It is highly recommended that travellers self drive the route from Chennai to Puducherry. An extremely refreshing drive along the picturesque ECR. With the sea accompanying continuously on the left, like a guide till one reaches the destination. The different shades of azure blue sea with its many shades of blue ranging from pacific blue through cerulean to teal. The horizon seemed like a riot of colours. It was a splendid drive through the outskirts of Chennai traversing through the many villages with abundant greenery and foliage doing justice to the sultry summer.
With much gusto, I made a beeline to enter the Ashram. The Hero from Bengal, Rish Sri Aurobindo, decided to settle in Pondicherry after he quit politics. He awakened to his mission for a spiritual calling. The main building of Aurobindo Ashram has a tree-shaped courtyard that houses the Samadhi of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Immaculately arranged flowers are laid on the Samadhi every single day in a beautiful pattern. Spiritual seekers from all over the globe take a seat in front of the Samadhi to offer special prayers. After a brief glimpse of Rishi Aurobindo’s house, we headed for a soulful lunch at the dining room of the Ashram, where a nutritious and delicious lunch awaits the Ashramites every day. The Ashram proudly houses a printing press, candle factory, museum and a few other self-sustaining initiatives.
A visit to the famous Golden Globe, the Matri Mandir also called the soul of the city is highly recommended. This was the dream of the spiritual guru and his spiritual collaborator, the Mother. Though I arrived late at the venue, I missed the closing time at 12noon. The rule was that one had to stay at Auroville for 3 days to be able to enter the Matri mandir. With disappointment in my heart and braving the sweltering heat of May, I walked towards a Café’. While I ordered a refreshing lemonade, I narrated my agony to the owner. He immediately offered a helping hand. He got in touch with his friends and arranged for a stay in Auroville. In spite of the rigid rules, I managed to get through a resort owned by a French lady in the middle of Auroville.
The glittering golden globe was not yet open for the tourist back then. I was just about fortunate to manage an entry inside the globe, sheer luck, I must say. An ashramite taking care of the garden, led me through acres and acres of organic farm brimming with blooms. The globe was a looming structure and I was in awe staring at it. It took 37 years to build amidst a lot of toils. The twelve petals made out of terracotta bricks are coloured differently from the inside. These petals are actually meditation rooms. The room with blue interiors has walls and floor cushions of the same colour. The principle is that a certain colour can help trigger certain emotions within. Similarly meditating inside the red and the green room triggered other emotions and feelings. I was offered a fresh pair of white socks before I entered the inner chamber of the globe. It was huge and gave a sense of tranquil peace. The inner chamber is painted white with a magnificent crystal seated right at the center of the hall. Right above the crystal is an opening on the roof, through which sun rays fall directly on the globe to reflect its glorious light within the chamber. People gather here to meditate in pin-drop silence. After a soul satiating meditation session, I stepped out of the Matri Mandir speechless, as if I was still in a state of trance. I thanked the gentleman for offering us a lifetime of an experience, where I encountered purity, peace and solace.
The amphitheatre beside the globe has an urn in the centre, which is of great significance. Spiritual seekers from 124 nations and 23 Indian states have got soil from their respective land to fill the marble-clad urn.
The stay@ Auroville
I was enamoured to see my abode, which I would call my home for the next couple of days. It was like love at first sight. The courtyard had a huge canopy of a banyan tree with rooms surrounding it. It had a thick jungle spanning across acres of land with independent rooms dotted across. My room was surrounded by greenery all around. Everything little thing in the room was naturally and organically derived. Solar-powered fans and lights, handmade soaps, shampoos and toiletries. Curtains, bed sheets and linens were all handmade at Auroville by fellow Ashramites. A self-sufficient model town !! Furniture, stationaries and cutleries, all handmade and reeked of love and affection with which it was crafted. The resort had an open-air restaurant under the banyan tree with aerial roots dangling from above on which were tied colourful Origami. Rattan furniture for seating, stone-carved figurines, brass statues of deities was offered fresh hibiscus straight from the garden. Scrumptious food was prepared, garnished and served by a French lady all by herself. An all-vegetarian affair never tasted so good. Food that was nutritious and simple yet so delicious and refreshing.
Walk or ride
The locals use either bicycles, scooters or battery operated cars which are environment-friendly. In an endeavour to conserve energy and save the planet, Auroville has taken up nature-friendly ways and means for day to day life. I commuted in a cycle within Auroville to stay true to their philosophy. I fondly remember the stretch of road smelling of freshly baked bread and cakes, No wonder I discovered a French bakery around the corner. They too believed in using organic and fresh produce to make fresh bakes. An array of bread, pastries, patties, cakes and mouth-watering confectionaries quickly went into my shopping bag. My next halt was at the local museum, which had a breathtaking collection of sculptures from the Pallava and the Chola dynasty along with sculptures and images of various forms of Buddha.
The French colony
Puducherry is dotted with Colonial buildings. Palatial houses in typical French and Portuguese architecture. Villas with huge yellow or blue walls outlined with white borders, bright and colorful graffiti on the walls. People from diverse background, age, country and religion reside here in harmony. They seem to be happy with a basic lifestyle. The only thing they crave is the spiritual quotient, knowledge and humanistic values. This is a place where people from every country, creed, religion and age stay harmoniously contributing constructively towards oneself and society.
Gastronomy at Puducherry
Puducherry has an amalgamation of many cultures woven into one. Though the city is high on French culture, which is very vivid in its spread of French styled restaurants. Italian, Portuguese and Indian cuisines are in popular demand too. Most of the restaurants get filled by early evening by foreign tourists making merry with friends and family. Interesting theme cafes and restaurants, open-air cafes, terrace restaurants, ethnic décor with seating under the tree, old bungalows partially renovated and converted to a restaurant makes one feel cheerful and glee.
Being born in Chennai, it was nostalgic to have Chettinad food at Appachi after two decades. The sumptuous South-Indian food, not only filled my satiety but also my soul. Authentic Chettinad food served by affectionate staff dressed in local attire in copper wares brimming with lip-smacking delicacies, food did travel to my stomach through my heart this time too.
Every tourist venturing into Puducherry is assured to have a good time. For there is a beach, fine dining restaurants, places to shop and a lot of interesting places to visit. Hidesign one of the leading leather showroom has its flagship store by the sea. Dilip Kapoor, who had started his venture with leather accessories as a hobby, had initiated his entrepreneurial journey from Puducherry and is now a household name worldwide.
Beach at Pondicherry
Unlike other beaches in India, the beach here is extremely clean with locals taking good care of their surroundings. I hit the promenade at night for a stroll post-dinner to enjoy a lovely summer breeze. It was like a lullaby post-dinner, which could put anybody to sleep. With music in the car, sipping a strong cuppa coffee and the sound of waves lashing against the shore I rolled the window to call it a day.