Auroville, Mangroves and the Loud DJ

We started the day nice and early, leaving the house to get into a guided tour of Auroville. Balu had obtained passes for Sellappan, Jay and I to go on the tour. Children aren’t allowed to go on the tour, so Shalini looked after the bairn. Once we arrived we went into a small auditorium set up for videos. The 15 minute video explained the history and ideology behind the site. After the video we were herded onto minibuses and driven to the centre of the community, the Matrimandir.

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The Matrimandir was only completed fairly recently, and had been designed over thirty years ago by a French architect, working to the specifications of Mother. We handed over our bags at the kiosk and then joined the rest of the group and listened to the correct procedures for going inside, what to do when inside and when and where to come out. Even the area leading up to the entrance was a designated quiet zone.

We took off our shoes and headed down between two of the brick ‘petals’ to the West entrance. Inside the light was very dim, and two spiral walkways starting at opposite sides of the circle curved up to the meditation hall. There were also four skinny sluices with water running down a golden channels to the lotus pool far below. The architecture here was white carpets, with walls of white granite or marble, and the walkways were lined by glass panels. The overall effect was certainly impressive. We were given white socks to cover our feet and the progressed up the spiral walkway to the main hall.

The main hall is huge, and all of the surfaces are white marble, except the floor which is carpeted in white. Twelve slim pillars hold up the ceiling, and in the centre of the room there is a big crystal ball, probably about twice the size of my head. Everyone sits facing this ball. This crystal ball serves as a focusing point – somewhere to put your eyes as you contemplate. This crystal ball is also the source of all the light in the room. When available, sunlight is focused down into as narrow ray and through the roof into the ball. This ray continues through the ball and down into a smaller ball placed in the centre of a white marble lotus flower with water running down the petals to the centre. After spending some time in the upper hall, we came down to the lotus pool and spent some time there.

On the way out, we passed one of the twelve smaller meditation rooms, each housed in one of the petals. As Balu had explained yesterday, each room has a theme such as power or bliss, different coloured lighting to promote that feeling and is egg-shaped inside. These themes were the extended to the gardens coming out from each petal. The gardens are still under construction.

When we came out we headed back to the bus and to the visitor centre to meet Shalini and the little one, and went for breakfast. We went to a Starbucks-style cafe with sandwiches and cakes, and got a veggie sandwich and chocolate brownie for breakfast. All that contemplation had been hard work after all.

Back at home, we waited for Balu to come back from his excursion to say goodbye to him and his family, then headed off in the car towards Picharvaram, a mangrove forest. On the way we stopped for lunch at an outdoor restaurant which conveniently had a playground right next to it! Around the playground there were some fallen unripe coconuts, so we played a few games of catch and there was juggling, of course. Turns out they’re the perfect size and weight for that!

The road to Picharvaram took us though lots of small, rural villages, past plenty of bright green rice fields, goats and cows. We got to Picharvaram at about 4pm, and were lucky enough to get a boat ride almost straight away. We went out in a row boat with a guide who looked like he’d spent his whole life rowing tourists around the place. From the boathouse on the shore it was about ten minutes to cross to the mangroves, and from there you could take any trail through the vegetation which grew straight out of the salty water. The water itself was only a couple of feet deep and at the bottom there was muddy silt, which occasionally sucked at the oars of the boat.

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As we went up and down the green lanes, wading birds flapped away, and kingfisher type birds stayed motionless on the roots. Tiny bright silver fish leapt out of the water in sunny patches, and little gangs of silt brown crabs clambered over the roots and each other, hunting for food. In a quiet spot we came a cross a woman fishing by hand for these crabs, moving silently up to her neck in the water, with her catch net between her teeth, busily grabbing the crabs from the roots. I wonder how many nips she got as thanks!

Our ride lasted around an hour, and we got back to dry land and into the car, bound for Pondicherry. The sun set as we drive back through the rice fields and Sellappan and I said goodbye to Jay, Shalini and little Krishita outside the Hotel Accord in Pondicherry. We had a couple of hours to kill before our night bus left at ten, so we passed some time in the bar with plenty of snacks to replace dinner.

We had arrived fairly early and there was only us and another group in the bar. Nevertheless when the DJ turned up he switched on all the psychedelic lights and cranked up the dance music. The other group left, and Sellappan and I shouted at each other for a few minutes before realising the place was empty, so we asked the very attentive barman if the music could be turned down to a slightly less deafening level. He replied apologetically that unfortunately the DJ was hired to bring the party, so he wouldn’t be able to turn down the music. Sellappan and I both found this pretty funny, but didn’t press the issue!

We got to the bus station by rickshaw and boarded the bus, this one didn’t have air conditioning but it did have windows and you get a good breeze going on the highway! After chatting until about midnight I managed to get at least four hours sleep and a great deal more dozing besides. As usual, Sellappan did an excellent job of sleeping through the bounciest and noisiest sections of the drive. We arrived at Bangalore at around 6am and got a rickshaw back to the flat for a bit of proper sleep.

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