Mahabalipuram is an old temple town on the shores of the Indian Ocean, south of Chennai in Tamil Nadu. It’s ancient shore temple is famous for being the first of its architectural type; an architectural format that was widely exported around southeast Asia. It is a beautiful temple. Mahabalipuram also has a fascinating park in the center of town, with rock carvings, cave temples and oddly enough, a giant rock that reminds me of a glacial erratic (giant boulder in a place where it should not be. Usually carried by ice sheets during an ice age). Siva tells me that the carving of the descent of the Ganges (see below) were in one of her history books in school. The rock is a common feature of travel guides. This puzzles me. It is an interesting rock, but there are a lot of really cool things in south India and Tamil Nadu specifically that are much more interesting and photogenic. How about the temples at Tiruvannamalai or Maduri, with their magnificient gopuras? Then again, you see few western tourists in Tiruvannamalai and the few westerners that you do see are there doing the spiritual/ashram thing. So it is not surprising to see no Tiruvannamalai photos in Lonely Planet.
You see many more western tourists in Pondicherry… oh and in Mahabalipuram. The place was an absolute madhouse. We were there with half of France and all of Chennai it seems. It is a holiday week in France. This coincided with a long weekend in south India and an early summer heatwave (yes Virginia, summer has already begun here even though it is only February). There were an oppressive number of tourists. To make matters worse, the touts and beggars were as bad as anything I’ve seen in the tourist traps of Jaipur.
We spent all of three hours in town before we had to retreat back to the quiet of the countryside. It was a pity as without the people, it probably would have been a day well spent wandering about and contemplating history. Perhaps we’ll go again. On a weekday next time!