Mamallapuram (or Mahabalipuram as it was previously called) offers the perfect day-trip option from the maddening crowds of Chennai. A visit to this erstwhile Pallava bastion can rejuvenate your spirits from an otherwise dampening stay in the crowded alleys of Chennai. The fact that the ruins stand right on the beach makes it all the more sweeter. M'puram is a short drive out of Chennai. It roughly takes about an hour and a half to reach this place from Thiruvanmiyur in a state bus. You could have reached sooner had the so-called "Toll Road" not been barricaded every 1 km till Kovalam. Once you cross Kovalam its a smooth ride till M'puram with the sea constantly keeping company. The traffic also clears up after Kovalam.
M'puram is a small tourism-centric town. The only other occupations practiced here are fishing, stone carving and of course begging (which is an off-shoot of tourism). Much like the ruins of Hampi, the monuments are spread out. But unlike the former, you don't really need a bicycle or a vehicle to wander about - if you don't mind exercising your body a bit. But of course the same might not apply on a hot-Tamil-Nadu-summer-afternoon. In such cases you can always opt for autorickshaws and even bicycles/scooters for hire.
There are plenty of sight-seeing options here - all that can be covered in a day and still have plenty of time to relax by the sea. The three major attractions here are Arjuna's penance, Five Rathas and the Shore Temple. Apart from this there are couple of cave temples near Arjuna's penance, Krishna's butterball, Tiger cave, a lighthouse and a few other rock carvings on the way. The rock carving on Arjuna's penance are nothing short of spectacular. The view from the Lighthouse is not to be missed. The Five Rathas are to be seen to be believed. And finally the Shore Temple is another masterpiece in stone.
Getting there: Plenty of buses and taxis from CMBT (Koyembedu) and Thiruvanmiyur.
Must-Do: Make a list of all places you want to cover and go about it. Relax by the sea.
Must-Don't: Vandalism and Littering.
My Rating: 8/10