Published: February 14th 2013February 14th 2013
Notes from a Dug: Pondicherry
The four grumpies arrive in the once French colony of Pondicherry. We're ready to flay, keelhaul and gut the next guide. Aw, and he seems such a nice, innocent, young man. A lamb to the slaughter. But he turns out to have spent three years studying for a degree in tourism. His English is decent. He knows how to present a story. He passes the audition. Fortunately for us and even more so for him, there are no temples of note here. Instead we get transported to the weirdest place on the planet. Weird that is unless you live on the Starship Enterprise or on a commune. I've been too long on a meat and potatoes diet to make sense of the place called Auroville. Conceived by a 90 year old woman in 1968, it actually is quite an otherworldly oasis in the floating landfill that consumes much of India. Twenty-five hundred residents on 4,000 acres of bare land planned for 50,000, it is a collection of like-minded people from all over the world. In the first few years over two million trees were planted and barren land has been transformed into a relatively park-like
Golden Orb in Auroville
A Jack Nicolas designed course
setting. Some original residents remain and about half who live there now are from India. It is like walking onto a tamer, less commercial version of Saltspring Island. They have introduced a spirit of self-reliance, entrepreneurship and respect for the land that stands in stark contrast to the incongruous disrespect of nature that engulfs much of the Indian sub-continent. Around Auroville, which is about 15 kms out of Pondicherry, many villages have sprung up that cater to the Auroville residents who in turn provide the same back to the villages. We stopped at a bakery they had in one of these villages and the products were other-worldly delicious.
Back to the weird part. In the middle of these 4,000 acres, rising out of the ground, is a gold-plated orb that looks like a gee-normous golf ball. About 600 feet in diameter, it is where the faithful and the blessed go to do "intense" meditation. What look like twelve mini-ski jumps circle the orb and provide entrances to the inner sanctum. At the center of the orb is an opening that allows a shaft of sunlight to enter and pierce the darkness until it hits a 500 kg crystal sphere
Another name for Mecca
No sari untried; no kurta left untouched, no item unpurchased. Place your orders now. We deliver!!
that was donated, unbelievably, by Zeiss Lenses out of Germany. I can't really capture the lunacy that all this conjures up other than to say the cost to design & build this supernaturally giant golf ball and its gold-plated exterior were all donated. There must be a network somewhere on Earth that is populated by fruitcakes.
In this huge clearing is also a 2,000 seat amphitheatre. That slice of abnormal, though, looks rather majestic and appropriate to its setting. If we would have been here longer, I would have spent more time in Auroville just trying to "be" while I walked the property and its four quadrants of Industry, Education, Residency & something else. The locals, though, are very supportive as Auroville has carved out something from nothing, created schools that educate many kids and adults in the area, and established a clean, orderly community with no panhandlers, hawkers or beggars needed to eke out a living.
Further to the local economy, I arrived with three consumers and they, once again, took the bait. On the way out, past the information center, adjacent to the video presentation hall and before the big bus parking lot was a commercial
I'm growing into these pants after only 4 weeks
Do you think they'll make my butt look too fat?
enclave of four or five shops and an organic foods restaurant. Our guide said, "If you would like, you can visit these shops before we leave." I looked at our guide and said to myself, "You forgot to give them a time limit." I sat down with our guide and asked him how long he thought this would take. He said, "Most groups take 10 or 15 minutes." I winked at him and said, "Not this group." True to my word, a new standard was set. After 45 minutes, our guide was showing signs of stress similar to the guide in Chennai, only less worried because he could view almost all the shop entrances and exits. What concerned him was he hadn't seen anyone exit from the first shop. He knew there was still one more mountain to climb (i.e. attraction to see) before he could turn us out and turn himself in for the day. Fifteen minutes after the drop-dead time to make it to the local institution known as the ashram Mother built (the since departed 90 year old woman behind most of what powers this part of India), we were on a wing and a prayer with
Vinkie our affably lazy and nonchalant bus driver. Arriving back in Pondicherry twenty minutes after ashram closing time, divine intervention had occurred and the doors were still open. We filed in, filed past, paid our respects and filed out in rapid order. No shops here to distract us from a five minute deep appreciation for the woman who made it all happen.
Back on the street, we did a quick walk-about with our guide. We went to a temple to Lord Ganesh, the elephant god, that our guide calls home. Except, at this shrine, the elephant god was there: live and in peak performance condition. On one hand, captive in his wet-eyed sadness but purposeful in his act of contrition, this incarnation of a bountiful life was making his contribution. On a narrow side street, with a collection of rag-tag humans surrounding him, he was able to enthral young and old by taking food and/or paper money from them, blessing them with a curled trunk that would brush/kiss the top of each supplicant's head and either eat the food or deposit the money in the fingers of his handlers. As all of us took our turns, we noticed that,
L'Orient Restaurant - Pondicherry
Looking up to the room with a view
if you gave Ganesh coins, he inhaled them through his nostrils and exhaled them into the hands of his human masters. At once terribly sad and heartbreaking, it is but one part of the inexplicable miasma in this land of complexity.
There are more photos below