Reminiscent of the Mayan ruins in Central America, a complex of stone temples are all that remain of the eighth century Pallava dynasty along the coast two hours south of Chennai. Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram’s (Mamallapuram) most iconic landmark, consists of two intricately carved towers standing watch over the Bay of Bengal. With shrines dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu, the temple is considered one of the oldest in India. The nearby Panch Pandava Rathas, five stone shrines each carved from a single piece of rock, clearly display the astounding talent of the ancient stonemasons who built them.
Besides the monolithic stone shrines and temples, the town of Mahabalipuram gives travelers a sun-and-sand escape from the clamor of nearby Chennai. Get an early start to tour the stone monuments in the morning before the heat and domestic tourists descend; and spend your afternoon lazing on the wide, sandy beach and snacking on freshly prepared seafood at a beachside restaurant.