Yesterday we left Pondicherry on a bus to Mahabalipuram, the ancient port city of the Pallavas located halfway between Pondi and Chennai on the coast of Tamil Nadu. We took a ride on the local bus, which cost almost nothing, left right on time, and was even pretty roomy… for about 10 minutes. As the bus drove through the outskirts of Pondicherry, we progressively picked up more people until they were packed into every crevice. While it was scorching hot outside, the window breeze helped some, and it was still much more comfortable than a Guatemalan chicken bus. As a bonus, since we are foreigners they only squeezed one more person onto our two person bench.
The bus dropped us off about a kilometer outside of town (turns out that “Mahabalipuram” as a destination on this bus meant “the part of the highway near Mahabalipuram,” not “the bus station in the middle of town and two blocks from our hotel”). Fortunately we were armed with our trusty compass, and we made our way eastward a few blocks along dirt paths to the ocean. From there it was a pleasant walk along the beach into the center of town. It was a nice stretch of beach, and we got a great view of the Shore Temple as we arrived. After gorging on awesome thalis next to the bus station (curry with chapattis hot off the pan for 25 Rs/person), we spent a lazy afternoon at our hotel’s pool and then had a great south Indian meal at their restaurant, the Golden Palate.
Walking along the Bay of Bengal from the bus drop-off into town
Our first view of the Shore Temple, during our walk into town. The surrounding rock wall was built after the temple miraculously survived the 2004 tsunami.
This morning we awoke before dawn to check out sunrise over the Shore Temple, the top attraction of Mahabalipuram. We had the place completely to ourselves for about a half-hour, checking out the multitude of carvings and sculptures that are impressive in spite of the years of erosion. After a break for our morning idlies, we headed to the Five Rathas, a set of temples that are each carved from a single piece of rock. Just like at the Shore Temple, the level of preservation and the attention to detail is stunning. What’s even more amazing is that the temple arrangement is simply a result of where the outcroppings of pink granite were located at the time of sculpting. The temples were carved from the top down, so while they all have a lot of details on their rooftops, some of the rathas were never completed and have a mere outline of structure carved at their bases.
It was a great morning of culture and history, and after hiking back to town via Mahabalipuram’s main hill we enjoyed another delicious thali and an afternoon by the pool (after seeing the skull and crossbones signs on the beach tallying the rip-tide-related deaths, we decided not to include swimming in our beach itinerary).
Shore temple at sunrise
Lauren and the Five Rathas
After a final view of “the most perfectly sculpted elephant in India,” I enjoyed a fresh coconut in the shade
Viewing the mandapams atop Mahabalipuram’s main hill
Lauren’s unlimited veg thali at Mamalla Bhavan hit the spot after our morning hikes