Tuesday, March 17, 2009


When Sunil told me that his flat is in Adyar, I couldn't help but accept his offer of making a stopover at his place for that day. Adyar is the place in Chennai which is sort of a gateway to Mahabalipuram (or Mamallapuram as it is locally known). Mahabailipuram is just 60 km from Chennai and the buses going there either start from Adyar or pass through it. Sunil got in touch with his colleague and put me on the 21H to Kelambakkam from where I had to get a connecting bus (568) to Mahabailipuram. It wasn't required since from Adyar you can get direct buses to Mahabalipuram (like 568).

There are two routes for Mamallapuram, you can choose from. Either you can take East Coast Road which overlooks Bay of Bengal and is undoubtedly one of the most scenic drives in the country. Or you can take IT Toll Road (also known as Old Mahabalipuram Road or OMR). For going by ECR, look for buses marked ECR. I had best of both worlds, as I went by OMR and came back by ECR.

It was about 12 and I was extremely hungry when I got down from the bus at Mamallapuram. There are small restaurants near the bus stand serving typical Tamil food, nothing great about these. If you care to look around you may find some other serving different cuisines. This cusine business reminds me of Hampi, where you can get everything from Continental to Thai to French to Israeli to Italian to God-knows-what-not and ofcourse Chinese!

Like Hampi or Kodaikanal, in Mahabalipuram too, you can either choose to walk around the entire place or hire bikes. All the major attractions are in close vicinity and on a pleasant day you can take a stroll. It wasn't too pleasant day as sun was out but I still chose to walk.

First destination was the Shore Temple. It is a UNESCO protected world heritage and rightly deserving too. . While I was there, a group of school children along with their teachers also visited the temple. It was a short visit and they were definitely not interested in a dilapidated stone temple and ran away after making a customary round. The ASI guide and the Bihari guard discussed this event after which the guard discussed his plans to visit his hometown.

The Mahishasur Mardini Cave Temple near the old lighthouse is very popular since it is the highest place in this area and gives an amazing view of the surroundings. You can spot the sea at a distance and the coconut tree capped landscape nearby. The lighthouse completes the scenery! I was specially taken aback by simplistic beauty of lighthouse and this joy was surpassed only by the shock caused by horrible design of new lighthouse at Santhome beach in Chennai.

I didn't mention the carvings on the inner walls of the cave (which is not exactly a cave) because you can see such carvings in many other temples and palaces. At some places you can find carvings on open rocks, just besides the road. Mahabalipuram was an important city during the reign of Chola kings who built all these temples and palaces.

The image of Mahabalipuram is incomplete without Five Rathas. These are 5 buildings of different shapes, sizes and styles supposedly each of a different Pandava (5 brothers in Mahabharata according to Hindu mythology). Each building is carved out of a single stone. In this campus, there is a bull (supposedly Nandi), a lion and an elephant, which is most clicked animal of all. Every tourist poses with this guy. There is a shopping complex, which also houses ticket counter for Five Rathas. Note that your ticket for Shore Temple is also valid here, you don't need to buy another one here. I saw this only after buying the ticket!

Thirukadalmallai temple is a Lord Vishnu temple and it has a golden statue of the God resting, which is perhaps the most amazing idol that I have ever seen. Even if the temple seems a non-descript structure, please do not miss it. Just beside this temple, there are few more smaller temples. Varah Cave temple also has some paintings on the roof, which my guide said is similar to those found in Khajuraho. Actually this old man, supposedly an ASI guide made me poorer by 75 Rs. promising me of showing 10 places, which were hardly there! One of these was a giant spherical rock which is known as Krishna's Butter Ball.

I didn't visit Arjuna's Penance which leaves just the beach. The beach on the left side of Shore Temple is perhaps the best beach I have ever seen. (Coincidentally my interaction with sea has been only on the Eastern Coast of India. Not that I am complaining!) But I visited the beach on the right side of the temple and here I saw the shops selling fried fish on the way to beach. The fish looked so good that for the first time I regretted being vegetarian!

Mahabalipuram is a remarkable place because even though it is so near to Chennai, it has not lost its character and despite being a world famous tourist destination and being flocked by so many foreigners, it is not grossly commercialized. And for a backpacker like me, it was cool and convenient!

Loved it!


Ankur said...

Thanks Abhishek ... for the info ... my college is there on the ECR road. U might not have noticed as it is under construction will be complete within a month.

Bhanu said...

Nice post Abhishek, I would visit Mamallapuram one day!

Abhishek said...

Cool man. What a location for a college!

Thanks very much.

AdmirableIndia.com said...

Nice reading about your experience....I will be visiting Mahabalipuram this month.


Pradip said...

Nice post Abhishek. I too stay in Adayar and ur blog will be a good guide for those who want to visit the Mahabalipuram. On the way to Mahabalipuram, You can find another temple called Thiru-vidandhai and here Lord Vishnu is in the form of Hayagreeva (Horse head) and he is called Nithya-Kalyana perumal. People come to this temple for parikara if their marriage is delayed. This temple as well as Thirukadal mallai are part of 108 Vaishnava divya deshams. So next time if u come to chennai....do visit ThiruVidandhai :)

Pradip said...

I forgot to mention...its in the ECR road.....so take an ECR bus :D