This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, November 17, 2004 was originally posted on November 21, 2004.

DAY 396:  Pondicherry isn’t just known for its France meets India vibe; it was in Pondicherry that a worldwide New Age movement was born in the 1960s based on the “integral yoga” teachings of Sri Aurobindo Ghose, which combined yoga with modern science.  To the uninformed person, the movement appears like some sort of a futuristic science fiction cult, especially since followers of it meditated around a big crystal ball that focused the energy of the sun and the fact that the movement’s primary organizer was a woman whom is only referred to as “The Mother.”

The purpose of the movement is similar to that of most organized religions, as it is a pursuit of Divine Truth, although one main pillar of the movement is that it embraces no religion.  One mission statement by The Mother states, “...Research through experience of the Supreme Truth.  A life divine but NO RELIGIONS.  Our research will not be a search effected by mystic means.  It is in life itself that we wish to find the Divine.  And it is through this discovery that life can be transformed.”  In this respect, it is a sort of organized Atheism “beyond any religion” based on self-meditation that aims to bring forth a “supramental consciousness” so that followers evolve to a “level beyond the human.”

Within Pondicherry city limits the movement is present at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the former residence and headquarters of Sri Aurobindo Ghose and The Mother (born as artist “Mirra Alfassa”), when they met and worked together after their individual life struggles and thirst for spirituality.  The ashram Sri Aurobindo writes, is “not for the renunciation of the world but as a center and field of practice for the evolution of another kind and form of life which would in the final end be moved by a higher spiritual consciousness.”  In other words, the ashram is open to anyone as long as he/she takes her shoes off first (the first rule in most Asian religions).

I took off my sandals and went inside.  The place was silent in a sacred and holy way, although with its philosophies there was nothing “holy” about it.  Devotees surrounded a central meditative altar called a samadhi and meditated to reach higher levels of consciousness while pictures of The Mother were hung up, her constant gaze staring down in (at least for me) a sort of creepy way.  “Love The Mother.  Always behave as if The Mother was looking at you, because She is indeed, always present,” read a nearby sign. 

THE REAL EPICENTER THE NEW AGE MOVEMENT of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother lies not in Pondicherry, but 12 km. to the north in Auroville, The Mother’s experimental Utopian community where true devotees of the New Age movement resided and used all efforts for the betterment of humanity.  At the center of Auroville stood the Matrimandir, a huge golden geosphere that looks like Spaceship Earth at EPCOT Center.  Inside, so I’ve read, lay a big crystal sphere (picture above) which, due to its positioning in the center of the geosphere, concentrated the power of the sun into one focal point, so that devotees could sit around it and meditate on The Divine.

As culty as this all sounds, Auroville and the movement are recognized and supported by the United Nations.  The 1,500 odd residents of Auroville (no pun intended), many of which are foreigners who came to India in their own searches of spirituality, don’t just meditate, but help local communities in environmental and educational programs.  One of Auroville’s mission statements reads, “Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women from all countries will be able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities.  The aim of Auroville is to realise human unity.” [sic]  The Mother continues, “Auroville belongs to nobody in particular.  Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole.  But to live in Auroville one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.” 

I only had an hour to explore Auroville that morning after breakfast — my auto-rickshaw’s meter was running — but in that time I got a taste of what Auroville was like; as nice as everything looked on paper, if you weren’t one of “them,” it was sort of weird being there, especially with the ever-suspicious security guards eyeing me down in case I illegally took a picture of anything.  (The pictures so far are pictures of pictures that I snuck in the Visitors Center Museum when no one was looking.)  I left Auroville with the content feeling that, at the very least, I learned about something new that day.

FROM “THE MOTHER” IN PONDICHERRY I journeyed the three and a half hour bus ride back to the mother of the guesthouse in Chennai, Geeta.  Since my first day in Chennai, she was always a friendly motherly type who gave me a ride on her motorscooter and, more importantly, didn’t have a creepy picture of her on the wall staring down at everyone — and really, that’s a comforting feeling.  She was a progressive modern Indian mother, who didn’t seem to mind when her daughter Laika left the house to go on a date or something, dressed to kill in a sexy dress. 

“How many girls do you [impress] with your dimples?” Geeta asked me the first night at dinner.

“Uh, none really.  Just my mom.”

“No, really.”

I thought about it some more.  “No really, it’s just my mother that seems to be impressed by them.”  I supposed it was just a feature that mothers picked up on.

CHRISSY CAME HOME AFTER WORK and with Amanda and Dr. Alexandra from Boston (who had assessed the hole in my leg and said everything was fine), we went out shopping.  At Pondy Bazaar, Chrissy bought a cheap pair of earrings, Amanda got some Indian sweets to bring back home to Seattle since she was leaving the following day, Alexandra got some new outfits and I got some genuine Jockeys for less than two dollars each.  It was a final dinner that night back at the house, my last sitting of yummy home-cooked Indian food and Kenneth‘s corny jokes.  Afterwards, we sat around the living room for farewell pictures and conversations with the modern Indian couple, who continued to entertain us with tales of modern family life in Chennai.

“I told my daughter one day, ‘I think we should have The Talk,’ and she said, ‘Okay, what do you want to know?’” Kenneth told us.  He strummed his guitar to serenade us with his self-made comedy classics like “Once there was a woman who walked like a duck…”

A TAXI PICKED ME UP AT 4:30 early the next morning to bring me to the airport for my morning flight back to Delhi that connected to my flight out of India that evening.  Chrissy, who had graciously donated to my cause by taking on my relatively costly tab for my entire stay in Chennai, woke up to see me off in the darkness of the pre-dawn morning, as did Geeta who had the keys to open the front gate.  “Bye, thanks for everything,” I said.  My goodbye hug to Chrissy was a given, but then Geeta opened her arms as well.  I reciprocated of course — really, you just don’t get that sort of motherly treatment in a plain old backpacker guesthouse — for I knew the goodness of humanity didn’t necessarily have to involve creepy pictures or meditation around a crystal sphere.

Next entry: All Roads Lead To Bangkok

Previous entry: The French Connection

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Comments for “Mothers”

  • There you go; this is the last episode that ends in India, just in time for the MMWHR… 

    The Thailand Episodes coming soon…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  04:23 AM

  • That mother is so creepy. I jumped back about two feet when that picture opened up on my screen. Yikes!

    Posted by Liz  on  11/21  at  07:33 AM

  • erik, you put the moooo in moustache! enjoy the rest of your travels and i will see you on the other side of the world!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  10:01 AM

  • CHRISSY:  Hey there… thanks again for having me!  See you back in NYC!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  10:07 AM

  • I too got creeped out by pic of The Mother…..has anyone told her about plucking eyebrows??? Interesting pic’s.  Glad the leg is getting better. 
    Enjoy Thailand….are you going to take the jungle ride on elephants and raft the river as Liz did while in Thailand?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  01:10 PM

  • Ditto on the creepy pic! I’m really looking forward to the Thailand episodes.

    I love reading about your interpretation of the places I’ve been.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  02:27 PM

  • Yeah, “the mother” is really scary!  I wouldn’t want to get on her bad side.  The mother, the magician… what a strange couple of days you’ve had!  haha.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  03:35 PM

  • ROSE:  And where is that exactly?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  05:08 PM

  • Erik - the elephants are in Chiang Mai - you can do a three day trek in the mountains staying in mountain villages.  Part of the trek is a bamboo raft downstream and an elephant ride across a river and up a big hill.  It was fun!  I highly recommend it.
    There are tons of companies that do it - you can find them all in the night market.  I really enjoyed it and would recommend it.  Be careful where you store your bags though - we stored ours in the company’s office and their dog(s) used my friend’s bag as a doggie urinal.  It was foul.

    Posted by Liz  on  11/21  at  11:59 PM

  • Hi Erik,
    I’ve been one of those readers who have read an entry here and there. I even sent you an email once and you answered…Anyways, I’ve decided to come out of the dark and actually post! I am planning to do a year trip myself next year and find that reading your entries really inspire me to “keep my dream alive” so thanks! I enjoy reading your entries so much-they keep me laughing and dreaming and wanting…I’ve made it my personal “mission” to go back and read every single one of your entries from start until I’m caught up with you! Hopefully you wont be finished by then…You’ve spent time in a lot of the countries I am planning on going to so hopefully I’ll pick up some insight and tips! No doubt I’ll have a ton of q’s at the end…keep writing and having fun!

    Posted by kisha  on  11/22  at  12:13 AM

  • Liz…..thanks for answering the question!  I received a post card today from Kathmandu…..Thank you Erik!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/22  at  01:20 AM

  • Hi Erik

    Sounds like you fared a lot better in India than Denise and I did.  Maybe we’ll have to go back for another round…....  Not right yet though.
    Liz is right ..You should definitely go up to Chiang Mai and do the elephant riding, trekking and rafting.  It was one of the highlights of our time in Thailand.  and are you heading to Laos, Cambodia, or Vietnam after Thailand? 

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/22  at  04:33 AM

  • LIZ:  Headed up to Chaing Mai Thursday.  Elephant-rides are as good as done. wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/22  at  05:04 AM

  • KISHA:  Kudos to you for breaking the silence in the comments section!  Glad I could inspire you to “keep the dream alive.”

    Did you see this yet?:

    Looking forward to your comments in the future!  Now go and catch up!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/22  at  05:09 AM

  • ANGIE:  Yup.  I’m here in Bangkok waiting for those three visas to process before I head up to Chiang Mai.  Where did you cross into Laos?  I’ve heard the only way in from up there is by river boat…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/22  at  05:12 AM

  • Hi Erik

    The only entrance up in the north is from Chiang Kong (Thailand side), Huay Xai (Laos side).  I think it’s about a 3 or 4 hour bus ride from Chiang Mai.  All the tourist companies in Chiang Mai will have packages that bring you there,get you over to the Laos side, and will put you on the slow boat.  I don’t think it’s much cheaper if you do it by yourself.  It was about 25 dollars when we did it.  I think. 
    You have two options: you can take the slowboat which is two days, or you can take the fast boat which takes a day, but I think the casualty rate is quite high with them.  The slow boat is really really slow (hence the name) and uncomfortable, but there are usually lots of people to talk to.  It’s not so bad…. once it’s over.  It’s not nearly as high class as that 3 day (5 hour) felucca cruise down the Nile. 
    Laos is pretty cool and the people are really laid back.  We didn’t spend much time there, bur i wish we had spent more. Are you going to check out the plain of Jars?  The bus ride is bad if you get car sick.  Luang Prabang is a cool town, In Vang Vieng you can go tubing down the Mekong with Water buffalo,  and if you want you can just relax and watch pirated DVD’s at the lay down restaurants.  We kayakked from Vang Vieng down to Vientiane.  It was good.  We flipped once.. in the only section of rapids.  In Vientiane they have this place called Buddha Park.  It’s a bit out of the way but it’s worth it.  There’s some freaky sculptures going on there.
    Are you planning on going anywhere else in Thailand except for Chiang Mai?  The old capital of Thailand (that I don’t remember the name of) is pretty cool. It’s a little Angkor Wattish though. It takes 2/3 hours by train from Bangkok.  But once you get there you have to bargain hard for tours to the different temples.  And you have to pay to get into each one separately too.  So it ends up being a bit expensive.  If you’re going to Angkor Wat,, you’re not really missing anything.

    Take care and have a good time on Khao San.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/22  at  07:04 AM

  • I hadn’t seen your ‘would you’ piece until now.  Erik! It’s amazing.
    I understand how people could be so inspired by what you’re doing.  I just got back from our trip and it makes me want to leave tomorrow.  There’s so much more, isn’t there?

    Posted by Angie  on  11/22  at  07:26 AM

  • ANGIE:  Thanks for the info… At this point, I’m just going with the flow… thanks for the ideas!  Glad you like “Would You?”  Yes, I already know where I’d go if I’d “do it all over again… again.”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/22  at  07:44 AM

  • Angie - thank you so much for the first-hand account.  I am going to Chiang Mai and plan on taking the slow boat to Laos next month.  If you don’t mind, in a week or so (when I slow down at work) I may shoot you an e-mail with some questions I have.  I only have 3.5 weeks in Asia and I sort of have to rush around..and I’m travelling solo.

    And Erik - I am SO excited to read your next entries!  : )

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/22  at  02:53 PM

  • the end of india….i guess that means the end of IJATTOD jokes, until the elephant ride later on…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/22  at  04:18 PM

  • MARKYT:  “Thai By Night” had a hidden quote from “Raiders…”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/22  at  06:02 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
All Roads Lead To Bangkok

Previous entry:
The French Connection


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