April 2017

After a week and a half of traveling India, my brother and I reached Pondicherry. A small city, with a strong French influence, located in southern India.  Pondi was never in our plans. We had coordinated trips to Varanasi and Jaipur, but chose to cancel them after spending 4 days in New Delhi. My soul was sort of craving peace, nature and silence more than chaotic cities full tourists. Therefore, during our last night in Kerala, I got on my computer and remembered that a friend had advised me to check out Pondicherry. So, I did. And 5 minutes later I was contacting an eco-friendly hotel in Pondi and booking flights to Chennai (nearest airport) for my brother and I.

After a 3hr taxi ride, we reached Pondicherry for sunset, and it took us by complete surprise. Even lovelier and serener than the images and videos we saw during our short research. The taxi dropped us at the cutest eco-friendly boutique hotel, Maison Perumal, and my eyes began to wander the minute I stepped foot outside the taxi and on what looked like a gigantic mandala created with all the colors of the rainbow. “Kolam”, said Sam, the hotel’s manager. “They are created every morning in front of Pondi’s homes as a symbol of protection and welcoming.” I immediately began to smile! “They are made by hand with rice flour, powder produced from stones, and natural pigments. There’s a class tomorrow”, Sam continued. I giggled and asked him to please sign me up for that class! Sam then proceeded to show us around the hotel while the hotel’s staff welcomed us with a refreshing ginger-lemonade and a necklace of fresh local flowers. He then proceeded to tell us about the hotel’s activities. Komal classes, cooking classes, yoga, a Pondi tour on wheels, and Auroville. “Auroville”. That name sounded so familiar to me, I couldn’t help but take a minute to daydream about where I had heard it before. Apparently, my confused facial expression gave me away because Sam immediately began to explain the story behind it, and then it hit me! I had watched a video a few months prior to my India trip about a Utopian and sustainable city called Auroville. Never in a million years did I imagine I would get there without planning it, nor have the chance to visit it!

After the tour- and me signing up for every activity the hotel had to offer- my brother and I went up to our room, left our bags, and rushed to take Maison Perumal’s cooking class. A 30-minute live tutorial of how to prepare Indian curry veggies. I’m pretty sure the Chef poured over 5 different spices and superfoods on top of those veggies, and all I could do was stare at him in complete amazement! The scents that came out of his pan were something now words can explain! We devoured every spoon of it, had a glass of really cold Indian beer, and found ourselves on our way to discover Pondi at night. We walked around the streets for hours, visiting local markets, and ending our tour next to Gandhi’s four-meter statue in front of the ocean. It was the perfect night and, above all, we felt safe 24/7. I feel we started this trip with chaotic New Delhi for a reason. It showed us what it means to remain blissful amidst the chaos, and also prepared us to recognize peace and mindfulness the minute we bump into it.

The next morning, we woke up at 5am to take a 6am yoga class two blocks away from the hotel. The class was different to anything I’ve experienced before. It was lead by a Hindu yogi on the rooftop of his studio, and I felt as if he recognized the areas of my body that were in complete pain, and decided to focus the practice on providing relief to those areas precisely. It was like magic (after the pain, of course! I had to hold some poses for 10 breaths or more)! From yoga, we walked back to the hotel for breakfast and got ready to explore Pondi with our tour guide. I think we covered everything in about 30 minutes! That’s how small Pondi is! During our tour, I asked the guide to take us to the nearest temple. It was 8.30am and my brother and I wanted to make an offering to Ganesha (Hindu deity and remover of obstacles).  The moment we arrived to the Sri Manakula Vinayagar temple, which was surrounded by tiny stores with vendors selling malas, candles, statues, flowers and fruits, my heart sank. I saw this majestic elephant painted with mandalas on her face and body, and flowers wrapped around her neck. I’ve seen practices like this in Thailand (mostly for elephant riding, which is one of the cruelest and most painful activities for elephants) but this moment at Pondi’s local temple confused me. The people around the elephant were not trying to ride it, or paying the “owner” to watch a show, and the elephant was not chained or being abused with a hook but locals were offering the elephant fruits and flowers. The elephant, Lakshmi, was standing on a colorful carpet and locals approached her with love and food. They wanted her blessing. They saw her as sacred… a goddess… Lakshmi. I honestly didn’t know what to make of this. The word “sacred” to me means elephants running free on acres full of green trees, and then in Pondi, “sacred” takes on a whole new meaning. Part of me wanted to cry and the other part just couldn’t help but meditate on how ambiguous cultures, religion and humanity are. My brother hugged me for a moment and asked me what I made out of that scenario. “I don’t know. I’m lost”, were the only words that came out of my mouth while my heart pulled me closer to Lakshmi. Suddenly, I was standing right in front of her. As soon as she felt my presence, she remained still and our eyes met for what seemed like an infinite minute. I placed my hand on her trunk and whispered “I feel you. I’m here. I’m you. And I’m sorry. We are humans. We don’t know better. And I’m lost. I don’t know what to make of this.” As soon as I finished that last sentence, she moved her trunk towards my hand and took away the fruit I had been holding for a while and ate it. I smiled and walked away. My brother and I didn’t say much on our way back to the hotel. We were still trying to figure out what we had just experienced. The minute we reached the hotel (and good wifi), I googled it and my heart sank again. Torture, lack of food, no vet visits, wounds on her feet, and chained at her owners home every day. I’ve been wanting to share this with you for over a month, and the limited space and character count on instagram just didn’t seem enough to put all my emotions in writing. (That’s why I’m so thankful for this blog, and just hope you guys find the time to read my words!). We, as humans, feel so much! To good, the bad, the beautiful, the magical, the scary. We also have inner fights with ourselves to believe that all humans are good because the simple thought of evil roaming around this world scares us tremendously. I get it! I’ve felt it! And in cases like this, I beg you to keep spreading love and consciousness around rather than building hate and anger towards those that haven’t opened their eyes and minds yet. We’ll get there! In the meantime, we can help heal our planet with petitions! Here’s the one for Lakshmi. Please find the time to sign it!

After this mental exhaustion and research, we decided to go out for some air. We only had one more day in Pondi and wanted to make the most of it. So, we rented a motorbike! Just like I did in Bali, remember? We drove around Pondi for hours, making stops at every fruit market and bohemian boutique in our way. Our day ended with a delicious dinner at our eco hotel, Maison Perumal. Their menu had tons of vegan options that left me speechless!

Day 3 in Pondi was supposed to be our last day, but I chose to change our schedule. Once again! We had thought of traveling to Goa for our last two days but I fell so in love with Pondi and its surroundings, I decided to spend those two last days visiting Auroville, which is 30-minutes away from Pondi. And so we did, and CGH Earth (parent company of Maison Perumal) was kind enough to host us at another eco boutique hotel in Pondi, Palais de Mahe!

So... Auroville… Have you ever imagined a city centered on acceptance, coexistence, sustainability, mindfulness and love? One where the powerful roles of religions, politics and money ceased to exist? A city with a population that helped each other, worked on barter, fed everyone's mouths with organic vegetables and fruits they harvested from their own plantations, made their own cups and dishes out of clay and natural dyes, produced their own spirulina, and practiced meditation on a daily basis?! A city with houses and buildings built with handmade mud bricks, and powered by solar and wind energies with huge communal kitchens and cafés offering organic vegan and vegetarian options?! I've been dreaming about a place like this for two years and found it in INDIA! Auroville! A utopian city with a sustainable design inspired by the universe, and an enormous Epcot-looking ball in the center of it. This is the Matrimandir ("Temple of the Mother") at Auroville. It is seen as the soul of the city and took about 40 years to be built. It is a huge sphere, covered by 1415 golden discs, surrounded by twelve petals- just like a lotus flower. Each "petal" is the entrance to a meditation room. And, inside the dome, right in the middle, is a meditation hall with a 70cm crystal that absorbs the light and energy of the sunrays beaming in through the top of the dome. We spent over 8hrs walking around this heavenly city. I couldn't believe my eyes. Honestly! But, just as amazement and blissfulness rapidly took over my body with every step I took on Auroville's sandy streets, disappointment and frustration hit me too. How can it be that a mindful and utopian city exists in India, a third world country, and not in America, the "greatest and leading country in the world"? It's beyond my understanding! We have the tools, the technologies, the interest, and the people. Will we wait until it's too late to protect the things that are sacred and promote values of equality?! Life can be simple yet we make it so complicated! One can only hope!

After our visit to Auroville, being mindblown by its peace and sustainability projects, and buying a crystal ring and superfoods all handmade in "Aurovillians", we went back to Maison Perumal to pick up our bags and move to Palais de Mahe. Another little eco-friendly hotel worth an entire blog post, hence, you’ll find the details and more adventures on the Travel section soon!!

Things to know about Maison Perumal:

-It is a 130-year old heritage home transformed into a 10 room hotel

-It was built with reclaimed materials

-Their practices focus on having nature, traditions and local communities in mind

-Their café and restaurant have plant-based menus

-The bathproducts are natural and cruelty-free and come in handmade ceramic containers instead of plastic ones (ceramics done by people of Auroville)

-They offer workshops to introduce guests to the local culture (ie: create a Kolam with colorful natural powders, and learn the Indian cuisine basics)

-You will receive the biggest (and coolest) vintage door key in the history of keys!

-They have the most delicious ginger lemonade

-And… excellent WiFi. (Why deny it? We all need it!)