India: Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu

Our next stop following Chennai on our tour of South India was Mahabalipuram (formerly Mammalipuram) in the state of Tamil Nadu.

We needed to power up with a good breakfast for the drive, and so started with an incredible plate (clockwise from the top: masala uttapam, coconut chutney, roasted tomato chutney, sambar (lentil soup), idli, and vada (fried lentil donuts):

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The masala uttapam (mixed spice savoury pancake) was the best part — crispy on the spiced edges and soft inside with all the bubbles from the overnight-fermented batter (just like when you make masala dosa).  Yum yum yum.

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En route to Mahabalipuram, we stopped ever so briefly in Pondicherry (formerly Puducherry), a former French colony in India.  I loved this Gandhi statue:

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And a gorgeous chalk mandala drawn on the sidewalk:

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We also saw a church:

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With gorgeous arches:

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And my favourite statue of all time at one of the roadside shrines:

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We stopped for lunch en route at a restaurant and had a plate of delicious curries: (clockwise from top: naan bread, dal over rice, okra and eggplant (hello, inspiration! I’ll be cooking you soon), kootu (my new favourite — a veggie curry made with coconut), and cumin potatoes, with lemon rice in the middle of the plate)

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The dal & rice was unbelievably good:

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And for dessert, gulab jamun (condensed milk balls in syrup):

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Once we arrived in Mahabalipuram we explored the town to see the local sites: a group of monuments that form a world heritage site.  Mahabalipuram is known for its stone carving, and all of the monuments show the different types of stone carving done in the region. We saw some excellent examples of the stone carving:

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We visited Thirukadalmallai, a temple in the pallava style:

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That had a really big nandi (bull) as well as a Chinese dragon:

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We in fact saw Chinese dragon figures incorporated into almost all the shrines in Tamil Nadu:

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And more gorgeously intricate pillars:

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And a beautiful Meenakshi (Parvati) shrine:

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We also visited a huge bas relief sculpture called Descent of the Ganges:

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Then we moved onto Krishna’s Butter Ball (a big rock — that’s the explanation we got):
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Which also had goats:
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And mandalas carved in the ceilings of the surrounding shrines:
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The Shore Temple (next to the Bay of Bengal).
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And my favourite spot: the Five Rathas (Five Chariots) named after the five Pandava brothers.  It was so cool for me to be there, because I had just finished reading a retelling of the Mahabarata from Draupati’s perspective — The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, and so the Pandava brothers were familiar characters to me.  Each of the five buildings was devoted to one of the five brothers.

There were lots of tour groups around, including students being students:
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And a group of people my height — we became quick friends and practiced our English together:
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The sculptures were incredible:

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And for scale, here’s one of those images with our guide for the day:
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Back to chill, our resort in Mahabalipuram had a fantastic view from the bar:

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As well as a great bar with bar snacks.

We got a dish that was totally new to us (that we then saw throughout South India) — cauliflower fritters:

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And a fabulous veggie Kathi roll served with mint chutney:
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Ahhhhh yes.  Travel perfection.

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Categories: Travel

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  1. India: Thanjavur, Karaikudy & Chettinad Food | The Kitchen Operas - April 25, 2012

    […] our stay with the carvings in Mahabalipuram, we ventured on through our tour of South India.  In Thanjavur (formerly Tanjore), we visited the […]

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