Today was our day for seeing the nearby 7th century holy temples of Mamallapuram, a UNESCO World Heritage site. These are called Pallava temples, and they are located very close to the beautiful Bay of Bengal.
They are monolithic buildings carved from the top down out of huge boulders. Their details are amazing, though they were never able to be completed at their bases.
Our guide today was Kumar, an exuberant font of his version of history and Hindu culture. All the guidebooks are wrong, says Kumar, as he can read the original Tamil inscriptions on many of the sites. However, his versions confused us mightily, and we will have to become much more expert in the stories of the gods to fully appreciate the magnificent carvings.
We were joined today by many tourists, most of them Indian. I loved seeing them posed against the drab stone temples, in the most wonderful colors and styles. And many of them were very happy to pose. For me, they are so exotic and beautiful. But I was rather surprised that they found us equally exotic. I now appear in about 30 selfies of women who insisted on being photographed with me. I kept telling Kumar to let them know that no, I am not an American movie star, but I fear he told them quite the opposite. Don was also very popular – also with the Indian ladies. Next stop for us, Bollywood.
The ladies in red are pilgrims progressing from one temple to another far away – barefoot.
Nearby is the spectacular Vishnu Shore Temple, which has survived centuries on the Bay. Kumar says Marco Polo visited here, but that factoid might require further research. On the other hand, why not?
Before we saw the remainder of our temples for the day, we had some street life excitement. To get us quickly to our next destination via the crowded alleys, Kumar had us jump into a tuk-tuk, one of the ubiquitous auto rickshaws that offer thrill rides available for very little money. The streets are riotous, and just filled with color – as well as some other things one just doesn’t expect to dodge on the road.
Nearby were other unfinished cave temples, which are also astonishing in the intricacies of the 1400-year-old carvings. Kumar is shown imitating Krishna Mandapa, lifting Mount Govardhan to protect the world from torrential rains.
Our last notable site today is known as Krishna’s Butter Ball, a natural boulder which twelve elephants under the direction of an over-zealous British officer couldn’t move. So here it sits.
We also saw a tree on which women write notes to the god begging for children. Nearby was a huge tamarind tree and earlier we saw an almond tree. Having caught a seed pod, it’s amazing to think how inexpensive almonds are, given what it must take to retrieve them.
This was really our first day out in the streets, and the experience was everything every movie and documentary you might have ever seen presents. But the most interesting thing is that we quickly got accustomed to the swirling crowds, the rampant garbage and the madcap traffic. It’s the people you notice. So many respond to a smile or wish one good day. It’s exciting and heart-warming and over-stimulating, all at once.
We loved it.