We were thankful when our bus departed from Chennai’s rather large and motorbike-filled bus station. Once the driver had woken up from his nap, naturally. We were moving to a smaller town where we may get a different feel for India. Our destination is described in Lonely Planet as a ‘tossed salad’. Good evening Mamallapuram!
We arrived in the late afternoon, and set about seeing some of the sights that bring numerous travellers down the east coast. We saw an imperious relief carving into a giant boulder known as Anjuna’s Penance. We also saw a ratha, which is Sanskrit for chariot, dedicated to Ganesh. The rathas in this area are famous because they were all carved and sculpted from a single rock. The following morning we saw a collection of these known as the Five Rathas. Funnily enough, there are five of them. Some are more impressive than others.
Near to the Ganesh Ratha was the peculiar reason for our visit. A giant rock. Perched. On a slope. Which somehow defies physics and sits on the slope. It is incredible. The slope had an area that seemed a little wet, which allowed little children some sliding fun.
There were plenty of animals on show. Goats were sat atop rocks, apparently taking in the idyllic sunset. Stray dogs were unfortunately lining the streets in front of the stalls, with nowhere to go. Cows lined the roads. Yet they didn’t grab my attention – literally – as much as one particular creature.
I put my water bottle on the floor to take a picture. As I completed my task, I turned to see a monkey sprinting towards my refreshment. Whisked away just in time, I then decided to see if the monkey deserved a drink from my half-full bottle. I screwed the top on tight, and placed it gently on the floor. And then watched as the chimp grabbed the bottom of the bottle and bit hard into its base. Water spat out. Outwitted by a monkey. Not my proudest moment.
As we walked, we were invited to a birthday party. On top of some ruins that may have been a shrine. We gingerly scaled the steps, and were greeted by hugs from the seven or eight people on top. Photos abounded, before we then had cake shoved firmly into our faces. Twice. At least they asked me the third time. We decided later that we had been ‘cake-raped’. It is these moments, however, that I cherish when travelling. The interaction with locals, and the opportunity to share in something special with them – in this case, a 40th birthday party and mouthfuls of Western-tasting sponge cake.
Whilst talking about food, it would be rude not to mention the chapatti kuruma we had that night. Our initial idea had been to go to a local fried rice joint. We arrived at 9.30pm, which is late by Indian standards. Still, they said they were open and eagerly ushered us inside. So we told them we wanted fried rice and sat there. For 15 minutes. Before then being told that there was no rice left and that we could have noodles. No chance. Plan B was a hotel that did vegetarian food. Quick clarification – hotel doesn’t always mean hotel; it often refers to a restaurant. And this place provided me with the best food I have had in India thus far. For Rs25. Less than 50p for top quality nosh.
Our experience in Mamallapuram was much better than Chennai. I would have been worried if we had found it to be worse. However, we still had some issues which I feel may become common during my trip around this massive country. A sculpture student showed us around some other shrines and sights shortly after that birthday party, and then showed us his work…which he then wanted us to buy. At a rather expensive price. He tried to sell Chris a candleholder for Rs1200 which was then initially offered to him at a stall for about Rs350. We don’t like scams.
We also don’t like being lied to. Step forward Lonely Planet here, which told us that there was a bus, the 108B, which travelled directly to the airport. Asking around we got the multitude of answers that we have come to expect, so scouted around the bus station. Where we found the 108B bus that most definitely did not go to the airport, and had lots of people on board who were most definitely not going to the airport. So a bus to the middle of nowhere, relying on people to tell us when to get off, and a tuk tuk to what looked initially looked like a building site before showing itself to be the domestic terminal. The airport itself was also irritating, especially when being told that we had to leave the very long queue we had patiently waited through because the man at the check-in desk forgot to give us a tag for our bags.
Still, these are things that I just have to get used to. Every country has its nuances. I have to say that Mamallapuram thoroughly impressed me. It has a very relaxed vibe to it, and all of the people seemed friendly. The food was great – I also experienced my first lassi, which was tremendous and the first of many – and the sights were as impressive as had been suggested. The nature of the next two weeks meant that we felt we hadn’t given the town the time it deserved, but I would recommend ‘Mal’ to anyone. Especially if people invite you up for a birthday party!
Love you all