Mahabalipuram (or Mamallapuram) is a very popular tourist destination in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. It is situated around 40 KM from Chennai, on the East Coast Road (ECR). You can also reach it via OMR (Old Mahabalipuram Road) as well, but the ECR is preferred as it is the entertainment highway of Chennai and the road runs parallel/close to the sea. If you leave your windows open, you might even get some sea breeze, as you travel!
Mahabalipuram is famous for its rock-sculptures and other historical monuments. Most of the monuments here were constructed during the 7th/8th Century CE during the Pallava period. Considering its historical importance, the monuments here have (collectively) been designated as UNESCO world heritage site.
This article is to help tourists to identify important places/monuments in Mahabalipuram/Mamallapuram and suggest them the (probable) order in which they could visit the monuments. Also, I have linked each place below to its appropriate blog-post, where I have written about them in detail and published more photos. I hope these things will enable tourists to decide which places they could spend more time/skip.
Of course, it is impossible to cover Mahabalipuram, in a single blog post. There are so many more places to visit/so many more things to do. Hence, this article should only be considered as a starting point.
1. Mahabalipuram Beach
From the Mahabalipuram bus-stand (which should come on your right-side as you enter from ECR), if you take the immediate left (just after crossing the bus-stand), you can park your vehicle and go straight to the beach. This is a family beach and will be quite crowded whenever you visit. Some water sports activities are available, I will update this space when I get more details.
2. Shore Temple
While coming back from the Mahabalipuram beach, you can find some interesting shops and after you finish shopping there, you can enter into the shore temple complex. It’s the only one (of seven other temples) that survived various Tsunamis and is still standing tall after all these years. You’ll have to visit it to admire its beauty. Read more…
3. Pancha Rathas (Five Chariots)
Next, I suggest you to visit Five Chariots (Pancha Rathas) as the architecture of these rock carvings will blow your mind away. This is a very important/popular site in Mahabs. When you come out of the shore temple and go straight, you get a junction where you need to turn left. From there, you need to take a left in the next junction and go further up (0.5 KM) to reach this site. Read more…
4. Light house/Surrounding Monuments
When you come back from the Pancha Rathas, on your left you’ll find the light house/some monuments surrounding it. You can actually climb this light house!! Otherwise, you can climb a small rock, that is situated right next to this light house. Either way, the view from the top to be quite outstanding. Read more…
5. Arjuna’s Penance/Descent of the Ganges
After visiting the light house, if you come further down, you get the site of the open air bas-relief with exquisite carvings, called Arjuna’s penance / Descent of the Ganges. This is on the main road, and you should walk into the rock-cut caves nearby, to find more stone carvings. An interesting site! Read more…
6. Krishna’s butter ball & Thirumurthi cave
The Krishna’s butter ball is the large rock-ball that you see in the above photo. It has somehow been standing there without rolling down! If you are a brave heart, you can sit down below it and hope that it won’t roll on you 🙂 The Thirumurthi cave is nearby. Read more…
7. Varaha Cave, Rayar Gopuram & Ramanuja Mandapam
These monuments can be found in the same campus that houses the Krishna’s butter ball. There are a lot of rocks and you need to climb a few rocks to reach these sites (they are flat, not steep). Kids will enjoy playing around the rocks. Read more…
8. Tiger Caves (5 KM before Mahabalipuram)
The Tiger Caves are situated 5 KM before Mahabalipuram (when you go from Chennai). You can visit it while going or while coming back from Mahabs. It’s a well maintained lush green surroundings with rocks and rock-cut sculptures. The monuments here are similar to Mahabalipuram but this place is quieter and less crowded. That’s because not many people know about this. You don’t miss it! Read more…
9. India Seashell Museum & Aquarium
The India Seashell museum hosts an exhaustive collection of seashells collected by one person. I guess there should be more than 10,000 seashells here and there are some objects like car, train, etc. made of seashells. There is also a small aquarium here. Read More..
As I said before, this is a very limited list of the monuments that you need to visit in Mahabalipuram (called Mahabs ‘affectionately’). You should of course, explore and find out more places to visit. I will also try to update this blog post with additional places, from time to time. These monuments are open from morning 6:30 AM to 6:00 PM in the evenings.
Try to avoid going on weekends if you want to take pictures of monuments without people in them. If I have missed some place, do let me know in the comments section below.