Our trip was organized around a plan to visit US consulate for passport renewal. Accommodation was at YWCA of Madras International Guest House at Poonamallee High Road. YWCA is a very good choice when visiting Chennai. They have a vast area in the middle of the town. Complementary BF is pretty good as well and the rooms are well-maintained, although the building itself shows age. Lunch/Dinner buffet is also available although you have to mention in advance (not a restaurant). The reception staff can be slow although you will eventually get what you need - we arranged a taxi for the day-trip with them - the rates were competitive but the guy showed up about 45-minutes late - the overall service was OK.
Last Updated: 07/2013.
Mahabalipuram is around 60KM south of Chennai and you pretty much travel south on East Coast Road (ECR aka State Highway 49) to get there. Dakshin Chitra, Crocodile Park, MGM Dizee World, Mudalipatti/Muttukadu boathouse, etc. are on the way - the area is very popular and many new residential developments dot the landscape en-route. The entrance to the main temple complex (Sri Sthala Sayana Perumal Temple, Mamallapuram) in Mahabalipuram can be pretty chaotic. When we arrived, multiple guides showed up offering their service - all of them had badges identifying them as government approved guides, but their overall behavior and haggling made us wary. Eventually, we accepted the services of one of them - he was OK - gave descriptions of the stone carvings of the area. The main point he had was that the rock carvings are generally on granite rock compared to limestone (much easier to work with) in many heritage areas including Angkor Wat in Cambodia - the site supposedly has the 2nd largest rock art after Angkor Wat. Also, base relief, monolithic art, and rock carvings are the main art forms found in the area. Varaha Cave, Rayar Gopuram, and Ramanuja Mantapam (originally a rock-cut triple celled Siva Temple with pillared mantapa in front, later converted into a Vaishnava Mantapa - the cells, one row of pillars and sculptures obliterated. Mamalla Style AD 640-674) are other rock structures within the complex.
The guide was with us for around 45 minutes and left us in the area near the lighthouses. There are two lighthouses but there is no entry to the modern light house. The old lighthouse has a viewing platform with excellent panoramic views of the surroundings. The most popular attraction in the main temple complex is overwhelmingly reserved for the the giant granite rock - a huge boulder naturally positioned precariously on the side of a hillock - the smooth granite rock is good entertainment as it is used as a slide by locals and visitors alike!
Pancha Rathas (Five Chariots) and the adjacent Shore Temple (built 700-728AD - classified as a UNESCO world heritage monument since 1984) are the other primary attractions in Mahabalipuram. Pancha Rathas is by the side of the ocean but there is no direct access from the site to the beach. Rock art at this site is as impressive as the ones at the main temple complex. Entrance ticket pricing is nominal and the same tickets may be used for the Shore Temple entrance next door as well. Legend has it that Shore Temple had six other structures that were consumed by the ocean. There is beach access from the site but it is a popular and crowded place. Exit from the beach is through a long narrow pathway flagged by shops. During the 2004 Tsunami, an outline of its sister temples appeared off the coast, renewing the view that this temple complex was the last in a series of temples that existed in the submerged coastline - definite scope for some under-water tourist attractions in the future.
Overall, we left with the feeling that the place has huge potential for tourism but is definitely under-utilized at the moment.
Last Updated: 07/2013.