Days of rest in Pondicherry

Trip Start Nov 29, 2013
Trip End Jan 09, 2014

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Where I stayed
Hotel Atithi Pondicherry
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of India  , Union Territory of Pondicherry,
Monday, December 16, 2013

We leave Chennai after having had a nice coffee at a newly constructed house of an old colleague of the Lutheran Church in India from Chris. The road to Pondicherry is partly a toll road and later on it passes in between beautiful wetlands. We are heading for the Birds mountain that has on the top a Shiva temple cut out off the granite mountain. It is called that way because two vultures landed there and were fed by Bramin priests for ages. This is not happening anymore, but worshippers still come to this temple.

The VOC people that lived in Sadraspatnam used this mountain to escape the heat at the fort there. The result is that there are Dutch inscriptions in the granite walls, halfway and near the kitchen on the top. Bauke van der Pol reports that they date from 1662 tot 1818. A sort of graffiti avant la lettre.

The name of the Shiva temple is Vedagiriswarar temple, in Tirukkalikundram, 15 kilometres away from Mahaballipuram. When we reached there just after one o'clock it was closed (from 13:00 to 16:00). So unfortunately, we could not enter and take pictures. A new front temple is being constructed at the foot of this Bird mountain. I made some pictures of some of the smaller temples and some street scenes.

We drove back to Mahaballipuram and we decided to have lunch there. Chris knew a good place and we had a delicious meal of fresh shrimps at a rooftop restaurant on the beach, overlooking the temple in the sea. We were also lucky to see a local fishers boat manoeuvring through the pretty strong waves, landing on the beach.  A catch of fish is being carried away from another boat that must have come in just before.

After lunch it took us another three hours to complete the 145 kilometres to Pondicherry. There we are in the new Atithi hotel, where we have a spacious room, swimming pool on the roof and a gym where we occasional work out. We have four nights resting in Pondicherry, now called Puducherry. 

Both Chris and I have been here before and we are surprised how busy the Marine boulevard now is, filled with Indian tourist, many young people from Bangalore.

European influence

Rue de la Marine is one of many French remains in the French quarter in Pondicherry., which was French until 1954. All the grey houses in the French quarter here are owned by the Sri Aurobindo ashram. Our Hindu guide Murty is not too happy with that. He is also pretty critical about the many Europeans at Auroville, who he feels are hampering the traditional Indian culture.

We first visit the Sri Manakula Vinayagar temple in town. And we drive around the French quarter, as Chris wants to find the furniture shop from which he bought quite a few of the beautiful wooden furniture in 1998 for his house in Holland. Today we found this shop, the owner still recognized Chris. We now saw a beautiful wooden cupboard that can be folded out into a bar. Chris was tempted, but took measurements to check whether it fits at his house.

Auroville and the Matirmandir

The tour continues 8 kilometres out from Pondicherry to Auroville, a city in the make in south-India since 1968, dedicated to human unity, and based on the vision of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. This was a French lady who since 1920 worked with Sri Aurobindo. When he passed away in 1950 she continued his work. Until 1973 she withdrew to her room and she started the planning for Auroville. We look at their visitors centre and we see a video about her and the construction of the Matrimandir  (temple of mother).

The walk to the Matirmandir  and the old banyan tree near it is one kilometre. The temple appears from a distance in the green and it is a magnificent sight. Unfortunately tourists are not allowed in anymore. Chris has been here at least 10 times because he was interested in the architecture and how it developed. It has been built with an opening in the roof through which the sun falls in a creation way.

The renowned French architect Le Corbusier had a plan for Auroville that only partly materialized. This was due to rivalry between the ashram people and Auroville. In the end the Indian government stepped in to settle the conflict. Chris is also interested in Sri Aurobindo, who was a freedom fighter against the British,

The Auroville charter is as follows and I quote:

  1. "Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. 
Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. 
But to live in Auroville, one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.
  2. Auroville will be the place of an unending education, 
of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.
  3. Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realisations.
  4. Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity. “
We read that there are now 3,000 global inhabitants for which there are 4,000 workers. Chris is very skeptical and considers the Auroville community to be arrogant, inward looking and religious fanatic. I take a more liberal view that they do want to live a spiritual life and that they do not hurt the world. Moreover the Matrimandir casts a certain spell.

In the evening we walk along the Marine Boulevard and had an ice coffee at Le Café. We regularly hear “hello" right behind us or next to us, thinking that someone wants to ask us something. A second later we see someone pass talking in a mobile phone.

We have lovely dinners at Le Club and the Maison Rose in the French quarter. Christmas is nearing, also in India, we notice in the hotels.
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sugu on

Hi Dirk, I am very happy read your comments. Haha it is very nice to read it, seeing the drawbacks but very beautifully noted it. Really it is too nice.

It is strange to me you took 3 hours to reach Pondy from Mabs? It will come one hour or 1.30 only. I am too sad you missed to see the temple, the driver knew the temple time(it is unique to all places)

All the pictures are very beautiful, you are a very best photographer (haha) Hmm very best journalist.
Have a good time. Sugu

lolly on

Hey Dirk,

I was at Auroville last year and sure enjoyed the battery car ride all the way up to the building. We couldnt get in so I clicked some pics from the opening of the gate. The old banyan tree is spectacular. So nice that you both are having fun and spoiling yourself thoroughly with scrumptous dinners, lunches and high teas on the terrace overlooking the sea. The pics are lovely too. Keep enjoying yourself and greetings to Chris. Hope his cold is better.

dieuwke on

etekent Auroville Gouden Stad of STad met een aura )daar moet een vraagteken staan, maar soms husselt mijn computer alle leestekens door elkaar'. Fijn dat jullie zo genieten, hoop dat jullie bij thuiskomst aan het sobere Nederland weer kunnen wennen! hartelijke groet, Dieuwke Janssen van Raay

najma haque on

Loved reading your travel account. the pics are really very nice. i'm not sure but i think I was in Pondicherry also in 1995. At that time I was travelling so much that I forgot the names of all the places I had been to then. I would love to see the Ashram tho. Never been there but have heard so much about it. The Athithi hotel that you're staying at how much is the tariff? If it is reasonable, then I'd probably stay there too. We plan on going there sometime this year. Take care.

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