Mamallapuram: surfer paradise, backpacker loungeville, and home to Unesco-listed 7th-8th century rock carvings.
The Arujuna Penance is set back from the road, unreachable to greasy, corroding tourist hands (a good thing when you consider that the Five Rathas and Shore Temples have become play parks for many tourists, and in the case of the furthest shore temple, a lavatory). You can stand and gaze at this terrific scene of gods and animals and make up your own stories for ages, or read the Archaeological Survey of India's website.
Although carved thirteen hundred years ago, the figures are still fresh, like naive art. I loved the monkeys sitting off to one side, as well as the cat lecturing his mice and the snake (gods?) falling through the Ganges. Ignore the touts and "guides' and just enjoy it for its own sake.
The other great thing? It's free.
Considering they were built over fourteen hundred years ago, and are situated on the shore of the feisty Bay of Bengal, it's an achievement that the temples are still here at all. (I wonder how many tsunamis have washed over them?) Ignore the moaning ninnies who go on about the carvings being indistinct and badly eroded: yes, they are to an extent, but they are still beautiful structures with a stunning backdrop.
The Shore Temples cost a non-Indian 250 rupees to visit (10 rupees to Indians), but this gets you into the Five Rathas too (make sure you go on the same day). The surrounding area is reasonably clean and free of litter, but why is the guard more concerned with people walking on the grass, than peeing in the shrine at the back of the furthest monument?
Go early to avoid the relentless heat and crowds.
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