Retreat to Kolkata

After month long stay at Auroville I realized that it is not the place of my Karmabhumi.
We decided to move on.
Call of Pondicherry beach was alluring. We decided to spend a couple of days at Pondicherry.
This was also to correct our partiality towards Auroville. I had spent lot of time for Auroville
but never interacted earlier with Shri Aurobindo Society.  My stay at Pondicherry was to correct
 that anomaly. 
Best way to interact I found is to stay at “The Retreat” guest house. This place is at
 probably the best location in Pondicherry. Bang on the beach, just beside Secretariat. Backside of
 the guest house opens toward Roman Roller library. Most of the important place is within 5 min
of walk from there. SAS head-quarter is also in the same building.
All the rooms in Retreat faces sea, one just needs to peep out for a fabulous sunrise picture.
Puducherry to Kolkata is 1830 Km. Google claims it to be a 30 Hrs drive, but I decided to
keep the drive to approx 400 Km/day.  Before the return we also wanted to spend a day
at Golden Sand beach of Mahabalipuram. Bay of Bengal is just great at Mahabalipuram.
One could easily imagine why it used to be the favorite spot for the sea traders.
There is a hotel just beside the shore temple, we decided to stay there.
The reason was mainly good access to beach.
Most tourist spots and main market is also quite near to shore temple
Mahabalipuram sea is also good for surfing. Wanted to explore if this will suit my current
 fitness level. After watching the process I gave up the thought of trying it.
This beautiful beach is littered with garbage. The experience would have been
pleasant if someone bothered to clean the beach.
Aug 28th is my son’s birthday. He is in Chennai. We planned to celebrate the day with him.
My friends from BHU, Venkat and Ranga paid us a visit at Hotel.
Venkat had a visit from prospective international customer and 
Ranga is trying to create some extra hours to supply massive orders 
that is in his hand. It was very nice of them to make time 
from their busy schedule for us.
Greta’s classmate Shampa and our ex-neighbour Madhumita also dropped in for a quick chat.
Mohan is my classmate from BHU. He was out of station on previous days. Joined us in breakfast before we left Chennai.
Our first stop was at Vijaywada. Road was good but it was a long drive.

We discovered a nice restaurant at Rajahmundry – Mee Food Magic.
Good food, Amazing service – the place is being setup, ambiance was not so nice
but the behavior was like a good friend or close relative.
Loved having the food there.
Next stop was at Vizag. Hotel was very near to port.
A Chinese bulker slowly making its entry.
God knows when we shall have more container carriers
instead of these bulkers. 
OTDC Kalinga gives a back to home feeling. The place is just 5 hrs drive from Kolkata. 

A month in Auroville

Auroville is in the border of Tamilnadu and Pondicherry. It is around 5 Km from beach, part of it is right beside the sea. Auroville is best known for its tourist attraction – Matrimandir, that looks like a golden globe. Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity. Living in Auroville is a unique experience that is difficult to narrate in mere words.

I had been in Auroville earlier with a tourist mindset, this time we went with a mindset to live there. Biggest challenge in Auroville is to find a place to stay. There are number of guest houses but they do not give any information on rate or availability. We started off by writing directly to number of them. Most did not bother to reply, a few did. We picked one that promised to have most attractive value proposition. It is a place called New Creation, that runs a boarding school-cum-orphanage. The money we give goes to upkeep of the orphanage. Staying there gives a feel of tour with a flavor of philanthropy.

Auroville is made up of number of communities. New Creation Community was started with in view to give  ‘first Aurovilians’ (i.e. the local people present on the Auroville land) a bridging place where they slowly and gradually could become aware that Auroville is for all people of good will and that, if they are willing, they can become Aurovillians themselves. The best approach to that was to create an educational environment, like a primary school, boarding and sports facilities. In order to meet the financial needs to run an undertaking where everything is free, including a Primary school for 240 children and a school with 30 small kids in a new ‘Free Progress’ experiment, they have created some income generating activities such as guests facilities.  There are 16 double rooms and 4 single rooms, all mosquito-proof, with fans, attached bathrooms, and a guest dining room with filter water and kitchen. There is a gymnasium, a sport ground with volleyball, basketball, 2 tennis courts, a running track and a small swimming pool.

We stayed in a double room with kitchen. There were huge trees all around the place and a place to park my car. Our morning used to start with pleasant sounds of bird and squirrel chirping, down side was the bird droppings that had to be cleaned from my car. Bird dropping contains rather large amount of uric acid, that needs prompt attention. Probably some covering or canopy would have helped, but we did not bother much about it for our rather short month-long stay.

The rooms were with basic amenities. There are many architectural experiments that has its own pros and cons. Hexagonal shapes probably saved some bricks while covering larger area. But this poses problem with rectangular furniture. What is good for beehive does not necessarily good for human being. Traditional wisdom of keeping the floor level higher than ground and roof overhangs were missed out by the rookie architect. These resulted in some avoidable visits of wild life  and occasional dripping roof during heavy rain.  This goes to reinforce the strong design concept. That many local custom and practices are there for a good reason. One need to understand them before trying to do anything better. Painting in the room are done by the students of New Creation. Some of them really looked promising.

There is a story that says a wise Zen monk was given opportunity by God to the see both Heaven and Hell. ‘What are the differences between Heaven and Hell?’, a young Zen monk asked an aged Buddhist priest who was renowned for his wisdom.

‘There are no material differences,’ replied the old monk.

‘None at all?’ asked the puzzled young monk.

‘That’s right. Both Heaven and Hell have a spacious hall with a big pot in the center in which noodles are boiled, giving off a delicious scent,’ said the old priest. ‘The size of the huge pan, the number of people sitting around the pot and the bowl of sauce placed in front of each diner are the same in both places.’

‘The odd thing is that each diner is given a pair of meter-long chopsticks and must use them to eat the noodles.’

‘To eat the noodles, you must hold the chopsticks properly at their ends,’ the old monk told the young Zen monk.

‘In the case of Hell’s kitchen, people are always hungry because no matter how hard they try, they can’t get the noodles into their mouths,’ said the old priest.

‘But isn’t it the same case for the people in Heaven?’ the junior monk inquired.

‘No. They can eat because they each feed the person sitting opposite them at the table. That’s the difference between Heaven and Hell,’ explained the old monk.

Heaven and Hell is created by the neighbor you have. We were fortunate to have an exceptional family as neighbor – Ashish, Lopa and Ishan. They were very helpful and excellent friend. Lopa is a teacher of the “Experimental School”. Individually they are exceptionally good human being. It is wonderful experience to know them personally and understand their attitude towards life.

Entrance Road towards New Creation is littered with garbage tied to trees. These are offering to God fulfill various greed. As a reflection to the inner nature, the place looks ugly. Hope someday someone will look at the ugliness and pray for the good of everyone and restore the place to its natural beauty. Till such time the trees mutely carry the burden of human greed and folly.

Inside Auroville it is a mixed bag of people and their motives.  Much like the flower that bloomed in the New Creation Garden. Part of it is bright and colorful, part of it is rotten and ugly. It is a city, just like any other specimen of human habitat, perhaps here in a more cosmopolitan and concentrated manner. Future of mankind has to find a solution to the problem that our civilization now faces and come out with a answer. According to Shri Aurobindo this will be the New Creation, seed of this lies within the current human being.

 

As you go ahead from ECR road entrance after New Creation School and the tree with offerings you find a nice colorful temple. It is my observation that people of tama guna is attracted and motivated by fear, hatred and anger. This is typified in this temple – animals and punishing demigods are prominent, deity is hidden inside a rather small temple.

A little ahead you find the new temple of consumption – Tanto Restaurant. Tanto is a Pizzeria Chain run by a Italian gentleman Daniel. Daniel came to India for a tour and had fallen in love with the country. He missed his home food so started a Pizzaria. Slowly he started making cheese for his Pizzas and Pastas. Incidentally the spaghetti that he uses are made in his factory. Part of it are sold in outside. Tanto is a beautiful case of backward and forward expansion. He has been in business for around 10 yrs and already having a turnover of around Rs. 20 million/yr.  He has 3 restaurants in Pondicherry and contemplating of opening in other cities. Considering he started his business without any kind of capital this is really impressive.

Beyond Tanto, you see a couple of small shops and hotels and then what you find is a road to nowhere. That is what Aurovillians call the road that cuts across Auroville. Perhaps the road typifies the current situation in Auroville.

When Mother was there she gave the goals to Aurovillians. It was her wisdom to plant trees on what was once a barren land. She also gave the direction to build the beautiful Matrimandir.  Aurovillians took her command unquestioningly and executed it meticulously. What we see in Auroville is the result of that Karmayoga – work done without any consideration of result and reward.

Greenery around Auroville is as much commendable as the Matrimandir that most tourists make a bee-line to see. They see the gold foil dome and most leave thinking it to be a golden globe. Only few tourist bothers to visit Matrimandir for concentration. Greenery and Matrimandir is like some scenery that you see beside this nowhere road.  Some units like Tanto, Aureka, Earth Institute, Maroma are like this lotus. If you care to look at them, they are beautiful at their own right. Lotus and Marshes are all part of nature, one cannot have one without the other. But like the road, Auroville lacks a greater common purpose. Mother is not here anymore in person to guide the community towards its goal of new creation. In this confusion, each pursues their own objective. Like a colony of ant, each pulls Auroville towards its direction of RIGHT, at the end it does not seem to move anywhere.

Life in Auroville is anything but boring. There are cultural shows. Many young foreigners uses Auroville as springboard for entry to India. Auroville has a special VISA status and some special property act. By this act a foreigner can work in Auroville without getting an Indian Work Permit. Many use this status to showcase their talent, get local press coverage and taste their acceptance before applying for work permit. Many will give training from within Auroville rather than spending their effort and money for Indian work permit. Here you see a Japanese performer, Yuhei Motoyama, giving Taiko performance.  This event is sponsored by Japan Airlines and Japan Foundation.

Apart from special performances there are movie shows, cultural fests that dots the social life of Auroville. Everybody is welcome to these shows and participation is the keyword. Focus is to keep the events simple that involves most people. It also gives people a platform to showcase their talent, get some reality check and provide necessary training ground.

Here you see capoeira performance being given by Aurovilleans. Auroville promotes capoeira for its use in self defense.  It an art that evolved in Brazil in order to ward off colonials. It is characterized by its fast and fluid movement, in the form of dance. Aim is to maim the attacker with minimal contact.

Auroville has some sandy beach. Unfortunately these are used by local fishermen to dry their fish. There are two beach guesthouses – Sreema (Tanto) and Repos. The stench  can be overwhelming at times, but other than that, the beach is good. It is unfortunate that there is no alternative to offer that will take care of the stench other than a conflict between tourist attraction and fishermen’s livelihood.

Some people are not bothered of the stench and prefer to live there. The beach remains sparely populated with this olfactory deterrence.

To get a flavor of city life one can visit Puduchery. It is about 10 Km from Auroville. Beach front is closed to traffic between 6:00 PM – 6:00 AM and resembles a mela.


At Le Cafe one can enjoy some fine coffee and sea breeze.

For a taste of French life, Pomande Resturant is a good choice.  Sitting there one could enjoy the sunny beach from the comfort of an air conditioner.

Our daughter, Sukanya came down from Pune to celebrate her birthday with us.  Being in Auroville we could enjoy both the city life and the life of a quite laid back town.

Pondicherry has a rather magnificent university for its size. As a bonus our friends daughter, Purva is studying there. Met her after a gap of 10 yrs. It felt as if we had a time travel of 10 yrs past.

 

Being in New Creation we grabbed the opportunity to celebrate our daughter’s birthday with the school kids. Evening was a party time with the kids. The community head (Steward – as he is called in Aurovillian lingo) Andre, joined us to grace the occasion.

The road to nowhere takes you from one highway to another. If you follow the beaten down metaled road and the road signs, you will miss the Auroville altogether. Here is a road that goes inside Auroville. Road signs are for visitors to take them to a car park. Unmetaled red road is the main road to get inside Auroville. The security guard standing there is to stop any car from entering the sacred road. One needs special permission and a sticker to enter Auroville with a car. That sticker is available from a office located at the center of Auroville. Just like this road, Auroville has excelled in wrapping itself in many Catch-22 rules and processes. One can spend their lifetime in getting to understand them.

Once inside, you are greeted with red road, complete with proper drainage. Auroville is gifted with people who knows their job, unlike current bunch of city planner that are scourge of most Indian cities. Our present city planners make roads without proper drainage that in turn make the city resemble Venice during every monsoon.

Auroville has a master plan that resembles like a galaxy.  Current development has been rather haphazard which was more driven by opportunity rather than plan. Currently Auroville is trying to consolidate according to the city planned under Mother’s guidance.  Auroville is supposed to be a city of 50,000 people. Given the attitude and current composition this looks to be a long journey. Currently there are only 2500 odd Aurovillean, locals seem not very keen to join the team and current bunch of Aurovilleans do not seem too keen towards that end.

There is a circular road that is supposed to run around the main facilities. This road has been paved with compressed earth blocks. Part of it remains incomplete due to land acquisition issues. The road looks rather narrow for a city that will have 50000 people.  Maybe city planner take a serious look and give due consideration for future.

Shri Aurobindo and Mother always advised for community kitchen. They wanted people to give less thought on food and channelize their mind and energy for other work. Solar kitchen takes this idea one step ahead with sustainable community cooking.  It derives its name from the big Solar Bowl on its roof, which provides part of the steam for cooking on all the sunny days of the year. The other part of the steam needed, is provided by a diesel fired boiler. Throughout the year approximately 1000 lunches are prepared daily, of which 540 go to the schools, 200 go out by tiffins and 260 to 300 are consumed in the Dining Hall. It uses vegetables and grains grown organically in and around Auroville. There is a choice between western items like pasta, mashed potato or fresh salads and items like idli, dal or chutneys. Daily curd and freshly made juices are available.

Just beside solar kitchen there is Auroville Super Market – Pour Tous Distribution Center.  This supplies all daily necessities of Aurovilleans. One has a choice of taking food from PTDC instead of Solar Kitchen. PTDC offers more variety like Sushi, Muffins, Steamed Vegetables and such thing. A typical lunch cost around Rs. 70/- at PTDC. Actually, it is not proper to talk about money in PTDC. Long term guests and new comers pay a monetory contribution commensurate with their consumption. For Aurovillean the service is kind of free. Circulation of money is discouraged within Auroville. Money is a powerful instrument that is essentially tamasic in nature. PTDC is created as an experiment to curb unnecessary buying habit. If a particular Aurovillean consumes more than average. He/She is given feedback to restrict their consumption.

On the same circular road and slightly away from solar kitchen there is Auroville library. This library has a fantastic collection of books on Sustainable living, alternate economy, religion and spiritual philosophy. Apart from “serious” books, it also has a good collection of fiction. It contains more than 30,000 volumes in eight languages – English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Dutch, Russian and Tamil.

Auroville has number of industries thriving under its fold. Spirulina cultivation is one such unit. It sells its product under the brand name of Aurospirul.

There are some typical incense stick, decorative candle and paper product making units. It also had a thriving dress making industry that came up with a unique combination of European and Indian  styles. Most of these are now closing from the copy-cat competition from Pondy.

When you go to visitor center you will hear this large wind gong. This is made at Swaram – an shop that makes musical instruments for Auroville.

 

Talking about Visitor Center will be incomplete without a reference to its rather uniqui building material. The bricks that you see are not ordinary fired brick. Entire Visitor center is made of Compressed Stabilized Earthen Blocks (CSEB). CSEB is a environment friendly technology that used local soil to produce bricks without using coal or fire wood.

Auroville Earth Institute is one of the center of excellence in promoting use of such material.

There is a machining and fabrication shop Aureka that makes machinery for these earthen block. Current machines are manually operated hand pressed or semi-automatic hydraulic ones. It is working on a fully automatic block making press. I was working on its controller. You see here the machine being prepared for full scale trial.

Initial phase of Aurovilleans who came was given a rather large piece of barren land where even a blade of grass did not grow. They toiled and turned the place full of trees. As result of their hard labor water level of the area has risen and the place has become fertile. In this empty land, initial settlers built large mansion for themselves which is not sustainable for a city of 50000 population. Initial settlers feel entitled to a life of comfort, commensurate to the work they did in Auroville or else where. Current houses for the newcomers that you see in the picture are being built in the style of multi-storied flat. Availability of large supply of low-paid workers from nearby villages help to sustain the colonial lifestyle. There is a latent resistance among these Aurovilleans to let go of the comfort, help to raise living standard of the local population and assimilate them within the fold of Auroville.  There is equal reluctance from the locals to let go of money, inheretance and freedom to work anywhere. There is no clear solution that will be acceptable to both. Ideal solution would be where people live like family members, share the resources equally and work together for betterment of everyone. Such thing are easier said than executed in practice. Perhaps some divine intervention is store for the big change to happen. What is true for Auroville is true for rest of the civilization. World is poised for a divine intervention only its time may not have come.

 

Coming to Divinity, one gets reminded of Siva – lord of destruction that paves way to New Creation. The place is full of Akanda flower(Calotropis gigantea), the flower of Siva. I could not stop myself from sharing a picture here.

Perhaps as reflection to our mood a close specimen from nearby species choose to visit our place. You can see the tension in its face. Watching carefully from a distance about the happenings below.

It clearly did not like what it saw. Certain amount of aggression is visible. That is a typical animal instinct that is still prevalent even with us.

 

But it proved to be a wise monkey. I would say it understands aggression is not the best practice. Something we homo sapiens often forget. It choose diplomatic display of displeasure instead of proceeding with raw aggression.

Like a wise animal afterwards it went to mind its own business completely ignoring the surrounding. There is no fun in trying to change everyone all change begins with himself.

Decisions are always difficult to make. Some decisions are liner, they make incremental change and the effect is reversible. Some decisions are catastrophic. Once taken, these catastrophic decisions dictate future course of actions. There is no way to retract and go back from where you have started in catastrophic decision. Most decisions that affect life in real sense are such catastrophic decisions.

These are like these delicate droplets on a lotus leaf. They look apparently stable but a small ripple will make the drop running either towards the center or towards the edge. Once it moves, there is no way to stop it.  Perhaps this is the reason, people postpones making the move and clings on the tested belief and ideology, fully knowing time has come to get rid of these and move on. It is a classic example of tamasik feedback loop. Where inaction is caused by fear, uncertainty and doubt. It is this inaction that fuels degradation and chaos. This chaos further strengthen the grip of fear and uncertainty.  Way out of this downward trend is rajasik force. Rajasik force driven mainly by hope and greed. Current civilization is now standing at a cross road where the cycle of greed has encompassed every thing and do not motivate people for doing things that are good for others. Need of the hour is Rajarshis. Persons who are able and motivated to work without looking for reward.  Auroville was formed to incubate such Rajarshis. Current civilization needs such people, dedicated souls who work for their own passion and not for reward. Auroville has such people, but the number is certainly not higher than what is visible in rest of the society. Auroville does not have an environment that will attract other like minded Rajarshis to migrate and assimilate with Auroville. It  has some individuals striving for it, but the task looks beyond the capacity of human effort. Maybe some divine force will pave way for such change.

 

Legend of Irumbai and Sadhana Forest

When  you travel Pondicherry from Chenni or Bangalore via NH 66, you will cross a place called Irumbai, which is around 6km ahead of Auroville. Irumbai is famous for its temples which were built around AD 1000 – 1500. Irumbai has an interesting legend of Kaduveli Siddhar, a famous yogi who lived in the area some four to five hundred years ago.

According to the legend, Kaduveli Siddha was performing harsh (hatha) yoga under a peepal tree for days. The heat of his body was so intense that no rains came and the people were exposed to hardship and drought. The situation was so bad that it finally came to the ears of the King, who ruled from Edyanchavadi village. No one dared to disturb Kaduveli in his penance as he chanted the mantra of Eswara, and soon an anthill started to rise up around him. Finally a temple dancer, named Valli, devoted to the Lord Shiva, decided to do her best to get the attention of the yogi, and to rescue the King and his people from the adverse effects of his tapasya. Valli was successful in transforming the Yogi to a family man. Meanwhile the God of Rain was relieved from the torture he felt from the heat of the yogi’s tapasya, the rain fell in plenty, and the people were happy once again. In order to celebrate this event the King ordered a big Puja to be held at Irumbai temple, which was to be followed by a classical performance by Valli in which she would act out the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva, in the form of Nataraja. During the performance, however, one of her anklets fell off, and she started to lose her balance and rhythm. Kaduveli, who saw the Lord Shiva in Valli, picked up the anklet and put it back on her feet. This exposed him to the ridicule of the King and court for having touched the feet of a dancing girl, and he was heckled and jeered. In the rage he invoked the Lord Shiva to come out of his temple and prove his innocence by causing a rain of stone. Immediately the lingam in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple exploded, and wherever its fragments fell became desert. No greenery will grow around these spots, including a crater at a distance of three kilometres from the village, still to this day known as “Kaduveli”. The King got frightened and begged the pardon of the Siddha, bowing down to him with all his entourage and pleading with him to quench the effects of his anger and curse. This appeased Kaduveli, who, repenting of his anger, said that what was done was done, but that in the future, people from far-off lands would come and make the desert land green and fertile again.

It is strange this peace of land was lying there for all these years with lunar landscape till two great souls, Yorit and Aviram Rozin started their reforestation work around year 2003 on 70 acre of arid, eroded land in the outskirts of Auroville. The land resembled Martian landscape with red soil, where not even a blade of grass was visible. Here is a picture taken in 2004 from Sadhana Forest archive that will give you some idea of what it looked like.

Yorit and Aviram was not the first person who tried to rejuvenate this place of land. Some one thought the place looks like African Savana and tried to plant Acacia. They hired a plane and seed bombed the place. Acacia seeds are hard to germinate, in the arid land these seeds were just wasted and were lying dormant for years.  Yorit and Aviram started their work with focus on restricting land erosion and water conservation.  Acacia is a hardy plant that can survive in near desert condition. For the same reason Acacia is also known to be a potentially invasive species, which is taking over grasslands and abandoned agricultural areas worldwide, especially in moderate coastal and island regions where mild climate promotes its spread. Australian/New Zealand Weed Risk Assessment gives it a “high risk, score of 15” rating and it is considered one of the world’s 100 most invasive species. Extensive ecological studies should be performed before further introduction of acacia varieties, as this fast-growing genus, once introduced, spreads fast and is extremely difficult to eradicate.  Some species of Acacia contain cyanogenic glycosides, which, if exposed to an enzyme which specifically splits glycosides, can release hydrogen cyanide in the “leaves”. This sometimes results in the poisoning death of livestock. It is not clear, even to the current volunteers of Sadhana forest on what ecological impact assessment was performed by Govt. or by the people involved before this alien species from Africa was allowed to be planted in such large quantities in this part of the world which does not have the bugs and other plant species that can resist its invasion and live with Acacia symbiotically.

Sadhana forest team has decided to live in the forest.  They take it more as a social issue rather than a technical issue. They live with the trees and rest of the inhabitants of the forest. As a society and in harmony with nature. The idea is to feel and discover the problem forest faces and solve these on the go.  Sadhana forest team organizes regular trip to the forest on Fridays. The idea is to educate people about conservation and living harmoniously with nature. The trip starts with toilet training. At Sadhana forest they use dry composting pits for toilet. Here our pre-tour guide Shiva is explaining us on how to use the toilet. Dry composting pit use very little water. This is very important for villages (and cities) with water shortage.

We aim for toilet for every house hold. Some of the villager has to walk kilometers to fetch a bucket of water. If we ask people to use this bucket of water to flush shit, then the idea of toilet for each home also goes down that drain. For those area where water is scarce, we need toilet that use very small amount of water. At Sadhana forest they use 1 liter of water for shit. The WC that we use normally is put on alternate usage.

For washing dishes they use ash and organic soap. Any left over food goes to composting pit. Dish is dip washed in four tub.

One may tend to question the need for subjecting oneself to this hardship. I think the idea is to develop that keep sense of scarcity of water in the mind of every volunteer so that they are in tune with the problem being faced by the trees.

As we walk down the narrow forest trail, we are stumped by speed breakers. These are quite big and we were wondering which municipality has planned them.  Very soon we came to know the speed breakers are meant not for us, it is basically meant for rain water. As rain water flows it gets restricted by these breakers and reduces the run-off.  The team uses various types of technique to ensure the water that falls on ground is retained with the forest.

There are two ponds in the forest to retain the retain water

These ponds hold water during monsoon. This helps to keep ground water level high during dry spell.

Here is a bund created to retain the water within soil and reduce runoff.

 

Here another voluenteer and current director of the Indian project explaining the water conservation measures to tourists.

To plan trees they have come with a innovative technique of drip irrigation. Drip irrigation sounds good, but when you try to practice it on 70 acre of land with not so obvious economic benefit the idea looks daunting. They use these plastic bottles with a wick to bottle feed the baby plants. These are required till the root reaches ground water and the tree is able to survive on its own.

Beside water consumption they also practice eco-friendly method of cooking. The stoves here are rocket stoves that burn wood very efficiently and without smoke. Just one small log of 1 inch dia is enough to prepare food for 20 odd people with these stoves

Roofing sheet that we saw is made of compressed polythene/plastic junk.

The picture on the left may look very familiar to people from Africa. Let me assure you, this is what Sadhana forest looks currently.

With all the water conservation measures working and some trees tended with baby sitting care, the piece of land is now ready for life. The Acacia seeds that were air dropped earlier are now sprouting every where.

The place looks like Africa with this thick Acacia cover.  Sadhana forest team has decided to take advantage of the situation as it unfolds.  The trees provide much needed bio-mass and water retention capacity. That help other trees to grow at present.   The team is aware of the danger that an alien species may pose. Acacia do not fare well with storm that is very frequent in this coastal region.  Currently the plan with Acacia is to take advantage of what is available but plant more trees that are of local origin. There is bound to be some trouble in cohabiting with an aggressive species like Acacia this drama of life and yoga will unfold layer by layer as the team passes through different phases.

Here you see two fully local people that’s me and my wife – Courtesy a fellow traveler from UK, who was kind enough to click the shot.

 

Here we are in the auditorium-cum-living quarter of Sadhana forest enjoying a dinner served by the Sadhana forest team.  This big hut is made of bamboo and palm leaves. Lights are powered by solar cells. There is no fan, but we realized it after a long time. With natural ventilation from these tall roof fans are not required.

This goes to show simple life is not necessarily full of hardships, all we need to do is to question what is important for us in life and what is not. There is a urgent need to Value Engineer our life style to reduce the environmental cost of our life style. We may find that it is still possible to live harmoniously with nature that will sustain our lifestyle. If such life style is sself sustaining, we may need to ponder the need of such luxury.  While in Sadhana we saw a film titled “No Impact Man“, based on a book by Colin Beavan. This is about a family that changes their lifestyle to get zero carbon footprint over an year, while living in Newyork.  While I do not fully subscribe to the asutre lifestyle being projected and suggested, I do think there is a need to rethink and apply our innovation to reduce our carbon foot print. Sadhana team has been able to reverse it all together, my good wishes for them in their journey, but this is a social issue that require a bit of effort from each of us.

Kolkata to Auroville by car

After months of deliberation to finally decided to move to Auroville. Auroville is a big place with facilities spread out kilometers away. You need a means of modern transport to live and work there. Although two wheelers are preferred over there, we decided to take our car. We need car, because our aged parents can’t ride a scooter anymore.

Kolkata to Auroville is about 1850 Km, 30 Hrs drive. We planned to break it in 3 days trip of  8-10 Hrs drive. Our first stop was at Chilka, next was Kakinada and then at Chennai.

At Chennai we were to drop our son at his hostel and then proceed to Auroville.

It was a long journey and we had luggage for two new settlers: My son was to move to hostel and we – twp oldies were to move to Auroville. In my estimate, we need to carry plenty of luggage, so I put a overhead carrier.

We started off a day before RathaYatra – July 17. As I was about to leave Kolkata, I heard some rattling sound overhead. Stopped the car and found the overhead luggage carrier has come loose. It’s clamps were not sturdy enough to take load of the luggage. Fortunately there were just three of us in the car. We could somehow fit the odd boxes inside. My years of experience with tetris probably helped.

This time the idol at Puri is getting a new body. So it is Nabakalebar time. Nabakalebar happens about 20yrs apart, Bhubaneswar/Puri must have been flooded with devotees. On the way, we were given pamphlets about the arrangements. I must admit, this was quite impressive.
We avoided Puri and went to Chilka instead. Chilka OTDC cotteges were grand! Families with small kids should spend few days there.
There are small cottages with sprawling lawn, overlooking vast Chilka lake. Place is nicely maintained
On the other side of guest house, there are small hills.

 

There are some very old trees. One old Eucalyptus is pride of the site.
One fellow got interested with the new visitors and was spying on us from crows nest.

 

My car is getting ready for a dip at Chilka. (Maybe?)
You can see the old man enjoying his morning
Road between Chilka and Kakinada is very scenic
My son Supratik drove most of the time, reliving me to concentrate on my photography
Near the cities the road was 6 lane. This allowed us to drive continuously on 100+ KMPH. In the retrospection, I was thanking that  the overhead carrier broke off. It saved us lot of time and fuel.
Second stop was at Kakinada, it was a bit off the highway.  I booked it because, I could not get a descent hotel around Rajamundry. Anyway after we reached, hotel at Kakinada also proved anything but descent.  There was a cafe at ground floor of the hotel, at night that cafe got transformed into a cowshed. Wish I took the pictures earlier.
Rajamundry at that time was the site of Pushkar Mela. Few lakhs of people were there trying to take a dip at Godavari.  The river water must have turned salty with all the sweat that went into the river. Hope they get their desired salvation for the effort. Due to the rush the drive was slow. As Murphy would have determined, it was also the longest drive. I choose to drive most of it and so no picture on the way. Finally, we reached Chennai around 11:30 PM.
with NK and his family
Chennai was some small reunion. We met our ex-neighbor from Jamshedpur after a gap of almost 25yrs.  NK is running his network security company SNSin. He seems to do a great work of it and now fully entrenched in Chennai.
Greta met her school buddy – this too after a quarter century.  All smiles

 

Here is Shampa, with her daughter and hubby Sekhar

Chennai to Auroville is a short 2Hrs drive. We took the ECR road for its view. It was a short one, so did not stop to take a picture.

 

Up and Down the Sahyadri

Nothing beats the charm of saying the year good bye in a hill station. Sahyadri is just perfect for the season – not too cold and yet perfect for tour.  Best place to start the tour we thought is from Shirdi. I had a long cherished wish to see what the place is like. Here you can see the team – landed in Shirdi.

The place is getting crowded with multiple hotels coming up without any plan or infrastructure. So it is just matter of few years before the place becomes another congested concrete jungle. The temple is beyond the reach of camera and not very photogenic. So I gave it a skip. Our next hop was at Mahabaleswar.

Here you can see us standing near the tiger point

It was last day of the year and the place was quite full of people. You can see the anxiety of the natives on this sudden surge of visitors

Sadly not much of the hills are visible due to poor visibility. But the road side flowers are there always to add to the charm

Boating at the lake is an added charm to increase the appetite

View from the lake is very good. I suppose it will be even better in Monsoon.

After boating the Pizzas at Mapro taste delicious. The chocolate factory around makes the matter even worse.

Do not forget the strawberries of M’baleswer. Here it is being cultivated with garlic – not sure what kind flavor will it have?

Next stop at Lonavala. It is famous for Chiki and Wax Museum.

Here you can meet the celebrities in very personal manner.

You can see me having some serious discussion with Hariharan or Mr Modi eger to pose with the new generation

Some more status you can see in the hall. But overall it is a small room. Quality of some statues could have been better.

So you are left wondering, which one is good?

Nearby garden by Maharashtra tourism is a welcome change. It is well kept. The swan over there was posing for us.
and the flowers were inviting

It is worth spending some time there and enjoy the lake

before proceeding to Karla Caves

Karla Cave was a Buddhist Monastery that flourished between 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD. Now the place is abandoned. There is a temple just beside it and that keeps the local people interested.

Karla cave has some magnificent pillars and arches in the main prayer hall.

Some of the caves looked recent. Not sure how these came here.

Here we are in front of the main entrance.

and some more stone curving

Here you can see bee catcher – not so common in the city and extremely elusive.

View around Lonavala is breath taking

but for sunset one should be at nearby Khandala

For a welcome change you can also visit Narayani Dham temple – this reminded me of the temple at BHU, clean and peaceful.

Hope some day all temples will be this clean and well maintained.

Andaman

Andaman or Kala Pani is actually azure. I am not sure why people talk about only the water and not mention emerald green island. From top it looks like emerald embedded in sapphire. The range of color itself is highly inviting.  








For Indian a visit to Port Blair has to start with paying homage to freedom fighters who were packed off to Cellular jail .

Cellular jail is perhaps the best of British Architecture available in India. It combines extreme administrative efficiency with medieval brutality. Now part of the jail has collapsed in earth quake. Originally, it had a central watch tower flanked by seven spke like rows of cells. The result was height of efficiency. Only four guards were sufficient to keep watch on 800 odd inmates. Cell doors were designed in such way that it was impossible to access the lock from inside.

As such nothing much was to be achieved by jail break. Nearest land was 1000 Km away. Most islands around used to be inhabited by tribal, who would kill aliens on sight. Some example of the life is displayed in the model.

British rule Andaman from Ross island. It a tiny island about 1 Km from Port Blair. It offered ideal fortification for the colonial rulers. Now this has been converted into a nature park. As we arrived, its current inhabitant came down to check the visitors.

Ross has rather large number of peacocks and deer. It is better to visit the island at afternoon. Last boat leaves island around 4:30 PM. As tourists leave, the animals come out.


Now nature is in process of reclaiming the once famous city. Some of house have vanished but trees have preserved the form.

While you are there, watch out for falling coconuts. There are plenty of them.
Best of Andaman is barely visible from far away. Best things are there below the water level.
For a change, one can see bottom of the sea from boat. But to touch it one needs to dive.

It is a nice feeling to be inside a huge aquarium

Pity that I did not carry a underwater camera to take some really good view. I was told that one could hire it at Port Blair. That was a misinformation. Port Blair market is primitive. All you can get their is some toy camera or p&s type which the shop will rent at more than its cost price.

Elephanta Beach, Havelock Island is a good spot for snorkeling and diving. Other spot is Neil which we missed. Tourism promotes Jolly Buoy Mahatma Gandhi Park, which is better to avoid.


There is lot of current in the water around that prevents inexperienced swimmers to explore on their own. The guides around are like temple panda - only interested in making some quick buck. They wont let you see anything properly.



Chidiya tapu is another beach that you must visit. It has some huge collection of birds. Beach was good but it has been washed away in tsunami. One feels sad to see submerged colony and huge lakes that was once a agricultural land.

But nature has its own way to provide nest out of fallen trees. Here snails and crabs have made some nice design in a piece that was once a tree.
After eight days it is now time to raise the oars
Return trail just leaves some ripple
Only some memories remain like this sunset at Radhanagar Beach

	

A view of Auroville

I got a opportunity to spend a few days in Auroville – the universal city in the making. I have been reading a lot about Auroville, mainly from sustainable living groups. Then there was a International Conference on Frontiers of Statistics and its Application (ICONFROST 2012) at Pondicherry. This double reason was good to make me book myself for a few days at Pondicherry.

Auroville is a riddle that do not disclose itself to outsiders. If you go there as a tourist all you see is a golden globe situated in middle of a forest. The city around is invisible.

All you will ever see are trees. There are some two million of them planted by Aurovillians that was once a barren land in last 40 yrs. This social forestry has made the land cultivable. Auroville now produces most of their requirement locally.

There are quite a few restaurants and industry that produces products that are sold all over the world. Auroville is one of the pioneer in Earth Stabilized Bricks. It produces presses that make these bricks without

using any fire. Normally it will use locally available clay, that will not leave any unnatural residue. Thus making it one of most environmentally sustainable building technique. Here you see a pillar that some time can be used as watch tower.

Actually this is a water tank that do not use iron or concrete. Bricks are are made of compressed stabilized earth.

These architecture is supported by UNESCO as the technology of choice. On right you see a building made of arches. This one do not use any concrete. All bricks are made of stabilized earth.

If you come to Auroville as tourist for a quick view, you will never notice these. Nor you will appreciate the pleasure of morning call of peacock from your roof.

   

Car is used in a little unconventional way in Auroville. Below is the recommended use of car. For personal mobility one is expected to use bicycle. For someone like me, who has lost those muscles which once upon a time powered 180Km/day trip, scooter or motorcycle are a loathsome option. It is pretty easy to rent a bike @Rs 100-200/day.

If you stay at Auroville do not forget to have food at Solar Kitchen. Here you get simple food – dal chawal stuff. That is cooked using solar heat. The slow cooking in combination of organically grown vegetables gives it an awesome taste, which can only be experienced.

 

One word of caution when you interact with the locals. It is not like most cities though. Take my tour guide for instance. Bunty as he is known in Auroville. This guy who landed up in shorts and slippers to take me around for a guided tour. The tourist guide was making a little too many noise that was not sounding like a tourist guide. A little prod later he let me know, he had worked in Godrej as its Sales RM – after IITB, IIM-A he got fed up with corporate life and landed up as tour guide in Auroville.

One can not leave Matrimandir away while being in Auroville. It is the soul of Auroville. A concentration center, it is not a temple in usual sense. This magnificent golden dome is in the center and will attract you for its beauty. It is a marvel of architecture and involves some pretty hi-tech engineering. Whole thing is nicely explained at Auroville website so I won’t repeat it here.
















It is better to leave technical details away and enjoy the beauty in its full grace.

Aurovillians are very sensitive about this symbol being taken anything other than symbol. They do not want it to be a temple where one will come and offer prayer.

Before one enters this structure one needs to attend a 22 min video session which explains its significance.

Auroville makes pretty good use of solar power. Although it is located very near to coast wind speed in not good here. At this speed wind turbines are not so attractive as power source. But thanks to only approx four hour of power supply from grid, Auroville has developed pretty good backup with solar power. Most street lights are from solar panel. This gives reliable 4-5 Hrs of street lighting.
Current population in Auroville is only 3000 It plans to become a city with 50000 population. There is a master plan that has come into effect some 4-5 yrs back. Current development happens as per master plan. At right, you see a model on how the city will look like.
Main place for outsider is called visitor center. It is a place for all touristy kind of work. As I walked into the compound, I was greeted by a nice gong.
This is the biggest wind chime I have seen.
For stay one has many choice, starting from 5 star island spa to comfortable house. I stayed in a guest house in Samasti community. Nice house type of ambience. You have solar heated hotwater. That remains hot even at 5:00 am in the morning.
Here is some pot sculpture within the compound
Pondicherry is just 10Km from Auroville. Takes about 30min in a scooter. If someone gets a bit bored or needs some special things it is easy to make a trip.
Aurobindo ashram is a must visit, if you are from Auroville.
At beach you have some nice status of people who never visited here during freedom struggle.
This is some nice work of branding to extend the aura beyond its reaches.
Here the author is also motivated by the great men to record his presence in the place.
French presence can be guessed from the Notre dame copy of the church.
Auroville is a universal city. Other countries have been given some place to showcase its culture.
Here is a building from Tibet.
Canada has also showcased its culture in its designated place. From here one can guess its care for human unity.
American fair is typical in its use of hi-tech and wheels. The building is build by Americans students. USP being walls made of tetrapack – that seems to protect the environment.
Thankfully AV does not have much use of tetrapack either.
For cultural show, there is a amphitheater that can seat about 300 people.
AV has its own beach, where one can enjoy the sea without typical noise and crowd. It also has some blue lagoon type huts for spending the night at beach.
Pondicherry beach has been washed away due to some faulty planning AV beach is still there.
AV do not use money. There is no circulation of money and every Aurovillian has equal rights to its resources.
For day to day need Aurovillian becomes member of a shop called pour tous. Unfortunately, here all only means Aurovilians. This looks like a shop but one need not pay here. One can take whatever one needs.
Here is another view of pour tous to show the range of products stocked for consumption.
Fresh vegetables grown within AV are also available here for distribution.
ICOFROST conference was good, with some 300 people from various countries.

Some nice discussion on Stats and OR

 

Followed by cultural program from the students was a break from AV




Some nice dance

Followed by some more

Followed by a nice Veena

But a visit to AV is incomplete without a meditation trip in Matrimandir. The visuals are stunning and atmosphere is very different. Lotus temple also has a nice ambiance but this one is gripping.

At inside chamber you have this huge crystal globe being lit by a heliostat.

But this is not a temple of a religious place. AV do not recommend following any religion. At matrimandir you are urged to meditate to the tune of Sri Aurobindo’s mantra — Anandamayi Chaitanyamayi Satyamayi Parame

 

If Wishes Were Horses

We boarded Shaktipunj exp. It has been a long time that i travelled in a long distance train. A welcome noticed plugs are available to charge mobile or laptop. I was browsing Prashant’s blog. In between the stations signal strebgth was low that exhausted my mobile battery within an hour. I put the charger, got a reminder of tamas. The outlet do not work. After some search I located the electrician travelling with the train. unfortunately, that was of little use. The poor fellow is paid to hear abuses. Train is equipped with two 1200 W inverter that runs the lights and also powers the outlets. Capacity is hopelessly inadequate to power laptops that people will plug in where ever they can. Poor electrician has no other option but to isolate the plugs to keep the lights working. I was rewarded with a sneak window after 11:00 pm to recharge my mobile in exchange of being good listener, . After I recharged my mobile, train had passed WB, and with that I lost connectivity from airtel. It gives good service only in metro area. I took it as a welcome change to remain cutoff from the net.

We reached Katni peacefully after four hours from scheduled arrival time. Our original plan was to have lunch at katni and then proceed to Bandhabgarh. Railway has ofcourse do not belive in redundency and did not have any alternate arrangement for lunch. So a day went without lunch. Must thank railways to help me with my weight loss!

Bandhavgarh white tiger forest lodgw was a pleasant surprise. For a change even the window pane was spotlessly clean. Unfortunately we reached on wednesday, it is rest day for the tigers. No safari is allowed inside the forest. This piece of information is not made public. One gets to know this onreaching the spot.

 Fortunately we had booked two nights stay. Spent the first day exploring the lodge and around. The place is full of colorful spiders and flowers. There were plenty of them.

There were huge webs of giant wood spider. They will spin 4-5 feet big web and wait at the center.

 These are brightly colored advertising their poisonous nature to warn potential predators. Birds will never touch these large spiders.

 There are plenty of other flowers. For some unknown reason, yellow color seem to dominate the place.

 Here is a change with tinge of red visible

 And here we have the thorny variety. Popularly known as “Bagh Nokh” in Bengal.

 There are plenty of bird that do not observe the official holiday and came to visit us. Here the parrot is pretty difficult to spot.

Beside the giant wood spider, there are other hairy kind. These will hide during day time and come out in their web only after sunset.

There are other flower that I could not find any detail.

 Next day was promising. We started our day with a pug mark, advertising presence of tiger on the road. All of us were very excited with the prospect to meet the king.

 We find elephants are waiting in anticipation to take us inside the deep forest where tiger would have made some kill.

Sambars have a field day watching some strange animals wearing funny skins.

Here is some practical lesson on art of advertisement. A male tiger has marked its strength by making scratch marks on the tree.

Seeing us approaching peacock makes a hasty retreat. It do not trust us.

 We see a ray of hope for finding the elusive King.

 Some Cheetals glides past us

A Serpant eagle watches us from tree top perhaps wondering why these beasts are polluting the environment by making so much noise and smoke.

A Neelkant makes its appearance to showcase its brown and blue coloring

But soon the Eagle looses its interest.

Neelkant follows the eagle

Here another one is after its food.

A Great Indian Owl looks stoically, unable to act till it is dark.

Bandhavgarh claims to have 66-70 tigers in its 105 Sq Km area. It may be a good statistical puzzle to find the improbability of viewing a tiger.

We leave the owl and forest department to debate over the claim and proceed to Jabalpur. On the way we are greeted by some great landscape.

Hotel – Kalchuri has some very skilled rangoli artists and proudly displays its skill.

A trip to Bargi Dam is essential to understand the Narmada controversy.

 All we see is the mark of human presence. Men of litters have left their mark for the posterity.

 Somehow the crane is oblivious to environmental impact of Medhaji and her vociferous supporters

Dhuadhar falls is still there but waterflow seems to be a bit less maybe due to the dam.

 Marble rocks are there for boating. This by the way will be possibly qualify for costliest water fall, with river flowing a bed of costliest variety of pink and blue marble, that cost more that $100 for a sq foot slab.

 One must take the ride in crowded boat to here the commentary that is provided as part of the ride.

A Trip to Jabalpur is incomplete unless you have checked out this rather marvel of engineering and art. 76 feet tall statue of Lord Shiva.

Pachmarhi is our next destination. named after Five cave dwelling that overlooks the valley. Thanks to ignorant overjealous naming freaks, the caves are called pandav guha, named after Pandav brothers who stayed there.

 Only problem with these claim is the distinct similarities with caves of Ajanta and Ellora and use of stone bricks that dots the place. Archaeologists claim the structure to be of 1200AD, but the advertisement of mass ignorance remains. Pachmarhi is dotted with many caves and hills that one can spend age trying to explore.

 Here is a grand view of the garden below Pandav Caves

Rajen was a great resource in Pachmarhi. He is very knowledgeable about the road as well as plants and animals.

One needs to get a guide in Pachmarhi. This being an Army area maps are scarce and not accurate. Unless you know the place, you will not be able to find right spot without a guide. Here he is with my son.

Satpura hills offer some good photo ops.

                 

If you are at Pachmarhi, buy some oney. Bees have a fascination for the place and makes giant beehives all over the hills.

Also listen for this beautiful bird You will need to get up early to hear the songs of this Malabar Whistling Thrush.  Saw it near Jata Shankar Caves

Hills offer some great landscape. One need to walk around the place to discover some great view.

Pachmarhi has some exotic butterflies – here is one Baronet Butterfly.

Here is another view – named after Indira Priyadarshini.

Even common Putus offers some magnificent colors, that is difficult to ignore.

Pachmarhi hills are made of Sandstone. This makes the hills have rather large number of springs that remain active round the year.

Here is one such fall – Bee Fall.

Dhup garh is the highest point at 4470′ offers magnifisent view of valley. Sunset is the time when one needs to be present there to get some nice view of the orange globe and a poetry of gray hills.