We are flying back to Chennai to spend our last two days in India in the community of Auroville. Our early morning flight has been postponed for the afternoon and for once we are pleased about the unpredictability of India because it gives us one more lazy morning breakfast in our beautiful resort retreat.
We arrive in Chennai to find our transport to Auroville waiting for us. So far so good…but we had asked Chand, our Intrepid guide to arrange this leg for us rather than following the directions of our host Ambre, who had asked us to contact a special transport service down in Auroville. Lack of a phone and internet has made our journey in India a little difficult. The problems arise when we arrive around 8 at night in Auroville to discover that our driver has no idea how to get to Nilanthangam, the forest retreat we had booked our accommodation in.
We call Ambre who is not pleased to find out we had not followed her instructions and she directs us to the local taxi service who may be able to help us. We find the taxi service in the little village of Kuilapalayam and persuade one of the chaps to jump in our vehicle to show us the way. He finally agrees and we part with 150 rupees for his services. We feel a bit nervous as he directs our driver to turn into a little dirt road. The road veers into the jungle and in the dark the twists and turns of this windy road seem to lead nowhere. Finally, we come to a gate at the end of this dirt road..but the way ahead is pitch dark. We have arrived at our retreat but they are in the midst of a power cut. A call to Ambre follows and finally we see the speck of a tiny torchlight in the distance.
We had actually found our way to Nilanthangam, against all odds. Our trepidation gives way to relief as Ambre greets us and shows us to our hut in the jungle. It is basic but spacious with a loft that has a mattress on the floor for us to sleep on. There is a basic open air, outdoor toilet that has been built discreetly in the bush near by. We light candles and feast on the fruit we brought for dinner, feeling relieved to be finally here and to find ourselves in this incredible place. The night is eerily quiet and we lie awake for hours listening to the strange sounds of the animals outside.
We join Ambre and one of her guests for brekkie and get our bearings of the area. Jahn. a German traveller gives us a well used map of the area. We will have to make our way out of the jungle on foot, back to the village we had come to the night before. From there, a rickshaw will take us to the visitors centre where we can learn more about this community.
Auroville is a unique place. It has come about from the vision of a French lady lovingly referred to as The Mother in these parts. Her vision achieved together with Sri Aurobindo, her spiritual collaborator and together they have created a place where people of all nations would live in harmony, combining the eastern dream of perfect spirituality with the western dream of a perfect society. This place started in the sixties with people such as Ambre, who were rebelling against society in general. The vision of these early settlers for this land which was a barren desert was incredible. They defied all odds to create a green oasis which has attracted about 3000 Aurovileans from about 40 countries around the world including India. We watch videos and visit the Matrii Mandir, an incredible construction that has built to enable the settlers to meditate in their quest to discover their inner self. The limited time we have here does not enable us to go inside the dome but we gaze on it from outside, amazed but the vision and creation of this structure.
Later that evening we chat to Ambre and the other guests and learn more about this collection of communities. Some of the early settlers have gone back but there are many others committed and dedicated to this place which seems to be a little bit of Europe in the middle of India.
There are numerous workshops on everything from dance and yoga to taichi and tarot card readings. You can go for lectures and learn the principles of integral yoga and how it relates to your entire life. There are numerous projects happening around the place such as at Sadhana Forest, a reforestation project of another desert area which we visit on our second day. The eighty or so volunteers from around the world live in makeshift bamboo huts and are recreating another piece of Auroville. During our walks around the area we have seen numerous communities, some of them gated, some of them set far back from the road. We don’t have time to really get into the spirit of this place but it doesn’t quite have the vibe we are looking for.
There are people here from all walks of life, looking for very different things. Some of them are here to search for themselves, to discover their spirituality. Some have come for that sense of shared community and others driven by a need to volunteer in the eco friendly reforestation projects. We eat at the solar kitchen where visitors and residents are treated to a healthy lunch for a meagre hundred rupees. The queue of people winds its way past the entrance and spills on to the street. The cheap meal appeals to both locals and visitors alike and is obviously a popular component of life in this community.
We eat and make our way back to the forest. Today, we leave Auroville to catch our flight out of Chennai that will take eventually take us back home. This trip to the sub continent has been an interesting journey. It was Steve’s first visit to these parts and although it was a fast paced and sometimes difficult trip it was an invaluable experience for him. It has given him insights into Sri Lankan and Indian life as well as an understanding of Buddhist and Hindu religions. Steve also tells me that he particularly enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with my extended family and share Christmas and the end of year holidays with them. The time spent at Auroville will also be valuable in his research into eco villages and sustainable communities around the world.
This journey has ended but it is only the beginning of our travels together….
“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” – Mark Twain