It's hard to believe that there is only one more sleep until my flight home. It's been an incredible adventure here. I think yesterday was the best day I've had in India this entire time.
The faculty (Manu Koch, Steve Jenkins, David Anderson and Jovol Bell) spent the day with Manu's sister, Julia, in Auroville and Pondicherry. Julia lives in Auroville (it's very random that he came to work only an hour away from Auroville). Auroville is a very special place. It's very beautiful with lots of open spaces and trees and wildlife. The air smells heavenly. If you want to read more about what makes Auroville so unique, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auroville. We started out at the Matrimandir, a huge golden globe-like building surrounded by beautiful grounds. From a distance the building is reminiscient of Epcot Center but as you get closer you realize how unique it is. The place is a spiritual center and you can't take pictures inside the Matrmandir grounds, so words will have to suffice to describe it. The building is a sphere made up of gold (real gold) discs/panels. It hovers above the ground, supported by some amazing architectural engineering. The grounds are beautiful and peaceful. Right beside the globe there is an enormous and incredible banyan tree. These trees grow roots back into the ground from their enormously spread out branches so it looks like there are many trunks supporting the branches. It is very quiet as there is no talking allowed on the grounds, inside or out. At the entrance to the building we were asked to removed our shoes and put on some white socks that they supplied. To get to the top inner chamber of the Matrimandir, you ascend a winding marble staircase that eventually becomes a plushly carpeted winding path, the carpet probably there to muffle footfalls as you get closer to the inner chamber. There are four pillars (that match the compass points exactly) that support the globe from the inside. As we ascended the winding path we passed several small waterfalls trickling down the golden walls beneath panes of glass.
Finally, we reached the inner chamber. It's primarily a meditation room, with the four pillars surrounding an enormous crystal ball in the middle of the room (or at least I think it was crysal- or a very high quality glass). Above the crystal ball is a small, circular opening in the ceiling where a shaft of light comes down and passes through the ball all the way through the building to meet another smaller glass ball in a pond below the building. The room is completely white. As soon as we walked in I actually got a little emotional. it was unexpected- we had rushed our way to get there on time for the brief half hour visitors were allowed in, and suddenly there was this hushed peacefulness in this beautiful room with beautiful light and this subliminally tingling energy. It was the most silent I've heard India be, but it also spoke to me in the loudest way. We sat down on some cushions and I spent the next twenty minutes (which flew by) gazing at that shaft of light illuminating the crystal ball. The spirituality of the room was ambiguous- there is no fixed religion to Auroville (it is called "The City in Quest of Truth"). But it was so soothing and extremely peaceful- a well needed "zen" moment. After our time was up the lights flicked on and off as our cue to exit. I visited the banyan tree on the way out of the grounds. It was the first time I could walk around unharassed and enjoy the surrounding beauty.
We did a bit more shopping in Pondicherry. What a contrast to peaceful, sweet-smelling Auroville! Honking cars, autorickshaws, two-wheelers, exhaust fumes, stench of the fish market assailed our senses as we got out of the car. We met up with Julia again once our shopping was done and all headed out on foot to the temple. I had seen on Manu's facebook photos that he had already been to the temple and was very excited to meet the temple elephant I had seen in his pictures. And suddenly, there was an elephant, right there in front of a huge temple. These temple elephants are common in major cities. If you give them a rupee, they'll bless you with their trunk. A great idea, in theory. Standing in front of him/her, all of the sudden the elephant seemed really, really big. It took me some time to screw up my courage and walk up to the elephant. This Asian elephant was adorned with bells and decorated with Hindu markings on his/her face. He/she regarded me and held out her/his trunk to put the coin inside. I dropped it in, cringing as the real scary part was coming. The elephant tried to brush the top of my head with her/his trunk but I involuntarily backed away and the trunk missed my head. That wouldn't do. So I tried again. I swear, this elephant knew I was scared and had compassion for me. It took my rupee and (I concentrated on standing my ground) very gently touched the top of my head with his/her trunk. And that was it. A very wise animal. Although I felt sad for that elephant- it must be a strange and boring existence to stand in one place all day and bless them. It was still amazing to witness and experience though. I watched as an elderly Indian woman in her sari walking through the street touched her/his trunk as she passed in a familiar yet reverent way. A true India experience.
Exhilarated but incredibly hot, we walked down to the waterfront promenade and sat down on the rocks, watching the waves come in and enjoying the ocean breeze. We hung out there for some time, just talking or watching the waves in silence. The tide was coming in and the waves became quite spectacular. Sitting by the water is one of my favourite things to do, and the smell of the sea is one of my favourite smells. So it was blissful to be there, surrounded by good company.