Sprinkled in the sand, the temples by the shore in Mamallapuram have become nothing more than tourist traps, disguised under the name of “Unesco world heritage sites”. Don’t get me wrong, they are, just like the Venus Fly trap, very pretty tourist traps, but they were so devoid of any spirituality in comparison to the temple inside Chennai. No people praying, no candles lit, no one hitting the floor.
However, there were goats around, and that made everything better.
How to get here: We simply had the hotel book us a cab (I believe it came to about 7000 rupees and we were 5 in the car), but as things tend to be, hotel cabs are generally much more expensive than normal cars. There might also be buses to the place.
Rose, despite my constant bickering, decided to educate us by reading from the guide, which was a noble cause. The place had all sorts of temples to all sorts of deities. And then there were goats, as ever-present as the sun in the sky.
Krishna’s butterball (that huge round rock) was, as the guidebook described, “immovable yet in precarious balance”, which made no sense but then there were goats next to it just like in the postcards and, as mentioned before, goats just make everything better. Other guides call it “seemingly in defiance of all laws of physics”, but really, gravity and having a heavy rock generally tends to help.
A crash course in Hindu religion: those three rooms that my friends defiled with their posing belonged to the Trimurti, three gods that are Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Protector and Shiva the Destroyer. In the defiling of them all, perhaps it would be best to avoid Vishnu because he seems to be quite a big boss.
Then there was food all over. Especially in my mouth. Which was great. One thing that you will notice in the south is that most places are vegetarian. Many times the restaurants are called “hotels” for some reason. Another thing you will notice is that all indian food looks very similar – brown and surrounded by sauce. We got some naans (which are amazing), both butter and garlic, some Chilli Gobi (which is cauliflower, I believe they deepfry it in this region) and all sorts of other dishes.
The girls felt the need to do some shopping – the usual suspects where there: stone masonry, shawls and other fabrics, jewelry. You should normally attempt to bargain at least to 60% of the initial price. Don’t trust anyone – none of that “oh you can ask my neighbours, very good prices yes?”. Trust only your gut and the greedy human soul within you.
And then, beyond the shops, beyond the cow in the road, there it was: the sea. The shore, endless and contaminated with garbage, dogs and crows, was slowly caressed by the waves. The shore temple, build in about 700 AD, was a lone point that broke the skyline. With such audacity, the price for foreginers was announced as being 250% more than that of indians.
Another tidbit of wisdom: women would seem to be required to wear red when visiting temples (Required or just someting that “ought to be done”, which, really, its more or less a requirement). The moisture, the salt, the waves and wind had eroded much of the building and the structures nearby.
The locals were having a blast taking pictures with the white people. On a field nearby, children were frolicking so I took this opportunity to take pictures of them with my zoom lens in a rather stalkerish yet pedophilia-free manner. I was listening to music so I was completely unaware of the circle of indians enclosing upon me. When I raised my gaze, I was assaulted with questions about my zoom lens and, what I believe, was a request for me to exchange my lens with someone else’s. Having a picture taken with them seemed compulsory.
As a last bit, we went to the Five Rathas (literally chariots), again dedicated to various deities and “defended” by stone animals – including an elephant. But I assure you, the flesh and bones version is much nicer than the rock one.