Auroville has been a day trip or at the most a weekend destination for most people. My association with the place began many years back and it has now become like a second home to me. One of the reasons that drew me towards Auroville was that, every time I visited, it was never difficult to make new friends or find a smiling face on people I’d never met before (something that I definitely miss in the city!).
Over the years, I’ve made many friends there but I could never write a word about Auroville without mentioning Fabian, his family and Michael. Friends who have always welcomed me with open arms. Whether it was letting me use their work space or being very gracious hosts to me, these guys have always been there for me. I guess I’ve been lucky to have some really good friends who have always opened their homes to me and made me feel very comfortable.
But then Auroville, to me, is a lot more than all that. Whether it was the first time I spent time inside the magnificent Matrimandir or the time I’ve spent sitting within the minimal zen-like interiors of the Integrated Learning Center (ILC), I found peace there.
Thanks to the fact that Fabian was building his new ‘off-the-grid’ sustainable home, I got a chance to discover a new place of quiet within Auroville. His house was being built inside the beautiful 70 acre Pitchandikulam Forest community which is a complete ecosystem in itself with insects, birds, reptiles and more than 800 species of plants.
One of the pilot reforestation projects undertaken by Auroville in 1973, Pitchandikulam acts an educational site with the Bioresource Centre there providing focus for teaching restoration ecology, environmental science and the identification and use of medicinal plants. Permission to visit the community is primarily limited to volunteers, interning students and ‘citizens’ of Auroville who contribute to the research and reforestation work that is undertaken at the community.
As a guest, I was lucky to be allowed a walk through the forest and this turned out to be nothing short of an invigorating experience. Pieces of wildlife art strategically placed along the path attempt to provide information about the species that inhabit this pristine habitat. The cast iron ‘snake’ bench, the unbelievably real-looking stone sculptures or the small signages below trees and shrubs giving out details about them, every piece of art here is meant to educate. The distinctive high-quality wildlife art created by the Pitchandikulam Art Studio can also be seen at Adyar Poonga and Marina Beach in Chennai. The artists here work on commissioned projects with clients to create cost effective and visually striking artwork.
What makes this forest even more special is the fact that this is a living example of the fact that honest effort and persistence can provide overwhelming results. REFORESTATION PROJECTS CAN ACTUALLY BE SUCCESSFUL IF EXECUTED EARNESTLY! Like the whole of Auroville, the land on which Pitchandikulam forest exists used to be absolutely barren and devoid of life. In just four decades, consistent protection and care has resulted in a lush green forest where it is now normal to see brilliantly coloured insects tirelessly going about their busy daily routines and chameleons unabashedly flaunting their phenomenal camouflage skills.
The forest also houses a demonstration nursery with a collection of herbs and other medicinal plants. With more than 40,000 seedlings of both, Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest (TDEF) species and medicinal plants, the nursery run by Pitchandikulam Forest Consultants is a commercial unit that provides logistics and support to manifest eco-restoration projects at many locations in Tamil Nadu.
Volunteering opportunities in forest ecology, ecological restoration, ethnomedicinal, educational and community outreach work are available to interested and qualified candidates. To apply, visit the Pitchandiculam Forest website.
Just one piece of advice though, THIS IS NOT A ‘TOURIST ATTRACTION’ and unless you are a volunteer or have prior permission to visit, you may be denied entry into the community.