Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Bike Ride To Mahabalipuram

On a cloudy winter morning in Chennai, Sun was playing hide and seek as I embarked on my first ever Bike Ride to Mahabalipuram. I chose to start a bit early for two prime reasons, firstly to reach before the crowd starts pouring onto this small shore town, and secondly to avoid being caught by the Chennai Traffic police! Nobody wants to get caught by traffic cops, especially if your coming from the rival state Karnataka and rival metro Bangalore! Keeping all these in mind I kick started my ride at around 8.30 in the morning. I had the Bay of Bengal to accompany me all through the 56 kilometres of the journey. After 45 minutes along the Beach Road into the journey I reached East Coast Road or ECR as it is popularly known as.

Take my word its not just Scenic as the hoarding proudly announces, but it is Breathtaking and Picturesque. People with the Shutter Bug syndrome, beware of this road, because you will find yourself bitten by the Shutter Bug every other 5 to 10 minutes! ECR is Pay and Use road, but Bikes are exempted. ECR is a bikers paradise, Most part of the road is usually straight and flat. The roads are very well laid out. One can find vehicles zip past you at speeds over 100 Kph, but the legal speed limit is 80 kph.

Bay of Bengal accompanies us all along the journey, but it's not in sight because of the urban jungle. After you cross the ECR Toll Plaza, you can get a glimpse of the sea for the first time, you get an uninhibited view of the Sea for the rest of the journey from this point onwards.

Further along the journey we cross the back waters of the sea. Here Boating enthusiasts can have a boat ride. Since I was travelling alone, I decided to continue with my journey.

All along the journey Mother Nature keeps treating us with many more picturesque sites, as I warned earlier Shutter Bug keeps biting, take my word its hard to resist such a bite! Finally after one and a half hour ride with ample stopovers I made it to Mamallapuram town! Mahabalipuram famous for its temples is also famous for its Sculptures. Every 5 - 10 metres we can find artisans busy working with their trademark rhythmic sound of chiselling.

I found this beautiful sculpture of Lord Ganapathi on my way to the first visiting point “The Shore Temple”.

All the tourist spots in Mahabalipuram are part of United Nations' World Heritage Monuments. Archaeological Survey of India (or ASI) has taken up the maintenance of all the sites here, hence we get to see well maintained monuments. We have a one time entry fee of Rs. 10, for the Shore temple and the “Five Rathas” monuments.

The main deity here and other places in Mahabalipuram is Lord Shiva, as the rulers of Pallava dynasty, founders of this town worshipped Lord Shiva.

As the name suggests the Shore Temple is located very close to the sea shore. A 5 foot tall boundary wall separates the temple from the deep sea.

The Shore Temple and most of the other monuments here are made of Sand Stone, which is easily disintegrated by the rough sea and salt laden winds. Most of the carvings on the temple are spoilt as a result of this. ASI has taken special measures to arrest the erosion of the sculptures.

Adding to the ambient atmosphere is the pleasant sound of the waves hitting the shore right next to the temple along with a cool breeze. Just the sight of this place makes the whole journey worthwhile. I was lucky enough to get drenched in a fine drizzle of rain. Though the rain did not last more than a few minutes, I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Next stop in my journey was Cave temples. This group of caves is just a 5 minutes walk from the Shore Temple. The cave temples are a collection of 13 cave carvings.

Along with the cave carvings, we also find the Old Lighthouse built by the Pallava kings. No one is allowed to climb to the top of the Lighthouse, but we can get a fair view of this town from the foot of this ancient sea marker.

After visiting all the cave temples, I headed to the last stop of my journey the “Five Rathas”. This is another 5 minutes walk from the Cave temples. As the name hints this is a collection of five monuments each named after Draupadi and Pancha Pandavas. Each of these Rathas or Chariots are sculpted using different forms of Indian Architecture.

From left to right the chariots are named after Draupadi, Arjuna, Bhima, Dharmaraja and Nakula Sahadeva. Apart from the five major structures, we also find a Bull, a Lion and an Elephant. Due to the Salt laden winds even these sculptures have eroded over a period of time.

By the time I was done with visiting these monuments it was afternoon and I was hungry. Guided by the localities I found a nice eatery. After finishing my lunch, I started my return journey to Chennai with all my batteries charged! 32 kilometres on the ECR and finally a hoarding announced the end of ECR.

At this point I was engulfed by multiple feelings, joy of a memorable journey and sorrow of the end of ECR and its beauty. At the end, no words and pictures can explain it completely, one has to experience it to feel it!