So this time, am writing about a place which is very near to where I live-Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram, an easy getaway 60 km from Chennai. I have been living in Chennai for almost 2 years now. I don’t know why it took this much time to write about this place even though I visited Mahabalipuram many times. Though a small town, there are lots of places to see and things to do in Mahabalipuram. It is a prominent tourist location in South India presently. The ease of access and the facilities available here attracts travelers of all groups from around the world.
Mahabalipuram is a beach town which has a long history. It was a major port during the period of Pallava kings, who ruled major part of Tamil Nadu in the 7th and 8th century. Trade flourished at that time. This place has mentioned in literature and travelogues which date backs to centuries. Pallava kings built magnificent temples and buildings in this port town to show their glory, which can be still seen here.
Mahabalipuram is a perfect weekend destination, very easy to reach from either Chennai or Pondicherry. You can spend some quality time on the pristine beaches, visit the rock-cut temples and monuments. Apart from these, if you are ready to explore more in Mahabalipuram, there are many things you can experience here.
Coming to the significance of Mahabalipuram, everywhere you go, you can see centuries-old monuments. It is spread out all around the town. Excavations are revealing many more such monuments now also. Most of them are under the control of Archaeological Survey of India, a government body responsible for the conservation and restoration of archaeological monuments.
The shore temple and the cave temples are the major attractions in Mahabalipuram.
The five “rathas” (small shrines that resemble chariots) carved out from a single stone is another interesting structure here. They are monolithic structures built by carving from top to bottom. Each of the “rathas” is dedicated to the five Pandava brothers in the epic Mahabharata.
Another such monument is Arjuna’s penance, It is one thing you should not miss in Mahabalipuram. You can find it without much effort when you enter into the monument complex behind the bus stand. There is a difference in opinions among historians about the sculpture. This sculpture is the largest of its kind in Asia. It is beautiful. It looks like a painting on a big canvas. This is a must visit place in Mahabalipuram.
You can find many other monuments in and around the city.
You will get a lot of information about the history, archaeological importance, about the caves temples and ancient monuments in Mahabalipuram from the internet. Reading about the same thing again and again will be boring for you. So I am skipping them.Many of us still think that Mahabalipuram is only about the rock-cut monuments. That is not the case. There are many things here, which can make your visit to this beautiful place more interesting and memorable.
So, What to do in Mahabalipuram?
The scenic East Coast Road
The main reason why I like to go Mahabalipuram frequently is because of the East Coast Road (ECR) which connects Chennai with Pondicherry. I must say, it is one of the most scenic roads in India. The roads go parallel to the Bay of Bengal. So one side, it will be sea and on the other, it will be the vast salt lakes. From the road, there are many pocket roads which go to the beach. You can just sit on the beach for hours and enjoy the wind. All these beaches are less crowded. You won’t find anyone on these beaches actually.
Planning to learn a new sport?
Then the best thing to do in Mahabalipuram is to learn surfing.
Nowadays, surfing is gaining popularity in this region. The beaches of the east coast have become a favorite surfing destination. There are many surf schools functioning in Chennai and Mahabalipuram. It is attracting surf enthusiasts from around the world. Many international surf festivals are happening here every year. If you have some days here and want to try something different, then joining a surf class will be a good idea.
When you reach Mahabalipuram, you will see small shacks on roadsides in which people are engaged in rock sculptures. They are the descendants of the artists who worked for those great monuments of Mahabalipuram. They are continuing their family profession now also.
If you like to walking, the best thing to do in Mahabalipuram is to walk through the inner streets. You will find a lot of brilliant artists.
Though the methods and technology of sculpting are more much different from the ancient times, it is an art which requires extremely good skills. The fine details and the complexity of those sculptures is something that needs good skills.
Export of this sculptures is a big business here.
Many artists conduct workshops for those having interest in learning to sculpture.
When it comes to seafood, you will get the best seafood here in Mahabalipuram compared to the nearby places. There are many restaurants which serve seafood dishes. They are not that costly. You can find many good restaurants in “ Othavadai street”.
This is the one thing that fascinates me all the time in Mahabalipuram. A major attraction in Mahabalipuram, Krishna’s Butterball is a large spherical rock which stands perfectly balanced on the edge of another rock. It has overcome the test of time and push of almost all those who came here. The reason behind such a perfect balancing is still a mystery.
A photograph of yours try pushing Krishna’s Butterball is mandatory in Mahabalipuram.
Kids coming here are more interested to slide down over the smooth rock nearby butterball.
The bird’s eye view from the lighthouse
The lighthouse in Mahabalipuram is still a functioning one and significant in this region to guide ships. There was an ancient lighthouse nearby, built by the Pallavas kings. You can have the view of entire Mahabalipuram from the top of the lighthouse. The lighthouse is inside the main monument complex, near to the cave temples. It is open from 6 AM to 6 PM. it will close before sunset, otherwise, it would be the perfect place to see the sunset.
Sunset from the Shore temple
Sunsets from the shore temple are stunning. It is believed that the kings built seven such temples along the coast. Only one is remaining now, rest of them are believed to be under water. The tsunami of 2004 has exposed few of the structures under the sea. Underwater excavations after that lead to many interesting findings.
When I go to Mahabalipuram, I try to be there at the shore temple before sunset and find a perfect place to sit, watch the sunset and end the day.
How to reach Mahabalipuram
Mahabalipuram is very near to Chennai ( about 60 km). An hour drive from Chennai will take you there. You can also reach Mahabalipuram from Pondicherry (100 km). There are frequent buses between Chennai and Pondicherry, you can get down at Mahabalipuram. The nearest airport and railway station are Chennai, from there you can hire a taxi or use public transport to reach Mahabalipuram.
Another best way to experience Mahabalipuram is by cycling. You can ride from Chennai through ECR, the ride will be worth, and can extend up to Pondicherry also.
Few things to keep in mind
Mahabalipuram is a hot place throughout the year. Exploring the ancient monuments means you need to walk in the hot sun. So better prepare for that. It is better to take a cap or umbrella.
You will find stone sculptures for sale all over the place. Definitely, you feel like buying something as a memory of your Mahabalipuram trip. Be a little careful regarding the prices, negotiate your maximum. If you are not getting for the price, don’t worry, you will definitely get it for less price in another shop.
There are few places on the way to Mahabalipuram from Chennai which you can visit. Kovalam is a small fishing village about 20 km from Chennai. The beaches are very good, apt for surfing. There are few surf schools in Kovalam also.
The Madras Crocodile bank, one of the largest crocodile conservation center in India, is another place you can visit. This park has many crocodiles varieties, turtles, and other reptiles.
Tiger’s cave is another monument little far from Mahabalipuram. You can stop here on the way to Chennai.
The monuments in Mahabalipuram are under Archaeological Survey of India. With one ticket you can visit all the monuments. The ticket price is 30 INR for Indians and 500 INR for non-Indians. The monuments will open for visitors from 6 AM to 6.30 PM.
Mahabalipuram is a very small place. All the important places are nearby. The best way to experience Mahabalipuram is taking a walk. There is no need of hiring any taxis to roam around. Better use early mornings and evenings to explore the place, it will be sunny otherwise. You can rent out cycles also for your local travel.
If you are planning a cycling trip to Mahabalipuram, definitely a good idea. You can hire cycles from Chennai. As I said before, the road is very pristine. On weekends, you will find many cyclists riding through this road between Chennai and Mahabalipuram. It is better to start very early in the morning and roam around the city for rest of the day.
So that’s all about Mahabalipuram. It is a must visit place in Tamil Nadu. You can include Mahabalipuram on your visit to Pondicherry also.
If you are interested in history and archeology, then a visit to Kanchipuram will be really good. Kanchipuram is also a temple town nearer to Chennai, built by the Pallava kings.
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If you want to go for a trek from Chennai, the head to Nagalapuram falls about 120 km from the city.
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