Beautiful days in Pondicherry
From this shady garden cafe, with old French colonial, rusty steel and romantic rose decor, I forget for a moment that I am in India. Ambient jazz and acoustic guitar mingles with expat French, local Tamil and broken English.
Pondicherry is definitely a breath of fresh air in an otherwise quite overwhelming India. If you have ever visited Delhi, Varanasi or Kolkata, you know what I mean.
Here, as a tourist, you can stroll the streets of the French Quarter, pop into perfumeries, have local ice cream or sip South Indian coffee.
Or as many tourists, stay at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and spend your days in contemplation. And long white linen shaals.
I have to be honest. I was completely ignorant to the works of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, and I suspect that some of you are, too.
Sri Aurobindo and The Mother were active spiritual teachers, writers and visionaries especially active in Pondicherry in the 1950’s and their cultural heritage and contribution is huge, including the Aurobindo Ashram, hundreds of publications of books, poetry and art.
Together, they created one of the most impressive and inspirational Community Utopia in the World: the 500 acres land and settlement of Auroville. Located about 10 kilometres north of Pondicherry, Auroville has it’s own eco-system based on renewable energy, it’s own economic system based on the cash-less currency called ‘kind’ and it’s own schooling and health care system. There are restaurants, cafes and shops, like in any town, except here everything is locally produced and communally owned. Built to accommodate about 50 000 people and serve a spiritual, conscious lifestyle, there is still a lot of room for Auroville to grow. There are currently about 2500 Aurovillians made up from about 50 different countries, living side by side in this nation-less, progressive community.
To visit Auroville for a day only gives you a glimpse of what the Community is really about, and there are ways to stay and volunteer for one of the 100 different projects. To become a resident however, is a long, committed process.
Together with Juhee, a Korean girl on a mission to seek out good projects and people around the world, we were guided around town by Gopi, born and raised in Auroville. Although the three of us had grown up in completely different cultural parts of the world, we shared similar ideas and values, great conversations and later, back in Pondi, dinner and drinks. It proved to me, once again, that we always have more things in common with people, than differences.
It also confirmed my growing belief that the future is indeed bright and positive, and hold possibilities way beyond our mind’s comprehension.
The whole experience was in fact quite ‘other-worldly’ complete with seeing the 24 Carat gold ‘Ferrero Rocher’ looking Meditation drome called Matrimandir, that runs on solar energy and a natural light reflecting globe in the middle. We didn’t have a chance to go inside, which needs to be organized, but I have a feeling I will be back.
Since I arrived Pondicherry, I have been greeted with open arms by another Gopi, a friend who runs The Blue Yonder; a Cultural and Responsible Travel company with affiliates all over India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and South Africa. Their head office is located here in Pondicherry and they also have some guest rooms, where I spent five comfortable nights with wifi, hot water and A/C. Heaven in India.
Gopi is a self-made man and one of the most humble and honorable people I know. He not only manages his company, he incorporates it and creates a better World from it. When the earthquake in Nepal happened last year The Blue Yonder was one of the first tourism companies to take action and create an open street map to assist volunteers and help organizations.
If you are looking for authentic travel experiences that not only gives back to local communities, but help build them, The Blue Yonder is a great place to start.
And if you ever meet Gopi, give him a big hug from me.
It’s been hard to leave Pondicherry and I’ve gotten used to lazing around these charming streets, parks and cafes.
But the other side of India awaits, and more friends in Goa.