Panorama of Shore Temple
Detail of the Arjuna's Penance bas-relief

Mamallapuram (Tamil: மாமல்லபுரம்), also known as Mahabalipuram, is a tourist town 60 km south of Chennai 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, 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 you way through clutches of gypsies, 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.

Get in

Arjuna's Penance bas-relief

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.)

Get around

It is easy to get around the town on foot, though bike rental is also available. It is relatively a small city and all point of interest are close to each other. Paid parking areas are available near the Shore Temple and the Five Rathas. Note, for visiting both Shore temple and the Five Rathas you need to buy entry tickets. These ticket counters gets closed by 5:30PM and both these places gets closed by 6PM. So, you cannot enter unless you buy the ticket before 5:30PM.


A combined entrance ticket to the Shore Temple and the Five Rathas costs ₹250 for foreigners and ₹10 for Indian citizens. Local guides, who speak multiple languages, are available for around ₹200 for a tour of all main attractions.

You can also hire a cab (non-ac) for about ₹150 for 2 1/2 hours, during which you will be taken to all the major tourists spots in Mamallapuram.

Krishna's Butterball
Three of the Five Rathas, with an elephant standing guard
Approaching the Shore Temple

The following structures are all carved straight out of rock in the central hillside area, so you can travel between them on foot. The scenery within the hills is also quite unusual, with smooth rock rising out of the forest and carved stairways leading between the mandapas (pavilions), caves and carvings.

Walking through the forest

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.





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. 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.







Stay safe

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 post that. Loitering around very late at night is not too safe. Be careful while getting into the sea. There are sudden dips and the sea gets very rough and unsafe often.

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