Situated on India's north-eastern coast in the state of Tamil Nadu, the ancient town of Mamallapuram has much to recommend it. A popular resort in its own right, Mamallapuram boasts a long, white-sand beach from which to admire an Indian sunset, a host of shops and enticing fish restaurants and numerous attractions both natural and man-made.
These highlights are eclipsed, however, by Mamallapuram's main claim to fame and the reason for which it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The town is renowned for its ancient and intricately carved stone monuments. Two beautifully detailed bas-reliefs, 'Arjuna's Penance' and the 'Krishna Mandapa' are carved into vast granite rock faces at the centre of the town whilst elsewhere full-sized sculptures of chariots and temples, known as rathas and each skilfully hewn from a single boulder can be found.
Overlooking the beach, the exquisite Shore Temple, the last remaining of seven ancient pagodas is the jewel in Mamallapuram's crown and one of the most photographed landmarks in India.
During the Pallava dynasty between the fifth and the ninth centuries, Mamallapuram was an important a sea port for routes to Southeast Asia, and whilst the exact reason for the town's association with sculpture remains subject to speculation, some believe that the area also served as a seat of learning for artisans, sculptors and architects.
Modern-day Mamallapuram has widespread appeal for visitors of all ages, and whilst the carvings and sculptures for which the town is deservedly famous will fascinate those interested in art, history and architecture the town offers many other attractions and activities. Surrounded by the beautiful Tamil Nadu countryside, Mamallapuram provides opportunities for hill trekking and biking.
On a rock escarpment to the north of the town's Ganesh ratha stands Krishna's Butterball; a vast, spherical granite boulder which, whilst immovable, seems precariously balanced and somehow gravity-defying.
From the beach it's possible to hire boats for scenic trips into the Bay of Bengal or for a spot of sea fishing, whilst walking the shore presents the chance to spot turtles.
Mamallapuram remains dedicated to the craft of stone carving, and besides visiting the excellent Sculpture Museum which contains many examples of the craft visitors to the town can see local sculptors in action and even obtain some basic lessons in the craft from them.