The most New Age place anywhere in India must surely be AUROVILLE, the planned “City of Dawn”, 10km north of Puducherry, straddling the border of the Union Territory and Tamil Nadu. Founded in 1968, Auroville was inspired by “The Mother”, the spiritual successor of Sri Aurobindo. Around 1700 people live in communes (two-thirds of them non-Indians), with such names as Fertile, Certitude, Sincerity, Revelation and Transformation, in what it is hoped will eventually be an ideal city for a population of fifty thousand. Architecturally experimental buildings, combining modern Western and traditional Indian elements, are set in a rural landscape of narrow lanes, deep red earth and lush greenery. Income is derived from agriculture, handicrafts, alternative technology, educational and development projects and Aurolec, a computer software company.

Considering how little there is to see here, Auroville attracts a disproportionately large number of day-trippers – much to the chagrin of its inhabitants, who rightly point out that you can only get a sense of what the settlement is all about if you stay a while. Interested visitors are welcomed as paying guests in most of the communes, where you can work alongside permanent residents.

Begun in 1970, the space-age Matri Mandir – a gigantic, almost spherical hi-tech meditation centre at the heart of the site – was conceived as “a symbol of the Divine’s answer to man’s inspiration for perfection”. Earth from 124 countries was symbolically placed in an urn, and is kept in a concrete cone in the amphitheatre adjacent to Matri Mandir, from where a speaker can address an audience of three thousand without amplification. The focal point of the interior of the Matri Mandir is a seventy-centimetre crystal ball symbolizing the neutral but divine qualities of light and space. for visiting arrangements.