Best Places to Photograph and More, Mamallapuram (Tamil Nadu) Edition

Best Places to Photograph and More, explores great places to make photographs and provides reviews of hotels and restaurants from the trips I take around South Asia. I hope these guides help travelers find places to create amazing photographs and keeps them free of Delhi Belly. Keep in mind this is not a full fledge travel blog, so I did not explore multiple hotels, I only stayed at one.

Make Photographs, Stay, Eat and Shop in Mamallapuram

Best Places to Make Photographs in Mamallapuram

My trip to Tamil Nadu took place at the beginning of March. The weather was already hot and humid, however, it was a nice change of pace from life in North India. The sites in Mamallapuram where built by the Pavalla Dynasty who rule between 275 CE and 897 CE. The stone carved monuments are worth a visit if you are in Tamil Nadu. Below I have provided tips for where to make photographs and included reviews of where we stayed and ate.

Five Rathas

The Five Rathas are monoliths meaning that each is carved from a single huge bolder. Ratha translates as Chariot thus they could have been vehicles for deities, however, they were left unfinished. They were never consecrated or used for worship. The rathas were constructed in the 7th century under the ruler King Narasimhavrman I. Each of the buildings is named after his son’s, Dravpadi, Arjuna, Bhima, Dharmaraja, and Nakula Sahadeva. However, these names have nothing to do with the gods these temples would have been dedicated to. The site also includes carvings of a lion, an elephant, and a bull.

The site is very picturesque barring the road that runs past on one side. However, it is easy to keep road out of your photographs. The buildings can be photographed together or individually and are great for making portraits of your friends. Be sure to take in the site from all sides.

Arjuna’s Penance

Arjuna’s Penance also known as the Descent of the Ganges is a beautifully carved relief sculpture meaning it is carved into the face of a stone and is not fully three-dimensional. The story depicted in the relief depicts a scene or possibly a combination of two from the Mahabharata an epic poem of Indian history.

The relief is a brief stop and does not take long to take a few pictures of. However, to one side of the relief sculpture is a carved temple and to the other is a park. The park is a nice place to relax and see other small monuments. You can climb to the top of the rocks and see the entire city with the Bay of Bengal behind it.

Tip: A wide angle lens is best way to photograph Arjuna’s Penance in a single photograph.

Shore Temple

The Shore Temple is both beautiful but also a bit of a disappointment. It is a nice structure made to be photographed however, it is blocked by the shore line by a line of trees. Thus you do not see the temple surrounded by the sea. We were at the Shore Temple from about 4pm to 5:30pm and sunset was just after 6pm, so we had nice light.

The Shore Temple is actually two temples in one built by King Rajasimha whose reign lasted from c. 700 – 728 CE. The Shore Temple’s two shrines are dedicated to Vishnu and Shiva. The walls around the Temple are lined with sculptures of Nandi bull (the vehicle of Shiva). The Temple’s large complex gives you plenty of vantage points from which to photograph it. I might have made more photographs of this ancient building than any other structure in India.

Places to Eat in Mamallapuram

Water’s Edge Cafe at Radisson Blu Temple Bay

We went to Water’s Edge Cafe on our first night in Mamallapuram. We got there around 5:30, as we had traveled all day. However, we were greeted with an all-day menu that was not impressive. It just had snacks. We learned that dinner service started at 7pm. We decided to sit and have some drinks and pakora. The Pakora was nice. I had water, my mom had a coke and Meropi tried a local beer, British Empire. She says the beer was really tasty.

For dinner there was a menu but we all decided to get the buffet (about 3000 rupees per person). It was a mix of Continental and Indian. I tried several salads including Smoked Chicken Salad, Grilled Aubergine (Eggplant)  Salad, Grilled Bell Pepper Salad, and Kim Chi & Roasted Peanut Salad. I like all of the salads except the Aubergine Salad. The Smoked Chicken Salad was my favorite as the chicken was grilled perfectly and the veggies were all fresh. I also had some Chicken Noodle Soup, Asian Style. It also had a nice flavor.

For the main course, I had Oven roasted Chicken with Tomato Salsa, Bhindi (Okra) Jaipuri, Maka Palak (Spinach),Shanghai Noodles and a variety of bread. The Palak and Noodles were nice too. However, the Bhindi could have been better. The bread was probably my favorite part as it was European and non-Indian bread is pretty much non-existent in Udaipur.

Overall the experience was nice. During our time between snacks and dinner we exchanged Christmas gifts. The ambience was relaxing and quiet a great place to have a small celebration.

Food photography obviously is not my thing. 🙂

Mamalla Bhavan

We had breakfast at Mamalla Bhavan which is where we were staying. It is a traditional South Indian restaurant. All three of us had a Masala Dosa. A Dosa is a large, very thin pancake with a spicy potato mixture inside. It also comes with several sauces. My favorite is the coconut sauce. It was delicious!

Thalappakattu Briyani

We stopped in Thalappakattu Briyani or an afternoon snack. We had coke and Dry Chicken Chili. It was tasty and no one got sick. The restaurant was full of Indians which usually means the restaurant is a safe place to eat. They served their briyani on a banana leaf

Moonraker’s Restaurant

Moonraker’s was an experience. It is located on the main Western tourist drag. However, the food was just okay. We had Pakora and it was good. Then for the main dish we all had Noodles with Beef. It was pretty tasteless. It was Asian style noodles with a few veggies and egg mixed in. However, it seemed to have no sauce. It was definitely a downer for our last meal in Mamallapuram.

Best Places to Shop in Mamallapuram

Stone Carving Workshops

The most unique place to shop in Mamallapuram is at the various Stone Carving workshops. The workshops are located near the Five Rathas. There is a variety of objects from large sculptures to small pendants. You have to shop around and haggle to ensure you pay a good price. I personally bought a pendant for 60 rupees, a small vessel for 120 rupees, and a small Nandi Bull for 80 rupees. Even if you do not want to buy anything it is a great place to wonder around. You can take in the large magnificent sculptures and watch some of the men work.

Othavadai Street

Othavadai Street is the main tourist drag and it leads straight to the beach. If you are looking for the typically clothing bought tourists or a pair of traditional shoes this is your spot. In addition to the usual assortment of tourist stuff there was a book store, Apollo Books which has a good selection of used books. I personally bought a book called Yoga School Dropout. So far it is an entertaining book.

Where We Stayed

Mamalla Bhavan

There are several Mamalla properties in Mamallapuram. We actually stayed at the Mamalla Bhavan restaurant. They have maybe 20 rooms above the restaurant. Recently they added a new wing at the back which is were we stayed. Our room was fresh and clean. It is a budget place so the furniture was nothing special but the mattresses were comfortable. Our room was at the back so it was nice and quiet. It also had A/C. I would stay there again if I ever make it back to Mamallapuram. It cost about 27 USD a night for three people. Our room had one single bed and one double bed.

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By |2018-10-12T16:19:26-05:00March 24th, 2017|Travel Tips|2 Comments

About the Author:

Betsy Williamson is an assistant professor of art in the state of New Mexico. Before coming to New Mexico for this job she was an adjunct professor throughout Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, teaching photography and art appreciation. Between September 2015 and May 2017, she took a break from teaching to pursue art, research and life in India. Now she is back to teaching and part-timing it in India.


  1. Arvind March 27, 2017 at 7:47 am - Reply

    Great list of places to visit in Mahabalipuram. Thanks for this great photography and there are many hotels and heritages available for accommodation.

    • south asian photo December 25, 2018 at 4:27 pm - Reply

      Indeed there are! Mahabalipuram is a gem of India!

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