Things to know before visiting the UNESCO monuments at Mahabalipuram

20 Things To Know Before Visiting Mahabalipuram (UNESCO Monuments)

Mahabalipuram, Mamallapuram, and the Mahabs, all refer to the same place. The Mahabalipuram is a retreat for history buffs, architectural and art enthusiasts, and people looking for a laid-back weekend. Deemed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, this historic town resides in Southern India (Tamil Nadu). 

Mahabalipuram is home to exquisite rock-cut temples, intricately carved sculptures, beaches, and a whole lot more. All these facets of the place give us a tiny glimpse of the country’s rich culture. So, if you’re looking to visit the Mahabs or Mahabalipuram, here are 20 things you should keep in mind before you embark on your journey.

Group of monuments at Mahabalipuram - map

Things To Know Before Visiting Mahabalipuram

  1. You’ll find audio recordings for free at different spots across various sites. These audio tours help you understand the history and significance behind each sculpture better. In addition, each sculpture will have short descriptions and a QR code that will offer more information and knowledge about the artifact behind it. You can access free audio files by downloading the Story Trail app (Play Store). You can download Pinakin (Play Store, App Store) if you don’t mind using the paid version.

Besides these, you will also have access to paid guides. You can hire them at the entrance of different sites for a fee. These guides are authorized and licensed personnel who provide rich and authentic knowledge about the monuments you visit.

  1. There are two entries to the architectural complex. One is at the hill entrance near the Olakkanneshvara temple, and the other one is next to the ticket counter near Krishna’s Butter Ball.

The Pancha Pandava Rathas is 1 Km, while the Shore Temple is 650 m from Krishna’s Butter Ball. So despite having separate entrances, you only need a single ticket to visit all these sites.

  1. Cost
  • INR 40 for Indian citizens
  • INR 600 for foreign nationals
  • Free entry for all people below 15 years.
  • INR 5 discount for Indians and INR 50 discount for foreigners if the tickets are purchased online.
  1. Online tickets can be bought from the official website of the Archaeological Survey of India. The ticket will be valid only on the day of the purchase.
  1. If you want to purchase tickets the conventional way, you can do so at the counters. There are 3 counters present at Krishna’s Butter Ball, near the Pancha Rathas and the Shore Temple. However, to reiterate, purchasing a ticket at any of these counters would be enough to visit all the sites. 

Besides these, if you want to visit the lighthouse, and the Heritage and Maritime Museum, you’ll have to purchase separate tickets. The details for online payment are also available near the ticket counters.

  1. Timings
  • Ticket counter timings: 6 AM to 5:30 PM
  • Monument timings:  6 AM to 6 PM
  1. Each complex is located a Km away from each other. So you can simply take a stroll and visit these sites while also experiencing the streets of Mahabalipuram. If you want to save time or beat the heat, hop onto a tuk-tuk. Online taxi services such as Ola and Uber are not available in Mahabalipuram.

There are no public or special service buses to commute between these tourist spots. However, frequent buses are available to Chennai and Pondicherry.

  1. Although there are no restrictions or dress codes for white visiting Mahabalipuram, we highly recommend you dress modestly since it is a traditional town. Also, don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes, as a fair amount of walking is involved and no you need not remove them before entering each monument. 
  1. Apply sunscreen and wear a hat to ward off the heat. Carry a reusable water bottle that can be refilled in the shore temple.
  1. The climate is warmer during the day, almost throughout the year. Therefore, the best season to visit is between November and February when the weather is pleasant.
  1. Mahabalipuram is a popular tourist destination, so expect large crowds, especially during peak season i.e. from November to February. The number is much higher during weekends and public holidays as people from Chennai and other nearby towns flock to this place for a day trip. The smarter way is to start your exploration early in the morning during the opening hours. 
Mahabalipuram fishing beach
  1. The beach near the shore temple is quite touristy, crowded, and polluted. However, if you want a quieter place to hear the waves washing the shore, head to the fishing beach instead.
  1. A huge paid vehicle parking space is available near the shore temple and five Rathas. INR 10 is collected for two-wheelers, INR 30 for cars, INR 50 for minibus, tempo, and INR 100 for buses.
  1. Small vendors sell snacks, fruits, cool drinks, and water bottles inside and outside the Butter Ball complex. You can also find small vendors near the Olakkanneshvara temple entrance and Five Rathas. Fresh seafood can be found on the pathway beside the shore temple on your right that leads you to the Mahabalipuram beach. Sit-in restaurants are available near the fishing beach and the Mahabalipuram bus stand. As you see, there are more than enough places to collect refreshments.
  1. Drones and tripods are not allowed inside any of these heritage sites. However, you can carry your cameras without any extra charges. The aerial view can be captured by flying the drone from Mahabalipuram Beach. But make sure NOT to fly inside the temple complex.
  1. Mahabalipuram is a town that the community and the designated officials take good care of. Therefore, visitors should be respectful and avoid climbing on the monuments. Any damage done to the monument is chargeable under the law. Security guards can also be seen watching the public’s activities and movements.
  1. Being an important tourist destination that attracts a large number of tourists around the world, reliable 4G internet services are provided by both Airtel and Jio network providers. You can absolutely count on them to use the map, online payment apps, and more.
  1. Free drinking water and restroom facilities are available near the shore temple. Restrooms can be found near the parking area at Five Rathas and to the left of the rock-cut sculptures of elephants, peafowl, and monkeys. (Direction boards are installed at different points to guide you. However, if you miss them, you can always ask the locals. They mostly speak Tamil, but some can also converse in English.)
  1. Online food delivery services like Swiggy or Zomato are not available in Mahabalipuram. Refer to the detailed blog that explains our recommendations for accommodations and restaurants.
  1. Most of the monuments at Mahabalipuram were submerged in the sea and were discovered in recent years. The monuments at Mahabalipuram were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984.


Arjuna's penance
Arjuna’s penance
  • Mahabalipuram was a thriving port town during the Pallava dynasty, whose capital city was Kanchipuram. Once a flourishing port town is now poetry engraved and carved in stone.
  • Pallavas are ardent lovers of art and architecture. The sculptures you see today in Mahabalipuram were carved by the Pallavas between the 6th and 8th centuries, i.e., about 1300 years before.
  • The sculptures here are carved in hard granite stones. They were sculpted by hand for generations without any fancy equipment as they didn’t exist in the olden days. These sculptures need precise calculation and skills as the entire sculpture has to be abandoned if any mistake is made or any curve or line is carved wrong by the sculptor.
  • The statues, monoliths, cave temple, and bas relief, found in Mahabalipuram are carved from the top all the way to the bottom, and when they reached the bottom, they chiseled a doorway, went in, and continued to cut the rock until they had a small room. This is the reason why the bottom portion seems incomplete in many sculptures.
  • The sculptures depict the Hindu gods and goddesses, the war of Durga and Mahishasura, and scenes from the two great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. We highly recommend hiring a guide or listening to the audio tour as mentioned above. 

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