On Wednesday morning, we dragged ourselves out of bed at 6am and after throwing some breakfast down our throats, we jumped in the car and prepared ourselves for the 3 and a half hour journey to Pondicherry. It’s an area that was owned by the French and retains a lot of European charm while still feeling like you’re in India. Many of the street signs still say ‘Rue de…’ and the roads are lined with rows and rows of whitewashed townhouses and arching trees creating a shady tunnel.
Any film fans out there, it’s also the place where the opening scene of Life of Pi was set!
After lots of horn tooting and wiggling in and out of gaps in the traffic that definitely weren’t designed for a car, we arrived in Auroville, a town where people of all nationalities can live peacefully and democratically together.
We went to the visitors centre first and I was shocked at how commercialised the area was. For somewhere that prides itself on being self sufficient and not wanting too many tourists or outside influences, it reminded me of a very slick marketing machine. I’m sure this wasn’t the original plan when it was created but it’s such a shame that this is the impression it leaves on you.
Couldn’t resist a cheeky snap of this guy who was sporting the Westernised tourist outfit perfectly!
We had to watch a video before we were allowed to get a ticket to see the Matrimandir but were unfortunately in a room full of French people for it so the French version was played. I managed to pick up a few snippets here and there with more information about the town but not as much as I’d hoped!
We had to walk for about 1 kilometre along a shady woodland path to get to the viewing point which was very peaceful and we came across this tree on our walk.
It is the Banyan Tree and is regarded as sacred and Auroville’s geographical centre. At the Mother’s request, a stainless steel ring bearing the words “Auroville, the City at the Service of Truth” was placed outside its trunk. Banyan trees produce aerial roots which grow down from branches towards the ground and take root to become new trunks!
We eventually got to the viewing point of the Matrimandir, a place for silent contemplation (although there wasn’t anything silent about it!) While mum and I were sat looking at the impressive sphere covered in golden disks, an Indian lady came over to us and asked mum if they could use her hat for photos. She proceeded to have her photo taken while wearing it at all different angles, and with different friends beside her. It was then passed around all of her friends and they each had a photoshoot with the lucky hat. We eventually got it back after about 20 minutes and headed back down the woodland walk to the visitors centre.
On the beach promenade is a 4 metre stature of Gandhi surrounded by eight granite pillars which is impressively framed by the sea in the background.
We were stopped along the beach promenade to participate in a family group portrait, a regular occurrence for us now!
We finished our long day by finding a lovely little coffee shop in the centre of Pondicherry called Madame Shanthes which had a gorgeous enclosed roof terrance, a welcome break from the heat on the streets.
We both nervously ordered a banana split, not quite knowing what we might end up with, but were very happy with the results!