A guide to the Mahabalipuram temples



I have been recently exploring more of south India – away from Chennai. There are some great posts coming up, hopefully, you will enjoy the pictures and stories about my day in Mysore and when I’ve been exploring Bangalore too.

This past 10 days, my lovely Mum has been visiting India with me. While she was here, we spent a few days in Pondicherry and then on the way back to Chennai, we spent 2 nights in Mahabalipuram.


I chose to stay there for 2 nights, so we could have one whole day to explore the temples and then stay in the hotel without rushing back to Chennai.

Hotel Mahabs

After researching Mahabalipuram, I decided to pick a 3-star hotel in a good location rather than a more luxurious hotel further away. This hotel was located 150m from the Arujana’s Penance monuments and 500m from the shore temple.

It was great to walk to, the pool was deep and refreshing and the restaurant was decent. Babu there kept getting the chefs to cook fresh food that was less spicy for us!


Including all our meals – I think it came to just over £100 for 2 nights and 6 meals. We have stayed in many different places and this was pleasant, there wasn’t anything super amazing about the hotel. It still uses a padlock for the rooms, but it was in a great location and good value for money!

To book, click here.

This was not sponsored, I just thought the location was good.



Mahabalipuram is around 55km south Chennai and only 15 km from Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, on the bay of Bengal.

The Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram is a UNESCO heritage site. They date from the 7th and 8th Century and are some of the most famous carvings in India.

The group comprises of Shore Temple, Arujana’s Penance, Tiger’s Caves, Five Ratha’s and Krishna’s Butterball. There is also over 400 other carvings and temples included in the UNESCO heritage site, but these are the most famous ones.


They were built during the Pallava dynasty and were often known as the Seven Pagodas in the colonial era. BUT, now these beautiful buildings are known as Mahabalipuram/Mamallapuram group of monuments. 

Ticketing –

The Shore temple is the only one you have to pay to enter. Apparently the ticket we bought there was valid for the other 4 monuments too, but no other monument asked to see our ticket again.

Indian tickets are 40 Rs and foreigner tickets are 600 Rs.

I normally don’t have a problem with paying more as a foreigner to tourist attractions across India or Asia in general. This one just seemed really steep, the foreigner fees are 15 TIMES more than the Indian fees.

I understand they have upkeep costs to make and the assumptions are that foreigners can afford to come to India, therefore they can afford higher fees.

The temple is in the distance!

However, I think the fees could be a little fairer, as most of the Indians there were not local and were also tourists. In Europe, you are not allowed to discriminate with ticketing in the same way. Some local councils have free passes for people that live in that area for an exhibit, but I just felt like one was such a drastic difference. In Chennai at the Marina lighthouse, it was 50 Rs Foreigner fee and 20 Rs Indian fee.


The Shore Temple

This is the most famous of the monuments. It is unsurprisingly by the seashore and the temple is one large temple and two smaller temples, surrounded by other carvings. I believe it is a Shiva temple, with lots of imagery and was once beautifully carved.


There weren’t too many people outside trying to guide or selling us postcards which I was surprised as.

The biggest issue is that the elements haven’t been kind for the last 1300 years. Wind, rain and salt have caused the carvings to become weathered and less clear.


Arujana’s Penance

This was my favourite of the monuments. It was beautiful, the detail was incredible and the carvings were far more defined than the shore temple.

The Arujana’s Penance in Mahabalipuram is one of the largest bas-reliefs work in the world, it is carved on two 27 metre long pieces of rock.  It was amazing to see, the carving was amazing and it shows Hindu mythology.


The elephants were the most amazing part of this carving and I loved it!


This monument had a lot more people selling things outside and people asking to become your guides, but they were all very polite.

Behind it is also a separate part of the group of monuments, which is Krishna mandapa. This is the name for the cave which adjoins the Arujana’s penance and shows the story of Krishna.


There is even a man playing the flute in it. Here we also got asked to be in people’s family pictures!

Krishna’s Butterball

This is an amazing rock that is balanced on the edge of this hill. It looks like it is defying gravity and just perched there.


When we saw it, my Mum told me not to stand too close to it. If anyone would knock it down the cliff, it would be me – so I avoided touching it!

Five Ratha’s

The five Ratha’s are one of the most famous parts of this group of monuments. They are carvings of chariots, which are made from granite.


They are about 1km from the rest of central Mahabalipuram. We never managed to make it to these, which was a shame. However, it was far too hot the day we were exploring and I just wanted to head back and dip in the pool instead.

Tiger’s Caves

This is the final one of the main group of monuments.

It is this beautifully shaped cave, that has tiger shaped carvings around the same.

This is a similar carving to the tiger faces, instead, this was at Shore Temple.

This one is also 5km away from the main collection, which meant we also didn’t manage to visit these either. But if you want to read more about them, follow this guide here.



I decided to make a map of the locations of the main 5 parts of the monuments, so you get an idea of where to go.

Center map


This was such a nice day to explore all the different monuments at Mahabalipuram and I loved the carvings. It was great to experience such history, especially as the shore temple was the original design that has been used as a model all across South Asia.

Until next time,

The Great Ambini

x x x

If you like this, pin it for later.

Mahabalipuram India, the UNESCO heritage site, only 50km from Chennai is one of the most beautiful set of carvings in the world. click the link to find out more #Mahabalipuram #chennai #india #southindia Mahabalipuram India, the UNESCO heritage site, only 50km from Chennai is one of the most beautiful set of carvings in the world. click the link to find out more #Mahabalipuram #chennai #india #southindia Mahabalipuram India, the UNESCO heritage site, only 50km from Chennai is one of the most beautiful set of carvings in the world. click the link to find out more #Mahabalipuram #chennai #india #southindia



Spread the love

32 Replies to “A guide to the Mahabalipuram temples”

  1. Great info about the accommodation being near the temples. And it looks quiet and quaint and loving the looks of that pool. Would love to check out these temples. They look amazing.

  2. Thank you, Amber, for your article! 🙂 Was fun to read about it and tag it on google map for my upcoming trip to India.. I love ancient sites and monuments and this one stole my interest!
    P.S. But, please, listen to your mom and don’t go close to any big rock as we don’t want those artifacts to disappear from the worlds map 😀

  3. Hotel Mahabs looks like a great compromise-still nice and very affordable so that’s a great find! Less spicy is better for me too. I’m also used to paying more for tourist attractions in some countries since I’m a foreigner, but man 15 times more is a bit much, wow! I definitely want to visit the Shiva temple, I love its architecture. I haven’t heard of the Krishna’s Butterball, that is pretty unique but my FAVORITE thing you’ve listed is the Tiger’s Caves-they are amazing (and I might just slightly love tigers)! Your map with the locations is very helpful, thank you!

  4. I have not been to Mahabalipuram before and this post is really helpful. It’s quite ridiculous you had to pay 15 times the amount. The Shore temple and Arujanas penance have lovely architecture. Krishnas Butterball is quite interesting… lol your Mum was hilarious :D. I hope to visit someday.

  5. Looks like and interesting place to visit. The temple is a cool design and I like that. Too bad about that price hike for foreigners but it seems its still pretty affordable. Beaches in the area look nice too!

  6. This is a great guide! For some reason India has never been high up on my bucket list but the more I keep reading about it the greater my urge to visit is! The tiger cave looks so cool. Love your photos!

  7. I love visiting ancient temples. The carvings and detail are magnificent. That rock looks like it could roll at any time! Great write up, thank you 🙂

  8. I totally agree about choosing a hotel based on location rather than luxury- it can totally make or break your trip if you’re the type to explore rather than laze by the pool. The temples and sculptures all look beautiful and unique, I would love to make it to India one day!

  9. Interesting read and enjoyed the photos combined. The temple looks beautiful and well worth a visit if you are in the area. The carvings are my favourite when visiting places like this, to truly see the stories and history. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Such beautiful temples! And so well preserved for how old they are. Even the beach looks beautiful where you were. Like you, I agree the entrance fee being 15 times higher for a foreigner is a little ridiculous. 2 or 3 times more would be more appropriate. You have made me consider southern India now if I ever actually make it there. Thank you!

  11. I’m just starting to get into where all of the UNESCO heritage sites are located, so Mahabalipuram is my first one that I have seen in India. I really was shocked at how well preserved the 27 metre rock has held up despite it being from the 7th century– and it isn’t truly protected. If it is that old, and held up that well….makes me wonder how detailed it was to begin with.

  12. Mahab is so high on my bucket list! I have been to Pondi several times but did not visit Mahab and really regret! Gotta visit here soon. the place gives very hampi kind of vibe if I am not wrong!

  13. I think i should add India to my bucket list as there is so much to see. The temple looks beautiful and well preserved.
    I guess my favorite would be admiring the art on the walls of the Arujana’s Penance

  14. What a detailed and open guide. I totally agree re the hotel, sometimes location is everything, plus you probably spend more time out the building when exploring anyway

  15. Mahabalipuram looks like a fantastic place to visit. It’s no wonder that the monuments are listed as UNESCO Heritage sites. The Shore Temple looks impressive. And I am amazed at the detail in the carvings, especially the elephants. I, too, am surprised at the huge discrepancy between the price of admission for an Indian and a foreign tourist. It does seem like a steep price, but hopefully that revenue is used to preserve these beautiful monuments.

  16. I read this with great interest as I have never been to India and would love to visit the south. Mahabalipuram looks so intriguing and ancient. No wonder it is a UNESCO Heritage site. I also love the elephant sculptures at Arujana’s Penance. I find any relief full of Hindu mythology fascinating. Is it difficult to get to the monuments that are a bit further away? Is there public transport or do you take a tuktuk or cab?
    All in all, it sounds like a fabulous place to visit – one not to be missed. Thank you for all the info.

  17. Thank you for sharing this, Amber… I’ve only been to New Delhi for a short layover in India, but never really explored any place in the country just yet. Recently, free visa applied for Indonesian passport holder to get to India so I really keep in mind to get an opportunity visiting. 🙂

    Also, since you mentioned that you traveled there with your mom, any chance you’re going to write something about traveling with mom? My mom is currently handling some documents stuff to get her passport. After she got hers, I’m thinking to take her for a girls’ vacay. But it’s gonna be my first time traveling with her, so I’d love to get some input on that.

    Thank you!

  18. I love your pictures the temples look like a beautiful place, nice tip on staying at a hoyle that is close and it seems like a good price. The fornier cost to enter the temple did seem a bit high.

  19. Mahabalipuram is a lovely place and its temples are magnificent examples of ancient temple architecture of India. It is pity that you were not able to visit the Pancha Ratha’s, they are lovely too. We have been there a couple of times and found it fascinating each time. The heat is, of course, an issue there, the best time to visit is in the winter months and in the mornings.

  20. India is a place I know I’ll want to venture to someday. I almost went there a couple years ago (Bangalore) for an IT convention. I would have missed seeing these beautiful temples while sitting in a hotel conference room. Thanks for sharing some inspiring pictures and giving some detail. Glad you weren’t responsible for rolling the rock down the hill!

  21. India is such a vast country with so many different travel route options! Thanks for guiding us through the Mahabalipuram temples …. it really helps travelers narrow down sites to visit!

  22. In Mahabalipuram, there are enormous places like tiger cave beach, shore, and temples. The beach is located near 50 km of south Tamil Nadu. If you visiting the beach at Mahabalipuram, you have to Stay in Mahabalipuram for visiting more places.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *