Mamallapuram (Tamil: மாமல்லபுரம்), also known as Mahabalipuram, is a tourist town 60 km south of Chennai on the east coast of India, famous for its stone carvings.
Mamallapuram dates back to the Tamil Pallava dynasty in the 7th-9th century. The structures here, mostly carved straight out of granite, are among the oldest existing examples of Dravidian (South Indian) architecture.
Today's Mamallapuram is purely a tourist town and one of the major attractions around Chennai. The East Coast Road has made it easily accessible - just about an hour from the city. Unfortunately, the entire strip is now a mess of restaurants, resorts, amusement parks, people, discarded plastic and chaotic traffic. At one time you could see the Bay of Bengal almost all the way to M'puram, but now there is so much development that the ocean is glimpsed only as you get close to M'puram.
Mamallapuram itself was getting run down over the last decade with very patchy efforts at keeping the monuments preserved. This has changed in the last few years with the Shore Temple being included in the UNESCO heritage project. The surroundings have been made much nicer, but, there has been a lot of wind and water erosion on the temple carvings with many of them having undergone loss of detail over the years. Sort of too little, too late, but still, better than nothing.
Be prepared to fight your way through clutches of beggars, guides, snakes charmers and so on, all of which is an essential part of the experience and not to be frowned upon. The whole thing would be bland without them. A nuisance, but harmless.
Buses arrive in the centre of town from CMBT and Tiruvanmiyur in Chennai and from Kanchipuram. There are direct buses from CMBT, but you can take any bus that has ECR written on the front. The ECR bus, which can be picked up at Tiruvanmiur, is the most economical way of getting to Mamallapuram from Chennai, costing less than ₹40 (1 hour). The ECR bus will drop you about 2 kilometers outside of town, and rickshaws will be outside waiting (can be bargained down to ₹30). You can also catch the ECR bus from Pondicherry for ₹65 (2 hours).
To get to the ECR from Triplicane, walk to Kamarajar Promenade running parallel with the beach. Walk to the beach side of the road and head to the nearest bus stop. Take bus SP19 or SP19x to Tiruvanmiyur (₹15). The ECR bus stop is 30 meters before the Tiruvanmiur stop.
A taxi from Chennai will cost ₹600-₹800 one-way (USD 15 to 20) though the rates are likely to be higher based on the season, cab operator. Visitors outside Chennai, even Indian nationals and most definitely from Overseas are likely to be asked for higher rates. To or from the airport will cost ₹800-₹1,200 and will take one hour off peak and 1 1/2 hours peak time. Please negotiate the cab fares at the beginning of the journey and remain firm if the operator asks for more.
The drive from Chennai on the East Coast Road is, by Indian standards, a wonderful experience: it is one of the few toll roads in India and maintained well. That said, it's still only one lane per direction with no divider, so overtaking tends to be hair-raising and high-speed head-on collisions are all too common. The road runs parallel to the coast of Bay of Bengal making it a scenic driveway, although you will not see the sea until the last few miles. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami wreaked havoc around here, so you will see shanty-towns built for affected fishermen and much of the greenery has been swept away.
It is easy to get around the town on foot, though bike rental is also available. It is relatively a small city and all points of interest are close to each other. Paid parking areas are available near the Shore Temple and the Five Rathas.
You can also hire a cab (non-a/c) for about ₹150 for 2 1/2 hours, during which you will be taken to all the major tourists spots in Mamallapuram.
For visiting all three sites the Shore Temple, cave temples and the Five Rathas you need to buy entry tickets. One can buy tickets online at https://asi.payumoney.com/quick/mam or by scanning the QR Code displayed at entry gates of tourist places and then paying through mobile wallets. The ticket counter closes at 5:30PM and entry to the attractions ends at 6PM. A combined entrance ticket to the Shore Temple and the Five Rathas costs ₹600 for foreigners and ₹35 for Indian citizens. Local guides, who speak multiple languages, are available for around ₹600 for a tour of all main attractions.
These temples are carved out of a rock rather than carved into a rock (Cave temples).
- 1 Five Rathas (Pancha Pandava Rathas). This site contains five rathas, literally chariots, dating from the 7th century. The sculptures are complemented by some enormous stone animals, including a large elephant. The Pandavas were five (panch in Sanskrit) brothers who led one side in the great war described in the ancient and sacred epic the Mahabharata. There are raths or chariots for Judisthir (known as Dharmaraj), Bhim and Arjun. Draupadi the common wife of the five brothers also has a chariot. The chariots of Arjun and Draupadi stand on the same platform. The twin brothers of Nakul and Sahadev share the fifth chariot. Apart from the chariot of Nakul and Sahadev the other four are in a linear alignment and have entrances on the western side. The chariot of Nakul and Sahadev is located west of the other four chariot and faces south, The complex also has an elephant and tiger statue.
- 6 Ganesha Ratha.
- 7 Valayankuttai Ratha.
The cave temples are carved into a rock.
- 8 Mahishamardini Cave (Mahishamardini Rock Cut Mandapa). The central carving in this cave is of Shiva and Parvati and Murugan
- 9 Varaha Cave. Varaha Cave has four impressive carvings of Vishnu, Gakalakshmi, Trivikama and Durga.
- 10 Krishna Mandapam.
- 11 Koneri Cave.
- 12 Ramanuja Mandapam.
- 13 Tiger Cave, Saluvankuppam. Rock Cut Hindu temple noted for its carvings of tigers. The mouth of the cave forms the entrance to the temple.
- 14 Atiranachanda Cave.
The structural (free-standing) temples at Mamallapuram have been built with cut stones as building blocks, rather than carved into a rock (cave temples) or out of a rock (ratha temples).
- 15 Shore Temple. The oldest structure in the area, built c. 700 AD. A Shiva lingam is enshrined in the central building. Unlike Mamallapuram's other monuments, the Shore Temple is a building (not carved from rock) and the bulk of the current structure is a reconstruction after it was struck by a cyclone. It's not particularly large, and the carvings have been badly eroded by the wind and the sea, but this adds to the sense of antiquity. The area around the temple is now a landscaped park, with guards keeping the hordes of souvenir hawkers at bay; despite that, the site can get very crowded on weekends.
- 16 Mukunda Nayanar Temple.
- 17 Olakkanesvara temple. Known as the 'Old Light House'" this structural temple stands atop the Mahishasuramardini Cave.
Other rock monuments
- 18 Krishna's Butterball. This is a giant natural rock perched on a hillside, seemingly in defiance of all laws of physics—it's a common sight to see visitors placing hands under the stone posing for pics, which looks as though they are holding it! The rock provides welcome shade if you dare to sit underneath it, and local kids have discovered that the slippery nearby hillside also makes a great natural slide.
Reliefs are carved on rocks or boulders.
- 19 Arjuna's Penance (Descent of the Ganges). A giant bas-relief filled with detailed carvings, including a family of elephants and monkeys. Archaeologists still squabble over what, exactly, the bas relief depicts; the central figure may actually depict Bhagiratha, not Arjuna.
- 20 Sculpture Museum (Meganath Sculptures), No. 32, Five Rathas Road, East Raja Street. This museum has hundreds of sculptures in stone, wood etc. It is well worth a visit. ₹2 entrance fee.
- 21 Indian Sea Shell Museum. The museum came up in 2017 and is an initiative of sea shell collector K Raja Mohamed. The museum displays about 6,000 shells out of which about 2,300 are from Mohamad's personal collection. The museum also has a pearl section apart from a few pearls on display the museum also narrates the story of the pearl through charts and diagrams. The museum also displays artifacts made of sea shell. Apart from shells and pearls the museum also displays aquarium fishes. Tourist also are provided with the option of having a fish spa in the museum. Last of all the museum has a souvenir shop selling pearls, sea shell and othe related artifacts.
- 22 Maritime Museum. 9:30AM-5:30PM. The museum came up in 2017 and houses several models of ships and boats including that of Titanic. The museum also has a submarine simulator. giving a real feel of the submarine. There is a silk route gallery a map shows the different land and sea route of the silk trade in the ancient world. There are several ancient boats on display. The complex also houses the Light House museum and a common ticket is required to visit both.
- 23 Light House and museum. 10AM-5:30PM. The lighthouse dates back to 1887 and is open to the public. A spiral stair leads to the top offering a birds-eye view of land and sea including the ruined temples and caves. The complex also houses a lighthouse museum. The operation of the lighthouse is explained with several models. On display is a series of old lighthouse lamps. Prior to the construction of the lighthouse the nearby Olakkanesvara temple served as a lighthouse with lights fitted on its top. Those lights and equipment are on display in the museum. The museum also has a short light and sound show operating several times a day.
Note: Old and new light houses provide views across the area to the sea. There are several unfinished temples nearby, and the December 2004 tsunami exposed more previously submerged temples.
- Bike trips around Tamil Nadu's countryside can be organised by travel agencies in the town.
- Chill on the sandy beach
- Surf, a restaurant at the entrance of the town, provides the following facilities:
- Boat rides to in the Bay of Bengal with lifeguards.
- Fishing trips to the sea.
- Turtle walk at the sea shore.
- Trekking to a hill nearby.
- The price for the above activities are slightly more than they should be. For example, a boat ride with lifeguards for 45 minutes is ₹280/- per head.
- Several yoga camps are organised on a daily basis.
- Solaman at Sakthi Yoga offers 1½ hour drop-in classes for ₹150 per person. Classes are offered three times a day: 7AM, 9AM and 4PM.
- Mamallapuram is known for its orphanages which often invite tourists to visit them (and donate). Many of them are affiliated to religious missions. So please be aware of this and inquire before donating.
Local sculptors in the main street leading to the sea (after the Tina Shell View Lodge) teach stone carving. You will learn how to sculpt a simple locket, and the longer you stay, the more complicated things you'll be able to do. For a simple locket at least 5 hours are needed. For ₹100 a day you can learn/work as long as you like everyday (the result is yours of course).
Stone sculptures made by local artists. You can see them on their work (and also learn it yourself, see #Learn). You can save a lot of money if you buy sculptures in small side roads and not in the main road.
There are lots of food stands in the centre serving large portions for next-to-nothing prices. Look specifically at the road leading down the Shore Temple from the bus stop, early in the morning at breakfast time.
Mamallapuram is famous for its coconuts, which are available from hawkers around all major sites.
Clustered around Othavadai Street and Othavadai Cross are restaurants catering primarily to tourists, which serve generally undistinguished Western food. Your best bet is often fresh grilled fish (which you can usually select yourself) served with french fries or salad.
- 1 Sea Shore Garden Beach restaurant (Garden View Restaurant), Othavadai Cross Street (At Greenwoods Beach Resort). Excellent food, each order freshly prepared, views of the street or the garden courtyard. Breakfast ₹25-45, lunch and dinner ₹65-145.
- 2 Gecko Cafe, Othavadai Cross. Family-run, fast, friendly and clean. Features Indian veg and non veg food as well as freshest seafood, offers a nice lake view for bird watching and has a relaxed atmosphere, very helpful waiter and cook.
- 3 The Golden Palate, 104, East Raja Street (At Hotel Mamalla Heritage), ☏ +91 44 27442060, +91 44 27442260, +91 44 27442360. Serves excellent Indian vegetarian food. Breakfast from 7AM is a poor deal at ₹153 (including tax) for a fairly simple buffet. It does, however, offer air conditioning! The lunch from midday is highly recommended... the best vegetarian thali spread for miles! It also has a pleasant non-veg restaurant on the rooftop.
- 4 Mamalla Bhavan, Shore Temple Road (near Raja Street), ☏ +91 44 27442250. Cheap, very good, popular veg thali (unlimited vegetables and curries, fixed rice and roti/bread) joint. ₹90 to ₹120 (lunch thali as of 2021-02-04).
- 5 Moonrakers Restaurant, Othavadai St. Multi-story restaurant with eclectic decoration, listed in all the guidebooks and hence quite popular with foreign tourists. The menu runs the gamut of Indian and Western favorites, veg and non-veg, although staff will try to steer you towards the expensive seafood items. Most dishes under ₹100, but seafood will cost you more. Also expect to pay more for extra bread or rice, drinks, etc. Beers around ₹150. Now expanded to control two places opposite one another.
- 6 Nautilus, #4, Othavadai Cross Street. Popular with foreign tourists, this French-owned cafe features credible Western food, a decent cup of coffee, a competent and friendly waitstaff, and a library stocked with Tintin and Asterix volumes. ₹50-₹200.
- 7 The New Cafe (Lakshmi Lodge), No 6, Ottavadai Cross St, ☏ +91 44-27442463. Serve healthy breakfast and excellent vegetarian food (Tamil Nadu style) and variety of fresh fish, prawns and lobsters, crabs and calamari freshly prepared with excellent taste. A beautiful terrace with view of the ocean and sound.
- 8 Saabra Fast Food. On the corner of Ottavadai Street and East Raja Street. Only four tables available at hole in the wall. Caters to a mostly Indian crowd. Fresh, tasty Northern India food at a great price. Full menu available for lunch and dinner. Most main dishes are under ₹50. Naan ₹15..
- 9 Sri Ananda Bhavan Restaurant, corner of Ottavadai Street and East Raja Street. Primarily an Indian scene but popular with Westerners too. Pure veg, cheap and good. Big lunch (dal, sabzi, rice, two chapatis, salad, pickles, ice-cream) for ₹60, Idli breakfast for ₹20, Dosa Masala for ₹25. Get a food ticket at the desk.
- 10 Surf Turf Mahabs. Surf provides a wide variety of food for all seafood lovers. This restaurant is at the entrance of the town. If you are not the greatest fan of seafood, then you will find this restaurant over priced. If you are really hungry, then Surf is not a good place to eat. The service is really late and you will receive your order just before you are about to starve down.
Many restaurants serve beer though it may not be on the menu, usually Kingfisher but sometimes 'Bullet' (slightly higher alcohol content). Prices of beer are generally ₹130-150 (premium-strong) per bottle at cost and sold at ₹250 (if you ask) in restaurants.
No government-run TASMAC wine shop is available in town; to buy alcohol you must drive around 2 km out from Mamallapuram to the TASMAC Elite near the ECR road junction of Mahabalipuram town.
- 1 Hotel Ramakrishna, #8 Othavadai St, ☏ +91 27442331. A large place on three storeys around a central parking courtyard, filled with pot plants. The simple rooms all have bathrooms and are clean. email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org ₹500-2000.
- 2 Aishwarya Guest house, #26,Thirukula street, ☏ +91 9789881558. 27 cozy rooms with cool sea breeze, attached bath and 24 hrs room service. approx ₹450.
- 3 Hotel Lakshmi Cottages, Othavadai Cross street. (Parallel to main road), ☏ +91 44-27442463. Decent budget place and air conditioned rooms and cottages with swimming pool and nice sea view rooms, often has a good traveler vibe. Restaurant (the new cafe) on top. Internet cafe and travel information. As low as ₹250 per night.
- 4 Dancing Waves Resort (email@example.com), Othavadai Street beach, ☏ +91 99627-60606, +91 44-2744-3325. Located right on the beach. 6 rooms with sea view in every room.
- 5 Siva Guesthouse, #2 Ottavadai Cross Street, ☏ +91 44-27443534.
- 6 Sri Harul Guesthouse (firstname.lastname@example.org), No:181 Bajanai Koil St (Fisherman's Colony), ☏ +91 9384620173. Direct on the beach, 2 minutes walk from the center. 6 rooms on seaside and 2 rooms available. On the rooftop is Cafe Good Luck. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are freshly prepared to order. Very nice view.
- 7 Greenwoods Resort, Othavadai Cross, ☏ +91 44 27443118, email@example.com. Pleasant family-owned hotel with a charming restaurant serving freshly cooked meals on a terrace overlooking the street and a lovely garden courtyard. ₹700-1500 for AC/Non-AC rooms, some with terrace balcony. Full breakfast included..
- 8 Hotel Mamallaa Heritage, 104 East Raja St, ☏ +91 44-27442060, +91 44-27442260, +91 44-27442360, firstname.lastname@example.org. An authentic Southern Indian hotel, which is famous locally for its buffet meals and smiling hospitality. Room rates start from ₹2400 per day (updated on Jan 2022), including complimentary breakfast buffet. The hotel does not provide any mini-bar or alcoholic beverages on the room service menu. The hotel also has a swimming pool on the first floor.
- 9 Hotel Pallava Dynasty, 23 East Raja St, ☏ +91 9600146900, email@example.com. Comfortable rooms and cottages in a tropical garden setting that leads to a lovely garden courtyard. ₹1000-3000.
- 10 Lutz Guesthouse. Nice guesthouse on the beachside.
- 11 Mamalla Beach Resort, 108, Kovalam Road. 35 sea view rooms with balconies and attached bath. Options of air conditioned standard and deluxe rooms, swimming pool, multi-cuisine restaurant with 24 hour room service.
- 12 Sea Breeze, Othavadai Cross (at the end of the street), ☏ +91 4114 243035. Beach resort with a swimming pool. Ayurvedic massage is available on-site. ₹1000-2000..
- 13 TTDC Beach Resort Complex, Near Petrol Bunk, Kovalam Road, ☏ +91 44-27442361, +91 44-27442362, +91 44-27442363, +91 44-27442364. Check-out: noon. This is a government-owned resort and is a part of Tamilnadu tourism. The pricing is decent and all rooms are sea/beach facing. The place is relatively clean but the service is slow. The location and view is great. The food is bad. The complimentary breakfast is mostly South Indian and is not too good on most days. Great place to stay on a budget but eat out! ₹2000+tax.
- 14 Bob Marley Guesthouse & Restaurant, 182 Fisherman's Colony, ☏ +91 9840-098260. On the beach, 2 minutes walk from the center of the village. 4-5 rooms, all with seaview and fan. One with aircon. Also very good restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner. All food is freshly prepared after ordering.
- 15 Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay Mamallapuram (former GRT Temple Bay), 57 Covelong Road, ☏ +91 44 2744 3636. A 5-star beach resort.
- 16 Ideal Beach Resort. Comfortable rooms and cottages in a tropical garden setting leading to palm trees and hammocks on the beach. Popular with tours.
- 17 Sheraton Grand Chennai Resorts and Spa, 280 East Coast Rd, Vada Nemmeli. Beachfront luxury resort. ₹12000 per night.
- India's first nuclear reactor and much of its nuclear research program is just down the beach in Kalpakkam. Don't wander into restricted areas.
- Most restaurants close by 11PM and the town is basically dead after that. Loitering around very late at night is not too safe.
- Be careful when getting into the sea. There can be sudden dips and the sea often gets very rough and unsafe.
- Crocodile bank — at Vadanemmeli, 15 km on the road back to Chennai. You can feed the reptiles for a small fee.
- The Eagle Temple — a short bus ride from Mamallupuram brings you to the spectacular Eagle Temple. Take it easy on the climb up, as it's a long way, but the views are worth it.
- Pondicherry — Mamallapuram is a good stopover if you are making a trip from Chennai to Pondicherry by road.
- Thirukalukundram — This town is home to the famous Hindu Vedagiriswarar temple complex (Eagle temple).