We took my grandmother on a weekend roadtrip! She was keen on Pondicherry, and since there’s not really any kind of cool place or hillstation less than four hours away, we set out. Sandhya’s new GPS was inaugurated, though Sosa’s directions were actually pretty accurate. I managed to confuse the GPS by asking to drive to Holborn! It just froze over Europe. The drive was great, about 3 and a bit hours and Sosa had tanked up on snacks, egg sandwiches, frozen juices etc. We had booked 2 rooms in Center Guest House, Auroville’s oldest guesthouse (I’d stayed at Athiti Griha about 10 years ago, but they were closed for renovations and recommended Centre). The people were lovely, food was simple, rooms clean and neat, if a bit hot. But then at the height of summer that’s to be expected.
We spent a little time at the Visitor’s centre, getting a feel for the layout of Auroville, admiring the beautiful crafted gifts, understanding a little about the Matri Mandir. Auroville has guest cards. Sandhya ran in to see the dog, Biro(?) while I was getting our card from Mr. Saravanan at reception. “He friendly?” she asked, bending down to pet him. “You’ll have to pay a deposit of Rs500/-” Mr Saravanan replied. To me. But that had Sandhya jumping up in a big hurry, staring at poor Biro in horror!
Armed with our guestcard, we went to Repose Beach (also owned by Auroville) but the cyclone last year has completely destroyed the buildings. Still, this beach is much emptier than most, and we dragged ammachi down into the water as well. Tired her out a bit too much, so headed back earlier than planned, stopped for hot rolls at Nijam’s roll factory (or something like that. Dont bother to try the buttermilk or lassi which is full of bits of cream and tasted weird).
A good nights sleep sorted her out, and our next challenge was getting her coffee in the morning. Center guesthouse provides all three meals (included in room rent. Cycles also, though it was much too hot to be cycling around. They also have some nice cheap rooms, with common bathrooms, if you want to do a budget trip), but breakfast only at 7.30am. For ammachi, that’s close to noon! So we drove around at bit, almost all the way back to the beach before we found a nice lady who sells tea in the morning outside her house. Back for a healthy (somewhat) breakfast of fruits, wholewheat bread from Ganesh bakery, butter and Kumquat jam! Never had it before, and not a fan of orange marmalade – but this stuff was really nice. We planned to go to Pondicherry town in the morning, as Ammachi wanted to see the Ashram. The drive along the east coast road was good. The Ashram has free entry to see the Samadi – its a beautiful house where Sri Aurobindo, and later Mother lived, on the clean, tree lined avenues of the town. We walked around the lovely flowers in the garden, past people meditating and praying, through the bookshop (where I got a Shefali postcard for Shefali & a copy of Savitri for appa, among other things). The pondicherry beach has a built up promenade now, reminded me of Calicut, except there’s not really a ‘beach’ and you cant get down to the water!
I had used the wonderful www to suss out places to be and see in Pondi, and we found ourselves on Rue de Bussy (which sounds much nicer than Bussy Street!) looking for Baker Street – a lovely cafe. We had chocolate, coffee and vanilla eclairs, cheesecake, quiche lorraine (hot and straight out of their oven), chicken baguette sandwiches & tarts all of which were yummily homemade and tasty. It was as good as Rambling Mutterings blog made it out to be, except it wasnt all that “French” – what with a good english name, a WC1 signboard inside, a whole Haagen Dazs fridge (yes, thought they were Scandinavian too, until I discovered they are American. Surprise, surprise!). Still, definitely worth visiting again.
We stopped at the Ashram handmade paper factory – my favourite place in Pondicherry. On our last visit, Sandhya was little and thanks to her cute smiles (and some phone calls from the Ashram guesthouse where we stayed), we got a tour of the factory and helped do some marbled sheets! The place is just as amazing – photos not allowed inside, and there’s no way I could have done justice to the place with a point and shoot.
After a good rest in aircon comfort, we headed out to the beach. This time, a little sweet talking and tea tips got our car all the way down to the repose cafe – so ammachi didnt have to walk much. We borrowed a plastic stool for her to sit on, and then dragged her down the very steep slope of the beach, into the water!
We washed up at the repose cafe pump and headed to New Creation Centre (now called Tanto’s) for much awaited pizzas. It was easily the best part of the trip – hot pizza’s from the dome brick oven, pasta from the specials menu and lasagna. The mousse was like melted chocolate, and sorbets (first I’ve had in India actually!) were icy & cooling – lime, chikko and mango. They light their oven by 6.30pm and in half an hour, the place was full. Loved the thick glass bottles for water. The veggie list of pizza’s was more than twice the non-veg selection and much nicer. There’s a separate rate for aurovillian’s but even the outsider’s rates were worth every single paisa.
The next day, we had a busy schedule – drive miles for tea, pick up chappals from cobblers near the beach, breads and croissants from La boulangerie, cheeses from La ferme (we missed the factory this time but their cheeses are sold in Farm Fresh, a cute cafe opposite la boulangerie), soaps from auronaturalle, pottery from sunshine pottery (since the nice shop at visitors centre was closed), lunch at Roma’s and of course, visiting the Matri Mandir.
That last turned out to be the most challenging task of all. First we watched a movie about auroville – the history, the values and so on. Since we didnt want to ‘view’ the mandir from outside on the trail, or book a meditation or concentration inside, we kept getting conflicting advice from people. Mr. Saravanan had kindly suggested we could walk down to the Banyan tree with ammachi and sit there for a while. Despite following his advice, using our guest card, and pointing muchly at the 86 year old gray hairs etc it took a while of to-ing and fro-ing to get a ‘special pass’. It was quiet and peaceful once we got in, and we sat under the banyan tree for a while, taking in the calm and serenity of the 12 gardens around the matri mandir. We were pretty much the only people in that area, the crowds being on the other side. Wish more people could be allowed into the hallowed gardens. I’m sure Mother would want that too.
After that, we managed shopped a bit at the auroville shops and then proceeded to do all the things on our list, except eat at Roma’s since the road was blocked off for tarring. It gave us a good excuse to head back for pizza’s again! So stomach’s full of Italian food & French pastries, we got into our Indian-Japanese car and sped back home. Nous espérons vous revoir un jour Auroville & Pondicherry! Au revior!