Auroville – Guide to first time visitors

India
First time guide to Auroville

Auroville – Guide to first time visitors

Last updated on: 19th January 2019.

Visiting Auroville was a very different experience from our usual holidays. I am sure I would have called it life-changing if I stayed for a longer duration. We visited for 5 days for the first time and again for a week 2nd time and the experience is hard to put into words. There are very few blogs about Auroville and I now understand why 🙂 I had a tough time collecting my thoughts and experiences to write this post. Auroville is not a place to visit for a day-trip from Chennai or Pondicherry. While that is doable, I would recommend minimum of 1 week in Auroville. And there is a good chance, you won’t be able to understand the essence still. It is soaked in a concept that is very deep to absorb. I will keep this post more as a guide on how to get the best out of your visit to Auroville than a complex concept I am yet to understand 🙂

What is Auroville?

Auroville is a community conceptualised by a French visionary Mirra Alfassa known to her followers as The Mother. Auroville is based on The Mother and Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy. Auroville believes in the service of truth, beyond religious conviction. There is no concept of religion in this place. It does have a temple called Matrimandir, but it does not belong to any religion or sect. It is built for meditation and holds significance for all living inside Auroville.

The Mother's dream
The Mother’s dream – thought behind Auroville
Proposed model of Auroville
Proposed model of Auroville

How to reach Auroville:

Auroville is 10 km north of Pondicherry and around 150 km south of Chennai.

By Air: Spicejet operates one flight from Pondicherry to Vijayawada via Hyderabad. We took this flight from Hyderabad to Pondicherry and back. There are autos available outside the airport that can take you to Auroville. However, booking a taxi through STS may cost the same (read about STS ahead).

Pondicherry Airport
Pondicherry Airport

By Train: There are trains from Chennai and Bangalore, however they take longer than travel by road. Puducherry railway station is around 15 kms from Auroville and you can take an auto or taxi to go to Auroville.

By Road: It takes 3 hrs by road from Chennai on the East Coast road and the drive along the coast is very scenic. The drive from Bangalore is around 6 hrs.

STS Taxi: You can book a taxi in advance using Auroville Taxi Service. Most of the guest houses can pre-book it for you. They also have a shared transport service which take online booking. Check STS website for details. We booked the taxi through Arka guest house. Here is a list of few taxi providers recommended by Arka:

Auroville transport
Auroville transport
  • Krishna Transport: 9443036133, 9751144474 (We used him for Pondicherry airport transfer: Rs.420 for an AC cab. Also hired him for 6 hrs to go to Pondicherry one afternoon: Rs.1300 for AC Indigo)
  • Auro Cab: 0413 2623200, 9843734825
  • UTS Transport:0413 2623587, 9443362218
  • Maha Transport: 0413 2622915
  • Team Transport: 0413 2623151/52, 9442544042
  • ITS: Integrated Transport Services is a non-profit working towards a pollution-free, safe transportation system. They offer shared taxi services, electric scooter rentals, pickups and drops. Call them on any of these numbers +91 8098776644 , +91 9486991643 or +91 9840983080.

Where to stay in Auroville:

There are many guest houses inside Auroville. You can browse through the list of guest houses on their website. We stayed at Arka Guest house, which was close to Matrimandir. Read my detailed review of Arka guest house.

Pond @ Arka Guest House
Pond @ Arka Guest House

Tips for choosing a guest house in Auroville:

  • Stay close to Visitors’s center/ Matrimandir.
  • Check with your guest house if they can help with bike rentals. Bike/ car is must to go around Auroville and unless you love to walk, you need it as soon as you reach Auroville.

First steps in Auroville:

  • Registration for visitors: All guests staying at Auroville are required to register within 24 hrs. Most of the guest houses have arrival forms that need to be filled. If not, you need to go to Financial services office at the town hall to register yourself. There is also a daily contribution of Rs.100 that need to be paid by every guest. Most of the guest houses include that in the tariff (was included in Arka’s tariff). However, check with your guest house once.
  • Aurocard & Money exchange: Auroville aims to be a place where no money is circulated and all transactions are done through Aurocard. However, except for a few places (Solar Kitchen and La Terraza restaurant); cash is accepted everywhere. Aurocard is not a necessity, but you can get it from your guest house if you want. We took the aurocard against a refundable deposit of Rs.500 from Arka Guest House. Aurocard needs to be charged with cash at the financial services office at the town hall.

Financial services office timings: Monday to Saturday 9 am to 12:30 pm and 3 pm to 4:30 pm (closed on festivals and public holidays).

They accept foreign currencies, traveller’s cheque and credit card too. However, you will need to carry your ID card if you want to avail any service at the financial services office.

Townhall, Auroville
Townhall, Auroville
  • Valuables at Auroville: If you are carrying valuables and the guest house does not have any safe, you can deposit them at the financial services office and collect later.
  • Getting around Auroville:
    • 2-wheeler: Bike, scooty and moped are easily available on rent inside Auroville. Most of the guest houses can help you with the rental. If not, you can call Krishna on 9443036133 or 9751144474 for bike rentals. We paid Rs.150 per day for a scooty.
    • Electric Bikes: During our 2nd visit to Auroville in 2018, we saw electric bikes available for rent opposite Solar Kitchen. The ITS service offers environment-friendly transport services. You can see details of the service on https://www.auroville.org/contents/4202. You can call them on any of these numbers: +91 8098776644, +91 9486991643, +91 9840983080.
    • Electric bike charging point and ITS office opposite Solar kitchen

        Electric bike charging point and ITS office opposite Solar kitchen
    • Bicycle: Bicycles are available for rent at the visitor’s centre and town hall. A Decathlon cycle is available at Rs.60 per day. Go Green Cycle rentals at Auroville
    • Car: Reva is available for rent. Krishna had Indigo for rent which he was ready to rent at Rs.1400 per day.
    • Auroville Public Accessible Bus: A 12-seater bus operates on a daily basis from Auroville to the town. The frequency is low and seats less, so its not an option all the time. A single trip costs Rs.60 and you can take passes from financial services. You can download the schedule here:
Auroville Public Bus Timetable 2019
Auroville Public Bus Timetable 2019

Sunday Trip to Srima beach timetable

Food at Auroville:

There are many restaurants inside Auroville and on the Auroville road which serve all kinds of cuisines. Most of the restaurants inside Auroville close by 7 pm, a few are open till 9 pm. The ones on the Auroville road are open till 10:30 pm.

  • Solar Kitchen: Solar kitchen is a community kitchen that serves meals to various schools and service centres inside Auroville.  It derives its name from big solar bowl on its roof, that provides part of the steam used for cooking.

They serve around 1000 veg meals per day and are open only for lunch. Meal is served between 12:15 pm to 1 pm and one needs to call up in advance to book the meal (Phone No: 04132622197). Meal costs Rs.210 for adults and Rs.90 for kids. Every dish comes with spicy and non-spicy variant. We found the food average though!

Solar Kitchen also has meal coupons for regulars. A daily lunch coupon costs Rs.3000 per month.

  • Solitude Farm: It is one of the 8 organic farms inside Auroville. It is a self-sustained farm that runs a cafe. They get fresh farm produce everyday and serve organic meals for breakfast and lunch. They serve some of the best smoothies and juices.
Solitude Farm Thali
Solitude Farm Thali
  • Visitors centre cafe: One of the very few restaurants inside Auroville that is open till 9:00 pm, visitors centre cafe serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. They serve delicious veg and non-veg Indian & Italian and run a cafe too. And its one of the few places that offer free WiFi.
  • Dreamer’s cafe: Dreamer’s cafe inside Visitor’s centre serves snacks like samosa, sandwiches, cakes and ice-creams. They are open till 9 pm.
  • Tea stall inside Visitor’s cafe: A tea stall should ideally not figure in eateries list, but it doubles up as a Indian snack cafe in the evening. We had one of the best red rice dosa there.
  • Neem Tree: Neem tree is located close to Solar Kitchen and is one of the restaurants that is open till 9 pm. The prices are very reasonable (Rs.60 for an aloo paratha big enough for 1 person). It also serves chaat snacks and is open only in the evenings. It is closed on Sundays.
  • Dharma Swasti: Situated outside Auroville on the Auroville road, Dharma Swasti serves organic vegan food. We had vegan omlette and spinach tofu wrap. Both were served with hummus and salad and were delicious. And a special shout out for their mango lassi 😀
  • Dhiya’s Kitchen: Dhiya’s kitchen is also located on the Auroville road. They are open from 7 am to 10:30 pm, with breaks in between lunch and evening snacks. They serve veg and non-veg Punjabi, Maharashtrian and usual Indian stuff. However, we found the food to be very oily and average. They deliver inside and can be reached on 8220256576.
  • Tanto Pizzeria: I am not a big fan on pizza, but Tanto pizzeria definitely was an exception to the regular pizzas. The toppings were fresh, abundant and the pizza was delicious. Pasta was good too! You can see their menu and contact details on http://tanto.in/. They also do deliveries (contact+91 413-2622368), but deliveries close early by 9 pm.
  • Well Studio cafe: WELL stands for Women’s Empowerment through Local Livelihood. Well Cafe near CSR is little difficult to locate because of the location but follow the Google Map and you should be able to find it. It serves Mediterranean style, vegetarian food in outdoor seating. It is heartening to see local ladies dishing out such tasty falafel, hummus and baguette like dishes 🙂 But then, nothing surprises us anymore at Auroville!
  • Smoothie bar: We missed going to Smoothie bar first time and ensured we visited this highly rated place during our 2nd visit. I have to say we were little disappointed. The cold pressed juices and smoothie were overpriced and not up to the hype!  You can check their menu on http://www.smoothiebar.in/
  • GP Cafe: This is again one of the difficult-to-find places in Auroville; but Google Maps takes you to the right place! The paper-roast dosa with different chutneys at GP Cafe was one of the best we have had in Auroville.

We wanted to try many other places like Naturellement Garden Cafe and Le Morgan; but did not have enough time to try everything even in 2 visits 🙁 Many of them are open only for lunch which made it difficult for us to visit all. We had breakfast of delicious Idly and Dosa most of the days. A women maintained the pushcart and served fresh idlis and dosa.  It was located on the way from Auroville to Pondicherry, around 5 min drive from Arka guest house.

Connectivity in Auroville:

BSNL has the best connectivity inside Auroville. We got Airtel and JioFi signal as soon as we came out of Auroville. You can find paid internet centres at the following places:

Arka Guest house: 9 am to 1 pm and 2 pm to 4:30 pm (Monday to Saturday)

Solar Kitchen 1st floor: 9 am to 4 pm (Wed, Thur and Friday) I will recommend you download offline map of Pondicherry/ Auroville before arriving there and keep it handy. You may not find anyone to ask directions if you are looking for some place.

Activities in Auroville:

  • Local activities: Auroville is not a touristy destination so the activities are not the kind we usually get in other places. The events here are more catered for Aurovilians. A weekly bulletin is issued every Friday with list of events/seminars etc for the next week. Every guest house gets a copy of the same. You can also download the latest copy from https://www.auroville.org/contents/4186. You can download the one for 28th Oct to 3rd Nov from this link:

News and Notes for Auroville residents and guests

In the week that we were in Auroville, there was a charcoal drawing exhibition, a doll show, philately exhibition, classical musical concert, jazz performance to name a few we were interested in. There are some regular events like weekly farm tours, movie screenings, cultural events by different communities etc. There were games like Frisbee and Badminton being organized and some art classes for residents and guests. If you are staying in Auroville, do find out about these classes and be a part of them.

Doll Show during Dussehra week
Doll Show during Dussehra week
Solitude Farm Visit - happens every Saturday@ 11:30am
Solitude Farm Visit – happens every Saturday@ 11:30am

Matrimandir

    Matrimandir, Auroville
  • Volunteer: There are many volunteering opportunities for guests staying for long duration. Check the links at the end of this post for more details.
  • Visit the central library: On the road between Solar Kitchen and Arka guest house sits the Auroville library. The library has more than 30,000 books in many languages and has a separate cute children’s section. It is open from Monday till Saturday, morning from 9 to 12.30, and afternoons from 2:00 to 4:30 pm
Auroville Library
Auroville Library
Children's section at the Auroville library
Children’s section at the Auroville library
  • Visit Sadhana forest: During our 2nd visit to Auroville we went for the weekly Eco Film club organized by Sadhana Forest. I highly recommend visiting them for the Friday Eco Film club. You will be humbled by the volunteers and the entire team there. And don’t miss the delicious organic vegan dinner 🙂 You can read more about our experience at https://coveringmiles.com/sadhana-forest-auroville/
  • Visit one of the schools in Auroville: Call one of the schools inside Auroville and see if you can schedule a visit there. The Last School is open for visitors without appointment and we went there during our 2nd visit. The school was closed on that day. However, we met one of the school teachers during Sadhana forest visit. He is a biologist by profession (who worked in corporates for 15 yrs before relocating to Pondicherry), teaches students at The Last School, conducts workshops for architects on sustainable architecture, takes groups for bird watching tours and is also writing a book on flora and fauna at Sadhana Forest!! I am sure school visit will be an eye-opener for you; especially if you have kids.
Art room at The Last School, Auroville
Art room at The Last School, Auroville

Auroville with kids:

We took our 6 yr old son and he enjoyed his stay as much as we did. There was no TV in the guesthouse, no internet connectivity. We played games, read books and relaxed in general. Few tips if you are planning to go with kids:

    • Carry some small games like Chess, Ludo, Connect 4, Jenga etc. We love playing family board games and Auroville is a perfect place for them 🙂
    • Take some books for kids and yourself. Or go to the Auroville library. Library has books in many languages and across age groups.
    • Carry some outdoor games like cricket, frisbee, football etc. The open spaces in Auroville are perfect for bonding with you family over these games.

Open ground in AurovilleOpen ground in AurovilleOur little cricketer

      • Our little cricketer 🙂
    • Explore Auroville playgrounds: Auroville has 2 main playgrounds – Certitude and New Creation sports ground. Certitude is in the residential zone and contains basketball court, table tennis, football & frisbee ground along with slides/ swings etc for young kids.

Certitude PlaygroundCertitude PlaygroundCertitude PlaygroundCertitude Playground

The new creation sports has swimming pool, volleyball court, tennis and badminton court etc. It is located on the Auroville main road.

  • Introduce kids to organic farms: Some of the organic farms like Solitude and Sadhana farms organize farm visits over the weekend and its a great way to introduce city kids to agriculture.
  • Introduce kids to art and culture: Take kids along to events inside Auroville as much as you can. Its a new experience for them to soak into.

There is so much to do in Auroville that we feel we have only touched tip of the iceberg (yes, even after 2 visits!!). A longer visit is definite for us and hope the post inspires some to make a visit to this wonderful place 🙂

Map of all the places mentioned in this blog:

Some important points to keep in mind when visiting Auroville:

  • Carry a strong torchlight: The streets are barren after sunset and there are hardly any street lights.
  • Carry cash: There are 2 ATMs close to Auroville (none inside). Both are on the Auroville main road. None of them were working when we visited.
  • Take enough mosquito repellent: Auroville is like a mini-jungle, so there are mosquitoes everywhere.
  • Don’t walk barefoot in Auroville: We saw snake, scorpion, mongoose on the road. Nothing to worry about, but keep safe 🙂

Useful links for Auroville visit:

Auroville Guesthouses: http://guesthouses.auroville.org/

Important phone numbers and timings: http://wiki.auroville.org.in/wiki/Timings

Shared Transport Service: http://sharedtransport.auroville.org/

Auroville Financial Services: https://www.auroville.org/contents/2829

Guide to Auroville: https://www.auroville.org/contents/409

Transportation inside Auroville: https://www.auroville.org/contents/2801

Weekly News and Notes: https://www.auroville.org/contents/4186

Volunteering at Auroville: https://www.auroville.org/contents/386

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