Indian Tales 2 – Mamallapuram

Mamallapuram is easier to say than it first appears. Try this: Mammal-lap-uram. See, easy. The town, which is in the Chennai metropolitan area, is 35 miles from the big city. Not far, you might think, but factor in the crazy, urban traffic and you’re likely to take two hours by road. We booked driver for the day, which included the two hours each way and as much time as we wanted at the various temples and town. It cost 2000 rupees, the same as the airport taxi, and that was for all day. We were caught that first day!

I’ll skip the trip out of the city, save to say it was more madness, decorated with cows and goats. Once in the countryside we made it up to 50mph sporadically, only to be slowed by road bumps. They love a road bump; keep the traffic placid. The view out the window was of flat, green, waterlogged lands. The occasional cow watched us passing, accompanied by a white egret or two on their back, searching for bugs.

We arrived in a central adopted car park, got out and our driver went off for some lunch. About us were hundreds of women, mainly in scarlet or brilliant yellow robes. There was a dance festival on and they had come for the day. The town has a collection of 7th and 8th century Hindu religious monuments that has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We set off to visit the appropriately named Shore Temple, and were watched along the way by the colourful visitors and the odd cow.

The temple is a complex of individual temples and shrines. It is a structural example (rather than rock cut) and is built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century AD. At the time of its creation, the site was a busy port and it is one of the oldest structural stone temples in Southern India. Photos taken, we wandered back and were accosted several times to take group photos. Many Indians travel to sites like this in large groups from rural villages and have never seen white people. Dinah was popular, as you can see.

It interesting to note that the temple was actually hit by the tsunami of 26 December 2004. It struck the temple and the surrounding garden, but was not badly damaged. As the temple foundations are on hard granite rock, the structure resisted the giant waves and the water level returned to its normal level within a few minutes.

It was hot, we were still jet lagged, but we slogged on towards the rock cut temples.  The site has forty ancient monuments and Hindu temples, including Descent of the Ganges – one of the largest open-air rock reliefs in the world. I can’t say that we managed to see them all, but photos of the rock carved Descent are below. It is amazing to consider that these were carved out of solid pink granite. We went on to visit some other examples of rock carved temples, but not the full forty! Though we did see the butter ball which is balanced precariously on a 1.5 metre flat section, teetering over the slope. It seems unlikely that it won’t roll off down the hill.

On the way to some much needed refreshment and great veggie food, we visited a small stone carver. Dinah was interested in a small statue of Ganesha because of his key attributes. He is easily identified by his elephant head and four arms and is revered as the remover of obstacles and thought to bring good luck. And we all need a little luck, particularly when travelling in India. He must have worked, the journey back to Chennai was uneventful.

We decided to hunt out a local bar for evening beers. The Champions bar was near Egmore Station and we took the opportunity to check the trains next day to Pondicherry. No joy, all booked. A precursor of what was to come in our travels over the next few days. We decided to book a car and repaired to the bar for WiFi and research. Pondicherry is 160 kms south from Chennai, beyond Mamallapuram. In hindsight we should have stayed one night in Chennai and one in Mamallapuram, that would have avoided the four hour journey next day. Ah well, you live and occasionally learn.

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