I took my family on vacation a couple of weeks back. We made use of the Diwali weekend and took off to Mahablipuram. For those of you who are geographically challenged, Mahablipuram (also known as Mamallapuram) is a town in Kancheepuram district in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It has an average elevation of 12 metres (39 feet).
We took a train to Chennai and then had to make our way to Mahabalipuram. An enthusiastic neighbour back home had suggested that we take a readily available ‘luxury bus’ from Chennai to Mahabalipuram. We went to the bus terminal and looked long and hard at the ‘luxury buses’. Saw a few sore and unhappy tourists getting out of the contraptions and came to the conclusion that these were anything but luxurious and you would most probably get a backache free with the ticket.
We decided to take a cab instead. After a lot of walking in the sun, we found a dusty old Indica parked at the side of the road with a flyer stuck on the bonnet. It was a private cab that had a smashed in windscreen and suspicious looking stains on the seats and roof. I think someone may have slaughtered an uncooperative buffalo inside that car at some time.
It took us close to two hours to reach the Sterling Mahabalipuram. Quaint looking place with a nice old world feel. This place has a very interesting lobby full of antiques and curios. Check in was quick and easy. The only thing I asked for was an extra bed. I was assured that it would be arranged and we proceeded to the room. The room was decent. Everything was green in colour and I guess you could call it snug. We had a hell of a lot of mosquitoes outside the room and a few inside too, but I guess that’s how close we were getting to nature.
We had lunch at Pongammiya, the hotel’s own restaurant. The food was terrible. The Malabar fish curry was barely edible and the prawns were very very sad little things. We were a tad disappointed but decided to let it go. We spent most of the evening on the beach. I must say the sea there is very rough; nothing like the sea in Goa. The waves were downright aggressive and were tossing people around like pieces of driftwood. Had dinner at a little place called Gazebo, who boasted of fresh seafood and a pretty impressive continental menu. Fish curry and rice – 3 stars.
The next day we went sightseeing. Checked out the old lighthouse and plenty of temples (the famous Shore Temple included). What’s mysterious about this place is that almost all the monuments and carvings are incomplete. The inhabitants are supposed to have packed up and disappeared overnight leaving everything incomplete. The reason for this remains a mystery to this day. Perhaps there was some kind of catastrophe that caused them to eat at the Sterling, and subsequently get wiped out.
Anyway, we did find a pretty good restaurant on day 2. It was a nice little place called Surf that had a good looking menu. The Surf Special Seafood biryani we ordered was excellent. Generous portions of fish, prawn and calamari cooked in spicy South Indian masala with Basmati rice – totally worth the 150 bucks. The service was very good too. Not surprising that the restaurant was doing roaring business. What was commendable, was the fact that at no point did the service slip up. They had a guy called Ramu who was managing the waiters and he was everything a good restaurant manager should be. Pleasing personality, menu knowledge and all that. The place was so good, we went back the next day to get some more of that biryani.
All was well. We went back to the resort and spent the rest of the evening on the beach. Headed out at around 9 pm to get some dinner when it happened. The place was pitch dark and the only sound you could hear was that of the sea. Peaceful and utterly relaxing. I was strolling along in my shorts and feeling the breeze tease my calves when the sound of a tortured Luna rent the air. A moped came flying out of the darkness and crashed into me from behind. I let fly a few of my favourite expletives and prepared to pulverize the motorist who had so graciously given me a scraped ankle. Strangely, the rider was nowhere to be found. I couldn’t believe it. I had been attacked by a ghost moped! Anyway a few moments later, a flustered, slightly drunk fellow arrived on the scene protesting against the ‘bad words’ that I had used. Apparently he was kicking the Luna into action when it came to life and took off without him. He continued to take offence to my swear words so I took the moped and flung it into the gutter flanking the street. A few locals turned up and the offended owner of the moped ran off into the night. Needless to say, I swore a little more.
All was forgotten the next day and from what I could see, the Luna had been retrieved from the gutter. Day 3 saw a lot of crocodiles. We stopped at the Crocodile Bank and saw a lot of umm well.. crocodiles. Great conservation effort and all, but the place stunk to the high heavens. I took a few pictures with a baby croc for 30 bucks and we got the hell outta there.
Took a train back to Chennai and got home in one piece. All in all, Mahabalipuram was a fun trip.
Key takeaways –
- Don’t stay at the Sterling. Those idiots don’t know a thing about hospitality and their food has the potential to kill you.
- Eat at Surf
- Spend as much time as you can on the beach.