The cluster of monuments on the rocky outcrop of Mamallapuram hill provides the most comprehensive overview of the artistic achievements of the architects and sculptors who worked in the town in the Pallava era. Some sculptures are half-finished, some stones bear the marks of ancient quarrying and there are intricately carved pillars and gateways strewn about the landscape.
It’s instructive to hire a guide or take a guidebook along if you aren’t familiar with Indian mythology and want to do more than click pictures of yourself in front of these sites because the wealth of artistic excellence on display here is truly breathtaking. There are lion thrones, cave temples, massive balancing boulders, finely carved panels where powerful deities overcome heinous demons, hidden porticoes and arcades down unmarked trails and myriad other beguiling spots for the more curious traveler.
The rush of day-tripping crowds could get a bit overwhelming in the central sites but the landscape is so spread-out that you are never too far from a spot of peace and solitude. Peace and solitude though don’t agree with the principal attraction of the Hill, which is the Lighthouse. Here, you queue up in dank, dingy, sweaty interiors, precipitously trying to balance yourself on its narrow, spiraling steps as tourists who’ve just had a peek from its viewing platform rush past you. From the platform, you get a panoramic view of the Mamallapuram landscape with its water bodies, rocky temples, the coast, the hazy hills, the highway, the rapid urbanization, the people swarming like ants around the Shore Temple, the palm trees swaying in the breeze, the forgotten temples lying ruinously in jungly foliage, the young boys cautiously working their way up vertically exposed rocks taking selfies of their bravado.
If you haven’t been exhausted by all the sight-seeing on the hill, you can continue on to one of Mamallapuram’s most treasured sites, the Five Rathas (Chariots). These large monolithic artworks are remarkable for the fact that they have all been carved out of single rocks. Each chariot is dedicated to one of the Pandava brothers (the heroes of the Mahabharatha) and their consort Draupadi. In addition to these chariots, there are perfectly proportioned lions and elephants and bulls on display. These poor creatures are now predictably used by tourists either as a crutch for their selfies or as a platform to get their pictures taken.
Here are the shots I took during my days here. The attempt was to capture the life around these sites more than the sites themselves. Hope you enjoy it.