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Hyundai Creta goes to Auroville

 

In a bid to find the meaning of spiritual utopia, we headed to Auroville (with team C.L.A.W) — the model township that gives you an aura of inner peace and freedom.
Hyundai Creta road trip to Auroville


Story: Sarmad Kadiri
Photography: Apurva Ambep

Gurus and monks the world over have been scaling the highest mountain peaks and crossing the deepest waters in search of inner peace. Perhaps, in a bid to break away from worldly matters — be unrestrained from the body and soul. For lesser mortals like us, the concept of obtaining absolute freedom seems only possible in the utopian world. And it did seem a distant reality till I visited Auroville.

  • Hyundai Creta road trip to Auroville

For this unique journey, we had to pick a car which could match the thrill of this soul-searching expedition. Our focus was also on the need to have a good and comfortable drive, with a smooth yet peppy engine and packed to the brim with creature comforts. The unanimous choice was the all-new Hyundai Creta as it can deliver all of these and more. No wonder there are 12,000 new customers queuing up to own one. Every. Single. Month.
We set out from Chennai to the not-so-distant Auroville. This beautiful township is within the vicinity of Puducherry (previously Pondicherry) and a few kilometres inland from the scenic Coromandel Coast. The highway to our destination was mostly arrow-straight and the Creta’s refined 1.5-litre turbo-diesel did a great job of maintaining a three-digit speed effortlessly. What made the journey even more relaxing was the six-speed automatic transmission which took care of the shifting chores.

This diesel motor had ample drive on tap, right from 2,000 rpm, which made it perfect for brisk acceleration and those quick overtaking manoeuvres. But this dream was short-lived as there are a zillion-plus trigger-happy speed cameras on the East Coast Road. Despite the firepower, I kept the cruise control engaged and sailed ahead in no particular hurry. The comfortable speed meant that I could now turn my focus on the luxuries the Creta had in store — the leather upholstery, ventilated seats, and the ultra-wide 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system. With my phone connected via Apple CarPlay, I streamed my road-trip playlist much to the torment of my fellow occupants.

We approached the turn-off to Auroville on our right but continued driving ahead for another 15 kilometres to get a feel of Puducherry. The French legacy is still pretty evident in the architecture, roadside cafés and beautiful tree-lined streets in the Union Territory town. After doing the usual touristy rounds of the seaside promenade, we headed to Auroville where we were looking forward to meeting Major Vivek Jacob (retd.) and talk to him about his life-changing experiences.

The narrow streets leading towards Auroville are lined with several antique shops that sell old furniture, clocks, wooden door frames and windows, and other relics of the era gone by. Our first stop was the laid-back Italian restaurant, Tanto pizzeria, where we met a couple of ex-Special Forces soldiers of the Indian Army who shared the story behind their truly inspiring dream project. For the uninitiated, Special Forces are the elite warriors who are trained to make mission impossible possible.

Major Vivek Jacob, the founder of C.L.A.W (Conquer Land, Air, Water), seemed like a man with unnerving grit and determination. As we sipped some delicious iced tea, the Major spoke about his action-packed 14 years as an elite para commando in the Indian Army. Regrettably, his parachute malfunctioned during a skydive operation, causing him severe spinal injuries. Recuperating in the hospital, Major Vivek met an officer from the Indian Air Force who, following an accident, had been paralysed waist down. He was bound to a wheelchair but had a burning desire to scuba-dive and experience the thrill of adventure yet again. The challenge of fulfilling a comrade’s seemingly impossible aspiration emotionally provoked Major Jacob. So much so that he hung up his Army boots in 2017 and turned all his energy to making that dream a reality. This project had the potential to open doors for thousands of other differently abled people who do not want their disability to be a handicap for life.

‘I realised that there must be many others like him around the world who want to experience adventure sport, be it skydiving, mountaineering or scuba diving. And there are so many well-trained ex-Special Forces soldiers like me with experience and skills who would like to contribute to the society,’ explained Major Vivek. ‘I was determined to remove the taboo against physically disabled people. They don’t need your pity. They are strong individuals and, like the Special Forces soldiers, have an inherent fighting spirit. I wanted to showcase this side to the rest of the world.’

And this is how Operation Blue Freedom was born — with the aim to teach life skills to adventure seekers and people with disabilities. The next step was to attempt the unthinkable — creating three world records by enabling the largest number of people with disabilities to conquer the three elements of land, air, and water with support from former Special Forces soldiers. The first group would scuba-dive in the blue abyss of the Maldives, the second would scale the Siachen glacier (the world’s highest battlefield), while another team would skydive in Dubai.

Hyundai Creta to Auroville

Soon Major Vivek was joined by a bunch of like-minded people, mostly from the civil forces (retd.) background, who were all driven by the same passion for making a difference and were willing to work pro bono. One of them is Major Arun Ambathy (retd.), Director, C.L.A.W. While recovering from injuries sustained in combat, he started to seek for answers about the real meaning of life and researched extensively on various subjects. We were keen to hear more from him and persuaded him to show us round the mystical township of Auroville.

Bidding Major Vivek farewell, we got back into the Creta which, despite the camera crew and their truckload of gear, had ample room for Major Arun. As we drove around, he kept filling us with trivia about the cafés, personalities that run them, and the splendid architecture. Auroville came into being in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa, fondly called the Mother by the Aurovillians. She has been preaching the ideology of the noted freedom-fighter and philosopher, Sri Aurobindo. Auroville is an internationally recognised ongoing experimental township which focuses on sustainability, human unity, and divine consciousness. Spread across almost 13.6 square kilometres, there are 135 settlements scattered across the lush green forest area. The population is constantly growing and currently is estimated to be around 3,200 (approx.) residents of 59 different nationalities. Almost half of the Aurovillians are expats and everyone must volunteer and contribute to the community.

We stopped for lunch at Auroville’s Solitude Farm where Englishman-turned-Aurovillian Krishna Mckenzie serves delicious (and healthy) organic thali made with home-grown vegetables. During lunch, Major Arun spoke about the days after his recovery when he was trying to find answers about life and humanity in general. He came across some write-up about Auroville and that was his calling. ‘I packed my bag, got on to the motorcycle and landed in this unique town,’ he said. He stayed there for months, volunteering in various communities and learning about the idea behind the Auroville project.

It was an insightful chat and we were eager to explore more of the town and continued with the guided tour. It was afternoon and the sun was at its harshest. We were glad that we chose the Creta as its dual-zone a-c kept us cool and in good spirits while Major Arun (on the front passenger seat) and me on the driver’s seat had the added comfort of ventilated seats.

The energy at Auroville is unique, which is hard to find elsewhere. We crossed the lush green forest, various communities, open schools, the breathtakingly beautiful golden dome of Matrimandir. Pedal-pushers rode in no particular hurry on the cycle paths running parallel to the well-paved roads. We made a quick stop at Baraka community which has beautifully bred horses and offers courses for kids to learn bare-back riding. Another landmark at Auroville is the 18-metre diameter solar bowl, designed by the renowned architect Suhasini Ayer, which prepares meals everyday for over 1,000 persons, purely using solar heat. The building is not open to visitors and tourists but with pre-booking one can have lunch at the dining hall. However, it is not open to non-residents presently due to the pandemic.

This is a haven for those who want to experience an alternative lifestyle, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Resonating my thoughts, Major Arun explained why C.L.A.W chose Auroville as a centre. ‘One of the major pillars of Auroville is to channel pure volunteering energy, selflessly and creatively. This is also the idea C.L.A.W Global is based on.’ He added, ‘This beautiful township shows that you can live in harmony with nature. In fact, we came across people who had 40-acre farms running purely on solar and wind energy.’ Summing it up, the ex-Special Forces soldier said, ‘I believe this place has the potential to bring about overall human harmony. Yes, there are challenges, as in every walk of life, but this could be the path for universal unity.’

The day was drawing to an end with the sun losing its sheen. But our adventure seemed far from over. Team C.L.A.W had a lot more excitement planned for the day — a night out in the open, camping at the not too far off quarry site. But to reach there, we had to cross unpaved narrow village roads and off-road tracks to scale the region’s granite hills. This gave the Creta some opportunity to prove its mettle. The Hyundai’s precise steering and well-damped ride were among the high points of the road trip. It managed to absorb sharp edges and sudden bumps without causing discomfort to the occupants. Moreover, it felt taut enough to keep excessive body-roll at bay while attacking corners. Leaving a dust trail behind us, we comfortably reached the camp site.

On top of one of the hills were a number of tents lined up with military precision. Atop, you got an excellent view of the region dotted with water bodies, fields, and trees. The cool breeze pushed the clouds towards the horizon, offering a clear view of the star-studded sky. Within walking distance, a group of unlikely campers sat enthusiastically around a bonfire. Veterans, teenagers, doctors, college students, and entrepreneurs coming together to face their fears through this life-changing experience curated by team C.L.A.W. After all, there is no bigger freedom than overcoming your fears. Major Vivek’s words left a deep impression on me — either all of us are free or none of us is.

 

About the author: Sarmad Kadiri

 

 

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