Auroville and Pondicherry are rapidly rising in the charts of popular travel destinations amongst the Indian youth. This could possibly be a result of the outrageous ‘French connection’ propaganda of the Pondicherry Tourism board, and the never-ending barrage of pictures taken in front of the same bright-yellow walls of famous buildings in the French quarter. Having said that, the travellers coming to Pondicherry are gradually beginning to recognise the cultural value of these parts, not all of which is necessarily limited to the French quarter. During my time in Pondicherry, the one place that really fascinated me was Auroville – its vast expanse, the peculiar guiding lifestyle of the community, and the other-worldly vibe of the place really captures your attention. The sheer variety of things to do inside Auroville makes it an ideal foil for cultural and experiential travel.
What is Auroville? Want to know more about it? Perhaps you should begin with my introductory post to Auroville [Read: Auroville – A Hippie Paradise, or a Place Ahead of It’s Time?]. If you’ve already done that, you can dive right into my top picks for the most enriching things to do in Auroville.
Offbeat Things to do in Auroville:
Engage in a host of Workshops or Volunteer Positions
Auroville is a hotbed for experiential activities and volunteer tourism. Innovation and sustainability are two big cornerstones of the Auroville community. Naturally, you will always find plenty of volunteer positions to participate in. These might only be open to you if you are on an extended visit (anywhere more than 3-4 weeks). If you’re on a short weekend or week-long trip, you should be able to find yourself plenty of workshops to pick from. For more information, please visit the Auroville Visitor Centre, or the Auroville Learning website. Please note though, most volunteer positions ask for a minimum commitment of at least one month. To me, that’s more of a pro than a con, because that ensures you have enough time to explore Auroville to its fullest.
Swimming Classes with Ruslan – at Veerampattinam or Auro Beach
I was fortunate to have a few swimming lessons with Ruslan, his wife (I forget her name), and their tiny little daughter, Maya. Ruslan and his family have been in Auroville for years. They run swimming classes for locals and tourists in a shallow harbour alongside Veerampattinam Beach. If you’re in Auroville or Pondi for a period of time, you should consider swimming classes with him. Once you are comfortable swimming, you can also consider diving and surfing along the coast – I’ve friends who can help you out with both. Please feel free to drop me a note for contact details. You can find Ruslan at Auroswim.
Arrange a visit to Solitude Farm
Solitude farm is one of many Auroville units. Solitude was started in 1996 by a bunch of young Aurovillians, aiming to create a self-sustaining farming community. Based on the ideas of Masanobu Fukuoka – the celebrated Japanese farmer, best known for his book, The One Straw Revolution, Solitude attempts to bring together permaculture and natural farming techniques. Spread across a 6 acre plot, the farm is an example in alternative farming. It offers volunteer opportunities around the year – you can help with farming chores or running the organic Solitude Cafe. If volunteering isn’t really your interest area, you could still arrange a visit to the farm; meet some of the resident members and appreciate some of their revolutionary farming techniques.
Try Your Hand at Kalaripayattu or Just Witness a Choreographed Performance
Kalaripayattu is an extraordinary form of ancient martial art, which originated in Kerala. It is believed to have inspired several other modern forms of martial arts, such as kung-fu and taekwando. Its rigorous, intensive practice is believed to have extraordinary health benefits like improved body-strength and vitality. Kalarigram, the Kalari school on the outskirts of Auroville is run by Lakshamanan Guruji and his students. If you have the time, discipline and endurance to practise Kalari, I’d strongly recommend you give it a shot. I’ve personally seen people transform out of life-threatening situations through sincere practise of Kalari; but if you think that’s not quite your thing, feel free to join a group and watch one of the choreographed, preset performances they periodically announce, for the benefit of visitors and travellers. Here’s a small sneak-peak into what I saw:
Watch Performances at the Adishakti Theatre
Adjoining the Kalari school, is the fine estate kept and run by a theatre group formerly of Mumbai – Adishakti Laboratory of Theatre Arts & Research. I think I was quite fortunate that the company I worked with in Pondicherry, were close associates of Adishakti. We helped the theatre group promote an annual festival they host in honour of their late founder, and celebrated theatre veteran – Veenapani Chawla. Over the course of those 3-4 days, I really felt taken by the vibe and atmosphere of the place. I used to be involved in theatre groups at an earlier stage of my life, and I have fond memories of the stage in general. With Adishakti, I could sense right away that there was something interesting. In many ways, they are an experimental, research based group, and this shows in many of their productions. It was a joy to listen their leader, as he gave us a short introduction in how many of their practices are rooted deep within the principles of Kalaripayattu.
Feast on the wide Variety of Cuisines
No ‘things to do in Auroville’ post can be considered complete without addressing its food culture. The cosmopolitan nature of the Auroville community means a mouth-watering variety of cuisines to pick from. Have you heard of the extraordinary Solar Kitchen? The Auroville Dining Hall, where you’ll find several residents and volunteers convening for lunch on a daily basis, serves food cooked using steam from a massive Solar Bowl. They serve close to 1000 daily lunches, and a meal, which is quite an extraordinary number if you think about it. Go here for the experience and the story, just as much as for a meal.
Then there’s the excellent Well Cafe, which serves delightful Israeli food. I met this amazing Chilean couple that was working and performing music on evenings at the cafe, that just added to the entire experience. Well Cafe’s generally a very good place to meet new people. If you’re not in the mood for experimenting too much, there’s always the excellent Tanto’s Pizzeria, which serves great pizzas. As a parting note, don’t forget to try out the excellent Auroville Bakery for breakfast – they make some of the best muffins and croissants I’ve ever had the privilege to taste in these parts.
Yoga and Meditation
Integral Yoga and Meditation are a huge part of what Auroville stands for. Several of its residents, and particularly those that have come here in a quest to satisfy their spiritual yearnings will regularly talk about Integral Yoga in regular conversation. The peace and serenity of Auroville offers a great backdrop to explore Yoga. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the patience to really commit to it, but I mean to come back one day to give it a real shot. I’ve heard so many people describe the transformation it brought about in them. It has simply become one of those things I have to try once in my life. If you want to give Yoga a shot, very few places in the world will offer a better environment than Auroville. If you want to learn more or take some classes on how to practice Integral Yoga, Savitri Bhavan is the place to go. It offers regular classes and workshops to assist your spiritual discovery.
Many will tell you that Auroville is a peculiar place, and by all means, I’d agree; it’s different, it’s a breath of fresh air, and it’s a genuine break from the only way of life most of us have been exposed to. There is a lot happening here, just below the surface, and you can bet on making new discoveries every day. There’s also a lot of cultural/social events happening around different parts of Auroville all year round. Many of these encourage and promote alternative talent. These are events where you’ll get to see things and art-forms that you’ll see in few other parts of the world, so make sure to attend as many as you can. As always, remember to mingle with locals, see with open eyes, hear with open ears, and most importantly, feel with an open mind, and I can promise, this will be a journey of some discovery.
If you’ve been to Auroville, I’m curious to know your experience. If you want to add on to this list of things to do in Auroville, I’d love to know. If you want to go to Auroville, do not hesitate to contact me with questions. I know some amazing people who live there, and can help you connect with the right people to enrich your experience.