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It’s finally Carol’s turn to be sick; she was back and forth from the bathroom all night, though to my great relief she didn’t get the fever I’d endured and was well enough to continue. We got up at 10am and I went downstairs and caught the last dregs of breakfast in the very large restaurant. Carol has changed our booking in Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry) to three nights so we can recharge and relax there after a night in Mahabalipuram. We both feel a bit drained and battered and need to stop moving for a bit. And I’ve got a cough, of course.

We didn’t check out until noon – one thing Indian hotels do well is late check out times – and our friend Vishal organised a car to take us the half hour to the outskirts of Mahabalipuram, at no charge. He’s the most professional and efficient hotel staff member we’ve yet met!

The young guy driving us to the Four Points Sheraton dropped us some distance from the lobby, at the entrance to a huge Rotary convention going on in a convention centre in front of the hotel. After some wandering about we found the front gate guard, who called a golf cart to pick us up. Yes, it was that kind of place. In a change from the Hampi homestay, we’ve stayed in a few upmarket hotels now; for two reasons – one, we’re both feeling battered by deteriorating health and it’s easier to collapse into a relatively modern room and get room service, and two, there just aren’t many good mid-range options available, unless we can put up with the kind of crappiness we had in Badami. My trip 25 years ago to the north got worse and worse because of the cheap hotels and hostels (sometimes just a concrete box), constant travel, and poor food I had to endure as a budget traveller. Of course so-called upmarket hotels have their own frustrations in India, because they’re really not up to the standard you’d expect of a hotel in their price bracket.

We did manage to get moving right away though, and walked out to the main road and grabbed a tuk-tuk to take us the ten minutes or so into Mahabalipuram. It’s a busy little seaside town; we headed straight for a long granite outcrop in the centre of town carved with temples and sculptures, set in a pleasant green park and very busy with locals (the entry fee for us was 600 R – locals are charged 40 R). It was HOT; the hottest day we’ve experienced so far, and we were soon dripping with sweat. The most impressive sight was ‘Arjuna’s Penance’, an incredible bas-relief 30 metres long and 14 metres high, covered with stunning, naturalistic figures, including some beautiful elephants and a cat standing on one leg doing penance in front of a group of rats!

We wandered all about the area looking at many small rock-cut temples, a huge boulder balanced on a granite slope called ‘Krishna’s Butterball’ which was swarming with people taking photos of themselves holding it up; and even a stone Victorian-era lighthouse.

After a couple of hours we were both completely exhausted and got a tuk-tuk back to the hotel, and had excellent vegetarian spring rolls for dinner through room service. It’s amazing how quickly you can get sick of curry, rice and bread. Already I’m completely sick of Indian food and craving other foods; not that I’m eating much. I went to bed feeling crap and coughing a lot, and terrified I’d wake up with the flu.

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