Mamallapuram: Stone sculptures from the past and present


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Asia » India » Tamil Nadu » Mamallapuram
March 3rd 2013
Published: March 9th 2013
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We arrived in Mamallapuram (aka Mahabalipuram) after a two hour public bus ride from Pondicherry. We had some difficulty figuring out which bus to take, and I almost got in a fight with a man who was extremely rude to us for simply trying to ask for directions...The ride went smoothly, though, and we got there in the late afternoon. The town kind of reminded me of a smaller version of Hampi, in that its main attraction was a cluster of ancient ruins. These ruins, however, were much closer together, and were significantly fewer in number than in Hampi. Mamallapuram is known for it's impressive and intricate stone carvings, which can be seen in its ruins as well as its handicraft shops, where the tradition lives on. We had a good time exploring them and were happy that all the ruins were within walking distance, allowing us to see the majority of them in our first day. We also enjoyed getting a feel for the little tourist town, which was lined with handicraft shops, most of which were selling goods from Kashmir and Rajasthan rather than the local area. This encouraged us to do a bit less shopping, since we were heading to Rajasthan soon, but I did get drawn in to a shop or two...On our first night, after eating dinner at a local restaurant, we walked across the street to check out a store that had pretty jewelry in the display window. Two hours later, after much chatting and bargaining, we left with a nice, antique looking paisley ring that we paid almost $15 for (rather pricey for a ring that didn't contain any precious metals). The salesman assured us it was a good quality piece, but, after a day of wearing it, it turned my finger green...which he specifically said it would not do. I thought about returning the ring for a refund, but I really liked it, so I guess I'll just have to deal with the "side effects." After our lengthy purchase, we chanced upon the one and only shopkeeper in India (seriously, I'm pretty sure he's the only one) who was in possession of a working refrigerator. He sold us ice cold drinks, for which we were very grateful given the unrelenting heat in the town, and we visited him several times during our stay.

Though I was very pleased with it at first, I quickly developed a love-hate relationship with the guest house we booked in Mamallapuram. We didn't book ahead, but it was recommended in our guidebook, so when we arrived we asked to be dropped off at Siva Guest House. The man who greeted us was friendly and enthusiastic, and happily showed us a few rooms, all of which were fairly big and clean and were on the third floor with a great breeze and a view of the nearby ocean. We picked one and got settled in, having gotten a pretty good first impression of the place. As soon as we set foot on the beach, we were glad we hadn't booked a beachfront hotel in that it was disgusting and covered in trash. Thankfully, we weren't visiting Mamallapuram to relax on the sand. On the morning of our first and only full day in the town, we dropped off a pile of laundry at the front desk and were told that it would be ready for us that evening. We then ate breakfast and walked over to the Shore Temple followed by the remaining ruins we'd not yet seen. After that, to Scott's dismay, I was in the mood to do a little more shopping and bought some cool stitched leather flats and yet another wrap skirt. We found haggling to be pretty tough, though, so that was our last shopping excursion.

We ate a late lunch, then went back to the room to rest and avoid the heat. Later on, after dinner, we searched for the night manager so we could pick up our laundry, but he was nowhere to be found. We looked behind the reception counter to see if our clothes were there since it was late and we really needed to pack, and there it was in a big pile on the floor, unfolded and still damp with other people's laundry mixed in. WHAT? When the manager finally did show up, we complained about our "clean" laundry being left not only on the floor, but unattended, and the first thing he said was that (a) the floor was very clean (false...) and (b) that's just where the laundry ladies put it and his job was only to fold the laundry (which he obviously had not done) and collect the money. Without any apology or attempt to rectify the situation, he told us to wait ten minutes and he'd fold it and bring it upstairs. When he did bring it up, it was poorly folded, some of it was missing, some pieces were still wet, and he'd given us a few items of other people's laundry...at this point we were quite angry and demanded to speak with his supervisor, which he refused to let us do. Instead, he said to pay him or leave and kept walking away from us in a huff every time we tried to talk to him. While I stayed behind refolding the clothes and hanging the wet ones up to dry, Scott followed the man downstairs to try to reason with him. This proved to be futile, even when the owner's son showed up to offer his "help," which consisted of him telling Scott that this is the kind of service you get in India and that he should stop wasting his energy and pay. So we did. We ended up getting an accidental discount, however, due to their poor math, so that was nice.

We left early the next morning for the Chennai airport via the taxi we'd booked through the hotel. Crazy guy was up waiting for us but wouldn't talk to or look at us...The cab ride was fine, though, and we got to the airport in plenty of time for our 9:10 a.m. flight to New Delhi. The airport was really strange, however. We had to go through security as soon as we walked through the door, and the lady zip tied one of the several entry points of my backpack (even though I'd already locked it) but not the rest of them. Not only that, but we had to show our tickets/passports to two people in a row who each recorded our information in spiral notebooks while non-foreigners just walked by each station. Oce we got past all that and checked our bags, everything was good, and our flight went smoothly. We arrived in New Delhi around noon and took a prepaid taxi straight to the train station to catch our 3:05 p.m. train to Agra. The taxi ride took about an hour due to traffic, so we got to see a little bit of New Delhi during the ride. The neighborhoods we drove through seemed very nice and clean, with parks and flower beds everywhere. Scott assured me, since he'd been to the city before, that there were still slums and bad areas, but maybe the city had been making an effort to clean up.

When we reached the train station, we still had two hours to wait, so we decided to check out the cafe near the entrance. This was an unpleasant experience, in that I tried to order some sweets but was refused service for some reason that I couldn't understand, and the guy at the counter was rude and rolled his eyes at me. Weird. So we left and went to our platform, bought some snacks there and read until our train arrived. The ride was only about three hours, and, though a little warm, was fine. I had an upper berth and relaxed and slept most of the way. This made it pass quickly, and, before we knew it, we were in Agra where the majestic Taj Mahal awaited us. 😊


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Part of Pancha Pandava RathasPart of Pancha Pandava Rathas
Part of Pancha Pandava Rathas

One of 5 stone Ratha (monolith) sculptures that imitate structured temples


10th March 2013

awesome pictures
Sounds like a great adventure you newly weds are on! Almost time to come home. Stay safe!

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