So now you want to know what happened after I got to Auroville huh? Well first, what is Auroville? Auroville is a very, very interesting place. It’s just next to Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu, in the south of India, and it’s a very interesting town founded in 1968 by a Parisian woman and an Indian guru. The history of its founding makes it sound rather cult like, they founded it as a society that “no country could claim” and on spiritualism without religion and a strong worth ethic. The description in the Lonely Planet I think is awful, because it is clearly written with a cynical mocking tone, which prepares anyone visiting to expect perhaps a pretentious righteous unwelcome place, which it is absolutely not. I have never been in a community with a higher ratio of truly FRIENDLY people.
So I went to Auroville for this two day Tango workshop. The workshop was being run by a Frenchman who now lives in Bangalore (in Karnataka, the province next to Andhra Pradesh, where I live). So I’d met all these Tango people on FB and had been communicating with them trying to get my butt to one of their tango events! So this week we had a holiday on Wednesday, and everyone in Tagore (my dorm) seemed to have the same idea, skip Monday, Tuesday and Thursday too, so the dorm emptied out and all the exchange students headed all over the south!
So my plan was to get down to Auroville for the Tango, and then Aimee was gonna meet me in Chennai on Monday and we were gonna train down to the very very south, the southernmost point of the peninsula. But we didn’t plan it out quite far enough in advance, and trains were full so we had to try this tadkal thing through the travel agent, basically the plan fell apart because it looked like we could maybe make it down to the cape, but would not necessarily have a way back, and it’s 30 hours from HYD! So Aimee stayed in Tagore and I stayed in Auroville for two more days after the Tango event and I’m glad I did!!
The French Tanguero had set me up to stay at the same hostel as some of his students from Bangalore (he teaches lessons at their University), so I met up with them and they were AMAZING! All PhD students, in their 20s like me, lovers of Tango, and one of the guys is also super into Natural History!!
So we all arrived on Saturday (once I freed myself from Mr. Handholder and made my way to the hostel) we headed over to the visitors center for lunch. And… I consumed an AMAZING salad. I never thought I’d get caught with the word amazing and salad in the same sentence… but it was amazing. (And was followed by many many more amazingly fantastic meals for the rest of the week…)
Then on to the Tango lesson! Of the 4 of us staying together in the hostel, the two guys had rented bikes and dragged me and the other girl around for the weekend :P. Riding around on the back of a motorcycle is quite addicting… ! [In India a “bike” is a motorcycle and a “cycle” is a bicycle…]
So we had a two hour Tango lesson in the afternoon, then a break for dinner, then on to the Milonga!! A “Milonga” is like a party, where you just dance Tango . It was held on the patio of a restaurant owned by a Swedish woman who also danced Tango. It was a gorgeous setting… except it’s still monsoon season in Tamil Nadu…!!! So even though the part where we were dancing was covered, both sides were open to the elements and most of our shoes got waaaay more wet than a leather soled dance shoe is ever even supposed to DREAM about getting…! But we persevered!! The Tango must continue!! I switched back into my sandals, which were HARD to dance in. My feet were swollen in the morning. But it was worth it, I barely sat down all night. 😀
Sunday there was another lesson and a practica, and danced despite the sore feet, my shoes were still damp but wearable. The Tango activities were done after Sunday, but my friends from Bangalore were staying until Monday night. I was thinking of heading back on Tuesday night (bus tickets you can buy right up till when the bus leaves because they rarely sell out) but my friends ended up changing their tickets to stay an extra day because we were having such a great time! So we all left Tuesday night.
So what did we do? We went to Pondicherry and sat at a café ON the ocean. We went and visited one of the “settlements” of Auroville, a quite rustic and removed one which runs as sort of co-op living, with strict schedules (everyone wakes up at 5:45, everyone has a different chore, then eat breakfast, then do more chores, then lunch, then free time, then dinner etc.. ) This community is based around the reforestation they are working on, when we arrived they had just started the post-breakfast chores and one group was heading out with some saplings to plant. There were about 40 people living there now, but we were told they can get up to 140 people in the dry season. There were Indians, a Frenchman, and American women, and many others I could not identify. Two girls, one Indian one white, probably 7 years old, were running around beating up on a guy who was on his day off, laying in the communal tent laughing at their attempts to beat up on him…
We went to the Botanical garden and walked around one of their loop trails. We did some shopping at the great shops in the visitor’s center, everything sold there is made there in Auroville! And we ate. We ate A LOT.
So what about the people? Apart from the rustic community settlement we visited there are many other communities all over Auroville devoted to different things and with different themes. They almost all have renewable energy (wind, solar), and many grow their own food. There are very very fancy houses in Auroville, and there are huts with thatch roofs like the ones in the community we visited. There’s orchards and people producing jam, there’s cotton weaving and dyeing, people making incense and pottery and every other type of craft you can imagine, and there’s the best western food I’ve had anywhere in the world… (including the west). Auroville is considered by the government of Tamil Nadu to be their own independent city and have post offices and a town hall, which houses their various councils, which is their governing body, a series of councils with no one person in charge. Their population is about 2000, half are Indian and the other half represents 43 different countries. It might sound like a crazy hippy utopian society, and to me too the history of it sounded cult-ish, and hearing about it and how you can’t actually go into the main part of their temple unless you’re an Aurovillian, etc, it might sound a bit extreme.
But sitting in the visitor’s center cafeteria with my friends from Bangalore, our waiter had just brought over our food, and my friend says “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a waiter smiling, because they wanted to”. And it’s true. I’ve never met such welcoming, friendly, happy people. I told this to someone back in Tagore and they also seemed doubtful, saying maybe they are all brainwashed. But no, that’s not it. It’s something I can’t describe, try and describe happiness, it’s hard huh? The first day I arrived, driving through in the taxi, I actually had some culture shock, it just looked so strange. A city built in a forest of trees, with mostly dirt roads, well kept ones though, people of all different colors flying by on motorbikes. Blonde kids running around, western food restaurants everywhere… It was weird. And by the next day, I, and my friend from Bangalore too, said that we could stay there for a long time and not mind so much…