From the lush green scenery of Kerala we rode into the drier but equally populated by coconut palms landscape of Tamil Nadu. We were traveling with Jayan, our pottery teacher from Terra Crafts. True to Indian style he had a whirlwind agenda of places to see from Chennai through to our final destination, Auroville.
Auto (Tuk Tuk) and taxi thuggery is real and if you want a flavour of it you need not look further than Chennai Central (railway station): Uber is a blessing. Our first stop was at the Government Museum, housing the National Art Gallery. It’s an enormous place and we wandered through a significant portion soaking in inspiration before it was time to return to the agenda and continue on to the Cholamandal Artists’ Village. This was a momentary stop to visit the art gallery that ended with delicious tea at a painter’s home in the “village”. It was then on to Mahabalipuram on a local bus. We arrived at nightfall, quickly found a cheap guesthouse and ate a small meal in a rather touristic restaurant. After one month in Eroor, away from tourists and much else, we felt we’d stepped into a once familiar but forgotten world.
The ancient city of Mahabalipuram is a wondrous place. Most of the ancient temple seen on the shore lies secretly submerged underwater. The rest of its startling beautiful is carved into the rocks: depictions of animals and humans – the work must have taken a colossal effort to complete and depicts a city of marvelous grandeur. By noon the following day, we were ready to continue our journey south to Pondicherry. We were dreaming of croissants. However under the influence of Jayan’s agenda we arrived in Pondicherry and quickly continued to a small local village neighbouring Auroville. We visited a potter family, working with local terracotta. What struck us most was the sublime quality of the refined terracotta in use and the immediately visible western manner of throwing. The throwing was a product of his numerous years of work at the infamous Golden Bridge Pottery and the simple fact that the terracotta was self-made to such a fine quality restored all faith in high quality earthenware production for the Indian market: yes it is viable and yes there are people who know quality of pure clay.
The following morning we arrived at the fortress that is Auroville’s Visitor Center and several hours later we found a room at the Aurovillian Youth Hostel. Jayan left for Kochi. There is much one can say about Auroville but our favourite thing is how a once arid landscape has been meticulously reforested. We immediately understood the appeal to live in Auroville, among the trees. Our room at the hostel was thus far the loveliest we had had, filled with the songs of birds but this was soon to be exceeded by the next cottage we rented in Auroville: the igloo. We visited the potteries and spoke with the artists and searched for evidence of a moneyless society; of some inspiration we could utilize on our own search of a better world. We found an interesting concept and nice ideas but not the “perfect” society we were hoping for.
And that is ok: it is as it is. So we took the time in the forest paradise to reenergise: reading, drawing, and mediating.
We also visited Pondicherry: the old French town with its beautiful beach promenade and of course Golden Bridge Pottery and then we hitched a ride to Chennai airport…