In the early CEs Mamallapuram (aka Mahabalipuram) was a bustling seaport. Today the town teams with European tourists sojourning to see the town's World-heritage listed temples, which gives the town outright touristy vibe; as my guidebook puts it, “Restaurants serve pasta, pizza and pancakes, shops sell hand sanitizer and things from Tibet, and you known you have landed, once again, in the great Kingdom of Backpackistan” (India, Lonely Planet,  2015 [e-book ed.]). Joe (the American I met in Chennai)  and I spent a day and two nights in Mahabs (as it is called for short), which gave us plenty of time to explore the town’s ancient Hindu architecture and flirt with French grandmas (“Je t’aims et tu me”). Also, according to my guidebook, the town is eponymous with the Pallava king, Narasimhavaram I, whose nickname was Mamalla (Great Wrestler). The town was largely developed by Narasimhavaram in 7 AD.

Mamallapuram's monuments are primarily monolithic temples and cave-carvings of early Dravidian architecture. The Pancha Rathas compound pictured above, contains the Five Rathas. Literally meaning the "Five Chariots", the Rathas are unfinished monolithic temples dating from the late 7th century CE. Each of the monuments are said to resemble a chariot.

Mamallapurmal Hill features many archaeological sites sprawled throughout the rock-strewn terrain. The lighthouse on the left, functional since 1904, is now a tourist attraction. The square structure to the right of the lighthouse is the Olakaneeswara Temple dedicated to lord Shiva. It was also used as a lighthouse by the British until the modern structure was completed. Standing adjacent to the British-built lighthouse is India's oldest lighthouse, built around 640 AD by Pallava king Mahendra Pallava.

Stone carving at Mamallapuram Hill

Lacking the ornate carvings as the monolithic architecture, the seemingly precariously balanced boulder known as “Krisha’s Butterball”, feels like an urinal in a room of Bellinis.

An interesting piece displayed in Mahab's sculpture museum.

The Shore Temple, built in the 8th century AD, is so named as it overlooks the Bay of Bengal. The Temple was saved from destruction by the 2004 tsunami due to a rocky outcropping guarding its maritime border. According to an archaeologist "In locating the temple on the very margin of the sea, exposing it to avoidable dangers, the builders, there can be little doubt, sought theatrical effect" ("A Monumental Effort. Front Line India's National Magazine from the publishers of The Hindu. 8 November 2003. Retrieved 27 February 2013. (via Wikipedia)).