading light of dusk. And he to play his flute. We haven’t felt the need to exchange words yet. This is Auroville; a bit like entering a dream, and a bit like waking up from one.

Auroville, Auroville blog, Auroville photos

The man with the flute.

As the sun sets, the night slowly engulfs the shimmering solar bowl. On sunny days, this is literally the food bowl of Auroville; Solar Kitchen below serves organic food cooked with solar energy to the township’s residents. Like many restaurants here, it doesn’t accept cash. Outsiders like us can get an Auro Card made at the guesthouse we’re staying in, and recharge it with cash at the town’s financial services centre. Some might argue that’s the first step in excluding outsiders and keeping money within the system, but personally, I enjoy the cashless living.

Le Terraza Auroville, Auroville food, Auroville restaurants, Auroville food

Indulging in organic sandwiches at Le Terraza.

As we drive our two-wheeler, often along dirt roads through the forest, it’s hard to imagine that just over forty years ago, Auroville was a barren wasteland. The visionary thinking of a French lady, Mirra Alfasa, reverently referred to as “the Mother” (read her story on Wikipedia), has transformed the region into forests and farms, grown organically. Although just an hour’s drive from Pondicherry, the air within the township is so pure that we slept through our first 48 hours!

Matrimandir, Auroville architecture, Auroville photos

A glimpse of the Matrimandir in Auroville.

Before arriving in Auroville, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Little has been written about it, and I’m slowly beginning to understand why. Even after living here a week, it is difficult to capture in words what Auroville is about, or why I’m staying for another ten days. There’s a smattering of guesthouses and quaint cafes, there are centres for the spiritually inclined (though I don’t venture much into those), and there are plenty of volunteering opportunities on farms, schools, and conservation initiatives. Yet, there’s a sense of space. There’s a sense that even if you choose to do northing, no one’s judging you.

Arka guest house, Arka Auroville, Auroville guest houses

My humble abode in Auroville.

We dabble our feet in a little bit of everything; the basics of organic farming, sustainable food practices, simple living, vegan meals, debates on clean energy, film screenings on world issues and such. We have little connectivity, and the internet room closes at 6 pm, along with most cafes and shops. I enjoy the downtime on most days, but feel desperate on some. Truth is, being here inspires me to contemplate life, appreciate the little things, and write.

Arka guest house, Arka Auroville, Auroville guest houses

Gearing up to write in the study area of my room.

There are stories about the transition of the Aurovillian community since the Mother passed away; about the fate of volunteers; about the exclusivity; about the bubble that is this township. I’m not judging it so fast, because where else in India can you witness such an incredible effort to conserve nature and live off the earth?

I’ve only been here a week, but a part of me already wants to protect this little paradise. A part of me felt elated at seeing visitors who demanded plastic bags and sachets of ketchup, being told off. It is high time we start educating ourselves about the little ways in which we are affecting the environment around us. I’m not oblivious to the contradictions that spur anti-Auroville debates; I can feel the white-skinned exclusivity, I can tell that even though many of the conservation seeds are sown by Aurovillians, the people harder at work are village folk from the surrounding region. But that’s the thing with a utopian idea like Auroville; you will always expect more.

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Have you stayed in Auroville? What were (are) your impressions?

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ALSO READ:

2 Months on The Road: Highs and Lows
Goa Is a State of Mind
Coffee and Conversations in Coorg

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24 Comments

  1. I’ve been to Auroville couple of times, but at that time I was either too young, or just generally not ready to understand and appreciate it. I barely remember anything. The last few years, it’s been calling me and I’ve been longing to go back, but just never had the time. This is a very evocative post. Now I’m even more determined to go, hopefully in February!
    All I remember from Pondicherry and Auroville is the clock we were showed, that stopped the moment the Mother died. And I had NO idea Mother was French. Live and learn 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Live and learn indeed! I hear what you’re saying. Visited Auroville back in 2009 myself, but just in passing. Learnt or understood nothing of it. Time for you to revisit soon, I hope!

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  2. Such spendid images of auroville. I have never been there but it looks like a beautiful place to head to . I love the way you write shivya.. So poetic 🙂

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  3. Kara Freedman says

    Sounds like a beautiful place to relax and recharge. I think we need more places that are focused on organic living, particularly with the sustainable agriculture that you mentioned. What made you decide to visit this place?

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    • I agree. My plan was to volunteer for a bit, but ended up doing so much more (and in a way, so much less). Overall, it’s been a beautiful experience, and I still have 5 more days to soak it all in.

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  4. I have been to Auroville – just the Matri Mandir and the exhibition, to be precise – and loved the feel of the place. The place sure does have some great vibrations! That said, we didn’t know what else to do there, where to go. Time was running out, too. Maybe next time, we should explore deeper, into the heart of Auroville.

    Does the Mantri Mandir also arrange for stays? Are you staying at a place associated with Mother’s Ashram? What are the staying options in Auroville?

    Lovely post. Reflects the peace you say you are feeling there!

    PS: I didn’t think of you as a person who would read Thoreau, seriously! 🙂 Surprised and humbled. 😀

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    • I did that in 2009 too, visited Auroville in passing. But now that I’ve been here a while, I have to say that trip didn’t really count. It’s the kind of place you have to stay a week or two and soak in.

      The Matrimandir doesn’t allow for stays, and I’m not staying at the ashram. There are lots of nice and cheap guesthouses here. The picture of green landscapes up there is where I’m staying 🙂 You’ve got to plan another trip. I can imagine you to love it.

      Haha. This is my first book by Thoreau, and at the cost of not being the person you think I am now, I’m not enjoying it as much as I thought I would!

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  5. Loved reading your experience. The peace you feel is reflected beautifully in your pictures and words. I “visited” Auroville a couple of months back and I am so ashamed to say that I did not plan a longer trip. I have all the reason to go back for more.
    I just wrote about it here –
    http://kismitoffeebar.wordpress.com/2013/11/13/auroville-giving-time-a-break-in-pondicherry-4/

    Looking forward to hearing more 🙂 Are you residing in one of the guesthouses?

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    • Thanks for sharing the link! A lovely description of your day trip to Auroville there. And glad that you’re planning to come back and stay longer. I am staying in one of the guesthouses indeed, and loving it here 🙂

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  8. I visited Auroville in Sep 2013 and believe me, it was a life changing experience. Although I stayed close to the beach, some 6 kms from Matri Mandir, I managed to spend enough time in the heart of Auroville. Four days seemed too less. Hoping to make it soon. This time not less than ten days. 🙂

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  11. I am about to visit Auroville next week as it was my long time wish list. I feel like its calling me since I born. More keen and excited to read this article. My son is more excited then me.

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  12. abhishek says

    i have been to Auroville manytimes,because i was studying in pondicherry.the place sure do have a awesome vibe to it and the citizens in auroville is also very peaceful and helpful in nature.ans auroville is a great place for meditation and yoga.

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  13. Pingback: One Day in Auroville: A Utopian Community in South India - Global Gallivanting

  14. govil says

    Really Really Inspiring Shivya!!!! I’m reading all your blogs and I’m loving it!!! keep traveling and keep writing!!!

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