Diu – The Discoverer’s Favourite

Chilled by the European winds, I wanted my next vacation to keep me warm. I was looking to get away from the noise and crowd of my city. I searched. And I found. Diu was so small, yet so empty – as if it had been waiting to just see me all this while.

Diu's music is in its waves

Diu’s music is in its waves

It’s Nothing Like Daman

I had previously been to Diu’s cousin – Daman (read: How Daman Delighted Me), and I thought this island would be a reminder of that trip. But I was wrong. Diu is more beautiful… in many different ways. Its beaches are cleaner, its streets are lined with a cycling lane (which unfortunately goes unused), and it rewards its admirers with unique places to eat and hide inside.

Ghoghla Beach - the largest one in Diu

Ghoghla Beach – the largest one in Diu

Ghoghla – The Morning Beach

Diu is no Goa. It’s not a wild, party place. It’s a place to nurse your hangover, and find peace amidst nature. Still, it is easy to rent a car, bike or scooty in this ‘Isle of Calm’. I did not find a place to rent a bicycle though. However, if you are a possessed walker or runner, you will enjoy exploring Diu just as much on foot.

My first evening here was spent watching the sun set over Nagoa Beach, close to my hotel – The Hoka Island Villa. The port wine I had that night gave me a nice sleep. This is why I surprised myself when I woke up early the next morning. My little white scooty urged me to cross the bridge and leave the little island.

I was on Ghoghla Beach. It was too early for the tourists to pour in. Too early for the sun to burn my skin. It was just perfect – my tripod agreed. I saw a little kid turn cartwheels on the sand. I stopped fiddling with my camera and ran to the sea, the breeze encouraging my hair to let go. I told myself that day that I would do a beach marathon someday. (And I am doing it this year! 🙂 )

Fortim do Mar - The Fortress of Panikota

Fortim do Mar – The Fortress of Panikota

A Fortress in the Sea

Fortim do Mar is visible from most of Diu’s coastline. It is hard to miss this seafort which seems to stand in the middle of nothing but water. I wonder sometimes if it is possible to rent this place to spend some quiet time with oneself. There’s a lighthouse there which perhaps offers a nice view of Diu from the top.

Baroque beauty - St. Paul's Church

Baroque beauty – St. Paul’s Church

What Portugal Left Behind

Visiting places of historical importance always unsettles me. A part of me wants to marvel at the wonders of the era bygone – the architectural ruins, the fusion cuisines, the stories and the ways of life. At the same time, another part of me fills up with rage at the masterminds of organised slavery. But time teaches us to move on. To forgive. To accept the good. And to make a promise not to repeat the bad.

St. Paul’s Church is a 17th century building, manifested in the Baroque style. One is reminded of Portugal when one observes the artfully decorated windows and doorways, the arched wooden doors and the murals on the ceiling. The church is still in operation, and you will find the 10 commandments framed against each pillar along the aisle.

Chakratirth Beach... guarded by a lighthouse?

Chakratirth Beach… guarded by a lighthouse?

Some Beaches Find You

As the day wore on, I saw people filling up the streets of Diu. I had to escape before my paradise of peace would vanish. So, I took another road and came across an amphitheatre with a sea-view. It was a viewing space for the grand performance by nature! The sea is so vast, it can help you forget all your troubles.

On the other side of the step-amphitheatre is the Chakratirth Beach, so named because of its semicircular shape. In between the two is an elevated perforated rocky patch. This is where I saw the sun go down again.

Washed by the sea, this shrine has its own story

Washed by the sea, this shrine has its own story

Myth or Mystery?

A 5 minute ride from Chakratirth brought me to the Gangeshwar Temple. This one is located underground. The legend goes that the 5 Pandavas (from the Indian epic Mahabharata) spent some time during their exile at this spot, worshiping Lord Shiva. Today, there are 5 shivalingas (one of Shiva’s manifestations) at the same spot. You can climb down the steps to watch the sea wash over the shivalingas at high tide, as if offering its own prayers to the Hindu God.

Naida Caves - where light plays hide and seek

Naida Caves – where light plays hide and seek

Caves that Will Haunt You

Diu is home to another kind of caves – this one, man-made. Naida Caves were formed due to the activities of the ruling Portuguese. They would cut away rocks from here and build monuments on the island. Nevertheless, these hollows and crevices are quite enchanting today. Climbers and creepers have wrapped some parts of the caves. Aerial roots have sheathed some other portions, almost turning this cave into a palace with many rooms. Moss has coloured some walls in shades of surreal green. Sunlight plays wonderful tricks on the human eye when it enters these caves through the rough openings and green canopies. It is poetic how destruction can also be beautiful.

Some pieces of history rest in a Gothic Church

Some pieces of history rest in a Gothic Church

The Abandoned Church

What is today known as Diu Museum, once used to be the Church of St. Thomas. Built in 1598, this Gothic white church was abandoned several years ago. It is not used for prayers anymore, but houses relics from the past – sculptures and scriptures carved in stone.

Diu has another old church which has been converted to a hospital now.

The Arabian Sea looks mesmerizing from Diu Fort

The Arabian Sea looks mesmerizing from Diu Fort

Diu Fort – Where Warriors Lived

I was saving the best for the last! 🙂 Diu Fort is a large complex that housed soldiers in the barracks, ammunition in underground chambers and canons at every gap in the walls of the mighty structure. This fort is perhaps the largest store of so many canons of different types. Somewhere in this enclosure is a lighthouse – the tallest one in Diu. At every nook and cranny, there is a viewpoint to see the infinite Arabian Sea softly making waves under the sun. Exploring the entire fort takes at least a couple of hours, so plan your day accordingly.

One of the canons which were used to smoke the enemies

One of the canons which were used to smoke the enemies

Diu is a small union territory in India, but it packs quite a punch! Have you been to similar quaint places that have surprised you with how much they can offer?

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Silvassa in the Sizzling Summer Heat

The month of May started with a nice, long weekend, urging me to leave my polluted city and hop on a train to a neighbouring state. I almost flashpasked for this trip and decided to explore my fifth Union Territory – Dadra and Nagar Haveli [Read about my trips to Daman and Pondicherry]. As you read this post, you will discover that Silvassa (the capital) makes for a convenient and captivating weekend getaway from Mumbai.

It is not always crowded on Indian trains

It is not always crowded on Indian trains

Most people avoid Silvassa in the sweltering heat, but this is actually a good time to have the place all to yourself and give the tourist crowd a miss. There are several trains that halt at Vapi (Gujarat), and it’s a forty-minute rickshaw ride to Nagar Haveli from there on.

I had booked myself into Lotus Riverside Resort and was welcomed by a panoramic view of the Daman Ganga River surrounded by bountiful flowering trees on either bank. Despite the summer, the Sahyadris kept me cool.

The view from my balcony at the Lotus Riverside Resort in Silvassa

The view from my balcony at the Lotus Riverside Resort in Silvassa

It was evening by the time I reached my hotel and I was weary from the train journey, so I spent my first day enjoying a drink by the poolside. Later at night, I walked about a park nearby and admired the hedges and flowers in the moonlight. I did not know then that I would come across the tallest tree in the city early next morning.

On Day-2, I hired a car and a friendly local to drive me through the entire stretch of this union territory. It was going to be a busy day, and I knew I was going to love it!

This towering tree reminds me of 'Jack and the Beanstalk'

This towering tree reminds me of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’

My first stop was at the Vasona Wildlife Sanctuary. While I waited for my safari bus to arrive, I “walked” into (and I really mean ‘inside’) a giant, hollow tree.

Once our minibus whooshed into the forest, I prepared my camera for the alpha male of the jungle – the Lion. Vasona only has one lion but two lionesses in the expansive woodland. This is a grave reminder for us to step up our efforts to save these cats. I caught the lion in a rather docile state as he slept on his alluvial bed with his paramour keeping him company.

The lioness guards while the King of the Jungle sleeps

The lioness guards while the King of the Jungle sleeps [Shot during the Lion Safari]

A little away from the lions, we had the company of peafowls. I captured this handsome peacock as he strutted his shimmering blue neck and ornate crown. It is said that peacocks are polygamous and the more intricate their tails, the more chances they have of fathering another peacock. Peahens are plain Janes in front of their male counterparts.

I was fascinated by the striking blue neck of India's national bird - the peacock

I was fascinated by the striking blue neck of India’s national bird – the peacock

With one safari ticked off my list, I embarked on another. [Love the wild? Read about my trip to Bannerghatta National Park.] The Deer Park lay sprawled on another part of the Dadra and Nagar Haveli wildlife sanctuary. This safari was more intimate than the previous one as we had a roofless jeep with only four wildlife enthusiasts aboard.

Our jeep zips through a narrow road in the forest

Our jeep zips through a narrow road in the forest

The Deer Park is home to over four hundred deer, sambars and nilgais. If you are lucky, you will also spot some porcupines and peacocks. I passed quite a few chitals (or spotted deer, as they are commonly known) strolling about in the afternoon, their woody antlers smoothly blending with twigs and the barks of trees. Did you know that they shed their antlers every year?

A spotted deer shies away from my camera at Silvassa's Deer Park

A spotted deer shies away from my camera at Silvassa’s Deer Park

As our jeep moved further inside the forest, we were met with a herd of female sambars. These deer are nocturnal, but I guess the constant flurry of tourist activity has changed their sleep cycle. Does this mean we should stop commercializing forest safaris? I always find myself torn between the feeling of protecting wildlife and letting them be and that of knowing more about them and getting a closer look at their lives.

This sambar is perfectly camouflaged in her earthy dwelling

This sambar is perfectly camouflaged in her earthy dwelling

The jeep sputtered to a halt in front of a newly built viewpoint at the top of a hill. I jumped off the dusty seat and swung my DSLR over my head. When I reached the edge of the man-made escarpment, the sight left me breathless. I could see cows grazing merrily on the lush meadows and a narrow tributary crisscrossing across the fields. The greens gave way to yellow fields with a handful of trees breaking the pattern. Further ahead, I saw the Dudhni Lake and the dense woods beyond. Countryside is certainly beautiful!

Dadra and Nagar Haveli from the viewpoint inside the Deer Park

Dadra and Nagar Haveli from the viewpoint inside the Deer Park

If I ever have to choose between land and water, I might just pick water. That’s the kind of water-baby I am! The moment I glimpsed at the Dudhni Lake, I knew I wanted to swim in it. Well, swimming is not permitted, but that didn’t stop me from taking a shikara-ride across the lake! Shikaras are small boats with a fourposter roof. My oarsman was kind enough to let me try my hand at rowing. 🙂 And believe you me, rowing is wonderful (not only for your spirit but also for your arms 😉 )!

My shikara floats on the Daman Ganga River

My shikara floats on the Dudhni Lake

You can go as far as the Madhuban Dam or just enjoy the plains covered by boscage. The lake has small fishes, but the water isn’t clear enough for you to spot too many of them. After a while, I realized I was falling asleep on the mat with the cushions supporting my head. So, I decided to head back to the bank and go on to my next destination.

The land looks inviting from the water

The land looks inviting from the water

My driver took me to the Vanganga Garden in the evening, and I was ecstatic at the sight of more water and plants. The landscape of Silvassa confuses me. There are hills, forests, lakes and even barren lands and sandy stretches with palm trees sprouting up every few steps apart. The Vanganga Garden is spread over several acres and has bridges to help you get from one landmass to another. It is a nice place for a morning jog or an evening stroll with little children.

The breeze was soothing in the Vanganga Lake Garden

The Vanganga Lake Garden – a picture of calmness

Vanganga Lake is livelier than Dudhni, with rafts of ducks paddling about in the tranquil waters. If you look closely, you will spot turtles peeking out of the water from time to time.

A paddle of ducks wade across the Vanganga Lake

A paddle of ducks wade across the Vanganga Lake

I had seen most of the union territory before sundown, but one place remained – the Tribal Museum. Entry to the museum is free and you will be asked to leave your shoes outside before you enter. I was unaware of the rich heritage of Nagar Haveli prior to my visit. The museum told me stories of the Dhodias, Kathodis and Warlis. This union territory is home to several tribes and a majority of its population is tribal. The museum is ill maintained but it still stores pictures, murals, paintings, weapons and utensils belonging to many tribal communities.

Enroute to the Tribal Museum

Enroute to the Tribal Museum

Despite Portuguese presence in Dadra and Nagar Haveli for almost two hundred years, I could spot no trace of Portuguese influence in this area.

When I returned to my resort, I was drenched to the bone in sweat and exhaustion. My only cure was a long swim in the cold pool. I have recently started booking my stay with places that have a pool. As my thirst for exploration increases, my body craves more comfort as compensation for the endless treks and weightlifting (DSLR, bulky lenses and power banks take their toll on your muscles).

There's nothing like a relaxing swim to end a power-packed trip!

There’s nothing like a relaxing swim to end a power-packed trip!

Useful Tips to Plan Your Silvassa Trip

1. Make your hotel booking in advance. Silvassa is a small place with very few decent accommodation options. To add to this, Airbnb does not have any relevant listings. I had a hard time finding something in my budget as all of the places were full. It took me a few phone calls and some loosening of my purse strings to get something I would actually like.

2. A weekend trip is more than enough to get a taste of Nagar Haveli and Dadra. Unless you wish to live with the local tribals in their huts, there isn’t much for you to do after the first two days.

3. The temperature can get on your nerves if you aren’t prepared for it. So make sure you carry some sunscreen lotion and light cotton clothes to keep you cool. Keep yourself hydrated with some nimbu-pani (lemonade), coconut water or sugarcane juice as you hop skip and jump across attractions. Remember that tea, coffee and milk are dehydrating agents in reality. So don’t fool yourself with that smoothie or iced tea!

4. This union territory is not covered by Gujarat’s dry-state law, so booze here flows freely. Also thanks to negligible taxes, most alcohol will cost you one third of what it will in Mumbai. [Do you believe drinking is an art? Read about my trip to Sula Vineyards.]

5. The place doesn’t have any unique cuisine to call its own. The closest you can get to a local dish is the odd Gujarati food, and not even that at most restaurants. You can see from the pic below that I was served a mishmash of Marathi, Continental and South Indian food for breakfast – basically, everything except Gujarati. 😛

Fusion breakfast - the secret to my energy

Fusion breakfast – the secret to my energy

This brings us to the end of my Silvassa trip. Have you been here before? If you have, then tell me how you did the trip differently! If you haven’t, then plan your trip soon before this becomes yet another crowded tourist-spot! And remember to ask me for help if you are stuck planning your getaway. For more pictures and action, follow my Facebook page – Oindrila Goes Footloose.

How Daman Delighted Me

This is the winning entry for the Prismma Holiday 2015 contest

(January 2015)

With spring’s stolen colour

The water shows me sky.

Gujarat’s younger neighbour,

Daman, is anything but “dry”!

 

Backwaters of Daman

Backwaters of Daman

These words succinctly express what I felt after my three-day trip to Daman last year. Daman arguably has a reputation of being a liquor-haven for people craving for booze in the adjacent dry-state of Gujarat. But there is more to this union territory than cheap alcohol. I could find that out because I wasn’t looking to get “high”. I was on a mission to unearth the natural secrets of Daman!

Greens extending till the horizon

Greens extending till the horizon

It was fairly easy for me to plan the weekend getaway as there are conveniently timed and frequent trains that run between Mumbai and Vapi. Vapi is the closest railway station to Daman. Once you alight at Vapi, you can either take the stairs that lead to Daman, or go the other way and reach Silvassa. After a three hour train ride, I caught an auto-rickshaw to my hotel in Nani Daman. It barely took me twenty minutes to get from one city to another! That is unimaginable in big, crowded cities.

Friendly camels at Jampore Beach

Friendly camels at Jampore Beach

I stayed at Hotel Blue Lagoon which is a centrally located business hotel and has good rooms at affordable rates. After a filling meal of assorted stuffed rotis and curry, I set off to explore the city on foot. Daman does not have any indigenous cuisine to call its own. However, seafood and regular Punjabi and South Indian dishes are widely available at most restaurants. I walked for about forty minutes through almost empty streets and pathways lined by palm trees, before I saw the blazing sun on the horizon. I knew I had reached the pristine Devka Beach.

The dark sand at Devka Beach

The dark sand at Devka Beach

Devka is free of tourists, and an ideal place for some soul searching and quiet self reflection. I sat on the black sand and listened to the soft waves as they kissed my toes and “sizzled” back to the depths of the Arabian Sea. I say “sizzled” because the waters leave a bubbling froth when they retreat. This is because the earth here is slightly acidic. That is also the reason why swimming or taking a dip in the sea is not advisable in Daman. The water can be harsh for the skin.

Soaring like a seagull

Soaring like a seagull

On my way back to my hotel, I bought some vodka and breezer to acknowledge Daman’s significance in a liquor-free state. Over a couple of drinks, I mused how peaceful this city actually is. Devoid of any nightlife, the residents of this place presumably sleep well. Despite being labelled the “Goa of Gujarat”, Daman has neither the crowds, nor the frolicsome atmosphere. The locals prefer to dress modestly even when they are lazing by the beach.

Palm trees line a secluded road in this little union territory

Palm trees line a secluded road in this little union territory

The next morning, I started for St. Jerome’s Fort which is also known as the Fort of Nani Daman. Daman comprises two areas – Moti (Big) Daman and Nani (Little) Daman, separated by the Daman Ganga River. The monikers are misnomers though! Nani Daman is actually the larger of the two! The fort is an old stone-built complex which houses a church. The upper decks of the fort afford copious views of the lovely Daman port that has many boats moored, perhaps belonging to the fishermen. Those boats, unfortunately, do not ply across the backwater to Moti Daman. There are two bridges that connect the two lands though, and only one of those is motorable.

Ruins of the old fort

Ruins of the old fort

Moti Daman has its own share of surprises. It houses the administrative district of this union territory and is much neater and better organized than Nani Daman. The Fort of Moti Daman and  the Lighthouse take up almost two hours to explore. This area also has canons from the yesteryears. Even though Daman was under the Portuguese rule for several years, the Portuguese influence is limited to the architecture of the forts and churches. The Indian people have not thought it important to preserve their food, dressing or language after independence.

The churches here are high-ceilinged and ornate

The churches here are high-ceilinged and ornate

I spent my remaining time in the city visiting various ornate churches – Our Lady of Rosary Church and The Lady of Remedious Church, to name a few. The churches are small but beautifully adorned in golden-bordered statues and murals. I saw also the ruins of the Dominican Monastery, but there’s hardly any building left of it to appreciate. I couldn’t help but notice a lot of lavishly erected bungalows by the sea. These houses, I was told, belong to wealthy Gujarati businessmen who earn in Gujarat and celebrate in Daman. The lax liquor-laws and empty beaches make Daman an ideal party-place and cheap location for holiday homes.

The simple exterior of this church keeps its inner grandeur a secret

The simple exterior of this church keeps its inner grandeur a secret

My final stop was Jampore Beach. Now, this was one crowded and slightly dirty beach with several makeshift shacks that lined the entire stretch and did brisk business selling beer and pakodas. One can try paragliding or camel or horse riding on this beach. As the day wore on, I sat once again, this time on a lounger, to watch the golden sun dissolve into the black waters.

A plant conservation park in Moti Daman

A plant conservation park in Moti Daman

In hindsight, I was glad to have made the trip. It was easy to plan and quite light on the pocket. I beat the tourist rush by visiting in the off-season. Daman fortunately enjoys a pleasant subtropical climate with temperatures always hovering between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius. You only need to pack a pair of flip-flops and shorts for your Daman-weekend. And don’t forget to carry along walking shoes if you love to explore places on foot!

The port of Daman awaits you

The port of Daman awaits you

So, when are you planning to visit this tiny union territory? Have you been to a similar place before? Tell me your stories in the comments below!

10 Things You MUST do in Pondicherry

This is the winning entry for the Prismma Holiday 2014 contest

(Fortnight of 10-23 March 2014)

In our fast-paced lives, we are always hard-pressed for time. Long vacations are a luxury that even money can’t buy. This is primarily why we must learn to “pack a lot in a little”. With this post, I flag off the 10-Things-Series for the benefit of those who wish to “do-it-all” in the limited time that they can prize out for a trip.

My 2-day trip to Pondy and Auroville seemed short while I was planning it, but turned out to be just right for all the things I set out to do. Here’s a list of things you MUST experience when you find yourself in Puducherry:-

1. Sample the French Cuisine:

Pondicherry isn’t called the ‘French Riviera of the East’ for nothing! There are cosy restaurants on every other lane and most eateries have French dishes on their menu. Ensure at least one meal you have here is unfailingly Français (pronounced fhaan-say). Though vegetarian options are limited (most French delicacies have at least one martyred animal), this cuisine can hold its own against most cuisines that have plenty to offer the herbivores. Here’s what yours truly ate:-

Ratatouille with bread

Ratatouille with bread

2. Sip on some Fine Wine:

When all the eating is done, can the drink be far behind? The French dining experience remains incomplete without wine. Although Puducherry is not the most famous wine-producing area in India, it imports good wines from across the country and the world. I had a glass of dry Shiraz Rose` which held its acidity boldly against the spicy rice dish that my companion ordered.

Some rose wine to wash down the food

Some rose wine to wash down the food

3. Walk on the Soft Sands: 

Pondy has a beautiful coastline which can be marvelled at from a number of beaches. The Bay of Bengal gleams like a bed of blue sapphires under the setting sun. Promenade Beach is among the better known beaches that skim the posh French side of this city. It is advisable to err on the conservative side while dressing for the waters as there are rarely any sunbathers on the beaches here.

By the Promenade Beach

By the Promenade Beach

4. Ride on a Rustic Rickshaw:

This city is so small that a pair of legs is all you need to travel from one end to the other. For those who’re not very fond of walking, there are bicycles and auto-rickshaws. There’s also the occasional yellow oh-so-French Vespa that zips by. But what makes Pondy so charming is the cycle-rickshaw! Taking this open-roof, doorless ‘green’ vehicle is an incredible way to savour this beautiful city.

Riding on a cycle-rickshaw

Riding on a cycle-rickshaw

5. Look out of a French Window:

The bungalows and buildings in Pondy are indulgent in the way they go all out to to appear French. Apart from the omnipresence of the colour yellow, it is the windows that are strikingly French in their appearance. It is highly recommended to have your afternoon tea by the window so you can appreciate how architecture can make time move slowly.

Let there be light!

Let there be light!

6. Visit a Nursery in Auroville:

Much has been written about the environmentally sustainable ways of Auroville, but to truly be one with nature, one must spend a few hours in the homes of young plants (a.k.a. nurseries). The oxygen I breathed here is one of the purest I’ve breathed in India. Of course, the purity comes not only from the plants but also the committed people that work towards building this universal township.

This nursery has a “green” sky!

7. Stay in a French Bungalow: 

Don’t miss the opportunity of staying at one of the few boutique hotels in White Town (French side of Pondicherry). I stayed at  Le Dupleix, but you can also consider The Promenade (a Hidesign hotel). Most of the residences are spacious, with wooden flooring and glass-walled bathrooms (perfect for honeymooners 😉 ). My hotel had tables laid out on the patio for open-air dining.

20130715_104451

View from my French castle

8. Eat Creole, Vietnamese and Italian:

You don’t have to do everything only the French-way! The restaurants in Pondy can serve up some mean spreads from several other cuisines that you’ll only be too glad to tuck into! Off the top of my head, I can tell you they offer Punjabi, Moghulai and South Indian fares. And, I have personally tried Creole (available only at Le Dupleix), Italian (there’s hardly a place that doesn’t serve Italiano! 😀 ) and Vietnamese (served only at Le Vietnam). Pondy is a gourmand’s paradise in every sense of the word!

Mmm... smells of Vietnam!

Mmm… smells of Vietnam!

9. Spend a Lazy Evening at a Cafe`:

The cafe scene is quite evolved in this Union Territory. The beachfront has a string of cafes that let one ‘do absolutely nothing’. Pondicherry is a place best enjoyed by doing nothing in particular while you let the sea-breeze stroke your face. Le Cafe is the most famous of all the cafes around. But don’t let that stop you from going off the beaten path to experience other little-known cafes.

Conical roofs of a quaint restaurant

Conical straw-roofs of a quaint cafe (Madam Shante’s)

10. Join the Local Activists:

I happened to come across a number of activists on the beach-promenade on St. Bastille’s Day. I gladly took this opportunity to create some awareness about vegetarianism and it benefits. To catch the jamboree and jollity of Bastille’s Day, plan your trip around 14th July.

Vegetarian is the way to go!

Vegetarian is the way to go!

And finally, when you have done all of the above, let me know if my advice was worth it! 🙂

An Afternoon in Auroville

The morning I checked out of my hotel in Pondicherry, I chatted with the French manager for her opinion on Auroville. I wasn’t too keen on visiting a township-under-construction, especially on a hot July afternoon when I had a bus to catch back home in the eve. But she changed my mind when she said, “Oh! You can stay there for as long as you wish… a day, a week, or even months.” I was curious to know the mystery behind the “The City of Dawn“, and what made people stay that long… in some cases, forever!

Miniature model of the Auroville City Centre

Miniature model of the Auroville City Centre

Auroville is about 30 minutes from Pondicherry by road. Founded by Mirra Alfassa, it is a self-sustaining township of harmonious and progressive minds from 50 nationalities. Entry to this ‘universal town’ is free, but one has to register at the Visitors Centre. The entrance is adorned with brick-arches and landscaped greens. It is easy to see the harmony this place shares with nature.

The Auroville Visitors Centre

The Auroville Visitors Centre

The Visitors Centre serves as a museum of sorts. It showcases the city-plan and the vision of the founder. Auroville also hosts volunteers and interns who wish to study and help build this town.  With my pass in hand, I decided to walk through the roads (and skipped the buggies that are available on rent for walk-wary visitors).

Under the roof made of dried leaves and stems

Under the thatched roof

It is easy to feel the charm of the place growing on you as you pass through various stone-signboards with the painting a herb or a flower and its medicinal and spiritual value listed beside it. The entire place is like a forest with some areas cleared to assist walking. There are tarred roads too, but it’s always more exciting to take the road less travelled by.

Wooden model of the 'Peace Area'

Wooden model of the ‘Peace Area’

My goal was to reach the centre of Auroville, where there lies a giant sphere made of gold. The area that surrounds it is the ‘Peace Area’. There are signboards everywhere to guide visitors in this maze-like forest. This town has a field full of humongous solar-panels that fuel this sustainable-concept-lifestyle. The air is cool and clean and there are nurseries and a botanical garden to harness the goodness of nature.

I was looking for a tree to rest under (as I had quite some distance to cover before I’d reach the “golden ball”), and then I came across this spectacle that stopped me in my tracks…

The revered Banyan Tree

The revered Banyan Tree

The forest heard my voice and showed me a 100-year old Banyan Tree. This sacred tree has aerial roots that have grown out of its branches and gravitated towards the earth to form tree-like structures of their own. It looks as though there are multiple trees entwined with each other, like young children in a warm embrace with their mother.

The tenacity of the ageless banyan tree inspired me and charged me up for the last mile of my walk towards the centre of this unique world. And I stood mesmerised by what I beheld…

The Matrimandir

The Matrimandir

The ball-shaped building is the Matrimandir– an awe-inspiring blend of art and architecture! This is where the seeker comes to realise inner consciousness and peace. I gazed dreamily at the sprawling greens and blessed that French lady for convincing me to give Auroville a chance.