Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Chennai, the Capital of Tamil Nadu and the fourth largest metro in India, is a starking 368-year-old city that has wrapped up in its ambit much more than history, a political race-course, industrial marvels, a phenomenal automobile industry (also referred to as the Detroit of South Asia). The erstwhile Madras, was rechristened Chennai, as a part of the Indianizing spree of the Government. The tongue-twisting local language sounds interesting to the ears and the lovely oiled braids of the local womenfolk decorated with strings of flowers exude, both, an aura of mysticism and beauty, one tends to remember for quiet sometime long after.

Tale of the City

Chennai, shoring the Bay of Bengal, is the historical gateway through which the British first 'came, saw' and found the little fishing village a paragon site for their first settlement. The city grew up around the English settlement of Fort Saint George and gradually absorbed the surrounding towns and villages. However, the strong British influence has always been overridden with a stronger traditional lineage - so typically South Indian-like.


Chennai Beaches: Welcome to the second longest (13 km) beach frill in the world - the Marina. What Marine beach is to Mumbai, Marina is to Chennai - synonymous and so truly representing the very pulse of the city. Early mornings are animated with the fishermen's hustle while dusk is when the real fun begins with picnicking families, vendors, food carts, couples, make it a living beehive. Knitted on the main-road flanking the beach are very-British ancient buildings, an Aquarium House, the Chennai Presidency College. About 40 km away from the bustling town is Covelong beach, an interesting locale if you are looking forward to basking under the sun unhindered watching fishermen in the distance Just 58 km, south of Chennai lies Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram with a sylvan beach, a crocodile farm, snake venom extracting center, schools of art and sculpture making it a popular venue. Elliot's Beach is spread along the coast down south from Marina, near Besant Nagar. This is where the nocturnals head for a quiet stroll along an equally quiet beach. Make sure to visit the Velankanni church and the Ashtalakshmi temple once here.

Fort St George: It would not be an exaggeration to state that Chennai grew around this first bastion of British power, built in 1640. The cluster of gray and white colonial buildings with pillared neoclassical facades now houses the Tamil Nadu State Legislature and the Secretariat. The fort houses the St Mary's Church, the oldest Anglican church in India. Look out for the numerous gravestones there, the oldest one being for the Latin memorial to Mrs. Elizabeth Baker (1652), believed to be the oldest British inscription in India. The Fort Museum (Sat-Thurs; 10am-5pm) has rare weapons, uniforms, coins, costumes fo the colonial era.

Religious joints: The Pallava's Parthasarathy Temple (at Triplicane, near Marina) is the oldest one at Chennai with some beautifully carved gopurams (arched gateway). Another Pallava boon is the Kapaleeshwar Temple (Malaypore), with a 120-ft gopuram painted vermillion red, blue and yellow and with Puranic legends sculpted on the sanctum sanctorum, giving it that 'awesome' look. And in case your visit is timed during the Arupathumoovar Festival (lasting 10 days in March), consider yourself lucky - best sights of the South Indian religious fervor guaranteed. South of it is the Mylapore's Basilica of San Thomas (Open daily, 6am-6pm), where Saint Thomas, a famed Jesus Christ disciple, breathed his last. This neon-lit 16th century building was made a basilica by the Portuguese in 1896. The 14 wooden plaques depicting scenes from the last days of Christ and the 3 ft. High statue of the Virgin, believed to have been imported from Portugal, make it a feast for the eyes. Atop St. Thomas Mount, is another 16th century Portuguese church - the Church of our Lady of Expectations. Head for the sprawling 270-acre garden housing the Theosophical Society, founded by Madam Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott in New York in 1875, whose headquarters were moved to Chennai in 1882. And don't miss out the Adayar Banyan tree.

Kalakshetra: Beyond Elliot's beach, in Thiruvanmiyur, is this Rukmini Devi Arundale's Gurukul - a center for dance, music, arts and crafts - that has disciples from across the globe. Reputed scholars and musicians like Tiger Varadachariar, Veenai Sambasiva Iyer, Mysore Vasudevachariar and Papanasam Sivan, an arts college, a senior secondary school and a craft education and research center - make it the 'Temple of Art'.

Hangouts: HFO (Hell Freezes Over) with 6000 sq. feet of floor space, 2500 watts of music, a billiards table, choicest spirits for the spirited, guest DJs from across the nation and some great music make it a perfect hangout. Dublin (Hotel Park Sheraton and Towers), Pasha (The Park, 601 Anna Salai), Leather Bar (The Park hotel), Distil (the Taj Connemara), Zaras Tapas (74 Cathedral Rd.) - are some of the best stages where you can stress-buster your hectic days and 'chillax' with a 'kewl' drink amidst a 'super-kewl' crowd.


Right from the swanky malls to the roadside vendors, the typical South Indian influence is unmistakably prominent. When you go sight-seeing the traditional buys make excellent souvenirs. Pattamara Mats and the leaf and palmyra-fiber handicrafts from Tirunellveli, bronze and brass castings and traditional jewelry from Kumbakonam, metal works from Tanjavur, stone carvings from Mamallapuram, Silks from Kanchipuram - are terminologies to remember. They appear as beautiful to the eyes are their names sound to the ears. Visit Cottage Emporium, Poompuhar Emporium and Victoria Technical Institute all of which are at Anna Salai. For Kanjeevaram silk sarees Nalli's Rasi and Kumaran silks at T Nagar are the best bets. SIPA'S Craftlink (Kodambakkam High Rd) has indigenous articles made by local people. Burma Bazaar has very interesting imported goods at reasonable rates. Head for the shopping plazas or the malls if you want to check out the branded stuffs.


Idly(steamed rice cakes), dosai (a pancake made from a batter of rice), vada (deep fried doughnuts), pongal (a mish mash of rice and lentils boiled together and seasoned with ghee, cashew nuts, pepper and cummin seed), uppuma (cooked semolina seasoned in mustard oil) - mouth watering isn't it? There are several variations of the dishes mentioned above which are eaten with coconut chutney, sambar (seasoned lentil broth) and mulaga podi (a powdered mix of several dried lentils eaten with oil). And filter coffee is the favorite beverage. The coffee beans are first roasted and ground, and elaborate rituals follow till it is becomes the ideal frothy cup of filter coffee. For a lip-smacking South Indian fare go to Dakshin Restaurant at the Park Sheraton, Raintree at Taj Connnemara's Verandah or walk into any one of Saravana Bhavan's 17 restaurants strewn across the city. Amravathi specializes in Andhra cuisine, while, Kaaraikudi (Radhakrishna Salai) has scrumptious grilled stuffed pomfret and the special chicken pepper fry with appams. Those flavored with a 'difference' are Senor Pepes (its coffee is awesome), Buhari (Anna Salai, for Russian Chicken) and as for the rest, let your taste buds do the exploring - Chennai is full of foodie stop-overs.


Mahabalipuram (58 km): Ancient heritage is covetously preserved at some places and the coastal-town of Mahabalipuram or Mammallapuram is just a case for example. This 7th century Pallava joint (a World Heritage site), has 9 rock cut temples and 5 monolithic temple, four out of five Pancha Pandava Rathas are supposed to have been carved out of a single rock. Today, the Dravidian shore temple, the largest bas-relief in the world called Arjuna's Penance and the famous and beautiful mandapams has made this town world famous.

Kanchipuram (75 km):
The Coromandel Coast's Golden Triangle has Chennai, Mahabalipuram and Kanchipuram clubbed together. Kanchipuram, literally means the Golden City, and true to its name, the weavers here craft some of the world's best and most exotic silk fabric. It is also one of the seven sacred cities of India, fondly called City of Thousand temples, with some exquisite reminders of the Dravidian architecture in the form of temples and gopurams.
Indian Deer

A 72 acres Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary, located at about 86 km from Chennai, has some rare 24 species of local and migratory birds. About 28 km from Chennai is the Vandalur Zoo or the Anna Zoological Park, the biggest in South Asia with natural environs and a good conglomeration of wild animals. At 44 km from Chennai, not far from Mamallapuram, is the famed Crocodile Bank - crocodile breeding and research center where several species of Indian and African crocodiles and alligators are bred in captivity. Some hundreds of those large black bodies, one atop the other, basking in the sun is quite a spine-chilling sight.

Backwaters: If the idea of angling and some quiet backwater cruising turns you on, head for Pulicat (54 km). At the little fishing village of Annamalai Cheri see if you can persuade the fishermen to include you in their fishing venture. The ancient Dutch cemetery with its well-preserved tombstones repletes the eerie quietude of the place. Another joint is Muttukadu (16 km), a Tamil Nadu tourism spot where water sports enthusiasts make a beeline to participate in the various competitions.

Cholamandal Artist's Village (18 km): Artists and sculptors have conjoined to produce and also sell their wares in this antique village. The open-air auditorium here hosts a plethora of avant-garde theater, poetry-reading, dance recitals and the gallery here has a very rare collection of contemporary paintings and sculptures.

Location : In Tamil Nadu, South India

Go there for :
Beaches, Temples

Climate :
21-37°C (Sum); 20-30°C (Win)

When to Go:
Winters (Nov-Feb)

Local Tongue: Tamil

Literacy :

STD Code :
+91- 44

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