Every now and then it’s good to get away from the bustling city and all the people and just unwind. On Sunday, we decided to take a break from the smog and “smells of Chennai” as Lydia put it, and head to Mahabalipuram, a lovely coastal town about an hour south of Chennai. Mahabalipuram is a rather well-known tourist spot for locals and non locals alike because it has a clean beach and also some historic landmarks that have been deemed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. On our way there we stopped over at Dakshinachitra, which means Picture of the South. Dakshinachitra is a large center that recreated traditional styles of houses of the four southern states of India. There are 17 different styles of houses, some displaying artwork or sculptures from that era, others showcasing various crafts like weaving or henna tattooing. I enjoyed exploring the different styles of houses and making my cousin who’s about 6’ fit through each tiny door only to be met by another tiny door. The museum also teaches traditional dances and even has a game for the children that was like piñata but used a clay pot instead (and I’m not entirely sure if it involved candy).
Soon after leaving, we arrived in Mahabalipuram and made our way to our first stop: Shore Temple. Shore Temple is a beautifully intricate temple carved out of stone and it overlooks the Bay of Bengal. Unfortunately, due to its close proximity to the beach, the stone has eroded somewhat substantially over the years. Some would say that it adds to it though and gives a better sense of perspective as to how old it really is, so I guess its all how you look at it. Shore Temple was created back in the 7th century and is said to be one of the oldest structural temples in all of India.
After we wandered through the Shore Temple we went in search of the Five Rathas, the other World Heritage site that is closeby. The Five Rathas are monolithic, meaning that they were carved out of a single, enormous piece of rock. Ratha means “chariot” and each temple is dedicated to a different god. The only things that were carved separately are the few animal statues that surround some of the temples. The Five Rathas were built about 1500 years ago. I’m glad to see that these temples were deemed World Heritage sites because they will be more protected for future generations to see.
Aside from the impressive temples, Mahabalipuram is also great because it has many restaurants and shops. The restaurants cater to Westerners so you don’t have to be on your guard about getting sick from the food. We ended up at Moonrakers, a top-rated restaurant that has excellent, fresh seafood. So fresh that the waiter brought the squirming crab a little too close to my face before it ended up on my cousin’s plate. The fish I had was so tender and delicious (the butter garlic sauce is a must), and the calamari and shrimp that we shared was also excellent. A good spicy masala makes things taste even more amazing.
Exciting purchase of the evening: Bargaining for two skirts and paying only about $8 for both of them. Oh, Japan, I do not miss your ridiculously overpriced clothing.