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Ancient Heritage sites of Tamil Nadu

Author: Indiana
Date of Trip: July 2008

We started at 8.30 the next morning with the famous Shore Temples, and it was already hot. The Archaeological Survey publication: "Mahabalipuram" with excellent colour photos was available here at a discounted price of all of INR 60.

The beautiful sandy beach with its Mahishasura Rock looked so inviting from here, but there was just no time to spare. From the Shore Temples which were a trifle disappointing, we progressed to the magnificent Five Monoliths, excavated during the reign of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman-I. Of these, some are unfinished. The huge Elephant is perhaps the best known. A group of noisy school children on an educational tour, trooped by. They were more interested in climbing the rocks. A well laid out, spacious souvenir market and refreshment centre abuts this area. Sadly, tourists leave behind their own souvenirs of the empty Bisleri - Lays variety.

Next on the agenda was the Ten Monuments: Lighthouse and hill area comprising the Mahishamardini cave, the exquisitely carved bas relief of Arjuna's Penance, the free standing Butter Ball, Ganesha Ratha and other monuments. The same school children gleefully slid down the slippery slopes near the Butter Ball. The Olakkanisvara temple next to the Lighthouse affords a splendid 360 degree view of the beautiful sea to the East, and the low hills beyond Chenglepet on the other side.

More information on the history and architecture of Mammalapuram at: http://www.tamilnation.org/culture/a...abalipuram.htm http://asi.nic.in/asi_monu_whs_mahabalipuram.asp

Stone sculptors abound in this region with several workshop style studios producing a huge variety of large and small carvings. By now, it was oppressively hot in spite of the strong sea breeze. The temperature felt like 40C. Some large tender coconuts were most quenching, followed by a tasty lunch at the Ananda Bhavan. On our way out of Mahabalipuram, we visited the unfinished Tiger Cave and marvelled at the mammoth vertical monolith near by. Where did these huge rocks come from. Were they naturally there? Were they transported in from somewhere else? Our driver's theory is that they were unearthed in an ancient tsunami. Sounds plausible.

The casuarina fringed, clean white sandy beaches in this region deserve a separate holiday in cooler weather.

As we had a bit of time to spare, we stopped to visit the Dakshinachitra heritage village. The replicas of the Chettinad and other typical Tamil Nadu houses were well worth visiting. Overall, there is something lacking. It could have been more vibrant. Perhaps we felt this way, having just come from real ancient monuments.

By now it was "tiffin time". Sowmiya Bhavan on the Shollinganallur Tambaram road beckoned. The coffee was fresh, strong and piping hot. The Mysore Bondas were scrumptious. We packed some delicious Madras Badaam Halva to take home.

Our return flight landed in Mumbai right on schedule.

Thus ends our saga of how to explore seven ancient sites in less than three days!

Tip: 1. For those who intend visiting these places as pilgrims, check for pooja timings and special dates from the temple websites. 2. For those who are not pilgrims, choose non-special dates, and avoid festivals, when there are bound to be crowds. 3. Walking without footwear [mandatory] on stone temple courtyards can be unbearably hot, so keep a pair of socks handy. Likewise, a hat.

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