After a night in Mahabalipurum David and I headed down the ECR towards Pondicherry which is a former French colony and is considered an autonomous state where French is actually an official language.
We had planned to take the state bus to Pondicherry like we did from Chennai to Mahabalipurum (and it cost a whole of $1 for 2 people!!) but you really need to know how to jump onto buses to do that since the bus will only stop for a whole of 5 seconds. So after a failed attempt at that with out backpacks in tow, we gave into paying a driver to drive us there in under 2 hours. The ECR is the scenic route so it was quite pleasant to pass through small villages, a river and a salt field.
Pondicherry was recommended to me by numerous different people, perhaps because it has more of a foreign vibe than any other place in South India. The beach itself is nice to sit and watch the waves roll in. There is no sandy bit but it seems that at night the entire town hangs out by the ocean front. The city is quite alive as the road by the sea is closed off to vehicles. Bharathi park in the middle of the city is also lively with locals who just like to hang out.
Another re-occuring theme: Indians enjoy hanging out. In this heat there is nothing better to do than just that!
Auroville is a self-sufficient community a few kilometers from Pondicherry. It stretches across a vast area of land amidst some local villages. We stumbled across it while spending some time at a real beach (as in one with sand) and spoke to a frequent visitor there who has totally sold me the idea of it. People from over 60 different countries live in this community along with Tamils in what is called a human experiment. I am now intrigued to return to Auroville the next time I am in India although I feel that being in a community like this you would not feel like you are in India at all. It must be something on a whole other level because it seems like a different world when you step out of their gates (which is heavily guarded).
It’s basically a hippie community – living in huts, everyone doing their own bit to help out, meditation and yoga (and perhaps other things to reach the other realm). It’s surprising to me that a project such as this is not very well known and it has flourished quite well over the past few years.