Sri Aurobindo Ashram also more commonly known as Auroville is arguably the most famous attraction in the union territory of Pondicherry. The town attracts both domestic and foreign devotees from all over the world who flock to this ashram for spiritual guidance.
Established in the year 1926, Sri Aurobindo Ashram was founded by one of India’s greatest philosopher-poet Sri Aurobindo Ghosh, whose writing deeply inspired Mirra Alfassa a Parisian musician and painter. Mirra Alfassa also known as the mother of the ashram was the visionary behind developing Auroville into a town where unity is celebrated and everyone has a spiritual holiday.
The town of Auroville is located at a distance of 24 km north of Pondicherry. There are multiple ways of getting to Auroville ranging from hiring an auto rickshaw/taxi or renting scooters from Pondicherry. Most of the luxury and ordinary buses that ply from Chennai and Pondicherry pass the turn to Auroville. Get off at the junction and hop into one of the many waiting rickshaws, no buses ply on this route and walking is not an option since Auroville is about another 15 km from this junction. Negotiate the fare with the rickshaw drivers; never pay them more than 50-60% of the demanded fare.
The main attraction in Auroville is Matrimandir which literally means “Temple of the Mother” in Sanskrit; this is the geographical and spiritual heart of the town. The temple is golden plated from outside, while the inside is stark white with a gigantic crystal in the centre. Mantrimandir is open to the public daily between 08-1200 hrs and 1400-1800 hrs. Children below 3 years are not allowed into the ashram and photography is allowed only with permission of the ashram authorities. Avoid going to Auroville on weekends as the place is generally very crowded.
There are a plenty of activities in Auroville like Yoga, Tai-Chi, Vatsu, different kinds of alternative healing and courses. There are at least 14 farms, any of which will take daily volunteers. There are also many schools that can accommodate volunteers, environmental restoration projects.
Inside Auroville there are a handful of shops near the visitors centre selling hand carved stone sculptures,T-shirts, really unique handmade cups and cutlery sets, books about Auroville – the idea, the architecture, are few of the things that are available in the shops. While outside the town there are a host of shops and stalls selling hippe clothes, musical instruments, remember bargaining is a skill that comes very handy will shopping outside the town.
Auroville is very spread out and large, so the best way of getting around this town is by renting a scooter, motorbike or cycle. There are plenty of bike rental shops inside and also around the town.
Eating options in Auroville is limited to a handful of eaters; the solar kitchen is the main cafeteria, which has a set menu for the day and also the most popular place to eat. Everyone pays the same price no matter how much they actually eat. The food is really tasty and it is a great place to meet people. The visitor centre has an excellent cafe with daily specials and a wide range of Indian and European food, the vegetarian thali and tuna pizza are a must have in this cafe.
Accommodation is in plenty inside Auroville town and also on the outskirts of the township. The accommodation available outside the town is generally a lot more economical as compared to inside the town. Many of the guest houses even rent out a room on a monthly basis to travellers who intend on staying near the spiritual town for a lengthy period of time.
The best time to visit Auroville is during the winter months of November to March. The peak season is from December to February and it is advisable to pre-book and reserve a room in or around Auroville during this period.
The only way to experience and get a feel of the spirituality of Auroville is to spend a few days in the town. A single day’s visit cannot do justice to this place since it is too large to cover in a single day and also has a lot to offer that is generally missed out in a day’s excursion.
Auroville has a very calm and peaceful feel to the place right from the junction that leads to Auroville to the actual temple that is inside the township. This is a must visit place for everyone who travels to Pondicherry.