What do you do on a lazy weekend and your extended family is visiting you? I say, get a big car, pack them all in, and head out for a quick trip! We decided to go to Mahabalipuram for the day. Although this ancient town is known mostly for its old temples and historic architecture, its location doubles up as an amazing beach retreat, quite different from the other beaches in this part of the country.
With ten of us traveling together, we had to get a spacious and comfortable tempo traveler for rent in Chennai.
It was a short drive of roughly two hours and we reached even before we realized. But the views on the way were to die for. It was after the rains, with clear blue skies and fresh post-rain air. As soon you enter the town of Mahabalipuram, you can feel the vibes changing and you tend to forget the world that you have left behind. To be able to make it a well-planned trip, it is better to book a cab with an experienced driver from Chennai to Mahabalipuram, who can take you around the town and make you visit the right places.
This town in the Kancheepuram district is loaded with historical and religious importance. It dates back to the time of ancient royalties that ruled this region in the 7th and 8th centuries, and many of its temples and monuments date back to that era. Surprisingly, they still seem to stand tall amidst the rampant millennial developments. The town is a perfect blend of art, history, and religion.
A tour of the town
Once we landed at our destination, we made our way to Arjuna’s penance. It is also known as Descent of the Ganges and boasts a bas relief that stretches across 100 feet in length and 45 feet in height with intricate carvings of humans and animals. The carvings were a representation of what life was like in the era it was built in.
Another interesting thing to see there was Krishna’s Butterball. It was a massive boulder which magically balanced itself on the hill, or it has been since thousands of years. Till date, no one knows or no theory has been postulated on how it happens. They say, there have been many trials to move it using elephants and horses and even modern cranes, but the rock hasn’t moved an inch. It was a marvel of nature to behold.
When you are traveling with kids, a trip to a local museum is almost mandatory. It’s kind of keeping them intrigued about the place. So, to fulfill their curiosity, we went to visit the India Seashell Museum. This public museum housed a massive collection of more than 40,000 shells and sea fossils, from all over the world. Even the premise was laid out and designed artistically in a marine theme, with larger-than-life replicas of conches, shells, oysters, and sea horses. Usually, most millennial children find museums boring, but my nephews and nieces seemed fascinated by the place and the underwater treasure.
We stopped by for lunch at a city restaurant and waited until it was late in the afternoon. After lunch, we went to explore the popular lighthouse of Mahabalipuram. Even the lighthouse was historical and is said to have been built under the patronage of the Pallava kings to serve as a beacon and watchtower. There was a flight of stairs which led to the top and offered stunning views of the shoreline and the rest of the town. Additionally, the cool breeze of the sea and the fresh environment made the experience more interesting.
From there, we headed to the Pancha Ratha or Five Chariots. This was an elaborate temple carved in the shape of chariots, with fine sculptural detailing of animals and scenes from mythology. There were huge stone statues of elephants and horses as well. Although they were signified as a religious site, it was pure art on stone and rocks, provided one sees it with that perspective.
Sunset on the sea
We saved the best site in the town for the last. Just before sunset, we reached the Shore Temple. This was the most famous site of Mahabalipuram and is a complex of three elaborate temples, each dating back to the 8th century. The highlighting feature of this temple complex was not the structure itself but its location. Sitting amidst green lawns, on the golden sands of the Coromandel Coast, against the blue sea of the Bay of Bengal, the temple complex was an ultimate visual delight. It was like being on a beach in ancient times.
Soon, it was time for sunset. The setting sun cast a golden glow over the temples, which reflected in the horizon. We took our long break here before we had to head back to the car. I found a quiet corner on a rocky edge of one of the temples that sat right on the sea and watched the sun go down against the mighty ocean.