Last Monday, Andy and I left Pondicherry with high hopes on our way to Auroville. Auroville is a planned community just outside of Pondicherry that was founded in 1968.
"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 realise human unity."
Auroville is made up of 100 different communities each with a mission that they hope to accomplish. Many are farm based, some are about environmental living and sustainability and the rest cover topics in between (health care, women's groups, information technology, etc). We were headed to a community called Sadhana Forest, which focuses on environmentalism (reforestation) and sustainable living. They were listed on the WWOOF host list and we had heard some okay things so we thought we would give it a try. The commitment there was for 4 weeks but we didn't have a problem with this as it fits in with our travel plans.
So, we arrive at Sadhana Forest on Monday morning before lunch. The place is HUGE.We thought we walked into a hippie commune by accident. Shirtless men with long beards, hair pulled back in ponytails and girls with thick dreadlocks and Indian style pants. Over 160 people live there (both permanent residents of the community at volunteers) from all over the world. Never have I been in one place and heard so many different languages. We were immediately impressed with the gigantic main hut with multi levels (like the one that Andy and I stayed in at our first farm times 100). Volunteers are expected to work 4 hours per day (6:30-8:30 am and 9:30-11:30 am) and then the rest of the day is free to do as you wish. Volunteers lead workshops on a variety of topics in the afternoons. Sadhana Forest follows a strict vegan only diet which meant we were not allowed to bring in food of our own (we cheated on this one and hid our contraband in our sleeping bag). On paper, this sounds like an awesome way to learn about reforestation, sustainable living and meet people from all around the world along the way. In practice, this works for some people. But we quickly found that it didn't work for us. At all.
Andy and I were impressed and also immediately overwhelmed by the size of the place. New volunteers come and old volunteers leave each day, so the amount of people never seems to get smaller. The size of the place was growing more rapidly than the owners had expected or planned for so there were not enough compostable toilets and they were being filled more quickly than the waste had time to break down. As Andy and I know from living in the co-op, it can be difficult to make good tasting meals in large qualities (and this place is Mich House times 3!) and it can be equally as hard to keep a kitchen clean when so many people move through it each day. A lot of people were sick with diarrhea and vomiting. Andy was one of them. We went to work on Tuesday and Andy got sick on Wednesday putting him out of commission for two days. We felt that the community was too large and as a result, the sanitation, hygiene and food safety suffered. So we decided to leave. We took a rickshaw into Auroville on Thursday to find a different community.
The farm we found is called Solitude, and it was actually recommended to us in the first place by John (the owner of the farm near Bangalore) who had worked there in the past. Andy and I immediately felt much better vibes from this place. It is smaller (only 16-20 volunteers) and the people are much more like-minded to us. We feel like we have found a good place for us to stay for at least the next two weeks.
We will keep you posted on how our days at Solitude go!