Mahabalipuram – Proceed with Caution

We went to Mahabalipuram after spending the morning with the Irula from the Madras Crocodile Bank on their snake walk.  We had hired a taxi for the day and even though we were tired and thought about just going back to the hotel he suggested we head over to Mahabalipuram.  On the one hand I am so glad we listened to him as it is a stunning location (we didn’t however see the coastal palace area which is meant to be the best and most famous).  However, especially as we were some of the only tourists there at the time, on our first ever exotic trip (and I think it showed) we were pressured a lot by locals which sadly ruined the experience a bit.

Mahabalipuram

Krishna Mandapam

The whole site is absolutely gorgeous and gave many opportunities to take photos of the magnificent rock carvings here! It is not just the ancient carvings you should look out for either… There are many modern crafts men here selling their craved rock, an industry you can see thriving the whole way along the road to Mahabalipuram (from Chennai) which is littered with workshops containing people busily carving away!

However as much as these crafts are beautiful (and made one of my favourite Indian souvenirs) the crafts men are also the curse of this site. They are VERY pushy here as soon as you get out of the taxi. Our taxi driver recommended that we get a guide (which was fairly reasonably priced) who would not only tell us about the history but also keep the salesmen and beggars at bay… For the tour he did just this and his knowledge was impeccable.

Mahabalipuram

He also knew the locals and the trades which they had, suggesting that we have our fortune told by an elderly gentleman who would allow his Indian Ring Neck Parakeet pick a card out of a pile containing our fortune… This was very novel and we both did this (I only wish I had been less interested in the bird picking the cards and more focused on photographing the whole thing)… If you have your fortune told this way whether you believe in it or not (which i don’t, but I like to engage in the local customs) be prepared to be thoroughly ripped off! It is not cheap as you find out at the end!

Mahabalipuram

However by the end of the tour our guide called all of the tradesmen over who surrounded us which was VERY uncomfortable. I had already planned on buying a souvenir on the way round so there was no need to be pushy but this did not deter them. In the end after buying the one product I wanted I had to remind our guide that we did not want to be hassled like this and as he had called them over he should send them away if he wanted a tip on top of his fee (which of course worked very well).

If you buy items from the sellers here make sure you barter, and they do also take English pounds sterling. The person I spoke to started at £80 for a small ball of carved rock which was very expensive. In the end I got it for £20 which is a price I was happy to pay, and he seemed happy to accept it.

Mahabalipuram

Krishna’s Butter Ball

You almost don’t want to stand underneath it… But only almost! It really looks like its on its way down the rocky slope it is sat on top of. It is one of the first things you see as you drive through the main tourist area in Mahabalipuram and is a real attention grabber. It is a brilliant place to get a photo and if you come to the area make sure you don’t miss this brilliant photo opportunity! Although it can get very busy in the area (for the same reason).

Mahabalipuram

As mentioned above, many people here sell beautiful stone carvings (with most of them congregating around the butter ball as it’s where all the tourists want to have their photo taken), and in honor of the “butter ball” I purchased one of my favourite souvenirs from India here – A carved ball of rock with various deities carved in to it.

Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram Conclusions

There is a lot to see here and if you don’t mind being hassled you can spend some time here enjoying the sights… We had planned to go to the Shore Temple from here and were told by the taxi driver that this would be even more crowded… The people here were so pushy and rude they actually put us off going to the shore temple entirely, which we regret but on our first day in India we simply did not have the patience to put up with being hounded like that. However we were there at around 2 pm, and have heard that it is much quieter and more enjoyable first thing in the morning, so I would give this a try if you come here.

Markus

A lot of people enjoy going abroad without any real plans about what they will do whilst out there – however I am very much of the school of thought which says plan as much as you can and leave yourself some time for exploring (however make sure you always give yourself a chance to explore).

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