Varanasi eclipsed- we moved to a hippie commune! (maybe)


I haven’t written in a few weeks. After the parasites episode (writeup in process), and then Trekker coming down with 105F fever, vomiting and diarrhea I decided that it was a good time to travel to a place a little quieter and less polluted for a week or two to rest. Also, the weather was warming up in Varanasi to the point where I couldn’t wear my winter “robes” to the chai shop anymore. One of my secret favorite charms about living in Varanasi is the strange expat fashion – Westerners from all over tend to dress like Urban Moses and meet each other throughout the day for tea. The look is only slightly Indian and definitely not Western so I’m not sure where it originates but my mom happened to give me these 2 cozy alpaca robe things the last 2 christmases in a row and I’ve very much enjoyed donning them at the chai shops and visually fitting in with the other urban Moseses who sit there discussing their Sanskrit theses or whatever. Anyway, the weather was becoming too hot for my robes but not yet hot enough to enjoy a cold shower, Trekker was getting over the flu, and the warm bucket shower was starting to feel like a pain in the arse so I figured it was a good time to get out.

The plan was to check out Pondicherry, a French colony on the coast that has a beach and surely some decent hotels, baguettes, cafes and good cheese. Then we would go visit a friend who had recently built a house in 7 days inside this strange hippy place south of Pondicherry called Auroville where supposedly a bunch of 60’s hippies set up some sort of commune led by a guru called “the mother”. The place is known to house both the largest crystal in the world and the largest solar oven. Then we would go to Trekker’s birthplace Kochi to check on a garden I helped set up there and see the 2nd Indian biennialle  (I saw the 1st one when Trekker was still in the womb and it was very cool.) But due to some setbacks and the fact that my friend in Auroville only had a couple of days before he was to leave for 6 weeks we ended up going straight to the site of the 7 day house. My friend did leave after 2 days, over 2 weeks ago, but Trekker and I still haven’t left.

In the taxi on the way to Auroville I spoke with my 7-day-house friend, Chris, through a scratchy cell phone connection. He informed me that a basic hut had opened up and would be made available to Trekker and I for a couple of nights. I asked if it had running water and there was a pause so I quickly jumped in to explain that Trekker had a little diarrhea so running water would really be a plus. “No,” he said, but “we could supply you a pot with water in it”. “Great!” I answered in my automatic southern USA politeness while of course reconsidering my plan. “Do u need anything from the outside world ?” I asked before we hung up. Then there was another pause followed by a joyously sardonic “what could I possibly need from the outside world?”

After reaching the turn to Auroville the taxi driver then made our way through dusty dirt roads that winding endlessly through a giant forest to finally arrive at the small entrance to the community called Johnny’s Place in the section of Auroville called Fertile where Chris had built his home. I mounted Trekker to my back in the carrier and loaded my bags on the stroller then pushed our way down smaller dirt paths through the woods till I came to a structure were a woman was cooking. “Chris’ house?” I asked. She pointed to the middle of 3 dirt paths so we pushed on. When we came to a clearing I immediately recognized Chris’ 7 day house from his Facebook photos and then saw a barefoot, bearded Chris in a lungi, looking quite a bit more outdoorsified than when I’d last seen him 2 years back in Varanasi. He was standing in a garden talking to a couple of older eccentric looking gentlemen, one of whom he introduced as Johnny. “Oh are you Johnny of Johnny’s Place?” I asked. The man responded with a quick-wit Austrailian accent “yes, welcome, the Bar and Grill is just down the way.” Everyone chuckled, including me though I really wasn’t sure if he was kidding. I really had no idea what I had gotten into here.

(this is the house Chris built in 7 days)

Very soon I realized that the community of Johnnys place was made up of multi internationals of all ages (including a Dutch 2 year old for Trekker to play with) inhabiting tiny eco-houses powered by solar, scattered about the woods and accessed by small dirt paths. We were a ways away from central Auroville, about 10 minutes down some windy dirt roads by scooter (which we soon acquired for less than $2 per day.) The core of the tiny eco-houses were all designed by Johnny who rumor has it used to hang out with Buckminister Fuller back in the day, and the forest here was planted from scratch by Johnny and the other early settlers some 40 years ago. Apparently all of Auroville used to be scrub brush before the “hippies” came in.

Johnny can be found most mornings drinking chai in the community kitchen and reading a recent and real (as in NOT digital) copy of the New Yorker. I can only imagine that Johnny’s hard copies of the New Yorker magazine are the only ones in all of India. In the afternoons he always seems to be around building and/or designing something and/or assisting someone else to build or design something. There seems to be a solid ethic of creativity going on here. There is definitely no bar and grill here but the community, which reminds me a lot of Burning Man in the principles of self-reliance, self expression and gifting, does seem to make meals together and for each other every few nights and the meals usually represent the many cooks’ countries of origins. So far we have been lucky to indulge in fantastic home-cooked French, Italian, and Indian food. I’ve of course offered to wash dishes since I don’t have much confidence in cooking for other people though I have shared a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches here and there. If I can find mac-and-cheese-in-a-box I will continue my representation of USA cuisine.

the first cabin we stayed in with the pot of water that Chris supplied, front center)

Trekker continued to have diarrhea for the first week here and after a few days of attempting to manage his cloth diapers from the no-running-water cabin I asked Johnny if it would be ok if we camped in his field for a week or two. The situation really called for sunshine to disinfect the diapers and a hose to clean everything off. Johnny said sure so we promptly set up Fort Trekker Baby (Trekker named it) between two  dead trees conveniently bent over in the field, and have been living here for over 2 weeks. After the 1st week we stopped using diapers completely and Trekker seems to be potty-training really fast. The “potty” is actually a shared composting squatter toilet which believe it or not doesn’t smell in the slightest. Unlike a latrine which basically just collects sh*t and urine, the composting toilet is ‘dry’ meaning we are supposed to just pee in the woods and do the other business in the toilet so that it doesn’t get too wet and smelly. Then you throw a handful of sawdust down the hole when you finish and you can feel confident that what you have produced will be a gift back to the land some day. I feel a sense of pride when I use a composting toilet.

Here’s Fort Trekker Baby early on


Fort Trekker Baby has since evolved into this –

We are camped near a French guy’s house and a giant windmill. Our water is supplied from a deep well pumped by the windmill and we charge my computer at the french guy’s house.  Trekker can already narrate the windmill scene “it goes round and round and pumps the water up then the water comes down and people wash their diapers” he says (even though we are done with diapers now YAY!)


I am happy to share the outdoor living experience with Trekker at his young age. When the outside doesn’t disappear in your 24 hour cycle your awareness begins to change. Besides feeling the elements like wind and sun, seeing the sun rise and set daily, and star-gazing nightly, the sounds become an ever-present part of life in a way that they simply aren’t when you live indoors. Your life is lived to a changing soundtrack of other living creatures. Peacock screams in the evening yield to a chorus of crickets then late night jackals, howling dogs, then the early rooster crow, followed by a plethora of other morning birds. One bird in particular repeats itself with a louder and faster tempo each time creating a crescendo that seems to say “ WAKE  the F up!” and though that one seems to have been designed to agitate all other living creatures, for the most part the medley of sounds feels like a big warm hug from nature. The irregular revolutions of the windmill in the background is also comforting as it constantly reminds you how you are reciprocating the hug nature just gave you, or at least not slapping her in the face with pollution. It feels very nice to live in harmony with nature. I remember having a hard time gong back into “inside life” after living outdoors for a year and 1/2 many years ago (1st in a treehouse then a tent on a beach.) This time it was a little process to reacclimatize to the outdoors though it really only took one day of waking up to bird calls as opposed to honking horns to feel like this is how I want to live. For Trekker it is something new as he has spent most of his short life in cities and apartments. But so far so good. He has been really enjoying hiking the little paths through the woods and refers to it as “exploring the garden” which is a habit he got into with his Grandio in his Grandies’ garden. And he likes to imitate the bird calls and look at the stars at night. There is also a healthy, happy, well-cared-for dog which comes to see us at sunrise and it is so refreshing that I don’t have to tell Trekker not to touch it as I did with all the poor mangy dogs in Varanasi. It would be a shame if he grew up thinking that all dogs were dangerous to touch.


IMG_7860 IMG_7943

Each morning our french neighbor Francois cooks a ragi and fruit porridge which he shares with us. I do the dishes afterwards. Francois, who apparently used to be a juggling unicyclist and who once unicycled from the dead sea to the red sea, is a multitalented musician and woodworker who is currently constructing a climate-controlled instrument-making studio on the premises. Since I’ve had a long-time dream of growing hard-shelled gourds to make my own musical instruments, yet I don’t really have the instrument-making skills, we have discussed a partnership and I am currently searching for the right gourd seeds.

We still have yet to explore all of Auroville, but have visited a few amazing organic restaurants where the food is grown on site and we stopped by an event at the Youth Center Community where the children of Auroville were making suggestions on what they would like the future of Auroville to be as well as hosting a trash art competition.


here’s Trekker on a piece of wood imitating the girl who is riding the gigantic seesaw behind him. also notice large blue orb things in the far background- they spin in every which way and the big kids can get inside them.IMG_7870

Apparently the Youth Center also boasts a few tree houses though we missed them on our first visit. I’ve heard that the school system here is also very cool- one school in particular is parent led so the kids get to engage in whatever fields the parents are in whether it be yoga, music, pottery, gymnastics, computers, woodworking… Its called TLC (The Learning Community). I love the idea.  Academically I still plan for Trekker to attend Khan academy online or something like it but anyway we have YEARS till Trekker is old enough for real school. For now I don’t even know how long we will stay- this was supposed to be a few-days trip and it wasn’t even on my list of cities to live in… But I like it here A LOT. I guess we will see what happens if I find some gourd seeds…


8 Comments Varanasi eclipsed- we moved to a hippie commune! (maybe)

  1. AvatarDillon

    Fun to hear what you’re up to! I’m in snow covered DC and am jealous of your tent time. xxxxx -dillon

  2. AvatarDave Seel

    Loved this post and having a window into your adventurous life. LOVE the idea of Auroville and perhaps one day will visit. Blessings, my dear!

    1. AvatarSMOTL

      Thanks for reading Dave!! I definitely suggest a long visit to Auroville. It seems to be a terrific place to raise children!


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