Namaste, welcome to South India - (1) Mahabalipuram and its granite temples

Between hectic city life and hikes in national parks, between visits to lively temples, Catholic churches and peaceful walks on the Backwaters, between lazing by the sea and discovering lush forests, South India offers incredible wealth.

Latest edition : 22 January 2018

We left for a 15 day trip to South India. Honestly, we were a little scared. India reminded us of starving children sleeping on the ground, crippled beggars on every street corner, lean cows blocking traffic and, in unfair contrast, marvelous palaces of the Maharajas. Clichés which certainly correspond to reality, but it is an extremely reductive image that we had of this fascinating country. And which may exist in the megalopolises of the north while we were going to discover three southern states, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka.

After an uneventful flight but exhausted all the same by the long flying hours, we were impatient to leave Chennai airport in Tamil Nadu. But we took the wrong way: instead of reading all the signs, we followed the Indians to the customs counters. Error: we had to go to another counter: "e-visa, immigration". And there, our patience was severely tested: the device to take our fingerprints was not working…. An hour later, noting that our suitcases were indeed the last to spin a floor lower in a deserted room, an officer deigned to come to speed things up.

Outside, Harry, who would be our driver for two weeks, greets us with a big smile. Like a good Indian, he was unfazed as he had been patient for hours. He gives everyone a jasmine necklace. Multicolored light bulbs give the airport a festive air. Come on, the holidays can begin!

But we still had an hour's drive before arriving, at around 3 am, at our first stop, a lovely seaside hotel in Mahabalipuram, the Ideal Beach resort. The night will be short….

A few short hours later, we discover the beautiful beach where flutters a myriad of dragonflies. Sign of rain, our guide tells us. But no, we'll be lucky! Unfortunately the seas are too rough to go swimming and we didn't have time anyway.

After breakfast (lots of savory dishes, the inevitable sandwich bread and Indian coffee: a decoction of coffee, with milk and sugar), it's time for the first visits. Everywhere, firecrackers explode: it's Diwali, the festival of lights. Everybody wears new clothes (children do not have to put on their uniforms to go to school but can show off their new outfits. ), fireworks are fired and firecrackers are set off to drive out any demons.

To explain the architecture of the different temples, introduce us to the Hindu gods and a (very small) part of the fantastic legends that surround them, our guide Tiru takes us to admire these improbable granite formations including Krishna's butter ball (which we try to make rolling).

But much more impressive, the set of monolithic temples, carved in one piece from gigantic granite blocks, with numerous statues and bas-reliefs depicting the legends of the Hindu gods.

We discovered Vishnu and his wife Lakshmi, Ganesh, Shiva… .. and the many avatars of Vishnu who came to earth in different appearances to come to the aid of humans and show them the way. Depending on the case that required his intervention, he took the form of a fish, a boar, a dwarf ... We got a little lost in all these legends but were happy to admire the work of the tailors of rock !

The incredible "descent of the Ganges", carved directly into the rock, is a true history book! This immense bas-relief (the largest in the world?) measuring 33 by 12 meters is separated by a vertical natural fault. It evokes the Ganges river, the water flowing through Shiva's hair.

Another scene illustrates the asceticism of Arjuna who sacrifices himself to implore Shiva's help and obtain a weapon to enable him to defeat demons.

In the neighboring caves, a vast bas-relief illustrates daily life in a village. Among the scenes of life, the milking of a cow. Since she only gives milk with a calf beside her, cowherds stuffed a dead calf to deceive her ...

A little further, as if placed on the sandy ground, five monolithic temples that look like processional floats. Temples and statues of animals have been carved out of blocks of granite.

Nearby, on the beach, stands the shore temple dedicated to Shiva. The tsunami in 2014 unfortunately claimed many lives all around this place.

The entire Mahabalipuram site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.