Just 60 km outside of Chennai, lies the picturesque shore town of Mahabalipuram. Also known as Mamallapuram, this famed town is well-connected with other important cities of south India by means of an extensive road network. A weekend getaway, therefore, cannot be ruled out, especially if you are new to the city and haven’t explored much of the south.
How to reach
If you are travelling by air, the nearest airport would be the Chennai International Airport. Once in the city, you can take a cab (or personal transport, if you have any) for this one-and-a-half-hour journey. The best route would be the East Coast Road (ECR) — a state highway maintained by the Tamil Nadu government — wherein you would find several pit-stops along the way. Look out for the small beaches en route, and the take in the sweeping scenic beauty.
About the town
It is always advisable to read up a little about the history of a place before you visit it, especially if it happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mahabalipuram is famous for a collection of 7th and 8th century monuments, believed to have been built during the time of the Pallavas. These monuments are also called the Mamallapuram temples or Mahabalipuram temples in contemporary literature.
Best time to visit
Ideally the months between November and February, when the days are pleasant and the nights are cool, making it comfortable for tourists looking to do some sightseeing.
Places to cover in a day
If you are on a more relaxed trip, you might find yourself a suitable accommodation. But, if you want to explore the town in just a day, here are some of the places that you must check out.
* The Shore Temple: One of the oldest South Indian temples, it has been constructed in the Dravidian style. It is situated along the shore, facing the waters of Bay of Bengal. The temple comprises three shrines, with two prominent ones dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. It is also one of the most photographed monuments in India.
* The Five Rathas: These rathas or chariots are associated with the Mahabharata. It is believed the rathas were dedicated to each of the five Pandava brothers and their wife Draupadi, when they were serving their time in exile. The largest ratha is said to belong to the oldest brother Yudhisthir.
* Arjuna’s Penance: This is an enormous rock structure which has intricate carved detailing. It is named so because according to the Mahabharata, Arjun had to perform severe austerities to attain a certain weapon that belonged to Lord Shiva. It is also known as ‘Descent of the Ganges’, because it also depicts this mythological event in its carvings.
* Krishna’s Butter Ball: This geographical wonder — a ginormous rock — sits atop a slope, in a peculiar fashion, almost ready to roll over. Except, it never does. Over the years, people have tried to move it, but have failed. Seasons come and go, but the rock never shifts or moves. People believe it is a piece of stolen butter dropped by the God.
* Mahabalipuram beach: You can head over to the beach once you’re done with all the sightseeing. The streets leading up to it, are filled with little shops from where you can buy souvenirs and/or shop.