The Mamallapuram beach stretches long and wide on either side of the rocky spurs that house the Shore temple. While it isn’t the cleanest beach around, it bustles with life and color. Fishing boats lie languidly while fishermen kill their time playing cards waiting for the right time to hit the sea. Fisherkids divide their time between catching fish caught in rain-induced puddles on the beach by kicking them out of the water and watching videos and playing videogames in the open air on the idle boats. Long-staying backpackers take evening walks on the shores, lovers and honeymooners court each other in the waters/ the beach and seafood lovers head to the Rick Stein-endorsed snapperfish curry at the Seashore Restaurant.
Here are some of pictures I took of the life around the seashore –
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.
(In 2012, a friend and I hired a horseman from the village of Darcha and trekked through the high pass of Shingo La into the villages of Zanskar. This is a continuation (and the conclusion) to the journey I began to recount in the previous post. The focus of these posts is to showcase the photography. I will do a more detailed report of the trip on a future post.)
The terrain below Shingo La was steep and punishing as we slipped and slid through vertiginous snowfields and mighty scree slopes to reach the campsite of Lakong. The lone granite peak of Gumbarunjon would be the defining feature of the spectacular wildernesses between Lakong and Kargiak as the Kargiak river photogenically wound through the arid technicolor moonscapes.
Although the goal of the trek was to spend as much time in the wilderness as possible, we couldn’t believe how relieved we were when we reached the stupas lining up the trail to the village of Kargiak and met its people at the trekkers cafe on the outskirts. The five days spent outside the realms of civilized society were beautiful but we were craving for genuine human warmth and conversation. The architecture here felt one with the landscape, whitewashed stone and wood houses set amidst green fields with the craggy mountains of Zanskar hanging above.
Beyond Kargiak, the trail passed through more villages and increasing human activity until we reach the campsite of Purne, the trailhead for the walk to the monastery of Phugtal. After you’ve walked through a landscape of sheer scree-ridden canyons, you cross a bridge, turn left and up there hanging in the sky on a sheer vertical cliff would be the Phugtal monastery. The first sight of this magnificent sanctuary is bound to impress even the most jaded eye. I spent 2 nights at the monastery guest house, a humble, spartan establishment, conversing with the monks and making repeated trips to the monastery above to have a closer look at the ancient murals and rituals at the monastery. It was a fitting end to what had a spectacular few days walking in the Zanskar mountains.