Alone in Auroville

I just tried to sit down and write this post at a cafe and a born and raised Aurovillian/German/Swiss man sat down to talk to me and I’m not sure how to politely refuse further conversation so I’m just sitting here awkwardly. THIS IS WHY I DON’T GO OUT ALONE. People can say all they want about how technology is ruining communication but it sure is nice to have the ability to go “offline” on chat applications without having to gracefully exit a conversation.

Dustin left to Chennai today to go pick up our transportation for the next 10 days which takes the form of a autorickshaw. Chennai is 3 hours away and for the first time in 2 and a half months, I have found myself alone. And it feels really weird.

It took me probably a full hour of getting “ready” which really translates to trying to convince myself I am a capable human and the social anxiety I was experiencing at the thought of leaving the room alone was all in my head. In addition, we have a scooter that I have never actually started so I wasn’t sure how to go about doing that, let alone ride it on Indian roads.

Alright.

We wrapped up Sri Lanka with a couple days in Hikkiduwa which was just another vacation spot for Europeans (Russians). They did have some really good restaurants there so I’m not actually complaining (I live for food). Our hotel was a little older than our last one and that creates opportunities for any bugs in the area to make themselves comfortable within the building.

Before our trip, Dustin sent me a very ominous text that read, “How do you feel about cockroaches?” His brother had been to India and apparently informed Dustin at that moment that cockroaches were everywhere in India and we better adjust now.  Little did I know, when Dustin asked that question, he was actually hoping I would say I was fine with them so I would take the lead on all cockroach killing expeditions.

I don’t know about anyone else but the only size of roach I consider an actual cockroach are the ones that are the size of the insect they used to eat on fear factor. AKA massive. And because we haven’t seen one of those, in my head we have not seen any cockroaches at all. (Except the small ones that crawl over your feet on the bus.  Did I mention how I feel about the busses?) Boooooring. I was looking forward to watching Dustin have a freak out.

However.

Our first night in Hikkiduwa, I went to use the bathroom in our hotel room and when I put the toilet seat down (pesky boys, amiright?), it came down with a slam. The noise clearly startled something on the wall opposite the toilet and it quickly moved behind the shower curtain. Assuming it was a gecko, I proceeded to seat my rear end on the porcelain throne. I don’t know what prompted me to take a peak at my bathroom companion, but I like geckos, so I moved the curtain to the side. My companion shot out sideways and I realized it was not a gecko…

It was a massive cockroach.

(The fact that I thought it was a gecko gives you a clue as to the actual size of this thing). I launched myself from the toilet,  trying to pull up my pants and get out of the bathroom. I make it to safety and while locking the door from the ouside, I inform Dustin what the situation is. We have been taken hostage. No one pees until it’s safe.

He is mortified. He starts moaning because he is absolutely gutted this is something we have to deal with. While picking up his flip-flop as his weapon of choice, he tells me that once it’s dead he absolutely will not be able to pick up its lifeless body to dispose of it. This sounds like the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard when I consider the actual act of trying to deal with an alive cockroach vs. just picking it up once it’s dead, but alright.

He carefully unlocks the bathroom door and inches it open ever so slightly. Every time it opens a little more he twitches slightly; looking around. He eventually swings the door open wide and we see no roach. Dustin is still ducking every second just incase cockroaches somehow figured out how to launch themselves from the tops of doorways to preemptively strike humans, which I find extremely comedic.

Turns out the cockroach had retreated to its home which we can only assume is within the gaping hole leading to a hollow space in our bathroom door.

I wonder if Dustin was able to ever turn his back to it the entire time we stayed there.

On our last full day in Sri Lanka we decided to take our scooter on a little road trip, up the coast for a couple hours,  to the turtle sanctuaries. On the way we stopped at the Tsunami photo museum which was seriously amazing. Sri Lanka lost over 30,000 people in the 2004 Tsunami that rocked the Indian Ocean and left half a million people displaced from their homes. The museum was simple and was just pictures glued to the walls of what I assume was an old house. It started simply; what goes into the cause of a tsunami, simple facts, etc. It then proceeds to the pictures of the aftermath. It was incredibly powerful.

Following that heavy museum visit, we paid a visit to a turtle sanctuary in the area. It was really interesting but mostly just really cute.

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1 in 50,000 sea turtles is born blind and they keep them in the centers because obviously they couldn't survive out in the wild. He was a hefty little dude.
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These guys were 3 days old. Ready to be released!
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This is how they keep track of them. Once they hatch the baby turtles head towards a light bulb and fall into a bin where they are collected and put in tanks until they are old enough to be released for increased chance of survival!

We stayed in Hikkiduwa until the morning of our flight because we had time in the morning to catch a bus into Colombo. The bus was a mess AS PER USUAL in Sri Lanka and Dustin and I were more than over the whole experience. In being frustrated with Sri Lanka and things that just don’t make sense, it prompted intense cravings for McDonald’s.  Dustin quickly googled the Colombo location and we realized it was right along our bus route. Score.
This caused us to get off our $2 bus 45 minutes early. For McDonald’s.

Nothing was to note about the Colombo airport except that the Burger King meals hovered around $17……….

Oh, and that we got frisked approximately 4 times at various points in the airport but then they let me through security with a 1.5 litre water bottle. (????)

I had a weird feeling halfway through Sri Lanka when I realized I missed India. I know that I said I liked India, and I do, but I assumed it was the kind of feelings you might have about being forced to eat an entire cake to yourself. The first piece you’re thinking, ‘okay, yum, I’m enjoying this, I could definitely handle some more.’ Piece 4: ‘okay, this still tastes good but I’m kind of getting full.’ By the end you’re basically frothing at the mouth from icing and although you can still recognize the yumminess of cake itself, you are relieved to be finished and hope never to take another bite.

That’s what I expected to feel about India. But I didn’t.  After two weeks away, I missed India. I missed the chaos, the palpable energy of the country, the food and the people. 

Two days in Madurai took care of that quite nicely. We spent 2 nights there to check out the famous temple and then book a night bus headed for Pondicherry. We had satellite TV in our hotel in Madurai for the first time and Dustin and I were completely mesmerized; both openly gaping at the screen, wide eyes and mouths slightly open. Not one of our finer moments. Here we are sitting in India, glued to an American cooking show….because…gravy…

Our second night bus was much better than our first. It was non-AC so we had less of a risk of losing our fingers to hypothermia this time and we chose the bottom bunk which swayed less. Dustin met a man named Ravi when he was in Vietnam 4 years ago. Ravi had lived in both the US and Canada before returning to settle in India. He now lives in a village outside of Pondicherry called Auroville. To be honest, I could go on for years trying to explain Auroville so it might be better if you all just Google it. Basically it’s a non-religious community founded on ideal of recognizing human unity and building a self-sustaining community (ideally cash-less) that belongs to no nation and all people are welcomed.

And it’s really cool.

Something like 60% of the population are non-Indians and so it has an interesting mix of the Western world with India. For me, that basically means less panic about water cleanliness and the safety of uncooked vegetables (pretty much nirvana after brushing your teeth with bottled water for 2.5 months).

Ravi picked us up absurdly early from the bus station after several almost-fist-fight close calls with the local rickshaw drivers who refused to believe us about a friend coming to pick us up and followed us around at 6am shouting numbers at us. We had planned to spend a week with Ravi regardless but after being in Auroville for over a week, I’m very glad we budgeted our time to allow for that. It’s so nice to have someone who can walk you through all of India’s craziness from an inside perspective. Not to mention have their home opened to you.

Dustin’s friend Jeff, who worked wildfire with him in their first years, randomly ended up coming to India for a tour group but first wanted to spend some time in Auroville so somehow he ended up in this small town in India at the exact same time Dustin and I were there. The four of us spent the week together doing various activities because THERE ARE SO MANY ACTIVITIES IN AUROVILLE.

Dustin and I decided to try our hand at pottery one day because it was Rs. 200 ($4 CAD) each for an hour lesson. How cute and playful do pottery dates look on the Bachelor? Not so cute in real life.

Pottery is disgustingly hard.

Our “instructor” (if you could call her that) had it in for me and anytime I would mess up – which was inevitable in this impossible task of creating something lovely and smooth out of this lump – she would jump in, shape a pot for me, stop the wheel and say, “You like?”

WELL YES I LIKE BECAUSE YOU’RE CLEARLY GIFTED WITH YOUR HANDS BUT IT’S NOT MY OWN CREATION.

So after 45 minutes and four pots sitting beside me (not one of which I had actually completed), I was starting to sweat from sheer frustration. Already struggling to form anything but a small mass with a volcano like – hole in the top, my annoyance was mounting, only to be compounded from the pressure of being hovered over by my nemesis. If I had known where a sink was to wash my gunk-covered hands, I would have up and left. Dustin kept cheerily asking me how many pots/cups I had made to which I would growl, “none,” while swearing under my breath and glaring at the lady’s toes (the only part of her I could see from my position).

I will not be taking up sculpting in my spare time. Also, I may need to work on my patience.

Although Auroville does have a tourism center and does cater to some tourism, it tries to keep some things more closed off to the general public. There are a few cafes that you are not able to go to if you don’t have an auro-card and you are only allowed inside/near the Matrimandir under specific circumstances. Dustin and I booked a tour to learn more about Auroville and to experience the Matrimandir in all its perfection.

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Inside is a suspended inner chamber for concentration (meditation) and on the tour we had the unique opportunity to experience 20 minutes inside this chamber. We started out by watching a short film on the origins of Auroville and how she came to be as well as the concept of the town. We (Me, Dustin and 35 or so people) were then hurded onto busses and brought to the Unity Gardens (the manicured gardens surrounding the golden golf ball). We were told not to bring any valuables or cameras because they were not allowed so I have 0 pictures. 

Those red sandstone ramp things surrounding the Matrimandir are called the petals and each one represents a certain characteristic or value (gratitude, etc.). They each house smaller concentration chambers based around the word that the petal represents. We started by walking through one and then heading down a ramp until we were all underneath the Matrimandir. It was very quiet in that space. Everyone started sitting down around the center so I thought, ‘oh, maybe this is the inner chamber? Maybe there is no actual inside?’ We had been told if we had to cough or sneeze we must leave the inner-chamber because it was a place of complete silence. After 10 minutes a little bell was rung and people started to stand up and file out.  We walked back around to the Matrimandir, removed our shoes, and then we saw the ramp leading up into the belly of the shiny orb. I really did feel like an alien being called to the mothership.

I wish I could describe the inside of the Matrimandir other than complete perfection. Everything was perfectly white and pristine. The walls glowed in such a way that almost gave the whole inner space a pink hue. None of the guides were speaking because of the whole silence thing so they just kind of motioned. At one point I was stopped and the lady motioned for us to move over to these seats. I assumed we were just going to wait for people to come out or something but then I realized she wanted all of us to put on these perfectly white socks that went to mid-calf. I assume it was for the sake of the white carpet but it certainly added to the surrealness to see all 35 people shuffling around in the same white socks.

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Small model of the inside. Photo from:http://www.aurovilleradio.org/matrimandir-exhibition-now-open/

We then proceeded up spiraling ramps towards the circular inner chamber. It was indescribable in there. The perfect dim lighting, the perfect temperature, perfectly quiet.

We spend 20 minutes in there but it felt like 5. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced quiet like that. Sure, in nature it’s quiet but there’s always a bird or a cricket or the wind. There was nothing in there.

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Picture from: http://integralyoga-auroville.com/auroville/matrimandir

The sun that hit that orb came through the ceiling and went directly through the entire Matrimandir to the bottom where we had been 15 minutes before.

A select few people missed the complete silence memo and felt the need to clear their throat. Nonetheless, it was still the quietest I’ve ever heard 35 people. Because of the shape of the room, all sounds were amplified and I could actually hear a girl 15 feet awat scratching her arm. I was slightly afraid the sound of my swallowing would disturb others. I was so nervous that I would suddenly get the urge to sneeze I was trying to plan my escape route and worrying insesently about if I would be able to open the doors.

Following that experience, we spent some time by the tree which is actually the geographical center of Auroville and is beside the Matrimandir. The perfectionist in me was a little off put by the fact that the giant golden golf ball was not the center, but hey. Alot of people were going up to the massive tree trunk to lay their hands on it (basically feel up the tree trunk). I found this a little odd and I was having a hard time not staring. I watched one lady walk the entire circumference of the trunk in order to stop and feel it from every angle…..

I’m all for a little quiet time and concentration but the tree groping was a little too much for me.

I will write more once we have completed our autorickshaw/tuktuk/auto adventure!

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Riding Indian style on a bike.

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