Rock 'n' roll in Mahabalipuram - II
If you manage to turn a blind eye to the busloads of fussing Indian tourists, the occasional lecher who thinks earth girls are easy -- and those from the West doubly so - and the scores of salesmen trying to gyp you and even offering their services as an escort, Mahabalipuram is a nice place to be in for a day or two.
I rate it as one of my favourite short-haul destinations (but way below the ones I liked when I was in Delhi). Not just because it is close to Chennai (just about 55 km) and the drive is beautiful (the Bay of Bengal on your right hand side and palm groves on your left) or because it is a haven for the foreign tourist (from backpackers to the well-heeled). But because it stands testimony to what man can achieve.
History is engraved into the rocks in Mahabalipuram. In fact the whole town looks like it has emerged out of stone.
And what beautiful structures they are. Be it Krishna's Butter Ball which gives you the creeps if you stand under it (it looks like the ‘ball' can slip any time) or the Shore Temple which is one of the seven (or was it nine?) temples built in this ancient town. You can still get a glimpse of the ones submerged in the sea but you have to be a daredevil to do that. Here's how:
Hire a fisherman's catamaran for about Rs 500 ($13, roughly) to take you into the sea. If you are a foreigner, be prepared to be asked for something like Rs 2,000 ($50, approx). Don't forget to ask him for life jackets and a rope. About one nautical mile into the sea you will see bubbles coming out of the water. At first I thought it was a whale or something (that was my first time in the sea, you see) but the fishermen were wiser. This is the place the temples were built and now the sea has engulfed them.
And from that spot, you see the Shore Temple, the lighthouse behind it and a faint glimpse of all the other structures carved out of rock. The structures are monolithic, mind you, which makes you wonder about our predecessors's skills even more.
Coming back to the overcharging foreigners are subjected to, there is this Five Rathas temple in Mahabalipuram (see pictures of the complex belolw).
The entry to this temple for Indians is Rs 10 (25 pence, roughly). But for foreigners it is Rs 250 ($6, approx). No additional facilities are provided to the foreigner though which I find not only strange but also unfair. I am an Indian but I am ashamed of this mentality of our government.
The other problem I have with the government is the way it maintains our heritage. There are no signboards to tell you the history of the place, there are very few toilets around... the list could go on forever.
But once you visit the temples in Mahabalipuram all those rants just fade away. All the monolithic structures here are about 5 minutes walk (at best) from each other. You could even hire a bullock cart to go from spot to the other and relive the village way of life.
It should not take you more than a couple of hours to see all the structures, even after extracting information about them from the local guides. So then what do you do in Mahabalipuram?
This is what you can do.
There is the sea so you could lie on the beach all day, if you don't mind a bunch of fishermen or tourists staring at you. Or you could get into the shacks on the beach and try some fresh seafood and wash it down with a mug of beer. (Most hotels/restaurants in Mahabalipuram only stock beer. If you are looking for a shot of vodka or a glass of wine, head to GRT Temple Bay or Fortune Beach Resort.)
Or you could sit in Nautilus Café or Moonraker and watch the world go by in slow motion. These cafes are not too far from the beach (about 400 metres, say) and many like them also have hammocks where you could just let your hair down, catch a book and let the beer flow.
Or you could book yourself a room in <a href= http://www.idealresort.com/ target=_blank>Ideal Beach Resort</a>, some 5 km from Mahabalipuram. The resort is beautifully done, has a private beach, has all the facilities like Internet, Ayurveda massage etc. You can even rent bicycles here to take a leisurely ride into Mahabalipuram and explore it at your own pace.
Or you could try out the kinkier stuff. If you've ever been to India you will realize there is no dearth of such activities in places frequented by foreign tourists.
Or you could do what I do in Mahabalipuram. After strolling on the beach all day, I head to <a href=http://www.grttemplebay.com target=_blank>GRT Temple Bay</a> and have their buffet. It's a lovely hotel with a private beach, a café right by the sea, a great swimming pool and fantastic service. After dinner, I zoom back to Chennai and think about the day well spent.
Try it sometime. Take it from me, you won't be disappointed.
Next week: Weekend in Pondicherry
Or catch my blog for more such travel experiences: http://mojoerising.blogspot.com/<a href=http://www.thingsasian.com/stories-photos/30574/9146954/1/hom0_mrec target=_blank> See some pictures of Mahabalipuram from my earlier posting</a>
Published on 6/10/08