Written by 7:10 am Beach

Pondy Beyond The French Town! Through The Lens Of A Sandy Eco Village

Little did I know that there can be a place, a quarter, a micro village so quietly tucked away amidst the chaos of a very thickly populated Pondy (Pondicherry/Puducherry) as we call it? My travels and musings are direct from the realm of my experience of the place, something very personal, something that is mine. I love stories and stories told by the “people of the place” and my immediate storyteller here was the blade of grass, the kingfisher that flew past me, the toad that jumped over the rumbles of my footsteps.

What if I told you, there was a guy from far away land who made Auroville his abode to find his inner self, stayed on to build a little village, with materials that were sourced from the surroundings, that blended with Nature and that was echoing the very culture of the place? 40 acres and 61 individual nests…. The ravages of the 2004 Tsunami did not stop him…. he rebuilt and planted saplings and grew his vegetables. Appointed some of the best sustainability standards, drawn from best practices around the world, that he acquired through his myriad travels.

Welcome to Dune Eco Village, the dream of Dimitri Klein. A Guy who took away a piece of my imagination. I explored the Village on Foot, on a sunny afternoon… The winds from the sea engulfed me, little did the heat of the East Coast become a hurdle. The Ecovillage is a microcosm of Puducherry, yet apart, yet aloof. It would be apt to call it an epitome of alternative and sustainable stay options. From the hustle and bustle of the crowded White Town. A silence, that calls out, the peace that you can reckon with, the soil that tells many a story.

Read On……

Originally an artist’s residence attached to an NGO, ‘Enfants du monde’ (https://www.enfants-du-monde.org) created in the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami to train young people in the professions of fashion, yoga, and Ayurveda. Located about 3 km from Kalapet (Pondicherry University area) in the district of Villupuram in Tamil Nadu, Dune Ecovillage and spa has everything within itself that a destination needs to possess. With the thought of uncertainty; the roads lead me to the iron gates of this oasis in the middle of the sands of the unending oceans, waters of the Bay of Bengal. As I entered, a silence befell, so tranquil, so peaceful, that I let the world go by. My worries became trivial and the peace took over. I knew at that time there was a world that was going to unfold. It was striking to see barren land mixed with the oceans’ winds and salt combined could one day bestow greenery and life; small big; where, artistic creativity reached the zenith of one’s imagination.

It forms a part of my routine to read about a place that I visit; but here, I was taken over by the Moment of Truth (MoT)

Dmitri, purchased lands from the locals, as they could not do any agricultural activity near the coastal area. The trees, the well-manicured lawns, the natural growth, running parallel and centered to the East Coast of India, and the famed East Coast Roadways (ECR).

Dune Ecovillage is agog with activities through the Artist quarter, where the artist, professional and amateur can experiment with creativity to bring to tangible life masterpieces in the salubrious environment. It is a surprise to learn that the 2004 Tsunami that struck the area, had made the place unlivable on account of the saline deposits. Today, if you see the Dune Ecovillage, the lush greenery, the trees, the flowering plants, the grass, the avenues, will make you wonder, the efforts put by the Ecovillage management to bring in the regeneration of the area. True we talk of Regenerative Tourism being a buzzword in the business of tourism, today.

The verve of the place is the immediate connection to peace and tranquility that the visitor gets into on arrival at the Ecovillage. It is the sheer serenity of the place, the waves, the clear air, the sun-shine, the in-situ creatives of stone and the boulders, is an art by itself. This is a very personal account of a place that I completely resonate with in terms of the concept of leisure and travel and relaxation. No chasing the wind, no chasing time, no chasing any itinerary… There’s so much going on in the Dune Ecovillage, yet one wonders, how is the silence?

Distressed artifacts from around the area have found a home in the property, for each of us to understand the history of the local culture and heritage. The dining area has sculptures collected locally, the nagalingas. Vishnu Mantapa near the reception is eye-catching, the old restored furniture in the restaurants is worth a mention.

 

The-Nagalingas-that-adorn-the-restaurant

One stroke art in the kitchen 

A-one-stroke-painting

Besides, the very design of the structures around the Ecovillage usher in the aspects of local art and architecture which blends uniquely with the surrounding. The crème de la crème of the artifacts is the Wooden Mantapa that has found a haven in the Ecovillage. A look at the Mantapa will take one back in history and leave you awestruck…..so much for the preservation of a heritage that speaks volumes of our culture.

the-mantapa

Pandemic and the changes:

The pandemic and the ensuing times brought about a multitude of changes in the dynamics of people’s travels. The Ecovillage has provided opportunities to visitors to go on a staycation and stay for a longer period and work from home, yes, the Ecovillage is a home! The room types are very unique; Eco Beach huts, Granite suites (modeled on temples of Tamil Nadu); the exquisite Nawabi House (designed by Monica Gurdhe and Natasha Jeyasingh), the Kerala House, the bangle house, garden room, artists bungalow, Karaikudi house, the tower house. WOW. I was wondering if I could choose a different kind of residence every time, so I decided to make Dunes Ecovillage my home for a few days.

A unique feature of the ecovillage is the in-house Deepak Chopra Healing Centre, a 12,500 square meter facility that offers a wide variety of therapies and supports the art of rejuvenation. Covid-19 had no doubt put a stop to the functioning on account of social distancing norms, but the center will function as normal once the pandemic passes by.

The collaborative efforts of Dmitri and Sunil Varghese (Director of the Dune Group) who focused on the creation and operations respectively have brought about the success of the Ecovillage. The duo packages within themselves of being idealist by nature and operationally ushering in quality management with best practices being expressed through sustainable options

The pandemic and the ensuing times brought about a multitude of changes in the dynamics of people’s travels. The Ecovillage has provided opportunities to visitors to go on a staycation and stay for a longer period and work from home, yes, the Ecovillage is a home! The room types are very unique; Eco Beach huts, Granite suites (modeled on temples of Tamil Nadu); the exquisite Nawabi House (designed by Monica Gurdhe and Natasha Jeyasingh), the Kerala House, the bangle house, garden room, artists bungalow, Karaikudi house, the tower house. WOW. I was wondering if I could choose a different kind of residence every time, so I decided to make Dunes Ecovillage my home for a few days.

A unique feature of the ecovillage is the in-house Deepak Chopra Healing Centre, a 12,500 square meter facility that offers a wide variety of therapies and supports the art of rejuvenation. Covid-19 had no doubt put a stop to the functioning on account of social distancing norms, but the center will function as normal once the pandemic passes by.

The collaborative efforts of Dmitri and Sunil Varghese (Director of the Dune Group) who focused on the creation and operations respectively have brought about the success of the Ecovillage. The duo packages within themselves of being idealist by nature and operationally ushering in quality management with best practices being expressed through sustainable options

The-Shiva-Linga
Mr-Sunil-Varghese-an-Ace
Distress-sculpture
The-stone-house-built-like-a-temple-Mantapa
The-Pillar-of-the-Bangle-House
Private-beach-access
Play-area
Access-roads-within-the-property
A-game-of-Chess-life-size
The-door-to-Private-beach-access

Places come alive with people; with intentions…. A special mention.

Sunil with his immense background in hospitality and hotel management, having graduated from IHM Pusa, the mecca for hospitality professionals in India, and having worked with a multitude of hospitality organizations; a ‘go-to’ person, whose articulation of the thoughts of sustainability and community cohesion adds a new dimension to the Ecovillage operations. A hands-on professional, Sunil believes in, “reconnecting to oneself” through the product/service offerings at the Ecovillage; and brings in a feeling of, “what you are and what you want………..” to be the essence of life and the harmony that one can and will seek.

Interesting features to look out for are the pillars, columns, doors, and windows (antique) Built from recycled or sustainable building materials collected locally, mud, straw, bamboo is an integral part of the construction. The property is also armed with efficient water and electricity regulators, consuming only 3.5 kilowatts of energy – about a third of what a hotel this size normally would. Water is solar heated while greywater is treated and pumped to the on-site organic vegetable gardens. Plastic is banned, all products in guest rooms are organically sourced, and most kitchen waste is converted into compost thereby ensuring waste management. Sunil and the operations team vouch for the efficient use of water and electricity and waste treatment, which is much needed in the efforts for sustainable options.

Image Source: https://www.respomsibletourismindia.com/stay/dune-eco-village-spa/170

What makes this place worth a visit?

People make places come alive and give them the warmth that can be felt and cherished. The people at Dune are its strength. A long chat with Sunil is worth every second. A man with great humility, a great listener, and with stories so fascinating. He can get on conversations and be at ease with any topic, random chats, and laughter galore! Meet him if you are there. You are ought to anyways! The staff is very courteous. I got talking to them, on my walks and during dining times. I even got a special stroll through Dimitris’s bungalow and learned about his tastes from the staff. It added so much depth to this article. It is advised to go on walks or cycle around the property at leisure. Let the pedaling be relaxed and immersive. It sure is a therapeutic experience. I stopped by every bungalow to check the theme and the architecture; I must say a day is not enough. There’s so much content and texture to the place. Post-November 2021, the Water (Aqua) Spa will be open and it is a world-class, one-of-a-kind therapy. Situated within the Chopra Healing center. “No missing it” should be the resolution! A visit and sail with the fisherfolk to test your hands at fishing or just experience the seas and waves! A direct benefit of economic gains to the nearby fisherman’s village. Again, a no-miss!

Trying one’s hands at the potter’s wheels, Hmm who knows there may be a hidden talent unearthed? A stopover by the cattle shed was rather refreshing. I could learn the rearing of Milch cattle and tending to them. The Food is something to die for, the local fish curry rice is a must-try. Photographing the old sculptures that have found refuge in the care center (The Ecovillage) was every bit a million-dollar gift to oneself. I was in awe at the artists’ paintings that lay on display at their workstations. The eyes dug deep into the many stories; each painting was telling me. It’s a feeling unmatched.

As I finish with my writing, I am urged to pen this quote

“While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your Heart”

-St Francis of Assisi

A series edition of the Dune Wellness Group. Look out for more!

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