Chennai and Mahabalipuram, India, March 2017

Back in Chennai we went to a fancy movie theater. We watched a great movie based on a true story – Lion. A young boy in India gets lost, becomes adopted by an Australian couple, and goes back to India to locate his biological family 25 years later. Details from the ornate theater:

We also went to the beach. It was  ten minute tuktuk ride from MB’s place. Despite what I had heard, it was a clean beach with people swimming and anti-litter announcements on a loudspeaker. I was excited to see the ocean from India, since I had spent the previous visit mostly in the desert. We were at the Bay of Bengal, across the water from southern Myanmar.

The last big thing I wanted to do before leaving Chennai was see the ruins of Mahabalipuram. This is a UNESCO world heritage site 50 km south of Chennai. It has gorgeous ruins from the 7th and 8th centuries when it was an important commercial and cultural center and seaport. I stressed out about how to get there and back- I am so programmed to take the frugal option (local bus) but I ended up hiring a cab for the day. The bus station was far from MB’s apartment and the bus ride was three times as long as the car ride. The cab would take me to the various sites and cost under $30 for the entire day. It felt indulgent to have an air-conditioned car and driver all to myself, but I splurged. It was my last day of this excellent trip, and I would be back in plenty of time to meet MB after work for a last evening hanging out. The driver picked me up at the apartment and off we went. The drive had some rural parts, but was almost completely through commercial urban streets. It felt like the city of Chennai stretched on and on. There were occasional glimpses of the water. Eventually we came to the first stop, the Shore Temple. 

According to the guidebook I bought here, this is the only surviving of seven original temples built on these shores in the 7th and 8th centuries by the Pallava Dynasty kings Mahendravarman and his son Narasimhavarman I. This southern India dynasty ruled from 275 CE to 897 CE and introduced influential script and architectural styles in the region. This particular temple has UNESCO World Heritage status and is known as the best example of Pallava architecture. It was awesome to see, especially with the Bay of Bengal so close by. 

The next stop was the Elephant Wall, which seemed to be at the main Mahabalipuram site and town center. The driver took my photo by the impressive carvings, then I was let loose to wander the ruins of the main park. 

The wall is called Arjuna’s Penance, referring to the trials endured by the Mahabharata hero in order to obtain Shiva’s weapon. It also tells the story of the birth of the Ganges river though actions of the sage Bhagiratha and the Hindu deity Shiva. My guidebook describes “the triple world of Gods and demi-Gods, of human beings, birds and animals and of Nagas and Nymphs- all fitting harmoniously”into the 100 feet long by 45 foot tall bas-relief. It is stupefying and stunning and gorgeous. 

The middle structure above is a few feet away from the Wall. It is carved into the rock and has lovely columns and more wall carvings inside.

More in next post!

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