March 16, 2007

Stroll by the sea

It was shoot just before the sunset. I was little disappointed by denial of the gatekeeper of the shore temple at the evening when I tried to enter. It was the closing time for them. I took another route to go to beach and was happy to find lot of activities there. The light was just fantastic . The whole beach was looking like a daily fair- ice cream seller, souvenir shops, fruit seller, horse owners and lot of local tourists and lot of happenings. I was lucky to be there at that time.
This photo was shoot on ISO200, 1/4 sec , f/4 and 17 mm.

March 06, 2007

Mamallapuram | A journey towards history

If you are annoyed with the behavior pattern of the Bangalore autorickshaw drivers, then I must say, there is nothing to be worried about Bangaloreans, once you have experienced them at Chennai. No auto drivers can go worser than Chennai auto drivers. My Tamil friends warned me before, but I had not faced them earlier !

27 feb, almost 5:30 Am in the morning : just reached at Chennai Koyambedu bus stand; next destination was at Mamallapuram. I have read somewhere that this small city was called Mahabalipuram earlier. It is one of the recent name-change-event in India that took place and the place has been renamed as Mamallapuram after the name of king Mamalla.

At 5:30 AM, Koyambedu bus stand was really sleeping; people were sleeping on the platform, no one was there on 'May I help U' booth, nothing is written in english even. I asked one on-duty Police person about the platform number from where I could get a bus for Mamallapuram. The correct platform number was 6 and the bus numbers were 118,119 etc. My friend Anand told me that most of the buses for Pondicherry going via East Coast Road (ECR ) would touch Mamallapuram. And I know ECR is one of the few toll roads in India which has an excellent scenic beach way. I thought I should catch the bus which goes via ECR. I asked the bus conductor whether the bus was going to Mamallapuram or not. On a confirmation, I got into it heading towards Mamallapuram. Bus was running early in the morning, the weather was fantastic, little chilly, a gentle breeze passing all over us, somebody had just started looking into the local tamil newspaper; the mood was just perfect. We passed 2 KM from the bus stand and suddenly this mood turned into a heart-broken reality. When I offered the bus fare to the conductor, he gently refused it by saying that the bus was not heading towards Mamallapuram but towards Villpuram.
The day started with something really bad, we got into a wrong bus ! I decided to come back to Koyambedu bus stand again to catch another bus and then I met that horrendous auto driver. I was totally pissed off.

And this time I made sure that I caught the right bus. They still call the city as Mahabalipuram ( Ma-gaa-bali-poo-ram as Tamil people pronounce it).

ECR is supposed to be a scenic beachway , they told. Recent boom in the real estate industry has spoiled this natural beauty almost to death. You wil get the real beach sight only after you cross Covalang. Still some debris of the aftermath of Tsunami 2004, some relief villages, and the hoarding of the sponsors like World Vision can be seen on the beach way. It gave me a mixed feeling while going through the ECR , I must admit. My expectations were more, I imagined the road something and it turned out something else.

Jaykumar, our guesthouse Manager was a humble and real helping person. He came to the bus stand for picking me up. Mamallapuram is such a small place that you actually could cover all the historical place except five Rathas by walking. There is no need of taking any autorickshaw or taxi, Jaykumar suggested. The beach is next to the Shore Temple, and the straight road towards Shore temple heads to it from the bus stand. Next to the bus stand is the Perumal temple and behind the temple is Arjuna's Penance. A big and great bas-relief of ancient India can be seen here.
After we boarded at the guest house, we decided to go to the beach and take bath first. But I was hungry too. So before going to the beach, I had to search a tiffin centre for something to eat. Masala Dosa would have been the right choice, but as it was already 10 o'clock we had only plain dosa to eat.

I read about this bas relief earlier. It is hard to believe that this magnificent relief was carved in the mid-seventh century, probably the oldest one , I had ever seen. A story of obtaining Lord Shiva's weapon by Arjuna from Mahabharata or the descent of Gangas or probably the both depicted in itself. Furthermore, both stories were interpreted in a manner flattering to the Pallavas; the heroic Arjuna as a symbol of the rulers, and the Ganges as a symbol of their purifying power. I forgot to mention that , Pallava dynasty was the ruler of that time of Ancient southern India. And most of these sculpture works were done by them.

We headed to the beach next. It was only 10 AM in the morning and the sunlight was too harsh! Not a good light condition for any kind of photo shoot. The horse owners were waiting for the tourists to hire his horse for a ride. For the obvious reason they did not like me and when I asked for a photo he asked me money in return ! what the heck ! I avoided them though.

Rather I was interested in bathing in the beach. The beach is not so deeper, we can walk far towards the sea. People were enjoying their bath too. And if you are a fish lover, then you could check some sea fish food stall on the way to beach to satisfy your taste buds. The fishes are available to choose from and once you are done with the selection, immediately they will fry it with red color spices ( I don't know whats that, but I am sure that can not be red chillis ). Meals were also available at those small stalls, if you wish to have. Fish fry and Dal-Rice would be an excellent choice for a lunch.

So we had our lunch at Mamalla Bhavan,with a typical South Indian Thali while so many foreigners were trying to eat with fingers and having a Coke bottle next to their lunch plate! And we started for the site seeing after that. As I told earlier, Mamallapuram is such a small place that one can actually travel by walking; we decided to walk too. Those ancient monuments, Rathas, Caves and Relief were standing out as a bare evidence of the history. You should be proud to see such a rich and cultured heritage of India. People were here humble and co operative too. After crossing the gate next to Arjuna's Penance you will see a comprehensive tourist map of Mamallapuram, I thought of having a look there. One of the guides was explaining about it to a french couple. I was stunned by seeing the guide speaking fluently in french and later on I found something more interesting too. Most of the foreigners were french at Mamallapuram. The street buskers were talking in french, the hawkers were talking in french, the guides were talking in french, souvenir sellers were talking in french; it looked like, you may not get a response in hindi but you will definitely get response if you speak in french.

Krishna's butter ball is a huge single granite round shaped stone hanging for years just next to Ganesh Rath near Arjuna's penance. It is more of a tourist attraction. The stone is so huge that people can even take rest sitting/lying on the shadow of this stone. I found school children were playing nearby. Before going back to home after the last school bell , they used to come here for a play. I was enjoying their presence around me. They were so vibrant and full of energy, it reminded me of my school days.

I met Marimutthu and Aayaappa on the way to five Rathas. Marimutthu is a sculpture worker. He carves and makes fantastic sculptures out of those granite stones. I saw while working with the grinding machine, it generates lots of dust out of stones, which may in turn cause eye irritation and permanent eye problem. People need to take precautions for this kind of work ; at least they should wear a glass. It was very difficult for me to get close to them as it was too dusty but somehow I could manage it.
Marimutthu told me, it would take 7 days to make a finished medium size sculpture and the cost of that in a market would come around Rs 5000/-. I don't know the exact figure, but I assume there are more than 250 stalls in Mamallapuram who earns money from this art work. They make the idols within the shops, sell them out from there. There is a chance for you to get in touch directly with the sculpture artists.

Read next part here ...

March 03, 2007


© amrita pal / sandip debnath

HOLI is a festival of color in India.We shared a light mood amongst us, a close circle of our friends. I wish a Happy Holi to all my friends.

March 01, 2007

I was little disappointed by seeing the entry fee chart at Five Rathas compound. The entry ticket for an Indian citizen costs Rs 10 and for a foreigner Rs 250. I strongly feel that there should not be any difference between the entry fees. I went to European countries and found no difference in any kind of fees in any of their tourist places. It made me uncomfortable to see those tourists however purchasing the tickets with a higher fee because they came to India to see our historical and cultural richness !

Pancha Rathas (means five chariots) were carved during the rule of King Mamalla (Narasimhavarman I, A.D 630 - 670) in 7th century. These Rathas were individually named after Draupadi, Arjuna, Bheema, Dharmaraja and Nakul-Sahadev from the Mahabharata. One archeology site says "the site gives the delightful impression of a city of life-size model buildings, whose variety of roofs, floor plans, and columniation defines a veritable source-book of South Indian temple forms" about these five Rathas. Early evening light was just perfect, I regretted for light earlier, this time I was so happy. And was so happy taking photographs that I almost forgot that I did not see Shore Temple yet.

Entry ticket what you get from Five Rathas will be accepted at the shore Temple and vice-versa. But when I reached at the Shore Temple, the clock was pointing at 5:55 PM.Gate keeper gently asked me to come tomorrow as it was the closing time.I was refused to enter. For the time being I was so disappointed that I decided not to shoot anything. My wife suggested me to go to the beach instead. Thanks to her, I got so much of action in the beach to be captured. The weather was not so hot that evening, rather a cool breeze from the sea side passing by us. Lot of people were enjoying this fantastic evening by the sea. Fruit seller, ice cream vendor, souvenir seller, those horse owners every were in good mood. I could get some good photographs too. I was happy. As the sun was setting down in the west horizon, we could see the light house's light was falling on entire Mamallapuram. I took a risky job. I went behind the Shore Temple alone and stood over those granite rocks for sometime. It was an amazing sight to be observed. The changing color of the sky as a backdrop and the Shore Temple in a silhouette was a photographers dream.

Next day I woke up early in the morning. Everybody in the guesthouse were sleeping, I came outside silently and headed towards the beach. On the other side of the Shore Temple there is a fishermen village. I decided to shoot actions of those fishermen early in the morning.
The great light stays for very less time and so it was. I talked to this little girl , she was so full for energy and adorable that I could not resist myself to take some portraits of her.

I planned to start from Mamallapuram to Chennai at 11:00 AM, but before that, I thought, I would visit Shore temple and come back. Yesterday's ticket was expired, so I had to buy new tickets again. Not many tourists were there inside of the temple in the morning. the Shore Temple was built during the reign of the Pallava King Rajasimha (A.D. 700 - 728). It is the earliest important structural temple in Southern India.Mamallapuram was a port city during the reign of Pallavas. Its pyramidal structure had undergone a considerable amount of wear and tear by the wind and water from the sea from time to time. It was learned that there were total seven pagodas earlier, six of them were immersed in sea a long before.

I was feeling something really out of the world. It was just like riding into a time machine and going back to those historical days. Inside the shore temple, the small alleys would give you the feeling of ancientness.

Overall , Mamallapuram is a city of history, culture and heritage in itself. History comes and stands still at Mamallapuram.


Location: Mamallupuram is 60 KM from Chennai . Mamallapuram is connected to Pondicherry via Bus. It is on the east coast of India by Bay of Bengal.
How to go: Nearest airport is Chennai. From Chennai Mufossil Bus stand, Keyambedu there are plenty of buses. Taxi or cab can be hired, but compared to Bus fare Taxi fare is huge.
Bus fare is Rs 22/- and Taxi may cost you upto Rs 500. Going by Bus may give an opportunity to mix with locale people and school children who travel by bus.
Best time to go : October to March. Take an umbrella wherever you go. All other times Mamallapuram is really hot. Your skin may turn into black !
What to see : Shore Temple, Arjuna's Penance, krishna's butter ball, Mahisamardini cave,Five Rathas. You can go to Kanchipuram from there if you base at Mamallapuram.Kanchipuram was the capital of Pallava reign.