Mahabalipuram, India

A chorus of rock-tapping, drilling and sawing serenades you as you enter Mahabalipuram, a small coastal town with a history stretching as far back as the 1st century AD. Haven of fishermen and stone-workers, the only thing more aggressive than the noise of their trade is the salesmen heckling you to see their wares. I was deep in the heart of Backpackistan, as the lonely planet so quaintly put it.

Fervent in their worship, the Southern Indian states and in particular Tamil Nadu are known for constructing copious numbers of temples. Mahabalipuram could be the poster-child for this phenomenon as here you might struggle to walk ten steps without striking upon yet another temple enshrining one of the many Hindu gods. A galaxy of such structures, often carved into the cliffs themselves, awaits anyone willing to take a stroll through the central park.

The shore temple at Mahabalipuram. Degraded by the ocean winds, the appearance of the sculptures is almost surrealist A monkey rests on Mahabalipuram hill, in front of the lighthouse
The Vishnu tank, situated near to the Shore temple
Krishna Mandapam, a cave temple carved directly into the cliff face at Mahabalipuram hill Depictions of hindu gods are lit up at night during the 3-day fishermens festival

On the East Coast road between Mahabalipuram and Chennai lies everything from artist communes to crocodile parks. I spent the day darting from point to point on the way through. Of particular note was Dakshinachitra, an open-air museum of sorts offering a cultural history of each state of India as well as classes on glass-blowing, sari-weaving and more.

Glass blowing at Dakshinachitra
Though likely spiritual in nature, I have no explanation for what this is A very sinister-looking breeding pair of the endangered Siamenese crocodile family rest together at the Madras Crocodile Bank