Questions have been asked, and inadequately answered, about the group of monuments at Mamallapuram, 90 km south of Chennai off the East Coast Road. While the Five Rathas and the Shore Temple are reasonably well documented and publicised, the bric-a-brac cluster of monuments along the road still poses a mystery. They are free to visit, which makes them a popular haunt with tourists — and monkeys who chase after them for the soft drink bottles they carry. Most tourists just enjoy the ruins from the outside. However, if you wander around them, there is so much to discover and marvel at.
Krishna's Butter Ball. This structure - a single enormous boulder - is visible from the road. It is part of a rocky outcrop that shelters many other intriguing structures.
The intriguing rck-cut cave temples behind the butter ball rock structure.
Rocky cliffs tower over tourists and their nooks offer welcome shade.
In the shadows, shelter from the unforgiving sun.
There is more than two hours' worth of wandering here, if you are curious enough.
A pool that local guides will tell you is Arjuna's Swimming Pool. Take that with a pinch of salt - the water is not brackish.
A part of the extraordinary bas-relief popularly known as Arjuna's penance. Even this claim is disputed, as some scholars opine that it might represent Bhagiratha.
The antiquity and significance of these monuments, which date back to the first century rule of the Pallava dynasty, are not entirely explained.
The carvings are intricate, monolithic, and cut out of granite.
It's a landscape of mystery, holding treasures in every step.
How many marvel at the beauty and symmetry of this temple barely aware of what it stands for. The Pallava dynasty, various scions of which built these structures, ruled between the 6th and 9th centuries.
Now overgrown with scrub and littered with refuse left by careless tourists, these monuments are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Perhaps the rocks hold secrets yet to be explored.
And some others lost forever, undiscovered and undescribed.
As the Arjuna's penance is visible from the road, posing next to it for a photo-op is the thing to do for tourists.
The rocks are tempting to amateur climbers, too.
Thousands of years ago, Mamallapuram or Mahabalipuram was a port city of the Pallavas. Today, it is a tourist magnet.
Here, the rocks hold secrets that may be revealed to you, if only you pause to read them.
The Five Rathas and the Shore Temple are celebrated, but little is said about this cluster of monuments beside the road.
When you are in Mahabalipuram, make it there early to explore these ruins. Who knows, you might stumble upon the key to the mystery behind them.
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