I was excited to go visit Auroville and, overcoming my fear of driving on busy Indian roads, rented a scooter to get me out to there. Auroville is difficult to describe. It's a self-proclamed "universal" town, which aims to bring together people from all nations, religions, and creeds to live in a way that transcends these divisions. A mix of about 40% Indians and 60% foreigners, the town combines the traditional Indian village way of life with more modern Western housing and technology. No one owns anything in Auroville, Auroville owns it all. You can build a house in Auroville and live in it, but if you leave, it goes back to Auroville. There are plenty of different jobs that you can do in Auroville and people earn a fairly modest stipend for doing them (earning money is not one of the reasons people go there - my impression is that it contains a lot of people who have made money in some way before). There is quite a range of light industries in Auroville, as well as many traditional Indian crafts when are sold on site or in stores throughout India. Auroville is famous for producing healthy organic foods and some of the best chocolate I've had in a while. Also (near and dear to my heart), it places great importance on sustainable energy and generates about 30% of its needs from those sources. I'm considering going back to see if I can work in that area for a little while.
The most famous symbol of Auroville is the Matrimandir, a large golden sphere at the geographic center of the community, sitting right next to a beautiful old Banyan tree. The Matrimandir is a meticulously engineered meditation space that is just gorgeous inside and out. The outside is covered with huge discs whose surface is gold leaf encased on glass. The inside looks like a set from "Space 1999", except not cheesy, with orange light eminating through what looks like the inside of a geodesic dome. Everything is white marble - stairs, railways, benches. Inside of this is the inner meditation chamber, where you must put on little white socks so as not to disturb the absolute whiteness of it all - white carpet, white marble, white ceiling. In the center of the chamber is an enormous crystal sphere. An opening at the top of the Matrimandir, combined with some sort of computer controlled mirror, continually sends a pure beam of sunlight directly through the crystal (that is the only light during meditation). The light continues down through the entire building and ends up striking a smaller crystal sphere in a beautiful lotus-shaped pool underneath the structure. I extended my stay in the area for an extra day so that I could experience meditation in the Matrimandir. I don't think I could get my mind off of the amazing space long enough to go into a meditative state!
My barfly friend Babu got me in contact with an old-timer out at Auroville, who I had lunch with at the Solar Cafe. The first thing I noticed was the confusing sign "Money absolutely not accepted!" I found out that this meant you had to get an account # and pay for everything through your account (sort of like Disney Dollars). Or sweet talk some nice Frenchman with an account into ordering your food for you. The vibe was interesting in Auroville - definitely lots of smart people were staying there and it appeared that they were actually getting things done. One of the most impressive things I saw was how they transformed the natural environment in the space of 40 years. Evidently when the community was started, it was pretty much a dirt plain, with no trees or large vegetation due to bad land management. There had been a forest a couple hundred years ago but it was completely gone. Since then, the area has been replanted with millions of trees and now it is forested and green. The man I had lunch with, David, was one of the primary guys in charge of the replanting. It was an enormous job and something that they are looking at exporting to other areas in India. Posted by Eric Rockey at 11:54 PM