This one’s taken some time to write. I’ve had to collect my thoughts, my experiences. And mull over them.
March of 2015, is when one of my travel goals, was realized. Every year Auroville (Viluppuram, Tamin Naidu, India) is host to the Tango Festival here. 2014, was when I started learning Tango, in Bombay, India. On a trip to Pondicherry with friends and family, that same year, I visited Auroville. As a visitor. I was quite blown away, with what Auroville had to offer. This was the first time I came to know about, and saw, the Mantri Mandri. A fabulous construction, if I may, made solely for Meditation. In fact, Now that I’ve been to Auroville, as a guest and not as a visitor, I think the entire township is made for self-reflection and meditation.
Along the way, to Auroville. Waiting for the Sun.
While that may be. The purpose of my visit, was to learn some more Tango. During the Tango festival there, they invite Tango maestros from all over the world. To teach and to interact with us, the beginners, the intermediates and the other maestros, here. Teaching and exchanging techniques and so on. The Tango scene in India, as far as I’ve seen, is growing steadily.
Tango, the purpose of my visit to Auroville.
I took an early flight from Bombay to Chennai, wanting to miss the rush hour at the domestic airport. I had a friend, with whom I was staying at Auroville, help me book a cab from Chennai Airport to Auroville.
Apparently, it’s works out to be more affordable. When you book a cab via the guest house, at Auroville, you’re staying at. After getting my backpack, from the baggage claim, I was waiting for the driver of the cab hired, to give me a call. This was around 5:00AM, early morning. After waiting for about an hour, I decided to book a cab from the prepaid counter, inside the airport. Since there was no call from the cab driver, from Auroville.
On the way to Auroville. Rising, with the Sun.
After paying a advance of 200INR (~3USD), I was alotted a taxi. The whole working out cheaper thing, if you book a taxi from Auroville directly, does save you some marginal cash. Again, depends on what you consider to be marginal. Booking a Non-AC taxi, from the Airport, works out anywhere from about 200-800INR (~3USD-20USD) more expensive. As I walk out, I see my name on a placard. Now I’ve two taxis! I chose the one that came for me, from Auroville. And in doing so lose the advance paid, at the taxi counter, in the airport. Well, no way around that!
After enquiring, why hadn’t the driver called me. He said, he didn’t have my number. I was stumped! There was a miscommunication.
The entire narration above is for someone like me, out there. Make sure there’s no miss communication between you and the people you speak and make arrangements with, at the guest house you’re staying at. This saves a ton of time and definitely will save you some money.
It takes about 3 hours to reach Auroville, from Chennai Airport.And around 3 hours back, from Auroville to Chennai. Leave Auroville, well in advance, to catch your flight back.
Following the taxi mishap, I reached Auroville around 9:00AM in the morning. The drive to Auroville, early in the morning, was refreshing. The air clean, and with you on the road while the sun rises. It was a beautiful drive. I’d recommend that.
I stayed at the Tibetan Pavilion.It's also known as Bod Khang Guesthouse.
A Little background on Guest houses and home stays in Auroville.
There are many places, a visiting guest may stay at. Some are guest houses, some are home stays. To be more precise, 46 guest houses and 30 home stays, to choose from. That’s a lot! But keep in mind, most of them may be booked. I did suggest, booking about 3-6 months in advance. This is because a lot of people, from all around the world, stay for more than 3-6 months at any given time. There’s a lot going on, inside Auroville. Each of the guest house/home stay has their booking rules.Like, minimum stay requirements and so on. So look those up too, while booking your stay.
Bod Khang Guesthouse A.K.A Tibetan Pavilion.
Entrance, of the Tibetan Pavilion.
All thought, it is named as the Bod Khang Guesthouse. The guest house, I was staying at was more popularly known as the Tibetan Pavilion. Most of the locals, in and around Auroville, knew the place by the name of Tibetan Pavilion.
Some of the other guest houses, are also, officially known as something else but locally called something else, entirely. Ask the contact of the respective guest house, about this.
View of the pavilion, from the first floor.
Almost each country/region, in the world has a guest house. Generally named like the Tibetan Pavilion. For e.g. The French Pavilion and so on.
My experience at Bod Khang a.k.a The Tibetan Pavillion, was super tranquil and awesome. Kalsang & Namgyal are the people you want to get in touch with, for anything Tibetan Pavilion. They, both, are awesome and friendly. Both helped me tons, to navigate around and know more about Auroville.
View of the pavilion, right outside our room.
The Tibetan Pavilion, as such doesn’t have a cafeteria or restaurant to offer you any kind of relief, if you are hungry. So keep some snacks handy, in the room. There’s hot water 24/7, again the availibility of hot water depends on the guest house / home stay you’re staying at. There’s free laundry service, which is awesome. There’s 24/7 free drinking water. If you are a group of 10 or more than 10, they do accomodate cooking food/food delivery requests. So talk to Kalsang and/or Namgyal about that. There’s a library, about everything Tibetan and more, inside the Tibetan Pavilion. Make sure to check it out, if you are the reading kind. The Tibetan pavilion is close, in proximity, to the visitor center. This proximity, comes in handy!
Each guest house has it’s own set of rules. Please follow those. For e.g. As a rule, for a guest staying at the Tibetan Pavilion, you cannot play loud music or talk loudly after 10:30PM IST. A slight whisper, travels through the walls and the night.
View, after, you first enter the guest house.
I was sharing my room with two other women. Friends and fellow tangueros. At the time of writing this and during the time of my stay at the Tibetan pavilion, the cost of the stay was 500INR/night (~10USD/night) per person.
Auroville: First Impressions and Then Some.
I reached Auroville; Reached my guest house to be precise, around 9:00AM in the morning. It was hot and sunny, already.
My room, had three beds. I was beat with all that traveling. Upon checking in, I instantly fell asleep. Even though the rooms don’t have air conditioning and, it is high summer from March-May, I never felt the heat, when residing within the room allotted. The re’s plenty of ventilation in the rooms. Except, when I was on the bicycle or walking under the sun. Then you do feel it.
Afternoons, are hot and dry. Don't walk in the Sun.
The best thing about Auroville, is that everything is spread out. And it’s so freaking, quiet! You’re, technically, inside a forest. And as evening draws near, it becomes more so quieter! You get some awesome sleep, here. If for nothing else, I may just go back to take a nap or two.
As I mention above, it’s a forest. A slight whisper in the night, travels. This I checked, by standing on the ground across the room, at 9:00PM in the evening. The girls, in the room. Whispering. I could hear them. Loud and clear.
Evenings, are every bit as magical as this picture. This ones, not edited. Just resized.
There are no street lamps. And even during summer, the sun sets early. So carry a torch. It helps a bunch. If you’re afraid of dogs, take out some time during the day and make friends. It will save you some scary times, with the dogs. If you’re like me, someone who loves dogs, then by all means go and play with them. They’re very loving. Within a day of knowing you, they will start protecting you. Which is not required, I may add. Even if it’s a forest, I have walked alone and/or ridden alone, at odd hours of the night. Without any problems. Even the girls, have walked, without any fear, post 1:00AM in the night.But, staying on your guard, doesn’t hurt either.
Everything is far off. No matter where you stay. But that’s a good thing. You get to walk, ride a bicycle or a bike. Breathe good, clean air. As time goes on by, and you’re getting accustomed to everything there. It all starts to feel, romantic. Not in the lovey dovey, patty way. In the true sense of the word.
Another evening view. Taking a walk.
Indian food, is affordable. Continental and other type of cuisine, is less affordable. I think that’s the only type of spending, you should be aware of. Rest of everything, is very affordable. All said and done, the food is good. No matter where you eat.
No one’s up at 6:00AM in the morning. Best time to take the bicycle out, for a spin. Catch glimpses of wildlife around. Go, see some beautiful birds, including peacocks. Bicycling, for the first couple of days, is the best way to get to know what Auroville has to offer. Best time to do so, is early in the mornings. Be aware, nothing opens up before 10:30AM in the morning. So, bicycling early to find what’s where, is great. But to take your inquiry further, best to go after 10:30AM.
Almost, all kind of cuisine is available. You, just need to hunt for it.Or ask around.
If you’re only going to be riding the bicycle to get everywhere, within auroville. Make sure to attach that torch, to the bicycle. In the evenings, riding it within the forest’s bicycle trails, is another experience, altogether.
When the sunsets and the night falls, do look up! You’re sure to be mesmerized, as I was. The stars! Oh! Those stars!
There are plenty of places, in and around Auroville that you can get a fine grub at.
The Pizza oven at Tantos, is right at the entrance.
Some places of note, to eat at, include:
1.The visitors center cafe. There’s another cafe above the visitors center, which only caters to guests staying in Auroville.
2. Tantos Pizzeria.
3. Farm Fresh.
4. Solar Kitchen’s Sky Cafeteria.
5. Solar Kitchen’s cafe, inside the visitors center.
6. A local, Indian food joint ahead of the Solar kitchen’s cafe, near the bicycle renting shop, within the visitors center. Good food, for less. Free Internet. Great music and abiance.
Pizza, Tanto's Pizzeria.
Things to Do
Oh! There is so much to do, in Auroville. At any given time, there’s so much going on. So many activities. If it’s your first visit here, most of your stay, if short, will be exploring Auroville. That’s where my time went, what was left of it. After the Tango sessions and some siesta (it gets hot in the afternoons, during summer to go anywhere).
One place, that you’ve to see is the Mantri Mandir. See it, from the inside.
Mantri Mandir, as seen from the outside of the Auroville Bank.
Certitude, is the place for sports and recreational activities. I love martial arts, not for the fights. But for the fitness and discipline it teaches, to someone like I. Auroville has some brilliant classes you can take, for learning Aikido, ChiKung, Kalarippayattu and Tai Chi.
Not into sports or martial arts? There’s still tons of activities you can take part in. From meditation to Rural development. Take your pick.
Getting Around, Inside Auroville.
Everything, inside Auroville is spread out. There’s a lot space between various guest houses, home stays, activity centers, administration centers and so on. This is a good thing, especially if you are like me. Someone who loves empty space around him.
You’ve various options to get from point A to point B, withing Auroville.
You can easily rent out a bicycle, I did this for the first three days, I was there. A brilliant way of exercising, traveling and exploring Auroville, rolled into one. All of Auroville, has some really awesome bicycling paths, weaving in and out of the forests. Early in the morning, it’s calming and serene. On those paths, is where you will see most of the wildlife. I encountered some awesome species of birds, including a peacock. At night, taking those same trails. Is another experience altogether. You can’t see more than what the torch you are carrying, lights up. What you can see, are the billions of stars, strewn across the night sky. If there’s a moon, you don’t need that torch, switch it off. It’s more pleasant in the evening, riding that bicycle through those forest trails. And, it’s safe.
Road, outside the back entrance to the visitor's center. Most roads, are like this. Raw, filled with red earth.
Renting a bicycle, is easy. Just head over to the visitors center. Ask the watchman / guard, or anyone working there. They will help guide you, to the right place. At the time when I was staying there, a refundable deposit of 500INR (~10USD) and a daily rent of 80INR (~1.5USD) is what I paid for the bicycle. I got the deposit back. The most affordable way of traveling, within Auroville.
The remainder of my days, were spent walking, riding a moped and hiring a rickshaw. All within Auroville. Again, walking is awesome. Walking under those stars, still more awesome. But walking, under the afternoon sun. Not so much.
I hired a moped. Because it was fun! You can rent a bike, an Enfield, a scooter or a moped. That’s the second best way to travel, within Auroville. Having a bike on a standby, even when you have bicyle, is a good idea. It does give you the option to get out of Auroville, if you need or want to do so. At the time of my stay, I paid a refundable, security deposit of 1000INR (~20USD). Rent of 100INR/day (~2-5USD). The fuel costs ~100INR/liter (~2-5USD). For the tenure, I was riding the moped or subsequently the scooter, I used about 3 liters of fuel, in total. Also, beware. If you’re new to Auroville, and don’t want to be taken for a ride by an Indian, make sure you ask your guest house/home stay hosts to talk and hire the vehicle on your behalf. Take pictures, before you start using the vehicle for commuting. Trust me, it will come in handy, just in case of any issues, cropping up.
Rickshaws, good for afternoon rides.
Another way, I got around Auroville was by hiring a rickshaw. This comes in handy, if you are traveling with 3 or 4 friends, within Auroville and they don’t have their own rides. A rickshaw ride from the visitors center, to anywhere within Aurovile, at the time of me visiting, was about 150INR (~3USD-5USD).
Some pointers for new guests staying at Auroville.
Some handy pointers. Especially, if you are new to Auroville.
1. First thing you should do, if you’re staying at Auroville, for more than 2 days. Is to locate and go to the Auroville Bank. Yes, they have a bank. Kind of. You go there and get yourself a guest card. This card comes in handy. You can use it as a prepaid card, for everything in Auroville. Using it, also makes sure that establishments know that you’re a guest, staying in Auroville. And not just a visitor. Comes in handy, while renting stuff out. Paying for meals and so on.
2. Make sure to carry a torch.
3. Make sure to talk to your guest house / home stay hosts and get all and any information, you need directly from them. They are there to help you, and will do so.
4. Most guest houses, home stays, cafes, restaurants and activity centers are connected. Internet is available. Some places for free, others charge around 50INR to 100INR for an entire day (~10USD-20USD).
5. Get a ride. Be it a bicycle, a bike or a car. While walking is fun and a great way to explore Auroville, it gets hot in the summer. And rains heavy during rains. Plus, you’ll be saving time with doing so. And exploring more. This is one mistake, I made. From day one.
6. Carry a book, a music player, a laptop etc. This will come in handy. Most of Auroville, shut downs early. So, when you’re back in your room. You’ll have something to do. Do note, if you are listening to music on a portable speaker, keep the volume low post 10:30PM in the night. It’s a forest. You can hear people whispering around. Or simply use your headphones.
7. Most eateries shut down early. Pack something for the room, if you get hungry or would want a midnight snack.
Inside Auroville. No street lamps. Carry a torch.
8. Talk to people. Say hello and wish them a good day. This is a great way to make new friends and find out what more is going on in Auroville.
9. Ask around for places to eat. If you are someone who doesn’t enjoy eating the same food, over and over. This will come in handy.
10. Some places, the network is weak. No matter, which mobile operator you’re using.
11. If you are hiring a rickshaw, from within Auroville. It’s a good idea to take the drivers number down. Comes in very handy!
12. If you want to visit the Mantri Mandir, from inside, for meditation. Note that you would have to take a prior appointment from the office, which is located again at the visitor’s center. Take into account that an appointment for visiting the Mantri Mandir, from the inside is usually given after two days of asking for an appointment. So plan accordingly.
13. Take out some time to visit the Salt pans, Pondicherry and the beach.A day should be more than enough, I guess.
Auroville, last thoughts.
All in all, it’s great place for staying. If you plan to stay long term, you can find work within Auroville. Either as a volunteer or as an employee, offering your skills. The kind of work you get, depends on what you’re good at. And, if you are okay with doing some manual labor, like working in the organic farms and so on. This should keep you busy. Maybe help you earn some dough, too. And definitely help you, meet new people.
My experience, hasn’t been the best. But, that’s because of the dealings with some of my fellow countrymen, out for some quick cash. That aside, it’s a splendid place, to explore and maybe even be a part of. There’s tons to do. Most of the foreigners, stay for about 3-6 months. Definitely something, I wouldn’t mind trying once.
Will I go back? Yes, definitely! There’s a lot more, I want to explore. Besides, you get some really good sleep there. So yeah, definitely going back.