Dimitri Klein sold his Paris-based advertising agency on the crest of the wave that preceded the bursting of the dotcom bubble. He spent five years at Auroville—the utopian spiritual community near Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu, founded by Sri Aurobindo and “Mother” Mirra Alfassa—thinking about the big picture and formulating his plan for an “experimental” hotel. The Dune eco-resort was due to launch on 6 January 2005. The Tsunami washed it away on New Year’s Day. Nobody was killed, but the local economy was devastated and the Coramandel coast was blighted as a tourist destination.
Dimitri’s time in Auroville clearly lent him paranormal resources. The Tsunami wrecked both the Dune and the adjacent fishing villages. As a French citizen, he did not qualify for aid from the Indian government while, as an expat, he got no help from France. He raised the cash to rebuild from friends and fellow spiritual travellers—and out of this misfortune has arisen a truly revolutionary Dune Mark 2.
The Dune is a collection of 35 stylised beach huts: Keralan palm houses with surreal garden portals, lighting columns made of recycled plastic water bottles, brutalist concrete structures designed by a German architect and even a suite atop a water tower—voted India’s most exotic honeymoon location—surrounding a palm-fronded restaurant and glass-sided conference centre. An ancient Brahmin travellers’ hostel is in the process of re-assembly, stone by stone, on the complex. A blue swimming tank with overlapping sides near a deserted beach accessed by metal doors and an ayurvedic spa and yoga centre, in traditional Keralan style, supervised by an authentic Yogi (Dr “Bobby”) and staffed by Keralans, complete the eclectic picture. Food is grown on the Dune’s organic farm, irrigated by recycled waste water, heated when necessary for showers by solar energy. The beachfront tree line, swept away by the Tsunami, has been replanted. A fair number of villagers work for the Dune, which recycles profits to fund a school for fishermen and a residential academy in Chennai where kids are taught textile and fashion skills then placed in gainful employment.
The money which flooded into Tamil Nadu post-Tsunami was not necessarily welcome or well-spent. Centuries-old fishing techniques which conserved stocks and actually preserved the fishermens’ lifestyles have been decimated by commercial trawler fleets which now lie off the horizon like black beetles, killing as much as they harvest. Many Coramandel fishing communities were forced inland on…