High atop Mahabalipuram's central hill is the New Lighthouse, an imposing presence over the coastline. Climb up the tower for the extraordinary views and visit the ancient temple next door.
The New Lighthouse was built at the turn of the 20th century to keep ships away from the rocky Mahabalipuram headland. Its source of light comes from dischargeable lamps, which rotate in bowls of mercury.
Before your ascent, look up at the soaring circular structure, which rises to a height of 138 feet (42 meters). It was built using natural stone and the grey façade is capped by a smooth domed roof.
Climb the 227 steps to reach the lighthouse's beacon room and viewing platform. This lookout offers commanding views of the city and the coast. Watch the sun arching over the Bay of Bengal and see if you can spot the Pancha Rathas monument complex and the enormous bas-relief sculpture, Arjuna's Penance.
The New Lighthouse is adjacent to Mahabalipuram's old lighthouse, known as the Olakkanesvara Temple. Visit this squat granite structure and admire its carved tributes to Lord Shiva. It was built by Pallava King Mahendra I around the year A.D. 640. This protected site had warning fires lit on its roof from the 7th century until the 20th century, making it India's oldest lighthouse.
After your visit to these two buildings, go to the National Maritime Heritage Museum to learn more about this coast's lighthouse history. Here you can browse exhibits of lighthouse technology and see examples of everyday items used by lightkeepers, such as crockery and medicine boxes. The museum also displays miniatures of fishing boats and defense vessels, including a submarine.
The New Lighthouse is located behind Mahabalipuram Beach, just a few minutes’ walk from the town's center. Both the lighthouse and adjacent temple are open daily and have an admission fee.