Mahabalipuram named after King Mahabali, also called Mamallapuram is an ancient town 58 km south of Chennai. It has a beautiful beach spanning over 20 km. Once the site of the erstwhile Pallava Kingdom’s port, the place abounds with stone carvings, caves and rock-cut temples that are huge attractions for tourists. Mahabalipuram was a bustling seaport during the time of Periplus (1st century CE) and Ptolemy (140 CE) and history has it that Indian traders who went to countries of South East Asia sailed out from Mahabalipuram.
In 2004, the Indian Ocean Tsunami washed away tons of coastal sand causing damage and exposing some structures of the submerged shore temples. Mahabalipuram’s schools of art and sculpture and a wide choice of resorts along the beach draw holiday-seekers from all around the world. The group of monuments at Mahabalipuram have been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Attractions: The crocodile farm for conservation, education and research on crocodiles is a must-visit! The snake venom extracting center is also an interesting place to see and learn. Thirukadalmallai, the temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu built to safeguard the sculptures from the ocean; Bagiratha’s Penance; the Varaha Cave Temple – a small rock-cut temple dating back to the 7th century; the Shore Temple – a structural temple along the Bay of Bengal; the Pancha Rathas (Five Chariots) – five monolithic pyramidal structures named after the Pandavas are architectural marvels, definitely worth seeing with many interesting facets to each of them.
There also is a Light House, built in 1894 that is a hit with tourists. Just relax by the sea or walk through casuarina groves to enjoy the beauty of sunrises and sunsets on the beach. Being a hub of stone cutting and carving, you could watch stone cutters and sculptors at work if you would like to know more about their craft that has been passed on through generations.
Shopping: Stone and wooden carving, statues of Indian Gods, hand-woven silks and cotton, handicrafts, sea shell trinkets and souvenirs.
Accessibility: Mahabalipuram is easily accessible from Chennai by road. The nearest railhead and airport is Chennai.
Best time to visit: Through the year, Mahabalipuram is hot and humid. Best time to visit would be September – March, April and May being the hottest months of the year.