Published: April 22nd 2009April 22nd 2009
There was no crazy dancing street party for Tamil New Year. Instead just a couple of miles long queue of people waiting to enter the temple. Not fun when we ourselves are trying to see it. All was not lost however as we went the next day to the humungous closed in area of the hindu temple. It is apparently the largest temple in southern India and is made up of four massive towers covered in rock carved gods from every spectrum of the rainbow. To see it up close is quite overwhelming as it has such intricate detail on such a large scale. When you enter to walk around there are various halls and coridoors with large pillars and detailed ceilings. There were some restricted areas where we were not allowed not being hindu and all but mostly we could walk around the whole premises which from one side to the other may have taken around 20 minutes at a fast walk. There were lots of people lighting candles and praying everywhere and even laying face down to touch their foreheads to the floor where and important shrine rested. There was a random elephant 'blessing' people at a price which I thought was a bit cruel as it was chained to one of the many dark corners of the halls. All in all though it was a great sight to see and tick off on the large trailing temple list.
The next day we got the bus to the hill station of Kodaikanal and arrived in the evening. As I said before because of its altitude its alot colder there which was LOVELY. Upon our arrival in the youth hostel we bumped into our friend Simon who we had spent the last couple of weeks in Kerala with which was crazy and it was cool to be reunited once again. Kodaikanal is a very small town but has the atmosphere of a swiss mountainside down with pretty little stone houses and winding roads and fire-lit restaurants. We visited a large lake at its epicentre where Alice and I hired a pedalo. Its a lot more fun than it looks and we quickly tired of it and went on walking through the town. We took a quick pit stop at a public garden which has loads of english plants in it like geraniums and petunias, we then realised it has been set up and funded by a british man. We contemplated taking a horse ride round the serene lake but the horses, waiting at the side of the road, looked pretty amaciated and the thought of making it trot round with me on its back wasn't a welcoming one. Not much else happened that day, we ate dinner in the town and had a few beers back at the lodge before heading on the next day to Pondicherry.
Pondicherry is probably the nicest of the cities I have been to in India. Once owned by the french it has wide stretching leafy boulevards, people riding around on push bikes and cute little pattiserries, boulengeries and coffee shops. There are alot of french people there. We spent the entire day riding around on our rented cycles taking in the french architecture, occassionally stopping for a coffee and visiting the surrounding beaches as the one along the promenade is pretty much devoid of sand. We were having lemon juice at a beach side cafe when some people told us of a party celebrating earth day was happenning at Auroville that night (I will tell you more about Auroville later). So we went of course and found a mass of people dancing in their visitors centre to high speed dance music and people sat around the ampitheatre just relaxing and chatting. It took us a while to get there so didn't stay for too long as it finished at middnight but it gave us a little taster into 'Auroville life'. The next day in Pondi was pretty similar to the first as we just had a wonder round, feeling a bit templed-out so didn't visit anything significant but this is a place just to experience the atmosphere rather than anything else. The one thing I would say about Pondicherry which of course I had seen before in India was the poverty. It seemed alot worse here for some reason as there were hauds of beggars on every street you turned and at night hundreds of people sleeping gathered under bus shelters by the canals. It was quite shocking at first as Pondi seems like a very rich and affluent area but the poor are so concentrated and widespread that its hard to ignore and brings that element of deep sadness and even guilt as you walk past with a healthy face.
We then decided the next day to head into Auroville. Auroville is a community of 2000 people set up in the 60's with the aim of creating a self sufficient sustained livelihood where everyone is equal to each other. Half of these people are Indian and half foreigners. They practice self realisation in meditation and all have common spiritual views and ecological theories. There is a main hall called Solar Kitchen (everything here is powered by green energy) which dishes out hundreds of meals per day in a communal dining area. There are different zones including 'courage,' 'revelation,' 'acceptance' and 'Yantra' where the people reside. It is a complete bubble and people travel here from all over the world in hope of being accepted as an Aurovillian. The residents here all receive the same wage regardless of their job (5000 rupees a month - around 70 pounds) You are allowed to come and stay here for a minimum of 2 weeks, we managed to get around this somehow. Most people come and stay for a few months and pay a daily wage towards the growth and development of Auroville and work either in the schools, feilds, forests, workshops doing manual or addministrative or design work. You can participate in meetings or session where you release your inner child or discard your hidden anxieties by chanting. It is quite a fascinating place to be as it is a complete bubble which cuts of the entire world outside. In the centre there is a giant golden golf ball like structure called Matrimandir where people go to meditate or something along those lines. There are yoga, dance and drama classes and plenty of things to get involved in. Because we are only staying for a few days its hard to get too involved or understand their way of life completely but I have formed my own views as the past few days have gone by. To become a fully fledged Aurovillian you must have lived here for atleast four month after which you will be interviewed by a panel of judges to make sure you are commited to their ideals and goals. You then have to pay a certain amount of money, stay in the newcomers residencies untill you can eventually afford your own house. They have their own governing system, schools, hospitals etc and have their own visa status so you can come for as long as you like. The people who run the guest house we are staying with work in the local school so I asked if I could go along with her which I did today. The kids are from all races and cultures around the world (those rich enough to afford to live here) and because it was earth day they were all dressed up in leaves and paint and running round which was fun. They have amazing facilities here including swimming pools and decked out classrooms. Ionly spent a few hours there but the kids seemed very well educated and happy which was good to see. We did a thing a bit likened to circle time where we sang songs about mother earth and learnt about the environment - a bit reminiscent of my st. chris days!
There is a definate hierachy on your status here in Auroville depending on how long you have spent here. I felt alot of hostility from some of the teachers and volunteers there as they don't like people coming and peeping from the outside world. Even the people on the help desks seem to wear an expression of constant revulsion when you mention you would only like to come for a few days to visit. There are so many different aspects to their lives here that I can't really right it all down and I have such mixed views on the workings of it all. It is meant to be a moniless society but it really isn't as many people still rely and continue to buy material possessions. Everyone is meant to be eual but if you don't have the money you are 'less equal' than others. Schooling gives no offical qualifications although of course they have a wealth of knoweldge and developedas people but then gives them no choice of entering the outside world with any chance of a job or making money. The people here seem happy which seems fair enough to me if they wish to lead their lives that way but there seem to be so many things that aren't quite perfect or 'of the mission'. It has been fascinating to stay here and have the tinest snippet of what they have here but the thought of becomming a fully fledged Aurovillian? I don't think so.
Next we will move onto Mammallapurum before moving north to Chennai where we will fly from. One more week to go!