Unregulated traffic leaves a world heritage town choked

It is very tough to enter Mamallapuram during weekends. Most of the first-time visitors are clueless about where to park their cars and buses. The small bus stand can handle only three to four buses, at a time, in a town with a floating population of 25,000 to 1 lakh

Updated - May 15, 2024 06:07 am IST

Published - May 14, 2024 11:07 pm IST

Road to chaos: The arterial roads are narrow. They have shrunk further with a large number of vehicles parked on the roadsides.

Road to chaos: The arterial roads are narrow. They have shrunk further with a large number of vehicles parked on the roadsides.

Mamallapuram, one of the world’s heritage centres, lacks regulation of vehicular traffic, especially at weekends when chaos prevails.

More than 1,000 vehicles, especially cars and buses carrying domestic and foreign tourists, enter the town at weekends and on holidays, choking the flow of traffic on arterial roads and lanes. To add to the problem, there is no adequate or spacious parking.

Mamallapuram is located 60 km from Chennai city. It dates back to the 7th Century and was developed as a key centre of art and architecture under the patronage of the Pallava kings. In 1984, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared Mamallapuram a World Heritage Site, recognising the cultural value of the monuments, such as the Pancha Rathas, the Cave Temples, and the Shore Temples, which attract thousands of tourists.

Local body handles all tasks

Nearly eight million tourists visit Mamallapuram every year. All the amenities, including vehicle toll collection, are handled by the town panchayat. Vehicles entering the town are blocked on Kovalam Salai near a popular hotel in the north and near Pooncheri in the west for the entry toll collection.

Iron barricades, erected in the middle of the road, affect the free flow of vehicles. The entry toll is being collected either by employees of the town panchayat or by people engaged by private contractors.

Frequent quarrels

“On most occasions, men engaged by the private contractors are not polite while handling the travellers coming to the town. Quarrels break out now and then between the drivers of vehicles or locals with those who collect the toll,” says Arul, a taxi driver from Chennai.

There is no signboard to show the direction to the five main parking areas. One will have to search endlessly for the parking lot. Moreover, the parking lots are not spacious enough to handle the large number of vehicles arriving at weekends.

The arterial roads — Kovalam Salai, East Raja Street, and Old College Road — are narrow. They have shrunk further with a large number of vehicles parked on the roadsides, say some residents.

It is very tough to enter the town during weekends and festive seasons. Most of the first-time visitors are clueless about where to park their cars and buses.

Haphazard parking

“There are five parking lots in the town. Reaching them is an ordeal since there are no signboards. Also, haphazard parking on the roads, which have already been encroached upon by shopkeepers, street vendors, and pedestrians, add to the misery,” says V. Balan, president of the Tourists Guides’ Association.

After crossing East Raja Street, motorists cannot take the left turn to reach the parking lot near the Shore Temples, for the road is blocked by those coming from or going to the complex.

“The police block the road, but we do not know where to park vehicles. The parking space is beyond Government Sculpture College and Maragatha Poonga. It is not a regulated parking space, and vehicles are parked in a haphazard manner,” says Suganya, a regular visitor. “After parking, we have to walk a long way as the monuments are far away. You get frustrated,” she says.

One of the parking lots is located near the Pancha Rathas, but here too there is no signboard to guide the tourists. So, the visitors get down near Maragatha Poonga and walk a long way to reach it. Autorickshaw drivers fleece tourists who get down and park their vehicles at this point.

A small ground has been made into a bus stand, opposite a Vishnu temple. It can handle only three to four buses, at a time, in a town with a floating population of 25,000 to 1 lakh. During weekends and summer, the crowds are heavy. There is no public address system to announce the timings of the buses. Only one or two policemen are in charge on any given day.

Jamaludeen, a resident, says, “On Fridays and Saturdays, it is very difficult to move around. The bus stand is too small. There will be no way to reach the Pancha Rathas or the shore. The roads will be choked with vehicles. There will always be huge traffic at the weekends in and around the bus stand.

R. Thirumurugan, a tourist guide, says, “One will have to go through Othavadai Street or Thirukulam Street to reach two parking areas. People will have to shell out more money in the parking space belonging to the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC). This is in addition to the entry toll. A private parking lot is also being operated on Padasalai Road.”

E. Sankar, a CPI(M) functionary, says, “There is no regulation of traffic. The shopkeepers encroach on the pedestrian space, forcing tourists to walk on the carriageway.”

No toilets or water supply

Murali, a social activist, points out, “The tourists face untold hardship at several places. There are no adequate toilets or drinking water supply. People who get drenched in seawater have no place to change their dress. Unregulated shops and eateries block the free movement of pedestrians near the Shore Temples.”

While coming out of the town, cars or other vehicles are not allowed to reach East Coast Road to go to Chennai or any destination in the north. They have to go three more kilometres for the U-turn at Pooncheri.

Mamallapuram Town Panchayat chairperson Valarmathi Yeshvanthrao says, “We have sent a proposal to the TTDC to get 10 acres of land on lease for developing parking lots. We have passed a resolution to this effect, and are waiting for approval from the government. The proposal has been pending for more than one year. Once it materialises, the parking problem will be solved.”

The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority has started the work on a new bus stand on 6.9 acres outside the town. The bus stand would have 48 bays and the work will be completed next year, she says.

“The aim is to have only battery-operated vehicles inside the town. For the present, the police have been asked to introduce one-way traffic in the town for better regulation of traffic,” she says.

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