We took a half day tour of Auroville via a package called Auroville Impressions. Here’s what we got to see…
Entry to Auroville is free (you have to pay for parking your vehicle at the visitor’s car park). Just to get a peek into the place, reach the Visitors’ Centre; see the presentation on Auroville; visit the Matri Mandir view point (the golden spherical structure); come back and grab a bite to eat from the one of the many cafes; browse or shop in the boutiques and head back.
Auroville Impressions has a charge of Rs. 1750/- per head with a discount for children. We were asked to meet our guide Ms. Thositha in front of the Visitors’ Centre (we could take our vehicle further in as we needed it for the tour). Auroville does not house the Sri Aurobindo Ashram; the Ashram is located in the White town.
Thositha found a quiet spot in the Visitor’s Centre and gave us an introduction about the genesis of Auroville; then asked us to sit through the presentation. Auroville is a 3000 strong community comprising of people from various countries. Auroville derives its name not from Sri Aurobindo but from the word Aurore in French or Aurora – the Roman Goddess of Dawn translating to City of Dawn. Auroville is considered by many as The Mother’s dream; Sri Aurobindo passed away in 1950, Auroville was established in 1968.
Our tour comprised of visit to three industrial units in Auroville and then lunch at the Solar Kitchen; after which we could visit the Matri Mandir view point.
Auroville provides livelihood to 6000 people who work at the various establishments, from manning the boutiques to making the products at the many industrial units. Soon we were heading to to see our first industrial centre called – WELLPAPER. The roads in Auroville are not tarred, there was a little stretch of tarmac in-between, but this land was not part of Auroville, said Thositha – the land belonging to Auroville is not contiguous; there is private land and villages in between.
“WellPaper is an initiative of an Israeli couple…” said our guide, WELL stands for Women Empowerment through Local Livelihood. “The raw material is the Hindu newspaper as they use chemical free ink.” We see the paper being rolled and stuck with glue to form thin tubes and then twisted to various shapes or weaved together to make baskets.
Paper mâché is used to make a variety of objects – imagination is the only limit.
Next were a group of ladies working with beads making earrings, anklets, bracelets, hair clips, chains, friendship bands – colourful creations.
A store inside has countless of these creations for display and sale.
Next stop – a unit that makes musical instruments called SVARAM. “This is an initiative of an Austrian artist..” says Thositha. She takes us into the Sound Garden – a magical place that has a host of musical instruments made from unconventional materials. You have to try each one of these unique instruments, its an absolute delight – meant for both young and old.
She let us choose the last unit – Spirulina unit or the pottery unit. We chose the pottery unit. The products are sold locally and exported.
Soon it was close to lunch time and to conclude the visit, she dropped us off at the Solar Kitchen. The place was buzzing with people. We were in queue for lunch – vegetarian fare – dishes included potato mash, rice, cauliflower, dal (with chilli and without chilli), salad, curd. Food was totally bland. We quickly finished lunch, rinsed our plates as per the displayed instructions and were off to the Matri mandir view point.
It way starts from behind the Information Centre and is a 20 min walk. It was afternoon and hot; we were given the pass in advance by Thositha; the road leading to the view point has shady areas.
Matri mandir – translates to The Mother’s Shrine is probably the most popular and enigmatic structure at Auroville. The road leads you only to the distant view point; to enter the Matri mandir requires advance booking and permissions. On the way is this 100 year old majestic banyan tree.
We take the bus back to the Visitor’s Centre. The boutiques are a temptation and tourism is a major revenue for Auroville. The Auroville website has various plans and activities to accommodate people with varying degrees of curiosity and timelines. Each person at Auroville has a unique story and perspective…so to each his own.
The ingenuity of the people at work in Auroville is displayed through the magic they create from the ordinary and discarded things; the land itself was a mere wasteland until a few years ago; now lush with greenery. If nothing else, the place expands your mind to possibilities and inspires…and that is all that we had hoped for.
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