There’s more to Auroville than Matrimandir and Auro Beach. Upon visiting Auroville and staying for a month, I discovered some meaningful ways to experience the township and its essence. This is my Auroville guide. Updated 2020.
Back in 2011, when I quit my corporate job to follow my dream to travel the world, I didn’t imagine I would one day land up in a place dedicated to the same ideology. Welcome to the Auroville township – and my Auroville guide to experience it meaningfully!
A place where people come to live their dreams.
I’ve come across countless stories. A market researcher turned organic farmer. A policeman turned village school headmaster. A corporate honcho turned teacher. A teacher turned mechanic.
This is a place to ditch the life you’ve lived, and live the life you’ve always wanted, even if for a few days. Here your conviction to follow your passion holds more value than your salary or title.
Visiting Auroville on a day trip from Pondicherry is a bad idea. It is a place to stay and soak in the spirit of doing the things you really love. Take my guide on how to stay in Auroville a little longer and indulge in delicious organic food, volunteer, cherish the freedom and live a little.
Auroville Essentials: How to stay in Auroville a while
The Auro Card (aka Auroville currency)
The Auroville community give off the impression that other than the visitor’s centre, no cafes or restaurants accept cash. We quickly got our guesthouse to make us an Auro Card, against a 500 rupees deposit, and loaded it with cash at the financial services centre.
A few days into our stay however, we realized that the Auro Card system is dwindling. Barring Solar Kitchen and La Terraza, all other eating spots accept cash. While cashless living is fun, it’s not necessary.
The daily contribution
All outsiders living in Auroville are required to make a contribution of 100 rupees a day. Most guesthouses include this in their lodging costs, but some don’t, so check ahead. This is the basic cost of living in Auroville – don’t begrudge it.
Airtel and Vodafone don’t work too well; BSNL might. Cafes like La Terraza, Farm Fresh and Tanto have a hotspot for internet, for which you can buy vouchers. Arka and Kopi Bar offer Wifi at 20-25 rupees an hour.
Best time to visit Auroville
The region experiences really hot days throughout the year. I loved my time here in the northeast monsoon season (late October to November). It rained at night and remained breezy and cloudy all day.
Also read: Auroville: Utopia or Something Like it
Where to stay in Auroville
How much does it cost to stay in Auroville? Depending on which guesthouse you pick, anywhere between INR 1000 – 6000 a night.
Conveniently located in the residential zone, Arka is where we stayed almost a month – one of my favorite places to stay in Auroville. The guesthouse campus is beautifully landscaped with grassy hills and natural wilderness. The rooms are spacious, minimalistic and airy. The staff is very helpful. It is one of the few guesthouses with an internet room.
It gets booked out weeks in advance though, so call early to book this Auroville stay.
A bit further from the main town area, Gaia’s Garden is a beautiful hideout set amid a lush garden. The rooms are small but come with big airy windows. You wake up to the fresh smell of the greenery and gentle sunlight pouring into the room. A relatively secluded Auroville guesthouse.
Other places to stay
You can also browse guesthouses and apartments to find your perfect place to stay. An Auroville ashram stay is not so common, but most guesthouses have a peaceful, spiritual vibe.
Where to eat
Slow, organic, vegan food is an Auroville specialty. A quick collection of my favorite eats:
Well Cafe is my absolute favorite lunch hangout, in the forest zone of Auroville. Their homemade bean burgers, falafels, hummus, salad – everything on the Israeli menu is to die for. They also work to empower women from nearby villages, by retailing funky accessories handmade with recycled materials.
Naturellement Garden Cafe
Also hidden away in the forest zone, Naturellement is a haven for homemade pastas. Transport yourself to Europe with their pesto pasta and open-faced Scandinavian sandwiches, in an open air garden setting.
Solitude Farm takes the goodness of organic food to a whole new level. Fresh produce from the organic farm is cooked in South Indian style and served up with the local rice. I had one of my best local meals here, of banana flower, curries and rice. Prior reservation is needed.
Sakura and sushi – the two things that can tempt anyone to drop everything and go to Japan! Well, here’s a little slice of Japan: Sakura Sushi. In the open kitchen, an array of vegan sushi is whipped up to delight all tastebuds. Fermented dips and dressings are also available for sale.
Located at the Town Hall, Le Morgan has an eclectic combination of simple South Indian fare and french dishes to sample, starting with fresh idlis for breakfast. Finger licking good!
I can’t wait to go back and try all the new treasures in Auroville. Of those, Gelato Factory is high on my list for its 18 vegan gelato flavors and vegan cones! I can’t wait to dig into some hazelnut gelato and fruit sorbets on a hot day.
*Note: Most restaurants and cafes close by 5:30 pm.
Tea and Wifi
On the terrace above Solar Kitchen, Le Terraza was my favorite cafe to read or write. You can buy a Wifi voucher from the Blue Light Browsing Centre next door. They serve up possibly the best iced tea, and the half and half mushroom and hummus sandwiches are delightful too. Note that you can only pay with the Auro Card here.
As the name suggests, it’s a coffee bar. Famed to have the best cold coffee in Auroville, Kopi’s is a quiet hangout near Farm Fresh, with super fast Wifi at 20 rupees an hour.
Where to volunteer in Auroville
If you’re really thinking of how to join Auroville, or even how to make the most of your Auroville trip, consider volunteering with one of the brilliant initiatves in the township:
I spent time learning about the sustainable food practices at Buddha Garden, owned by an English lady who moved to India 19 years ago, after 25 years in market research. Her journey is inspiring, as is learning about and volunteering on a farm that is 100% organic.
They make their own compost, experiment with pest control remedies, and have plenty of work for volunteers. Volunteering hours are from 6:15 to 9:00 am, and every Monday morning, Priya holds an ‘introduction to sustainable farming’ session.
They offer rustic accommodation for volunteers at 200 rupees a day, and can customize volunteer programs for long term volunteers and big groups. If I was staying in Auroville long term, you’d definitely see me here often!
I haven’t spent time there myself, but heard so much about them. They have quite a structured volunteer program, that focusses on reforestation on severely eroded land.
Sadhana Forest is located deep in the forest zone, so the only way to volunteer is to stay there. They charge 9,500 rupees for a month long stay, covering basic accommodation and food for volunteers.
Things to do in Auroville
Visit the Matrimandir
The giant ferrero rocher-like building that the township is built around, is an experience in itself – and one of the main attractions of Auroville. It’s a bit like being in a spaceship themed on the color white. The ceiling, walls, pillars, carpets, cushions, everything is white. A single ray of sunlight streams through the roof, upon a crystal that sits in the centre of the meditation area. Absolutely beautiful!
Unfortunately, outsiders can only visit Matrimandir with a prior booking, which often gets full 2 days in advance. Registration must be done at the visitor’s centre, and visits only happen in a big group. Not ideal for meditation, but a worthwhile experience nonetheless!
There are plenty of things to try, learn and experience. Foreign movie screenings at the town hall. Eco movie screenings at Sadhana Forest. Pizza nights with the Youth Club. Discussions on Auroville-related subjects. Pottery classes. Yoga classes. Short term volunteering in schools, farms, forests and conservation initiatives. Language and dance classes, and more.
Refer to the resources listed below to find these opportunities.
The coast of the township is lined with soft, golden and black volcanic sand, on the shores of a roaring sea. Know a better way to spend an introspective evening?
How to go to Auroville and get around
Many people are still curious about where is Auroville in India! The township is located in the state of Tamil Nadu, about a 3 hour drive from Chennai, home to the closest airport and train station. The Auroville to Pondicherry distance can be covered in about an hour.
Here are the best ways to explore Auroville:
The easiest way to get around Auroville, though not the most eco-friendly. Your guesthouse can arrange a bike (Activa or moped) for 100 rupees a day for over a week’s rental.
My stay in Auroville coincided with the monsoon season (November), and given that most routes in Auroville are unpaved mud roads, cycling wasn’t a very practical option. In drier days, you can rent a local bicycle at your guesthouse or from the kiosk at the visitor centre.
I found David and his car to be very reliable to transfer us and our backpacks from Pondicherry to Auroville. He charges 300 rupees per trip and is a great guy. Call him with my reference, at +91 9443 278 029 for all your transport needs within the region.
Auroville India resources
Guesthouses in Auroville
A list of Auroville-approved guesthouses in the township, along with their contact information.
Auroville News and Notes
Auroville news and notes carries events and screenings happening during week, essential where you’re visiting or thinking about how to settle in Auroville. Updated weekly.
Volunteering in Auroville
Visit the Guest Services centre above Solar Kitchen for a list of all on-going initiatives and volunteering opportunities. Also keep an eye out on the notice boards at various cafes.
Would you like to spend some quality time in Auroville?
*Cover image by Matthew T Rader (CC).