Imagine sleeping under the stars, listening to the soothing sounds of Bay of Bengal waves and waking up in your hammock by the first rays of the sun. That’s how we began our day with the most spectacular sunrise in Mahabalipuram. This was just one of the highlights of our road trip from Bangalore as we unraveled mysteries and hidden gems of this historic city!
Mahabalipuram is known for its monuments with intricate stone carvings that date as far back as the 7th century. Many of the monuments have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visiting this historic town was always on our mind but we were keen on driving down from Bangalore. Things just fell in place over first long weekend of January 2016 and we were off for some fun under the sun with three of our friends.
We started early at 6 am from Bangalore city and reached Mahabalipuram late afternoon(~350 kms) (we stopped for sumptuous sea-food lunch along the way). There are a plenty of hotels and resorts along ECR (Eastern Coastal Road) in this area. The best part is the amazing view of Bay of Bengal they offer as most of the resorts/hotels are sea-facing. We booked one such beautiful, sea-facing white house along ECR for us via Airbnb. The house was equipped with all necessary facilities and offered breath-taking view of Bay of Bengal from the patio. It was aptly named ‘Kadal‘ which translates to ‘sea’ in local Tamil language.
Heritage monuments of Mahabalipuram
Mahabalipuram is aptly the pride of the Pallavas. The Pallava dynasty ruled South India in 6th to 9th century A.D. They have built magnificent structures out of difficult to carve granite rocks.
We started our day with the famous Shore Temple. The Shore Temple was built by King Narasimha Varman II in early 8th century; the last substantial work of the Pallavas and one of the oldest structural (versus rock-cut) stone temples of South India.
The temple was designed to look like a monolith but a major portion of the temple has actually been reconstructed after the tsunamis and cyclones. The temple is built right on the shore such that the first rays of the rising Sun falls on the Shiva lingam located on the eastern side of the temple. Around a hundred grand Nandis (sacred bull who is the gatekeeper of Shiva’s realm) surround the sanctum of the temple from all sides. After mesmerizing ourselves with the temple structure, we sat on the rocks marveling at the dolphins farther in the sea. Next, we had quick-lunch and visited other structures which are all within walking distance. The important ones being:
The Govardhana Dhari – Krishna’s Mantap
The Govardhana Giri mantapa is a rock-cut monolith that was built by Krishnadevaraja and the elegantly sculpted scene shows Krishna lifting the Govardhana Mountain to protect the villagers from heavy rains that lashed Mathura.
The monolithic Arjuna’s penance is one of the largest open air-rock sculptures in the world. The tableau is called Arjuna’s Penance and depicts Arjuna, one of the five Pandavas of the epic Mahabharata, praying to Lord Shiva in the jungle for the powerful pashupathi astra (weapon) to defeat the evil Kauravas.
After walking for few minutes, we visited a large spherical rock that has been christened “Lord Krishna’s butter ball”.
Next, we visited the Five rathas, the best of all monolithic structures, hewn out of a huge boulder. The monolithic structures are called locally as Ratha (Chariot) as they resemble the processional chariots of a temple. They are named after the five Pandavas and their wife.
We have visited lighthouses around the world. Ironically, this was the first Indian lighthouse visit for us. Mahabalipuram lighthouse was first commissioned in 1887 and it has been functional since then. We had to wait in queue for about an hour to get to the top of the lighthouse but the view from above was amazing!
Sunrise and fishermen
After a tiring but enriching day, we spent rest of the night relaxing in our ‘Kadal’. It was peaceful night listening to soothing ocean waves while gently swaying in our hammocks. We were awakened by the magical rays of sunrise. It was time to leave. But not before roaming aimlessly in the sands. While strolling on the beach, we spotted busy fishermen pulling their net from the sea. All the fishermen worked together to pull the net towards shore. There were thousands of fish of different varieties (even manta-rays, sea-snakes along with usual varieties) trapped in the net. The fishermen carefully separated poisonous variety of fish from others. Women arrived with their containers to divide their catch and dispersed to nearby market for selling.
It was a peculiar morning to experience chores of fishermen community for us. All we could say was ‘A good catch for the day!’