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Saturday, Jun 08, 2002

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`Heritage' town leaves a lot to be desired in TN

Nina Varghese

Is the legacy from the past being overshadowed by waste from the present? Plastic wastes clog the tank at the sixth century shore temple built by the Pallavas at Mahabalipuram, listed as a world heritage site by Unesco.


THE legacy of the Pallavas, no doubt, draws thousands of visitors to Mahabalipuram every month. But for how long, is the question most people ask, after a visit to this heritage town.

Plastic garbage seems to be choking the town. There is plastic everywhere, on the once pristine beaches, around the monuments and in the main town. This is despite the campaign on the use of non-biodegradable plastic by the State Government.

The smell of untreated sewerage is all-pervasive, including the natural bay, once the harbour of the Pallavas. Despite these failings, the beach end of Ottavaada street is a world apart. (The restaurants on Ottavaada Steet like Moonraker, Sea Shore and Lunamagic have become popular with city dwellers. A number of them drive all the way for dinner at these small eateries). These restaurants can toss up an exotic continental meal of grilled lobsters, prawns or calamari with a variety of pasta. In season the price of the grilled lobster could go up to Rs 1,000.

The change in the old fishing village happened in the last eight years, said Mr Selvan, a waiter at one of the restaurants. The beach is still unspoilt and is lined with catamarans and fishing boats. The occasional sunbather among the fishermen mending their nets adds to the surrealism of the place.

The house fronts have become eateries while some of them have rooms for hire at rates varying from Rs 200 to Rs 750 per day. Most of the waiters at these restaurants have a working knowledge of Russian, German and French, besides English. Boards offering ayurvedic massage are also seen. There are no domestic tourists on this beach; this seems to be the reserve of the foreigners.

A Chennai-based tour operator, however, points out that since this growth is organic, and development inevitable, some planning and support from the State Government is required at this stage. He warns that if care was not taken at this stage this beach would go the way of Kovalam and Goa.

The Mahabalipuram Town Panchayat is cash-strapped, claim sources at the Panchayat office. A toll of Rs 15 is collected at the entrance to the town. The toll collection is tendered and this year the tender netted Rs 8 lakh. The town also has an annual allocation of Rs 36 lakh, which they said was insufficient. Officials said that after paying salaries and electricity charges of Rs 60,000 every month, and road upkeep, there was not much left over for upgradation work

Landscaping work is on at the Shore Temple. A city-based landscape architect hopes that the authorities are not planning to plant Korean grass around the monument, as this would not be in sync with the surrounding.

At this time of the year, mini vans and tourist buses from all over India discharge hordes of domestic tourists. The public conveniences to service these numbers are of course, inadequate. The beach and the environs of the monuments themselves seem to be the best place for these day-trippers to ease themselves.

A word of caution to the adventurous; the walk around the Shore Temple is fraught with the danger of treading on human faeces.

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