Mamallapuram, popularly known as Mahabalipuram is about less than 2 hours by bus from Chennai. A major seaport of the ancient Pallava kingdom, it is now home to some gorgeous World Heritage Sites including temples, carvings and of course the coastal beaches. These especially come alive during the golden hour, when the sun’s going down and the bustle of the town takes on a calmer pace.

The traveller hub of Othavadai and Othavadai Cross Sts have the most happening restaurants that serve pasta, pizza and pancakes, a delight for the cosmopolitan traveller. Then there are little shops selling Tibetan trinkets. And for the adrenaline junkie, you’d never have seen better surfing scene in the county. Basically, Mamallapuram has something for everybody, and is best explored on foot. However, you shouldn’t miss these top attractions for nothing.

Arjuna’s Penance is the crowning masterpiece of Mamallapuram’s ancient stonework, where on two huge, adjacent boulders, are inscriptions and carvings of scenes from Hindu mythology. Once you’re done here, walking south along the road from Arjuna’s Penance are the unfinished Panch Pandava Mandapa cave temple, the Krishna Mandapa and the empty Dharmaraja Cave Temple.


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Talking of temples, Shore Temple takes the cake. The earliest free-standing rock-cut temple in India, Shore Temple overlooks the sea, and is surrounded by gardens and ruined courts and emanate a certain charm of the bygone era. It’s a perfect example of Pallava architecture. Don’t miss the boulder-carved Durga sitting on her lion-vehicle’s knee on the temple’s south side.

What needs a special mention is the Five Rathas at the southern end of Mamallapuram; Ratha being a Sanskrit word for ‘chariot’. Now that may either refer to the temples’ form or to their function as vehicles for the gods. Legend goes that they didn’t originally serve as places of worship, but as architectural models. Carved from single large rocks, each of these fine 7th-century temples is named after one or more of the Pandavas, the five hero-brothers of the epic Mahabharata, or their wife, Draupadi. The rathas  were excavated by the British 200 years ago.