February 13, 2018

A quick trip to Chennai

Revisiting the grandeur of Pallavas is a must when in the capital of Tamil Nadu.

Nature sometimes does love to show its humorous side. So, here I was trying to escape the chill of the north. A quick getaway to Chennai looked like a sign from heaven.
Being a light traveller though did attract a worried 'your luggage is very less for two days ma’m' from the chauffeur, little did I know that his concern would actually translate into one. Who would have imagined that otherwise much-dreaded heat and humidity of this city would choose to be a no-show just when desired! 

Just when I was reliving the childhood memories of the shores of Mahabalipuram, heavens decided to open. The accompanying winds were pleasant at first as they sang in tandem with the crashing waves, making it a perfect setting to appreciate the seventh-century Pancha Rathas or Five Rathas. A part of UNESCO World Heritage Site in Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram, the monolithic rock-cut structures are also popular as Pandava Rathas. Despite no connection with Mahabharata or any religious significance as the structures never reached the sanctification stage, the five chariots are still named after the epic’s characters – Yudhishthira, Bhim, Arjuna, Nakul-Sehdev and Draupadi respectively.
While the Draupadi ratha resembles a hut, and the Nakul-Sehdev one being simple with little embellishments, the rest three are examples of architectural elegance. The Dharmaraja or Yudhishthira ratha and the Arjuna ratha are quite similar with four and three-tiered carvings on the roof respectively. The former is, however, the tallest one. The lion-mounted columns of the Bhima ratha, and its apsidal architecture is quite stunning. Though referred to as temples also, dedicated to Vishnu, Indra, Durga, Shiva, it is quite likely that their design reflects the wooden temple chariots of the Dravidian era.
The stand-alone elephant, meanwhile, is what makes you fall in love instantly. Called Gajaprishthakara, meaning elephant’s back, for that is what you see first as you enter the compound; it has to be the most perfectly-sculpted elephant you would have laid your eyes on. The bull, Nandi, besides Arjuna’s ratha, though a fine specimen, ends up looking like a poor cousin in comparison. And, you can definitely find many of his siblings at the Shore Temple, which gets its name from its location on the Coromandel shore overlooking the Bay of Bengal.
Standing pretty like an old guardian, more so with dark clouds up above and a drizzle adding to the aura, among the gardens and ancient courts, this Pallava dynasty structure is one of the oldest stone temples of South India. Though no longer a worshipped temple, it makes for magnificent background every year for Mahabalipuram Dance Festival which is held in the month of January-February. Also built under the rule of king Narasimhavarman II and a UNESCO World Heritage site, it stands on a 50 sq. feet. platform and rises 60 feet.
Marco Polo and the European merchants and seafarers called the site Seven Pagodas, one believed to be the Shore Temple, probably due to its pyramidal shape and multi-tiered carvings on the top. The 2004 tsunami not only exposed an old temple built entirely of granite blocks on the shore, it also renewed speculation about the seven pagodas, six of which were always thought to be submerged under the sea. Built of cut stones rather than carved out of one giant rock, Shore Temple is a complex of three temples housing shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva and Vishnu, seen reclining on the Sheshnag in one of them. Then there is a carved stone panel, called Shivaskanda, in which you can see Shiva with goddess Parvati and their sons Vinayaka and Karthikeya. The legend has it that Indra had become so jealous of the splendour of this place that he flooded the area and submerged everything, with only few like Shore Temple having survived that.
It was only after hours that it dawned upon me that the dusk had quietly set in while I was admiring the way mere rocks and stones can take awe-inspiring shapes. More so when the lights from the vehicles create a light show for you at Arjuna’s Penance, an enormous stone carving on two boulders. While many believe that the relief shows Arjuna undertaking a penance to obtain a rare weapon, some think that it portrays the legend of the River Ganges’s descent to earth. Whatever the reasons, it is one of the most beautifully-carved structures at Mahabalipuram.
By then wet feet and clothes were making me shiver a bit; quite uncharacteristic of Chennai. The nature, however, didn’t stop at that. It was only after it drenched me more than a couple of times due to sudden showers in the next few hours that it finally stopped it antics and left me with a dry pair for the journey back.
Travel Diaries editor Garima Verma was hosted by AccorHotels.
The French Hospitality brand recently added Novotel-Ibis combo property, on Chennai’s Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR), also known as the IT hub, to its long list of properties in the country. Novotel, the upper midscale brand of AccorHotels has 153 rooms while economy ibis has 189 rooms, giving the guests a wonderful mix of four-star and three-star to choose from. Their food is another major attraction apart from the cosy rooms and various amenities. With the launch of this property AccorHotels now has 53 properties in India divided among its 10 brands.


While Novotel has a corporate touch to it, the ibis seems more youthful with its bright d├ęcor (and, the common ice dispenser and ironing board on each floor). And, for the ones who make their what-to-eat list for every journey, Novotel’s casual dining restaurant, The Square, is quite a delightful place. With both international and regional flavours on offer, it tickles and then well satiates your tastebuds. The live cooking stations help you put on the thinking hat of a chef and experiment. The dessert bar is an absolute not-to-be-missed, because if you do the appetizing display of flavours and colours (check the picture below) might give you sleepless moments.


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