I just got back from a long weekend trip to Pondicherry and Mamallapuram. While everyone at home is celebrating Labor Day weekend, here we had a holiday for the Ganesha Puja, a Hindu festival which marks Ganesh’s birthday. We left campus on Tuesday night and took an overnight bus to Chennai. Lucky for us, our bus was three hours late so we ended up getting to Chennai much later than expected. We then got on another bus to Pondicherry. Pondicherry is the former capital of French India and it is visable in the town’s French Quarter. On Thursday we walked down the seaside promenade, Goubert Salai and saw the Bay of Bengal for the first time. It looks exactly like a little French town, I almost forgot I was in India. We stopped to have some hibiscus soda, which is the syrup from a hibiscus flower mixed with tonic water. We went to the Sri Manakula Vinayagar Temple to see the Ganesha festivities. It was amazing. There were musicians inside playing music that could be heard all the way down the street. People were everywhere singing along and praying. Inside the temple you could see people making offerings and receiving bindis. On the way out we were given punjal (sp?) which is this rice like pudding that was served in a leaf. It was delicious. Lakshmi, the elephant, was outside the door blessing people if they offered her one rupee. She was so beautiful.

Next we went to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Sri Aurobindo spent forty years in Pondicherry devoting himself to his inner spiritual self after petitioning for the country’s entire indepepdence. It was in Pondy where he developed a new kind of spiritual practice known as Internal Yoga. Along with “The Mother” Sri Aurobindo created the ashram in 1926. We spent some time meditating inside the ashram.

On Saturday we went to Auroville, which is basically an offshoot of the ashram. It was created by “The Mother” in 1968 as an international project. The mission of Auroville is to create a place which “no nation could claim as its own, where all human beings of goodwill who have a sincere aspiration could live freely as citizens of the world and obey one single authority, that of the supreme truth and Divine Consciousness.” So basically it’s this really cool hippy commune that betters the environment, the community as a whole and its individual members. I want to live here after graduation. At the center of Auroville is the Matriminar. It is this huge ball that looks just like Epicot, or so I hear… Visitors aren’t allowed inside because it is seen as the most sacred part of Auroville where residents go to practice extreme concentration, free from any distractions. Near the Matriminar is the amphitheatre which centers around the urn that contains soil from each of the 120 or so countries that worked together to create Auroville. We spent the rest of the afternoon at out guest house, since it was paradise. It used to be an ayurvedic spa but now it just serves as a homestay. We hung out in the fresh water pool and on the patio, drinking chai and reading.

Saturday morning we woke up at the butt crack of dawn to get to Mamallapuram. We visited the Five Rathas, Arjuna’s Penance, Krishna’s Butter Ball and the Shore Temple. Emma and I ventured down to the beach to put our feet into the Bay of Bengal. We didn’t have a lot of time because we had to make it back to Chennai in order to catch our train back to Hyderabad. The train ride was quite the experience, but then again I feel like everything is here. All five of us were in this one bunk with one man. At first I felt bad for him because he had to deal with this giggly group of American girls who were clearly sleep-deprived. But he ended up showing us pictures of the wedding he just came from and telling us all about Indian society. But every now and then we would get a whiff of this really bizarre scent. We kept freaking out, thinking it was one of us. Now in the past two months I have become very desensitized. Let’s face it, India can smell really bad. But this was a smell I was not familiar with. A little while later, a man came up to our bunk and asked if he could look under our seat because he could smell something weird in the bunk next door. There was a dead rat underneath our seat. So we had to have a conductor come over to remove the dead animal. The man in our bunk had never seen this happen before. India man, you can’t make this shit up.