The coastal town of Chennai is a bustling metropolis that has managed to hold on to its roots inspite of rapid urbanisation
Words: Bindu Gopal Rao
Located along the Bay of Bengal, Chennai has a cultural ethos that seamlessly blends with the contemporary, giving the city a unique and vibrant character. With beaches, museums, temples and churches, history and heritage can be found in all corners of the metropolis. Here are a few places that must be on your itinerary during your next trip to the southern city of Chennai.
Start your day early by visiting the Marina Beach, which has a 13-km-long coastline. Located in the midst of the city, this is where the local folks chill. Since the crowds swell as the day progresses, morning is the best time to enjoy the beach. You can go to the lighthouse here as well as visit the MGR and Anna Memorials apart from a host of statues. For a quieter beach experience, head to the Elliot Beach in Besant Nagar, which is close to the Velankanni Church and the Ashtalakshmi Temple. If you love water and are willing to travel, go to the Covelong Beach (or Kovalam Beach) located 40 km away or the Thiruvanmiyur Beach situated in the Thiruvanmiyur locality.
Irrespective of your spiritual inclination, make a visit to the temples and churches of Chennai to witness their stunning, centuries-old architecture. The Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore, dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, is an ode to the Pallava’s Dravidian-style architecture. Dating back to the 7th century, the temple has carved stone pillars, wooden carvings, an ornate spire and a huge tank that plays host to the annual theppam or float festival. The area surrounding the temple is abuzz with a local market, which makes for an interesting visit. One of the other revered temples is the Marundeeswarar Temple in Thiruvanmiyur. Believed to be built in the 11th century, Lord Shiva is worshipped here as the healer of all ailments.
The city also nurtures several churches. The Santhome Basilica at the southern end of Marina Beach, standing on the tomb of St. Thomas, an apostle of Christ, is a must visit for its beautiful stained glass windows. Also pay obeisance at St. Mary’s Church, which is India’s first Anglican Church built in 1678-79 in Fort St. George. Apart from the altarpiece, you will find a large painting of The Last Supper, a bible that dates back to 1660, and silver plates.
When in Chennai, check out Fort St. George. Built by the British in the 17th century, it now houses Tamil Nadu’s Legislative Assembly and Secretariat. The Fort Museum is a good place to learn about Chennai’s origins and the military memorabilia and artwork from colonial times cannot be missed. Also stop by the Rippon Building, the office of the Chennai Corporation, which is a beautiful white building. Its main attraction is the 2.5m Westminster Chiming Clock.
The Government Museum here is the second-oldest museum in India. It has an interesting display of archaeological and numismatic collections, spreading over 16.25 acres, six buildings and 46 galleries. An offbeat place to visit is the late 19th century Connemara Public Library, where you can find centuries-old publications. With a whopping six lakh plus books, it is regarded as one of Asia’s largest libraries. When you are here, visit the Bronze Gallery and try to watch a play here.
If you love shopping, visit Ranganathan Street in T Nagar to buy silk sarees and gold jewellery. The markets here are abuzz with everything you could possibly need, but be prepared for crowds in the peak hours of the day.
After exploring the markets, give a visit to the Guindy National Park in the middle of the city, which houses a rich population of birds, animals and reptiles. You can hop in to an electric vehicle to roam around the place comfortably. Also try some local food at one of the numerous Murugan Idli Shops, ideal for breakfast, or the Sarvana Bhavan, which dishes out thaalis for lunch and dinner.
The city is a hotspot of arts and culture, and a way to witness this first hand is to visit Kalakshetra. It hosts a plethora of events, including dance performances, and is crowded during weekends. The annual Margazhi Festival here is believed to be one of the largest cultural festivals in the world with more than 1,000 dance and music performances. It is held typically in December-January for more than 45 days. Chennai is a potpourri of experiences waiting to be discovered, and it is over to you now to make your own journey.