Auroville: One Day in Utopia
I sat staring at the huge golden orb in the distance, transfixed and inspired by not only the architecture but also the vision behind this community called Auroville of which the futuristic looking golden ball was at the very heart.
I had been fascinated by Auroville for a while, since my friend Claudia had volunteered there, and even though I had only a day to spare whilst backpacking through Tamil Nadu I had wanted to make the most out of my day there and already felt so inspired that I was planning a return visit.
So what exactly is Auroville?
Auroville is an experimental, universal township situated in a unique corner of Tamil Nadu in South India close to Pondicherry (Puducherry) a former French colony. It was inaugurated in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa (also known as “the Mother”) In her first public message in 1965 she stated that:
Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities.
The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity. From Auroville.org
The township is home to about 2,500 people from 49 different countries and is recognised as the first and only internationally endorsed ongoing experiment in human unity and transformation of consciousness, also concerned with – and practically researching into – sustainable living and the future cultural, environmental, social and spiritual needs of mankind. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity – in diversity. Read more here.
Auroville is about 10kms from Pondicherry which is a popular destination where you can still wander the yellow buildings of the historic French corner and grab a baguette or croissant and take a refreshing stroll along the promenade amongst the midst of a Tamil town. Pondicherry is also famous as the home of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and it was Sri Aurobindo’s vision that inspired The Mother to set up the community nearby.
Auroville is so much more than just the Matrimandir
The most famous image of Auroville is of the futuristic looking golden ball – the Matrimandir which was designed as “a symbol of the Divine’s answer to man’s aspiration for perfection” Most day visitors usually just make a quick stop to see only this, but there is so much more to the fascinating community than this.
Of course, with just one day in Auroville you cannot fully understand and appreciate this fascinating community and lifestyle but you can see a lot more than just the Matrimandir, you can start to explore and understand more about this unique and special place.
Perhaps, like me, you may even find it inspiring and intriguing enough that you will come back when you have more time to get really immersed into the community but volunteering or staying here for a few weeks, months or even more.
How to visit Auroville
Pondicherry Tourism runs rushed full day and half day tours of Pondicherry and the surrounding area which also include a quick glimpse at the Matrimandir (but they require a min of 8 people to run the tour) or you could hire an auto rickshaw to whisk you out there for about 700 rupees return including waiting time.
But if it would be shame not to explore Auroville a bit more – there is so much to learn about this community that is spread out over 20 kms of former wasteland now has abundant forests with cafes, guest houses, exhibitions, cafes, activities and many inspirational and innovative projects going on.
To explore at your leisure and get a better taste for Auroville in just one day then it’s better to have your own transport. I hired a scooter for only 250 rupees in Pondicherry, only a 30 min drive away. The drive out of Pondicherry and onto the East Coast Road that goes to Chennai was pretty hectic as all kinds of vehicles imaginable swerved around all sides of the road but once I turned off the ECR the drive was much easier and more pleasant. If you’re not used to driving in India then it would be a good idea to take a longer way round on the back roads or check out my tips on how to survive driving a motorbike in India!
Auroville is signposted or if you get lost just ask a local to point you in the right direction. The visitors center will probably be your first port of call. Here there are a few cafes, exhibitions and some boutiques selling beautiful crafts and other items made by the residents and the projects they support. I spent a few hours here chilling in the shade of the café to recuperate from the heat and the drive, browsing the shops and learning more about Auroville from the interesting exhibitions that explain more about the Aurovillian philosophy.
Visiting the Matrimandir
At the visitors center you are required to watch an interesting 10 minute movie about the town and The Mother’s vision for this utopian and peaceful society before you are given a pass to visit the Matrimandir. This pass does not however allow you inside the Matrimandir as it is not supposed to be a tourist attraction but instead a place for concentration/meditation only for people who believe in the Aurovillian philosophy. If you want to go inside the Matrimandir then you will need to stay longer so you can apply for a pass inside.
It’s a hot 1km walk to the viewing point for the Matrimandir but you can also get a free shuttle bus. There are grand plans for gardens and pavilions to represent different nations but it is still work in progress which, for me, made it all the more interesting to see this vision as it still being created.
More to explore in Auroville
After seeing the Matrimandir and learning about the Aurovillian philosophy I was feeling inspired to explore and know more about this place and was definitely not ready to leave. I was really glad that I’d braved the Pondicherry traffic and come with my own transport as it meant I could freely explore the rest of the area.
If you want to do the same it’s a good idea to get a map from the visitors center as Auroville is quite a maze of dusty tracks through the forest which adds to the adventure but it can be really hard to navigate. Most roads are unsealed, unnamed and unsignposted but exploring these tracks is all part of the Aurovillian experience.
There are many communities spread out around Auroville with tasty cafés, most of which serve healthy, organic, vegetarian and vegan food. I ate at Well Cafe which as well as being tasty also supports a project that works to empower women from nearby villages, by making and selling funky accessories handmade with recycled materials.
You can also take a yoga class or attend an exhibition (there are noticeboards all over that tell you whats going on) and you can also support the projects but simply indulging in some retail therapy. There are also many coffee shops and internet cafes, stalls selling hippie chic clothes and all sorts of alternative therapies available.
Just exploring (and getting lost) in the forest was a great experience, living so close to nature must be wonderful and if you get too hot you can also head to Auro Beach to cool down a bit in the afternoons or join in the evening promenade in Pondicherry.
Staying at Auroville
Sadly I only had one day to explore Auroville but having my own transport meant that I could explore a lot more than I would have been able to see as part of a tour or by taking a taxi and I loved it! But if you want to really immersive yourself in the Aurovillian lifestyle there are many homestays and guest houses if you want to stay a few nights in this peaceful community and many opportunities to volunteer and stay longer term. Check out the offical website for more infomation on staying and volunteering at Auroville.
I was really enchanted with everything about this inspiring community and really wished that I had more than 1 day so that I could stay here and learn more about this special part of the world and contribute in some way.
One day in Auroville definitely wasn’t enough to really feel what this place is all about but it was certainly enough to inspire me to come back and discover more one day!
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Have you been to Auroville? I’d love to hear about your experience?