Mamallapuram aka Mahabalipuram, about 60 kms south of the metropolis of Chennai in South India, had been a nerve center for arts and culture during the Pallava king Narasimhavarman’s reign and an important seaport for over 2 and a half millenia. I had been to this town 8 years ago and have recounted one of my peculiar experiences in this post. But back in January 2010, I didn’t have a decent enough camera and since the town is supremely photogenic, with its massive in-situ sculptures, ancient temples, a long, beguiling coastline, sculpture artists and frenetic street life, I thought I would take my newly acquired Nikon D5600 and see what I can capture.
The ancient town didn’t disappoint. Not much had changed since 2010 but the town appeared somewhat busier, the road from Chennai was well-paved and there were multiple toll-fees one had to pay if you were taking a taxi in. The budget hotels in the backpacker district of Othavadai Street had succumbed to inflationary pressures and upped their rates considerably. No more 200 Rs. rooms with ensuite Indian toilets.
Since August is off-season for tourists visiting India, many of the backpacker-geared restaurants wore a desolate look. The food, too, was more expensive. A meal at one of the more-heralded backpacker cafes in the town like Le Yogi or Moonrakers could easily set you back by 300-500 Rs.(and yes, that does seem exorbitant by the standards of the Mamallapuram of 2010). The no. of trendy coffee-burger joints had gone up but one wishes they would learn how to make burgers or mix coffee. A lot of the time, I preferred to stick to the cheapie Indian restaurants of whom Mamalla Bhavan served the most satisfying meals.
Since I took a lot (some would say too many) pictures in this town, I’m doing this in 3 parts. In this first episode, I would be covering the streets, the sculpture artists and the Shore Temple. Wherever you walk in Mamallapuram, the sculpture artists are an ever present feature of the landscape. It lends a beautiful continuity to this ancient center of Pallava arts that some consider to be the finest ever in the history of this region.
The Shore Temple is the weather-beaten, UNESCO certified, 8th century edifice standing guard over the Bay of Bengal, the only of the legendary Seven Pagodas still standing. Back in 2010, I could wander within its inner columns as well and it was disappointing to find that the atmospheric corridors had been shut to the public. Nevertheless, it’s an impressive site that finds hordes of visitors every day getting off their tourist buses to take selfies in front of its ancient spires. I woke up early and went at 6 in the morning when there wasn’t a soul in sight, except for the man who sweeps the site, a wedding photographer who was shooting a pre-wedding video of a couple and a strange guy meditating in the ruins around the site.