Mahabalipuram is a pleasant 56-kilometer (null mile) drive from Chennai into a world of sculptural monuments that lay carelessly tossed on a sun-kissed shore. A little coastal town, perhaps as long as a kilometer, it opens up a scenery of opulent monolith temples thick with life-size carvings of deities, human figures and animals. These 7th century Pallava structures are a tribute to the Dravidian school of tradition and bring out the miscellany of South Indian rock-cut temple art. Look up Krishna‚s Butterball, a massive natural boulder that perches at an angle of 45 degree on the edge of a smooth rocky slope. Walk some more and you will be faced with a giant wall of open-air bas relief depicting the ‚descent of the Ganges‚.>
Mahabalipuram is an interesting shopping destination; people from afar come here to handpick exclusive stone and wooden sculptures among other fascinating memorabilia. Here soapstone, granite and wood are popularly used to carve out deities, celestial beings, human figures, animals and birds. Some elaborate sculptures depict scenes from country life or an episode from the great epic Mahabharata. The local shops here house a motley collection of little soapstone idols of gods and goddesses, wooden and seashell jewelry, silver antiques, cane artifacts, bronze art, woodcarvings and a range of other handicraft. Mount Road in Mahabalipuram is the place to find all this and more. However, it is advisable to buy sculptures and other such souvenirs from a government emporium as the prices
quoted are fixed and reasonable.
You could even give a hand to the local sculptor and learn a few things about sculpting. It is a good idea to pick up sculptures from one such workshop as you can get it at a reasonable price, and not to mention, experience statue-making first-hand. Sculptures from Mahabalipuram are popular in countries such as UK, Germany, Denmark and Singapore. You will also come across a few Kashmiri shops here in Mahabalipuram; they sell local Kashmiri handicraft such as souvenirs of papier mash, threadwork-rich stoles and traditional dress material.
The street just outside Arjuna‚s Penance is full with workshops of granite carvers who have on display enormous Lord Shiva sculptures among other deities from Hindu mythology. You can even try out the Poompuhar Handicraft Emporium on the Shore Temple Road. It has a range of antiques, soapstone statues of Hindu deities, woodcarvings, jewelry, and seashell handicraft. It is not a very big place, but the collection is interesting and one-off. Poompuhar is a government emporium.
Stroll down the Shore Temple Road and keep and eye out for quaint little shops. Some of them have a truly impressive collection of silk cushion covers with zari work, papier mash jewelry boxes of varied shapes and sizes, shawls, wooden, bronze and granite idols, bigger stone sculptures, and antique jewelry. Always remember to bargain when buying souvenirs from any place other than a government emporium.
India - Restaurants serving western cuisine are concentrated around Othavadai Street and Othavadai Cross. You are recommended to try out the fresh grilled fish served with French fries or salad at any of these restaurants. Garden View Restaurant (nullGreenwoods Beach Resort) on Othavadai Street is a great place to sample fresh fish delicacies while taking in views of the garden courtyard and the boulevard beyond. If you are keen to try out the famous South Indian thali, proceed to Mamalla Bhavan on the Shore Temple Road. A typical Tamilian meal comprises steamed rice, lentils, grains and vegetables. And if you are non-vegetarian, there is a great variety of Chettinad delicacies to choose from. Chettinad pepper chicken is an all-time favorite of the locals. You can even try out the
Tamil style Mughlai cuisine, especially the biryanis and paya (nulla type of spiced broth generally eaten with paranthas or appam).
The multi-storey restaurant Moonraker‚s with its contemporary dťcor is the best place in town to try out an array of Indian and Western specialties. Sample prawn recipes here; they are heavenly. Another interesting place on Othavadai Cross is the French-owned cafť, Nautilus that rustles up a range of Western cuisine, and not to mention, a cup of steaming cappuccino. The place also has a neat library full of Tintin and Asterix volumes. Decent Indian vegetarian food is served at Golden Palette, the in-site restaurant of Hotel Mamalla Heritage at 104, East Raja Street. It also has a non-vegetarian rooftop restaurant. Seafood connoisseurs must try out ‚Surf‚; it is at the entrance of the town. The restaurant specializes in deep sea delights, though you might find it a tad overpriced. Tiger prawn dishes are whipped up well at Sea Shore Restaurant. Even Luna Magica does a decent job of lobsters and prawns.
Gecko Cafť is another place on Othavadai Cross that whips up delicious seafood and affords fine lake views. The New Cafť on 6, Othavadai Cross Street does a smattering of succulent barbeque, curries and pasta. You can enjoy a lavish breakfast spread here. If ambience is paramount to you, do visit the Bob Marley Restaurant at 182, Fisherman‚s Colony. It does an assortment of seafood delicacies and opens up a refreshing vista of the sea. The place is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Village Restaurant is another interesting place to enjoy a lavish meal amid swaying palms facing a serene lake.
Fresh coconut water is available in abundance here; almost every hawker on the beach offers it. A lot of restaurants in Mahabalipuram serve good beer, but may not find a mention in the menu.
Mahabalipuram lies on the Coromandel Coast which faces the Bay of Bengal, and experiences a tropical climate. Summer months begin from April and stays on till mid-June. At this time of the year, the average maximum temperature lingers around 35 to 38 degree Celsius. The temperature drops considerably after sundown because of its proximity to the sea. The humidity level, however, remains high through the summer season.
The Northeast monsoon sets in by mid-September and lashes the town with heavy rains, which goes on till mid-December. Mahabalipuram experiences mild winter from November to February when the average temperature falls to 25 degree Celsius, but doesn‚t usually go below 20 degree Celsius.
The best time to visit this little coastal town is between December and March when the weather stays cool and dry.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the shore temple was built in the 7th century by Narasimha Varman II facing the Bay of Bengal. The ‚Shore Temple‚ is the lone survivor of the seven magnificent temple complexes, known as the seven pagodas, built near the sea. With five-storeys, shikharas and plunging eaves, it is one of the oldest South Indian temples built in Dravidian style. The complex spreads out over a square platform, and comprises three temples, of which two are east and west facing Shiva temples, and the third a Vishnu shrine in the center.
Surface - Mahabalipuram is well connected by roads to Chennai, Kanchipuram, Tirukkalikundram and Pondicherry. Buses arrive into the town center from Koyembedu or Tiruvanmiyur in Chennai, Pondicherry and Kanchipuram. You can board any bus headed for the East Coast Road, but be warned, they might drop you outside the town. Always confirm with the conductor before boarding on. You can also take a private taxi from Chennai for INR 600-800 one way. The tariff could go upwards in peak season. And if you wish to take the taxi from the Chennai airport to Mahabalipuram, it will cost you close to INR 800-1200. It takes about an hour and a half to get to Mahabalipuram from Chennai. You are advised to negotiate the fare beforehand to avoid any unpleasantness later. Otherwise, it is a
wonderful drive on the East Coast Road with the Bay of Bengal running parallel all along.
Train - Chengalpattu, about 29-kilometer (null.12 miles) away, is the nearest railway station from Mahabalipuram. It is managed by Southern Railways and is serviced by trains such as Sethu Express, Chennai Egmore-Guruvayur Express, Cholan Express, Pallavan Express, Vaigai Express, Pearl City Express, Nellai Express, Chennai Express and Kanyakumari Express. To its northwest is the Kanchipuram Railway Station, which is also a major terminus.
Air - Chennai International Airport is closest airport to Mahabalipuram, about 58-kilometer (null.25 miles) away. It is serviced by flights from all major destinations in India and abroad. International airlines flying into Chennai include Lufthansa, British Airways, Sri Lankan Airways, Swiss Air, Singapore Airlines, and Emirates. In the domestic sector, Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, Spice Jet, Go Air, and Indigo have regular flights connecting Chennai with Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and other Indian cities.
Anna International Airport and Kamaraj Domestic Airport at Chennai are within easy reach from the city center, and can be accessed by taxis and auto-rickshaws.
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