Aug 10, 2011

A Good Place To Have A Birthday--Mamallapurum

Our littlest lady has been really looking forward to her birthday for a while now.  Despite knowing that we are thousands of kilometres from our home in Australia she still had her heart set on being the centre of attention at her birthday party, complete with cake, presents and friends.  While we tried to gently remind her that this year would have to be different, her not-yet-4yr old logic still equated a birthday with a party (guess she’s the party animal in the family!).  As her birthday coincided with us being in India, we were really scratching our heads for ideas on how to make her day special.   To our surprise, our prayers were answered at ‘MGM Dizzee World’.

MGM Dizzee World just happens to be one of India’s largest amusement parks, and it was located just 20km north of Mamallapurum, where we were staying.  At first glance, it didn’t seem like anything much—overpriced, in fact, especially compared to the local cost of living.  At $12.50 USD for adults (Rs500) and $10 USD (Rs400) for kids over 2’6” tall (equivalent to maybe a 2.5yr old foreigner, or a 5yr old local), the $45.00 USD that we paid for admission was equivalent to our family’s entire day’s food and accommodation expenses.  But hey, it was her birthday and it certainly was the best option around.  As it was a weekday, it was fairly quiet too except for a couple of school groups; there were no annoying queues to deal with either.  For 4hrs, the girls managed to ride most but certainly not all the children and family rides only once, and Jim and I managed a turn on a couple of  ‘adult only’ rides like the Bumper Cars and the Giant Rollercoaster. Then we spent another 2hrs in the adjoining Water Park, which was a great way to cool down in the hot day.  Luckily as Indian people, particularly the women and children generally swim entirely clothed, I fit right in as I had forgotten my swim suit anyway. Maddy especially loved the waterslides, surprising us with her courage to ride them on her own, including the big 3-storey ones!  The place surprisingly packed a lot in and the price covered all rides as well as the water park.  The quality of the rides ranged from an old rusty ferris wheel that rotated at a surprisingly fast stomach churning speed, to a very modern double-corkscrew roller coaster, with at least 60% of the rides suitable for kids 3yrs and up.  They were also in the process of building another ‘water-coaster’ ride that looked like it would be a good one.  We rounded off our full day with some cake, a rendition of ‘happy birthday’, more presents, and then it was off to bed for a couple of very tired children.  Turning 4 in India was ok after all.

Maddy went down every one of these on her own!

Fisherman's Colony Beach, Mamallapurum
Mamallapuram itself is an eclectic town, featuring some extraordinary ancient ‘Dravidian’ temple sites and a low-key Tamil fishing village in a seaside setting located 2hrs south of Chennai on the Bay of Bengal.  (The fishing village aspect reminds us of Arugum Bay or Uppeveli Beach in Sri Lanka.)  And add to this the fact that it is both a well developed ‘backpacker destination’ as well a popular destination for middle class Europeans (mostly French) and Indians, it makes for a very interesting place indeed.  We can get porridge with bananas for breakfast in the touristy places; masala dosa or yummy Thali for lunch at the local restaurants; and kottu parotha like they make in Sri Lanka for dinner in town.  By day, we hang out on the beach undisturbed or making conversation with local traders; we peruse the marble carving or the tailoring shops; we explore some of the many 7th Century temples; or we just ‘hang’ and have lots of chai tea and lassi.  And with our air conditioned room overlooking the ocean which is also a terrific people-watching spot, it’s been no wonder that we’ve been able to spend 10 days here easily.

One of the largest bas-reliefs in the world (27m x 9m)--Arjuna's Penance

'Krishna's Butterball', Arjuna's Penance, Mamallapurum

Varaha Cave, Arjuna's Penance, Mamallapurum--cut out from the rock.
Ottavadai Street, Mamallapurum
Yum--Corn Flakes with Banana

On the balcony of our Hotel Santana

We’ve been in India for almost 2 weeks now.  But compared to our last visit 10years ago, this one is so ‘easy’—it’s kind of weird actually.  Previously, I had spent 3 months travelling primarily in the northern states although Jim had travelled through most of India on 2 separate trips.  While it was very interesting to say the least, at times it was also very difficult, culturally speaking.  We remember there always being crowds, which at times could be very pushy and confronting in terms of personal space.  I remember sleezy men leering and at times being ‘inapporopriate’ towards women. We remember cows wandering the streets, and greetings of ‘Namaste’ which means ‘hello’ in Hindi, almost everywhere we went.  This time around, we chose to only travel through South India as it’s meant to be ‘gentler’ and so far, it certainly seems to be the case.  But we’ve been surprised to discover that it’s also very culturally distinct, and although there are still a few cows around, the other issues haven’t surfaced yet.  Here in the state of Tamil Nadu, the official language is Tamil.  They don’t greet you with ‘Namaste’, but with English ‘Hello’ or French ‘Bonjour’ (as most of the tourists seem to come from France).  When a South Indian meets a North Indian, chances are that they can only communicate using English!  The people are also not as pushy or persistent and the men here don’t seem to gawk at foreigners as much, but instead respect the fact that ‘we’re here to relax’!   So based on our previous experience with India, and more than likely amplified by our recent visit to Sri Lanka, where Tamil is also spoken by approximately 1/3 of the population (particularly in the east and north), it still doesn’t really feel like we’re in India yet, but that’s not a bad thing!  Continuing further south to Puducherry next.

Indian couple we met.


  1. that's not a bad thing that its different- burnt out last time from northern india- and that's without children to worry about!

    have a great time and happy birthday

  2. glad we weren't the only ones who found northern India challenging! Just so surprised at the difference between north and south--can't believe it.

  3. WOW! This was such an amazing read! You are so lucky to have the opportunities to travel to such amazing destinations! And your writing is so good, I feel like I was right there with you! :) Petter Joe

    1. Yes, we ARE very lucky to have the opportunity to travel, and with our family too--we know many people out there cannot travel for many reasons. So at least we succeeded it taking us with you! Thanks for your comment.