Here is the team who were at Auroville:
Kanishka, Senthil, Perumal, Sriram Srinivasan, Aarthi, Priya, Ishan, Sahana, Santhosh, Saroja, Padmanabhan, Sai Viswanath, Jonaki, Aastha, Aakash, Vinay and family, Abnash, Archana, Sooraj
We all gathered at Cubbon park on Friday Afternoon to get on the traditional Team Asha Bus - A tempo traveller :). There were some initial jitters when we found that the driver might not know where MG Road is!! But, we all packed ourselves in by 1 P.M and left on time - quite an achievement in itself! Vinay and Abnash were coming with their families directly to Auroville. It was a fun trip, we stopped for chai, had some cream dipped cookies, played with sugar high kids, scoped out for lotus filled ponds, played twenty one questions for more than twenty one times! We picked up Senthil and Perumal (Kids from Thulir, Sittlingi, Dharmapuri) around dusk and reached Auroville around dinner time. Abnash and family joined us for dinner. Vinay and my parents had their own plans.
We had a filling dinner with Italian pasta, pizza and mashed potatoes! Ya, Auroville has such cool variety of food available in its campus. But, Senthil, Perumal and Manju (our driver) were not exactly enticed by the idea :). So, we went on a second dinner trip as well to ECR road for some egg fried rice. Fredrick and Chandresh kept us entertained through dinner. Fredreick was an instant hit with the kids! His accented call for 'Pasta...Pasta.. ' had the kids laughing their heads off! After dinner, we made our way to the New creation school for a good night's sleep. Though it was simple accomodation, we had a cozy area to sleep in. Everyone had a sleeping bag, pillows and mats. The mosquitoes took pity and stayed away from us (also thanks to Chandresh's thoughtful coils!). We woke up pretty early in the morning - 5:00 A.M and were all ready for the run. Perumal got his first pair of shoes thanks to Chennai runners (Balaji, Ram, Shumit et. all) and my parents and brother (who dropped it off for us). Sriram and Aarthi volunteered to bring the kids along after they woke up. We went to the start location to find all our other friends - Abnash & family, Vinay & family and SarojaNTeam!! After our long catching up with each other routine. Frederick and Chandresh explained the route and run support for the day. Jonaki and others decided to do a shorter distance, while the half marathoners and full marathoners went on a 17 km loop (this is part of the 21 km loop planned for the actual race).
Chandresh and I went ahead to mark the trails. The trails were beautiful and the weather awesome at the start. The fresh air and greenery was so very a welcome sight after the bangalore smoke fest! The trails were not all marked, so it was quite difficult for us all first timers. Though I marked them with flags, they were not enough. A few of us did get lost. But, all of us had a lot of fun and in the end did get the intended mileage. Abnash, Vinay, Priya and all had a good run with the single loop. The kids also had a fun time with the Fredrick led 5km run. Kanishka, Senthil and I went on the second loop with Chandresh. It slowly got pretty hot and we were getting dehydrated. Chandresh took a break (given that he has not run for so long, it was really nice of him to be running along with us). He had given us quite some company, talking about his efforts in the Auroville campus, the origins of the center, background on Aurbindo, the mother etc. When we had about 4-5 kms to go, the sun had come out in its full glory! The three of us did get a bit pooped by the end of it. Thankfully, we had kept an easy and steady pace. So, though it was crazy humid and hot, we were not totally way off in speed. This would be the key thing to remember on race day. Marathoners will start at 5 AM. But, they would still go through a 'hot and humid' phase towards the end. Need to hydrate and keep breating at an easy steady pace. If you go out too fast at the start, you will suffer and go about 5 times slower at the end! On race day, the trails itself will be well marked, so there would be no chances for you to get lost. The trails are not exactly flat, but no hills that would make you walk either. Overall, its a fun trail to run on and very scenic!
After we finished the run, we all gathered at the New creation school for breakfast. The headmaster and a counsellor at the school gave us an overview about the school. The counsellor spoke about the session they were having with the kids in the morning. They were talking about protection against molestation etc. After that, Senthil and Perumal got us all engaged with papery jewellery making! It was an instant hit with the kids! We all got down to making beads of different shapes and were amazed by what we could all do.
Later, Shankar, the headmaster of the school, took us around and gave us a brief on the philosophy of the school - integrated and wholistic child centered learning, alternative curriculum etc. Towards the higher classes, they integrated into the CBSE syllabus. More specifics are in the photos and comments. We met Rajan (who returned from London to Auroville as a teacher) and some of the kids working on their vegetable garden on a saturday! The kids were really interested and were making a high-raise platform of mulch and top soil for their organic vegetable garden. Rajan explained what the organic garden was about, how the children made decisions on what to grow etc. We got an insight into the school, the kids learning process etc. Then, Sahana and Aastha led the way in working with the other kids on the garden! We all joined them. Soon, we had a good no. of ppl working with the school kids for their garden - Ishaan and aakash helped us too! They also got some tasty choclate biscuits to reward us for the effort! After the fun afternoon session at the gardens, we then got ready for a sight seeing trip in the campus. We were too late for the Matir mandir and decided to hit the beach instead. Wow! It was quite something to cool your heals in the beach after a nice and tiring long run. Kanishka was too beaten up and wisely chose to take rest at the school itself. Meanwhile, the kids and we all partied at the beach! We had some savories as well - Chilli, onion and egg bajjis were gobbled, long walks were taken and shells were collected!
Later in the night, we all had dinner at a Tamil-vietnamese-chinese place with a vietnamese couple who spoke wonderfully fluent tamil. We all got up again for a short 8 km run on Sunday morning. This time we went into the forests and I would call it 'soul' ful running - its quite an experience going through almost pristine trails (at least when compared to the other ones). After the fun run, bananas and chat with the Auroville runners, we all headed to Ganesh bakery for a breakfast of idlis and dosas. Chandresh let us all take rides on the auroville electric bike at the bakery while we waited for everyone to gather. The wonderful family there kept tossing dosas for us as we had a party with the countless dosas and idlis finding its way in the crowd! Over breakfast, we discussed many things - the schooling system in Auroville - how its more child centered (Anna, one of the runners is a teacher in the schools) and different from the main stream system. The schools are bilingual and cater to the village communities as well. Chandresh gave us a brief on the incubation center being run for the youth of the villages. It was evident that Auroville community made it a point to reach out to the surounding villages and communities. They have brought about quite a remarkable change in the area - besides the afforestation, water conservation, natural regeneration, they have also created many opportunities for the villages. Of course, they do have considerable avenues for those seeking spiritual growth as well.
After the hearty breakfast, we all went on a short shopping spree - eco sensitive cloth bags, auroville jam, cheese etc. were amongst many things that were purchased. We also found paper jewellery (the same stuff that Senthil and Perumal taught us) being sold at quite ..hmm...a hefty price! Sahana and Aastha were seen explaining to a potential customer about how its so easy to make on our own - I silently moved out from there :)
Finally, after lunch and packing up, it was time for goodbyes! We thanked the folks at the school for the wonderful hospitality showered on us. Chandresh and the runner gang left no tables unturned to make us feel at home! They are truly a wonderful group and we hope to support them further. We really can't wait to get more of the Auroville trails!
We then had a quick journey back home - thanks to Manju for ensuring that we reached home safe, sound and well in time! There were more games, anthakshari, movies and a lot more fun stuff as we made our way back home. It was a truly memorable trip and quite a learning experience as well. We look forward to going back there in February to meet our good friends!
Here are the Photos from the trip