A surprisingly charming stop was Mamallapuram.  When we first arrived to the town also known as Mahabalipuram, all we saw were a lot of stone carving stores, guesthouse after guesthouse, and clothing shops carrying elephant print harem pants.  I was very worried that Lonely Planet’s description, calling this place Backpackistan, would make it a not-so-great stop in Southern India.  But as we got to know the town, there were pockets of charm here and there.
backpackistan CollageFor some interesting and ancient temples and carvings, head to the Shore Temple and Five Rathas.  Shore Temple is made of granite and overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal, while Five Rathas is a cluster of seemingly buildings that were actually all carved from single large rocks.  Don’t forget to see Krishna’s Butter Ball, a giant balancing rock 5 meters in diameter that seemingly balances on a smooth slope.

Greg defying gravity with Krishna's Butter Ball

Greg defying gravity with Krishna’s Butter Ball

lastCollage backpackistan2Collage bigrock2CollageAfter visiting the temples, head to the beach.  You are bound to encounter excited pilgrims, all dressed in red, frolicking in the water, as though it is the first time at the beach.  There are a few vendors selling street eats and souvenirs,  and a couple of locals running interesting rides like a manual ferris wheel, and swings for kids.


Pilgrims having fun in the water!

For accommodation, each guesthouse seemed to be rather similar.  It’s quite easy to shop around when you get here.  We ended up staying at Bharat Guesthouse, a cheap and basic guesthouse in a good location with friendly staff.  We were able to get a slight deal since we were staying for a couple days, and as an added bonus, they added a mosquito net for me since some of the windows had tiny gaps.  I don’t think this place is necessarily way better than other places as they all seemed to be on the same page, so take a look around based on your preferences.


A man carving stone, a delicious thali at Sri Ananda Bhavan, our guesthouse, another simple meal, and fishermen at work.

Our fave places to eat and drink include:

Santana Restaurant: Head to this seaside restaurant for some sunset drinks.  British Empire seemed to be their local and cheaper beer.
Le Yogi Restaurant: This restaurant is on the second floor, and has a rather atmospheric ambiance with their chill music, red decor, and low lighting.  Service wasn’t the greatest, but we still came here twice.  I really enjoyed their dhal and tofu with rice.
Bob Marley Restaurant: I know, I know… Every backpacker town seems to have Bob Marley as a theme for some bar or restaurant.  It is a bit down the beach, but was definitely the place to meet local Indians and expats.  We met an Indian Bollywood film director here, an Indian hippie who now lives in Switzerland, a French guy who came to this town in the seventies when it wasn’t even a backpacker town, and some French entrepreneurs who ran a cheese and pate business in Pondicherry.  It was quite the party with very friendly people!
– On the main busy street is Sri Ananda Bhavan, a cheap, delicious, and filling local spot serving a variety of curries, thalis, and Indo-Chinese food.  I felt this was the only place in town to get really good Indian food.
– We treated ourselves to some frappuccino type things at Freshly and Hot.  Strange name for a cafe, but delicious drinks, with street side tables and free wifi.  Definitely order  the Iced Eskimo!


Beer warning, British Empire beer, a few meals at Le Yogi Restaurant , and dancing at Bob Marley Restaurant

Costs for Day 130:
Bharath Guesthouse 450
Adyar Ananda Bhavan 2 sambar rice 100
Tuktuk to bus station 60
Bus from Puducherry to Mamallapuram 230
Santana Restaurant: Fries, British Empire beer, coffee 330
Mosquito spray 79
Street samosa 7
Water 30
Le Yogi Restaurant: dhal, tofu, rice, lemon soda, tomato cheese pasta, beer 625
Bananas 20
Bob Marley Restaurant British Empire beer 600

Total cost for Day 130: 2531 rupees / 2 = $19.73 per person

groups CollageCosts for Day 131:
Bharath Guesthouse 450
Hotel Sri Ananda Bhavan: veg thali, aloo ghobi, naan, water 230
Cookies 10
Shore Temple and the Five Rathas 500
Coconut 30
Santana Restaurant: fries, veg noodle, Kingfisher, lime soda 420
Bananas 25
Insect spray 80
Cookies 30
Le Yogi Restaurant: tomato and cheese pasta, veg momos, British Empire beer, water 605

Total cost for Day 131: 2380 rupees / 2 = $18.55 per person

What I learned: If you are buying bug repellant with DEET, don’t bother buying it in your home country.  It is so cheap in India, so you can easily stock up on the stuff while you are here.  Our preferred brand is Odomos Insect Spray. (Look for the blue bottle!)


Actual dates of travel: Jan. 11-12, 2015