Mamallapuram

Sunday 21 January 2018

Despite being up for a few hours in the night, I was fast asleep when my alarm went off at 6.20am.

I had breakfast in the hotel (curry soup with an idli!) and was ready to be picked up at 7am.

I’m spending the day just south of Chennai in Mahabalipuram (also called Mamallapuram). Mamallapuram was the major seaport of the ancient Pallava kingdom and many of the 7th century buildings and structures remain and are UNESCO world heritage sites.

It took just over an hour to drive out of the city, south along the coast. The city largest forever – basically all the way down! And despite being early in the morning, seemingly everyone was already up and out.

Firstly, we stopped at a small, but busy, colourful temple. Full of groups of people queuing to get inside the main shrine.

The next stop was the Shore Temple. Even getting near the car park as chaotic. Buses and tuk tuks and cars everywhere. Plus hundreds of people. All dressed in red – red saris and red clothes.

It is the end of the festival of Pongal, maybe that is why it is so busy, I don’t know.

The entrance fee was quite steep. 500rupees (£6) for foreigners. Or 20 for locals. Bearing in mind that a meal can cost around 120-200. The entrance fee recently just doubled in price.

It was a pleasant walk, through some grassy areas, down to the shoreline where the temple was. As the sun was just rising, the air was slightly misty.

The temple is a Shiva temple and was apparently covered in phallic symbols of Shiva, however these have been eroded by the ocean winds. Infront of the temple, around the courtyard are rows of cow statues (Nandi – which is apparently shivas vehicle). Very cute.

It was really pretty.

As soon as I stood still (to drink water, take a photo, or just look at the temple), I had people next to me asking for selfies.

Next to the temple area was the pathway leading down to the beach. This was like any other pathway leading to an attraction – entirely full of souvenir shops. But rather than aimed at foreign tourists, these were aimed at local tourists – everything in plastic tat, tea mugs, bracelets, shoes, stone carvings, pestle and mortars (!) and mostly children’s toys.

The usual process for litter here appears to be – throw it on the floor. In cities that may work, as there are lots of people always sweeping the paths. However, on sand, that doesn’t work. The entire floor was covered in plastic.

The pathway eventually opened out onto the beach – Mahabalipuram Beach.

Wow.

Never seen anything like it.

And all I could see was people. Everywhere. All dressed in red.

People in the sea. People standing in groups on the sand. People selling food. People buying food. People playing fairground games. People on fairground rides. And a man with a dressed up monkey.

But what was even more surprising, was the people having tattoos done. Sitting on the sand. With a little mechanical tattoo machine. Once it was done, it was wiped with some dirty looking liquid. And done.

I walked a little way along. But I didn’t get far. I kept being asked for selfies. But as soon as one person has asked, the whole family gets involved. Group pictures. Solo pictures. Then just when you think you are done, the next family grabs you. Literally. The first few are funny. Almost. A hundred later and it’s exhausting. I started saying no. But the disappointment and devastation all over their face every single time made me feel bad that I agreed again.

After we managed to make our way through the standstill traffic, we were at the Pancha Rathas. This is a small collection of stone structures – a tiger, an elephant, a bull and a few temple like buildings. All surrounded by sand. They were apparently carved from singular, large rocks. Each one is dedicated to a Hindu god.

I loved the elephant.

All the sights are very close to each other. I kind of felt a bit silly driving between them. But they were sufficiently far, that it would have been a very hot walk.

Next up, a steep walk up a rock, to some carvings in a rock – which form a small cave. With pillars. And elaborate people and cows. It was possible to climb even further up – onto the top, with great views around the area. The ocean, lots of green, and the shore temple peaking out.

Up here were macaques. But they seemed to leave everyone alone. There were a few men walking around with sticks. I imagine they are threatened by the sticks, so leave the people alone.

Last up, an area which had a grassy field, then paths leading all around to lots of different sites.

Here was another carved cave – Arjuna’s Penance. This one had elaborate carvings on the rock all around the cave too. And some massive elephants. Really cool. This is apparently one of India’s greatest ancient art works.

And just behind here, the paths lead up to more. As well as an old temple called Ganesha Ratha.

There were still a lot of people around. I stopped briefly to sit down and have a sip of water. But almost instantly a woman was ushering her child to stand next to me for a photo.

The last sight was Krishna’s Butter Ball. This is a round-ish rock, sitting on a rocky slope. And looks like it should fall down. But it hasn’t.

Then, to drive back to Chennai.

About half way, we stopped for lunch at a vegetarian restaurant at the side of the road. I didn’t know what to have, so went for a Tamil Nadu thali.

It was huge. Enough for at least 2 people, if not 3! It was delicious. And they kept trying to bring me more of everything, even though once I had finished eating, it barely looked like I ate!

We got to the airport around 1.30pm. My flight isn’t until 5.50pm.

Checking in was a bit of a palava. I tried to drop my bag. Only to be told it needed scanning first. After scanning, I went back, but I was 18kg. And only allowed 15. So had to empty out some clothes. But then that wasn’t good enough. I had to go back to scanning. Before I could finally drop my bag. What a faf.

The airport was very unexciting. And no idea what to do with myself for so many hours.

So I found a plug. And got on with some things – calls, photo editing, writing.

Almost immediately someone sat next to me. The whole waiting area was empty.

And started talking to me. I was polite for a few minutes. Their English was terrible. I couldn’t understand them. They couldn’t understand me. It wasn’t the usual, where are you from, where are you going. Almost the first question was what qualifications do you have. Huh? That has never come up in any conversation I have had with anyone. Ever.

It was frustrating. Even after a selfie, he wouldn’t leave me alone. And kept insisting that the light by the gate was better for a selfie. I refused to move with him. And had another phone conversation. I couldn’t have gone anywhere. He would have followed. He eventually had to go as his plane was going. Thank goodness.

Eventually, my plane was nearly ready too. We started boarding at 5.15pm. The same plane as yesterday (I only know that because I’m in the same seat. And it’s broken).

Back to Bangalore.

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