Pondicherry (now correctly known as Puducherry) is what I would describe as the perfect little European mini-break within India. Don’t get me wrong its not the same as being in Paris, but after 8 months of thalis, crowds and narrow streets, Puducherry was just enough for me to imagine I had changed continents for a short while. I still love being in India and have no desire to leave yet, but occasionally it can wear you down and test your patience and my European mini-break was the perfect antidote for that.
The streets are wide and in spring covered with bougainvillea flowers and there are few people in sight and with all the street signs being in French, it was easy to almost forget what continent I was in. Its fair to say I spent most of my time in Puducherry simply wandering the streets and eating; croissants, baguettes, coq au vin and blue cheese. Little luxuries I hadn’t had for so long.
About 10 km outside of Puducherry is the area known as Auroville. Auroville is an “experimental” town which is intended to be free of religion, politics and discrimination. Whilst it sounds lovely in theory, as a day visitor it felt a bit like a sect for foreigners. The centrepiece of the town is the Matrimandir which is a place for meditation.
For day visitors like me, the closest you can get to the Matrimandir is to view it from a distance in a special area. A pass is required to enter the area, and it doesn’t really allow you to get anywhere near the real Auroville. If you want to go inside the Matrimandir to meditate, you have to effectively “prove” you are worthy by going their personally and applying for a visitor pass, where your time is restricted and guided. At the time I was there, this was booked out for the next three days, so unfortunately I missed seeing inside the big gold golf ball, but I have heard that it is spectacular.
Driving to the Visitor’s Centre you pass through parts of Auroville. I saw a few roadside shops and cafes, plenty of westerners riding on motorcycles or eating in the cafes and lots of locals keeping the business running. To actually spend time in Auroville and stay there you need to commit at least a week, I think only then can you get a real feel of what this place is about. As an outsider, it felt like it was a western playground which disappointed me. Unfortunately time did not permit me stay there, but perhaps another time I will return and see what this strange place is all about.