I recently concluded a four day solo trip to Pondicherry, Auroville and Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu. Everything you want to know about these places can be found on the web. I am writing this article so I can share my own experience with the readers and I also am attaching some photos that were unique to my trip.
Only after I left home did I realize that it was much more about not staying at one place for a long time than going to Pondicherry. Alone. Loneliness does this to you. Makes you feel pathetic about yourself initially, especially if you are a social person who likes, and is used to, being around people most of the time. I knew I had a week to stay at home, with absolutely nothing to do. I have had such days at Pune, at the hostel, too. And it has been maddening when you don’t know what to do when you are by yourself at a place where you are otherwise constantly surrounded by people.
It was going to be two nights in the train each way and I was worried about that too. Yawning myself to finally thinking why did I have to travel alone (for 1643 kilometres to be exact)? But no! That did not happen. Books and people and the large window beyond which all I could see was endless stretches of green and not one soul, were enough for time to fly. I WAS NOT BORED! I did not know I could pass 34 hours in the train with such less effort. And it gave me a great feeling about the trip that was coming my way.
Auroville, Matrimandir and Sri Aurobindo Ashram
My stay was at a hotel 8 kilometres from Pondicherry, at a ‘global’ township called Auroville. I chose to stay at the dormitory in the hotel which would make meeting new people easy rather than locking myself in a room. And the other eleven beds in the dormitory were occupied by people from Korea, Spain, Chile, France and Germany; and Indians too, ofcourse.
Auroville is a a city envisioned by ‘The Mother’. Hence, Matrimandir or Temple of the Mother. It was a place of tranquillity. People could go in and concentrate. There was something differently peaceful about the day. And I experienced that at every hour of the day. There were positive energies in the entire township.
Sri Aurobindo Ashram, far from Auroville, deep in the heart of Pondicherry, was a similar experience. Better, infact. There lies the samadhi of Sri Aurobindo, made of pure white marble. I just went around it and stood at a fair distance to then look at something that was written on its side. What I saw then, moved me. People sat on their knees and bowed their heads down, their forehead and fingers touching the samadhi. They would sit like that for an entire minute, or maybe even more. And then they wake up, with moist eyes. It was moving. They then sit in the empty space near the samadhi and close their eyes and concentrate. I understood why I don’t like temples. The sound of the bells and the bhajans and pujas and mantras definitely disturb the flow of energy. I have never experienced anything like this in any temple. Silence and peace are the best channels for the flow of positive energy.
The Hotel Owner, Krishna
When I got down from the Rickshaw, I saw a fair man standing at the gate at 8 am, who welcomef me in. Hardly did I guess he was the owner. When I asked him what his name was, he replied Krishna. He certainly did not look Indian. Fast forward to day three, there was no one in the kitchen and I had craving for pasta after all the amazing food I had there? It was dinner time. I asked him if the kitchen was on. He said his entire staff was on leave today and asked me if I wanted to eat something. I told him I wanted to have pasta but I would manage. He said he would cook. He cooked some amazing pasta for me and salad with tahini and bread for himself. The entire hotel was empty and we had dinner together. I finally got a chance to ask him about everything.
Krishna was from Germany, landed in India in ’99. Since then he has been residing here for the major part of the year and goes back to Germany to meet his elder brother and his mother. He had no issue in telling me that his mother lives in an old age home because his brother’s wife is not comfortable living with her. And that his mother enjoys staying there and how old age homes are a part of the community in Germany. We spoke about India and Germany and how it is different in cleanliness, food, culture, pollution. He told me how he hates Mumbai and how you can eat off the road in Germany because it is so clean. He loves small towns here in India. The conversation was that kind that you would sit and contemplate later about.
Krishna told me why he did not allow smoking or drinking in the hotel. He said, you cannot just be money minded. You have to stick by your morals. And in spite of these restrictions, the hotel was full through the week. Made me think how nothing was impossible if you unconditionally stick by what you believe in. So many people coming just for the food in the kitchen. Well it was Green’s Guesthouse and Kitchen and not Hotel and Restaurant. There was some warmth to it. It was interpersonal. He himself was so warm and run the place all by himself with the help of a few other servants in the kitchen and for cleaning, and he had done more than just a pretty good job!
200 Kilometres on Activa
Yes, you read it right! A neck-breaking ride on a scooter for 200 kilometres. From Pondicherry to Mahabalipuram, 100 km each way. The road was so beautiful! I was literally stopping every 15 minutes to click photos .There was a part of the road where there was water on both sides. It was mesmerising. Water and coconut trees with an almost empty stretch of the highway at 6 am. I was literally cruising with my eyes everywhere but on the road and I made it back safe in one piece.
In Mahabalipuram, I was walking from Varaha caves towards the lighthouse when a person who looked like a local, approached me with what I would call an amazing piece of art. It was a fancy candle stand made out of marble. It looked neatly done and was really pleasing to the eye. However, it was not pleasing to my pocket. The person asked me to follow him to his workshop so he could display his other works. I did so. It was a five minute walk and he made small talk. Then I entered a typical chawl. Ofcourse, at first, I thought he was going to mug me but he spoke fluent English and there was an innocence about him that made me trust him. I soon saw women and children which put my worries at bay. He opened a room which was full of small to medium size statues. All made of marble. He laid a chatai down and started showing me one statue after the other till he finally showed me an alabaster statue of Lord Krishna, and I could not take my eyes and hands both off of it for a few minutes. I wanted to buy it but it was expensive, due its size and complex nature of work on it. I ultimately ended up not buying it but it was morning and bohni time. He was ready to sell it to me at half the price he originally was quoting but I had clear instructions from home not to buy it. I had to leave him saddened.
I went twice to this cafe called Baker Street in White Town which had amazing French food and deserts. I was stuck on the deserts! The time I went, I first ordered a Rum Baba! It looked like a cupcake with whipped cream frosting but it tasted out of the world! As the name suggests, they use rum in it and it had that kind of bitter sweet taste. When I ordered another desert, the classic chocolate éclair, a foreigner sitting on the table beside mine started laughing. He walked towards me when I was paying my bill at the counter and asked me if I really enjoy French deserts. I told him that I was having them for them for the first time and I haven’t found a place in Mumbai that serve them. He was shocked at the fact, obviously so. We introduced ourselves and he revealed he was from Belgium. We had a small chat, I told him I’d come here again and I was on my way! Then next time I went there, I had an amazing lemon tarte and no foreigner story. 😛
A dear friend of mine asked me if I would go mad with my own thoughts by staying alone for an entire week. Yes, when I was leaving, I was a little sceptical. But as I mentioned, it was nothing like it! I kept myself busy all the time. I roamed around the entire city, had some great food, read two books in a week, met some great people, slept early and woke up as early as 5 am. I got to know myself a bit better. I could take care of myself. Those four days, I can safely say, I could live in the present. I think I experienced that. My mind was clear of all thoughts that I did not want to bother me. I’ll be honest to say that the train journey while coming back was a stretch. My whole point being, when you travel alone, you give yourself a chance to experience things and people without a filter. There is no one to tell you or ask you to do things according to them and you can be by yourself. I do not think that if I had been with one other person, I would have followed the sculptor to his home, or had dinner with Krishna or ordered two deserts one after the other. If you have come to this part of the piece and read everything, please take a solo trip!
I sincerely hope that Ridin’ Solo becomes a chain of all my articles that I write after having solo trips down the years.