Distance from Bangalore : 330 Km (East of Bangalore)
Best way to reach there : By road (7-8 hrs), By train (6 hrs to Chennai + 1 1/2 hrs by road), By air (45 min to Chennai + 1 1/2 hrs by road)
Good place to stay at : We stayed in a hotel in Chennai and spent a full day in Mahabalipuram. But there are many good beach resorts just before you enter Mahabalipuram.
We were in Chennai and had one day to spare so thought of doing a day trip to Mahabalipuram. The drive from Chennai to Mahabalipuram was very picturesque with the Bay of Bengal on one side, lined with tall coconut trees all along the road.
There are many historical events associated with Mahabalipuram (originally called Mammallapuram) and how this place got its name.
This town is World Heritage site now and the beautiful artistic carvings make it rightly so. Most of the sculptures here are monolithic - carved from single rocks.
There are around 40 such carved monuments here and among the most significant ones are:
1. Shore Temple : It is located right on the sea shore and showcases excellent architecture of the Pallava Dynasty during seventh and eighth century. There are two shrines of Lord Shiva and one of Lord Vishnu in the center. The Lord Visnhu's Sleeping idol (which is a very uncommon pose of Vishnu)can be viewed in parts through various doors.
The temple has the breathtaking background of azure ocean and sky.
2. Arjuna's penance : This is the largest open air bas-relief in the world, built by King Narsimha I. It is a beautiful piece of art and must be seen to appreciate the artwork. The great Arjuna, from Mahabharata is carved here doing penance to obtain weapons for the historical battle between Kauravas and Pandavas. There are almost innumerable carvings of animals, other creatures and devataas on the rock.
3. Five Rathas : This is a set of monolithic rock temples. The rathas (chariots) are : Yudhishthir's Ratha, Bhima Ratha, Arjuna's Ratha, Nakul-Sekhdev's Ratha and Draupdi's Ratha. There are sculptures of different Gods and Goddesses in these rathas. An exquisite art work.
4. Lord Krishna's Butter Ball : Near the Ganesh Ratha there is a huge boulder on a hill slope. The placement of such a boulder is worth seeing. This is called Krishna's butter ball.
Other than these significant monuments, there are many more constructions erected by Pallava kings and they all are in close proximity to each other.
After having spent the whole day in this town, it felt like everybody here is associated with some stage of sculpturing in one way or the other and I guess this is the only occupation most of native people are engaged in. It was a great experience to watch people at work. If you get such opportunity, don't miss it.
You can buy some beautiful sculptures here made of granite stones and also some other handicraft material.
Important tips :
1. Carry loads of drinking water and some energy snack bars while you appreciate the art work.
2. Excellent place to buy souvenirs from but beware of men selling them in hand just outside these sites. The quality and price of a particular piece may vary from Rs. 20 to Rs. 200.
3. Do not miss 'Crocodile Bank' on the way from Chennai to Mahabalipuram. It’s a one of its kind park, created by Romulus Whitekar - the famous conservationist . It’s a unique experience to watch these lazy creatures enjoying the relaxed time.