There I was again, walking around a landmark of global importance with my eyes firmly fixed on the ground instead of looking up at the sights around me. This guy, on the other hand, knew how to act like a proper self-respecting tourist and put me to shame.
In this case, the landmarks I should have been looking at were the elaborate rock-carved monuments of Mahabalipuram, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Still, in between all the downward gazing, I managed to have a quick look at the Five Rathas, dating to the 7th century. Each of them is a monolith shrine sculpted in a different style, carved whole from a single piece of pink granite rock in situ. Historians say the area served as a school for young sculptors who had to learn and practice different architectural styles. Today, there are still dozens of workshops around the site, which sell hand-carved granite sculptures.
Another structure of the site was the Shore Temple, a five-story structural (unlike the rock-cut rathas) Hindu temple dating to the beginning of the 8th century, which stands right on the Bay of Bengal.
One thing that took me by surprise was the unexpected sense of serenity that dawned on me when I entered the temple. Away from the scorching sun and the heat (which I was tempted to describe as oppressive before I remembered that at the same time temperatures in Sofia reached -15 °C), the loud, gawking and pushy tourists crowds, I felt the cool granite beneath my bare feet and the light breeze around me, and a certain tranquility set it.
Speaking of serenity, I owe the chance to see Mahabalipuram, as well as my whole stay in India, to my wonderful friends and the most gracious of hosts Lika and David. They handled my last-minute and highly disorganized visit with enviable composure, along the way effortlessly dealing with my culture shocks, freak-outs from insane traffic, endless questions, frustrated haggling over pashmina prices, lack of proper footwear, danger of serious sunburn and allergy-inducing mosquito bites, sore throat bouts and spicy food challenges. All with four-month-old baby Elena in tow.