The original plan was to go to Bangalore, then Alleppy district in Kerala, then Chennai, and finally to Puducherry (Pondicherry). Sounds like a weird plan, I know, but the primary purpose was to visit family and took into account various people’s availability. Puducherry was the only place that we were planning to visit for touristy purposes.
However, the rain gods intervened and messed up our plans by flooding North Kerala. Trains going through there were getting cancelled, so we decided to give Kerala a miss and preponed our trip to Chennai by three days. Our Puducherry hotel bookings and return flight to Delhi were already in place and we had two free days and nights in between. After a little research, Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) seemed like the best choice under the circumstances.
Mamallapuram is famous for its stone sculptures. In fact, Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) has earned the coveted Geographical Indications (GI) tag for its stone sculptures. The rock sculpting techniques used in Mamallapuram date back to early 7th century CE (Common Era) and is influenced by the art and architecture of the Pallava period. However, we were not sure whether Mamallapuram was worth more than a 2D/1N stay. We decided to just wing it and booked rooms at the Sea Breeze Resort in Fisherman’s Colony for a single night.
After arriving in Chennai, we stayed the night in Kattankulathur near our son’s campus. The next day, we hired a cab to Mamallapuram. Both Ola and Uber were easily available, and the ride took less than 1.5 hours. The main entry to the Sea Breeze Resort was a little difficult to find as it is through a narrow street. Other than that, however, the resort was ideal.
We had booked rooms facing the garden and swimming pool.
The garden further opened out to the sea, so the beach was just a quick stroll away.
Another advantage was that the famous Shore Temple was visible from the resort’s restaurant itself.
After a light lunch and some rest, we decided to walk to the Mahabalipuram Beach and the Shore Temple, which is around 2 Kms from the resort. The walk is through the Fisherman’s Colony, which is studded with cafes and shops promising to teach you rock carving in just a few days. In fact, there is a rock-carving or sculpture shop in almost every street of the colony.
The walk then continues along a bazaar comprising of typical touristy stalls selling assorted souvenirs, fried sea food snacks, decorative items made of sea shells, and so on.
The major attraction of the bazaar is stone sculptures. Apart from statues of various gods, Buddha being the most popular, the shops had intricately carved sculptures of monkeys, crocodiles, and other animals. A realistic looking frog was especially difficult to resist. Only the thought that we would need to lug around these heavy items for the rest of the trip kept me from reaching out for my purse.
As I couldn’t buy any of the statues, I splurged on the other major attraction of the bazaar — handcrafted leather footwear. You can see the cordwainer giving the finishing touches in front of your eyes. After a little bargaining, we got these amazing pairs for only 500 rupees each!
By the time we completed our stroll of the bazaar and reached the Shore Temple, it was around 5:45 pm in the evening. We found to our dismay that visitors are allowed into the temple area only till about 6 pm. Well, that’s what happens when you embark on a completely unplanned trip! Anyway, we decided to explore the beach instead.
The Mahabalipuram Beach, at least the part near the Shore Temple, is not very attractive. We found it littered with horse dung, dog shit, and dead fish.
This part of the beach has a relatively steep slope and is not suitable for swimming. It is also quite crowded. Horse riding, fortune telling by a parrot, and palm reading are some of the attractions on the beach.
Of course, if you can somehow tune out the crowds, the sea is mesmerizing as ever.
Soon it turned dark, and we returned to our resort, stopping only for ice creams at one of the stalls. We had dinner at the Sea Breeze Restaurant at the resort. Food was good but as not great as some of the restaurant reviews had promised.
After dinner, we went for a stroll to the beach beyond the resort’s garden. A light rain had started falling. We were wondering whether to return to our rooms, when a strange phenomenon captivated us. The waves rolling in from the sea had a mesmerizing blue glow. Could the waves be reflecting the blue lights from the various resorts dotting beach? But the blue cast on the waves seemed too magical to have such a lame explanation.
Later, we learned that we had witnessed a rare phenomenon called bioluminescence or blue sea sparkles. Marine biologists explain that this phenomenon is caused by Noctiluca scintillans (or simply blue algae) who convert their chemical energy into light energy when they are washed ashore.
Whatever it was, it gave a magical ending to our first night in Mahabalipuram. As we had not yet seen any of the famous rock sculptures, we had already decided to extend our stay in Mahabalipuram by another night. For more on that, read “The Madras Crocodile Bank“.