Whether you visit it on your way to Pondicherry or plan a full one day trip to this ancient town, this guide is perfect to help you explore this historic town of Tamil Nadu. So read ahead :)
Once a flourishing port town, Mahabalipuram is now like an open air museum for some of the best rock‑cut architecture in India. With around 40 monuments and temples, this ancient capital of the Pallava Kings is a marvel in stone and to top it, it is also home to one of the pristine beaches in the country. Here's what you shouldn't miss on your trip to Mahabalipuram
1. Let's start with the Mahabalipuram beach because you can never say no to some sand in your toes and wind in your hair.
Go boating if you have time as they say the boat‑men show you temples which are still under water and can be seen while boating.
2. The centre piece of Mahabalipuram - Shore Temple. The carvings on the walls of this temple are unbelievably intricate. Some of it is now washed off due to the weather and water but you can easily spend hours admiring this place.
3. The wheel-less chariot shaped structure - Panch Rathas
These monoliths are another 7th century archaeological gem. The chariot shaped structures are named after the Five Pandava brothers and Draupadi - Arjuna Rath, Yudhishthir Rath, Bhim Rath, Nakul-Sahdev Rath and Draupadi Rath (swipe to see ). Some say that these structures have no link to the characters of Mahabharata and could simply be prototype of temples built across South India.
4. Don't miss the view from the oldest lighthouse of India
Atop the Mahishasuramardini cave, stands the oldest lighthouse of India- Olakkannesvara Temple overlooking the Coromandel coast of the Bay of Bengal. Believe it or not, the oldest lighthouse of India was literally a lantern kept on the roof of this abandoned temple.
This temple was built in early 8th century in dedication to Lord Shiva. After the Sivalinga was stolen from the temple, it was abandoned. Later the British decided to use this as a lighthouse as this was the highest point in the area. A granite slab covered with concrete to make for the lost roof and a lantern on top served as a makeshift lighthouse for years till the new lighthouse was constructed in 1900.
Both the lighthouses serve as a beautiful view points and you can see the palm trees dotted coastal area from here. So go for it - A bit of cardio, a lot of history and mesmerising view awaits!
5. The Gopuram of Mahabalipuram - Some finished and some unfinished - but they never fail to amaze. Also, these turn out to be gorgeous backdrops for your Insta-worthy pictures.
6. Ganesh Ratha -the only active temple amongst these Group of Monuments.
Located near Krishna’s Butter ball, Ganesh Ratha is the most complete Ratha and the only active temple out of the eight chariots in Mahabalipuram (Imagine those gorgeous other Rathas are incomplete). Not so famous as the Panch Rathas, but isn’t it equally stunning ?
7. The inspiration behind the creation of Thanjavur dolls- Krishna's Butter Ball
Vaan Irai Kal, popularly knows as ‘Krishna’s Butter Ball’ is said to have been in that 'almost rolling' position for 1200 years. It’s impressive for a 6 meters high- 5 meters wide granite boulder to float on top of a short incline, in spite of all the efforts to move it yonks ago. Good thing that it is now a protected national monument by ASI.
8. Your trip will be incomplete without meeting eyes with one of India's finest rock cut structure- Descent of the Ganges
This is an open-air rock relief portraying the story of the descent of the river Ganga to earth from the heaven and Arjuna’s penance. I really like listening to these stories because I have grown up with my grandmother telling me quite a few. But frankly, I am not sure how much I believe in them.
Irrespective, I love how detailed and beautiful the carvings are. Indeed one of the finest canvas of Indian rock-cut sculpture.
Here we are at the end of our one day road-trip. We started early from Chennai and reached about half an hour before the temple opening time to enjoy some quiet time at the beach. By the time I sat in front of the Descent of the Ganges, admiring the sheer brilliance of the carvings, the crowd had started pouring in and the Tamil Nadu sun game was at its strongest.
We surveyed the little stores in the area and I picked a stone carved jewellery box before bidding bye to the ruins.
Do let us know if you need help planning your East Coast road trip and we will be happy to help. Happy Travels :)
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