Thursday, September 4, 2008


Two hours south of Chennai, by public bus, is a sweet little temple-filled town called Mahabalipuram (ten points if you’re not Indian and have never been to India and can pronounce that). I went to check it out a few weeks back with my friend Mike.

My first experience with public transportation in India was a far cry from the speed racer matatu mini bus death traps of Kenya, but it was an experience all of its own. We were pretty psyched to discover that the bus was leaving just as we got to the station so we wouldn’t have to wait… until we realized that it was leaving because all the seats were full, and we had to stand, packed like sardines among dozens of other people, for the entire 2 hour ride.

It was worth it once we got there though. Right along the beach there is this fabulous ancient temple, the main attraction of the town. Europe, I see your 16th century cathedrals and raise you a 7th century Hindu temple. The temple is surrounded by a wall of protective stone rams and contains a few hard-to-see but intriguing sculptures inside, including a reclining Vishnu (one of the three gods in the Hindu Trinity).

Then we spent about an hour walking around this vast park within the town that I like to call The Big Ancient Rock Playground. It is essentially a set of massive granite slabs that you wander around and randomly bump into really old shrines and reliefs carved into the stone. My favorite was a massive oval rock egg perched precariously on a heavily sloping rock slab. Not sure what the significance was, but it was pretty fun to take pictures with it.

Incidentally, last Saturday I revisited this little seaside town and experienced the other side of Mahabalipuram: local shopping, mopeds for rent, open roads and restaurants that serve drinks (which Chennai does not). I even tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to ride a motorcycle down a narrow side alley. It was a far cry from temples and granite sculptures, but equally worthwhile.

1 comment:

Martin said...

Mahabalipuram is a treasure house of ancient Tamil art, culture, civilization, & history. A coastal city, Mahabalipuram has an immense place of importance in Tamil history and mythology. This beautiful coastal city of Tamil Nadu is ordained with a number of temples and places of archeological importance. It is not surprising therefore, that because of the overabundance of these places Mahabalipuram is often referred to as a legacy in stone. The unique instances of art, culture and architecture that has been preserved by the kings of the then Pallava dynasty proves to be a delight to the eye even today and it is not for nothing that Mahabalipuram is known as an “open air museum”. The richness of Mahabalipuram has made it one of the most favorite tourist places of South India. Hotels in Mahabalipuram are for tourists from different walks of life. As the place is more of a tourist destination rather than a business one, there are many leisure hotels and budget hotels in Mahabalipuram.