Saturday, February 12, 2011

India part 13: Mamallapuram

Back in 2003, I made up a terrible joke about this place, despite not even paying it the courtesy of a visit. It went something like: Idiot 1: "Excuse me, which member of your family will be doling out our drinks?" Idiot 2: "Mamallapuram." If the captive audience weren't utterly incapacitated by laughter at that, Idiot 1 would then add (referencing a slightly more obscure Indian town): "Yes, but Kanchipuram?" I had a lot of spare time in 2003. Of course, now it's officially called Mahabalipuram, which renders this joke as arcane as this paragraph is pointless.

Our arrival at the fabled place was amusing, since the state bus we were riding on didn't appear to stop there - so they dropped us and our backpacks off at the side of the road on the highway. Luckily it wasn't too far, and it felt cool strutting into town like we'd walked all the walk from Pondicherry.

But on to more important matters. If you wanted to start a mobile ironing business, you'd want to use the coolest, edgiest font possible, right?

Cart

The main reason to visit Mamallapuram - apart from getting your ironing done by a hipster - is the Shore Temple, which is sadly not in a great state, thanks to wind and sand and sea erosion. Here it is.

Shore temple

Much better are the Panch Rathas, named after the famous Ramones song 'Sheena is a Panch Ratha'. We visited on a Saturday, so the place was filled with Indian tourists posing in front of the monuments in increasingly hilarious ways. Here are a rare couple of pictures which doesn't feature any of them, for better or worse.

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Which is best? The elephant on the Arjuna's Penance carving (c.600-700 AD), or a reclining Ganesha from Mamallapuram's Le Yogi restaurant (c. probably about 2005 AD)? There's only one way to find out...

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Ganesh, chilling

Mmmm, my most memorable moment in Mamallapuram was hiring bicycles and cycling along the Kovalam Road towards Chennai, where you can see (and hear) the stone-workers chipping and shaving their sculptures by the side of the road. After nearly giving up about 10 times, we eventually reached the Tiger Cave, where there were some more Indian tourists pulling wacky poses. But you don't want to see the Tiger Cave - it looks more like a dragon, anyway. Here's a Shivalingam and Shiva's vehicle, Nandi, the bull, instead.

Shivalingam

But it wasn't all frolicking about on bikes gazing in wonder at temples. Says my diary:

Imagine getting up early and exhausted to book Glastonbury tickets, but finding all the internet cafes in town are closed, then there being a power-cut just as they open, and then treading in a cowpat. Oh, and now imagine the reward for all this perseverance isn't actually to get to go to Glastonbury, but instead getting a ticket for a 25-hour train journey. WELCOME TO MY WORLD.

We never did get the tickets I was after; it was nearly Christmas, and the waiting lists were so huge, even the usual Tatkal option (an emergency quota of tickets held back and released at 9am two days before the travel date) was out of the question. We ended up having to shell out to get a plane from Chennai (our next destination) to Mumbai anyway. This saved us a day of travel, but made rather a nonsense of the Rs250-a-night hotel room (approx GBP 3.50) we stayed in when we arrived in Tamil Nadu's capital. Budgeting in India is quite a mindfrog: you can easily find yourself spending twice as much on a meal as you do on a night's accommodation, if you're hungry but don't care about sleeping on old sheets.

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