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  • Day14

    Ancient Sea Culture of Mamallapuram

    December 18, 2018 in India ⋅ 🌫 25 °C

    Mamallapuram

    While Hans and Sophie were recovering, I spent the afternoon wandering with Ina and Anatole, a couple from Brooklyn on the trip. We decided to head down to the beach; our tour later in the afternoon would take us to the UNESCO monuments built in the 7th and 8th centuries that Mamallapuram is famous for.

    As we walked down the road from the hotel, and hooked a left for the beach, we noticed an astounding number of men and women dressed in brilliant red and orange tunics and trousers or saris. Women had woven flowers into their braids. There was a general festive air. The road eventually petered out into a sand track lined with stalls, selling trinkets. Anything you could imagine. Shoes, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, bags, backpacks, whistles, sarongs, stone sculptures, soapstone elephants, plastic toys like what you'd see in a McDonald's Happy Meal back in the day. We could have gotten a tattoo if we wanted or had our picture taken with a monkey in a dress. Or, we could have our name etched into a grain of rice and put into a bracelet. Plenty of options!

    Throngs of people stood at the shoreline, cooling off and watching the waves. Kids played in the water, a group of women got soaking wet, saris and all. A few enterprising young men gave pony rides.

    Later in the afternoon, we met up with VJ, Augie, and Scott to bike to the sites on the monument tour. Our first stop was The Five Rathas, the five rock temples carved in the form of chariots. The temples were carved from a single granite boulder (a gigantic boulder!). The carvings took shape from the top down, and the rock was split (somehow) using wooden wedges and water.

    We saw Arjuna's Penance, one of the tallest bas relief structures in the world, second to Ankor Watt. I think the guide was saying that some of the temples in the Ankor Watt complex are in the Tamil style. The carvings here were exquisite, very delicate and precise, not at all damaged or worn.

    We also visited a cave temple, as well Krishna's Butterball, a 250 ton 20 foot tall rock balancing on a steep incline. Apparently, a British governor, citing safety concerns, tried to move the rock with 8 elephants, but it wouldn't budge. (We also saw a sausage tree, one if the wierdest trees I've ever seen. The fruits look exactly like sausages and are supposed to be good for liver health.)

    The most impressive temple of all was the Shore Temple, the last remaining temple of 7. It's on the shore of the Bay of Bengal, and the other 6 temples are now underwater. We were told that in the 2004 tsunami, the 6 temples appeared just before the tidal wave hit, when all the water had receded.

    When we returned, we were happy to see that Hans and Sophie were on the mend. I'm still under the weather, and have finally resorted to the antibiotics in our first aid kit.

    Tomorrow it is down the Bengal coast to Pondicherry, an old French colonial city.
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