The capital city of Tamil Nadu, and one amongst the 4 metropolitan cities of India, Chennai that was called Madras until a few years back was one of the first outposts of British East India Company. Founded in 1639, the city is true example of Dintinctive Lifestyle, happy-go-lucky attitudes and never say die spirit.
Madras is derived from Madraspatnam, a name given to the area when the British negotiated settling there. Another blief is that the early Portuguese had called the area Madre de Sois after an early settler, or Madre de Deus after an early church. Similarly its new name is said have been derived from Chennapatnam, a fishing village near to the location of Madraspatnam.
Under the British, the city of Madras grew to be a major city. It was the capital of the Madras presidency, a province that covered the parts of South India that were not governed by any of the other princely states. The state continues to follow its age old culture that is the south Indian or Dravidian civilization, far apart from the north Indian Aryan civilization. Most people speak Tamil, and picking up some knowledge of the language is useful to get by in Chennai.
In terms of development, Chennai is one of the undercelebrated successes of software development in India. The city has a thriving Tamil film industry, rivalling Bollywood in scale and surpassing it in opulence. While most other regional language film industries are heavily influenced by the Bombay industry, the Tamil one not only marches to its own beat, but also occasionally manages to make Bollywood dance to it.
It is said that Chennai has two seasons – a hot and humid season, and summer, when it gets hotter and even more humid. It does not enjoy the South-west monsoon, but gets its limited ration of rains from the north east monsoon around September and October. The rains are utterly inadequate to fill its reservoirs, which means that the city is crucially dependent on water from distant sources such as Veeranam and Palar.
Chennai`s historic landmarks and buildings, long sandy beaches, cultural and art centers and parks constitute the major tourist and recreational attractions of the city. Marina Beach, the second longest beach in the world after Copacabana Beach in Rio De Janerio is 13 km long and 400 to 500 meter wide. It is the pride of Chennai with the city Light House, memorials, statues, walkways, gardens and drives alongside the beachfront. Situated in Besant Nagar, a suburb of Chennai, the Elliot`s Beach is pleasant, safe for swimming and also ideal for lounging and picnicking. There are a large number of beaches between the Elliot’s Beach and Mahabalipuram, the most notable being the Covelong Beach which has a cove and a fort built by the Nawab of Carnatic. Replete with historical monuments such as forts, churches, mosques, and a lovely beach, Covelong is a place where you can experience the history of Tamil Nadu as a whole. The remains of the Fort have now been converted into a luxury beach resort that offers facilities for windsurfing and swimming.
Historical Buildings, Memorials and Places of Worship
The most important tourist attraction of the city is actually in the neighbouring town of Mahabalipuram with its ancient temples and rock carvings of the 7th and 8th century. The city has several temples, art galleries and beaches that are a perfect treat for an art lover and a true traveler at heart.
The city an array of unmatched architectuaral wonders in the form of temples, churches and monuments. The worh visiting places in the city enlist Connemara Library, Ennore Port & Ennore Foundaries, National Art Gallery, St. Thomas Mount, Aarupadaiveedu Temple, CSI Wesley Church, Jain Temple, Kaalikaambaal Temple, Vinaayakar Temple Luz Corner, Sundara Vinayakar Temple, Ratnagirishwarar Temple, etc. These are only a few to mention.
The places that deserve a definite look are Fort St. George, built in 1653 by the English Company of the Eastern Indies (CAIO), housing the Secretariat and the legislative Parliament of Nadu Tamil. It also has a museum presenting of the objects of the time of the domination of the CAIO, and a banquetting suite going back to 1802 where the portraits of the governors of the fort are hung. The fort also comprises of St.Mary’s Church that was built in 1680 and is the oldest Anglican Church in India.
Guindy National Park is the smallest national park in India covering an area of 2.76 km² and one of the few located in a metro. Hosting a variety of endangered deer, foxes, monkeys and snakes, the park is an extension of the grounds surrounding the official residence of the governors of Tamilnadu. Next to this is the Guindy Snake Park that has deadly King Cobra, pythons,vipers and reptiles rsiding in their natural habitat and is an important source of antivenom serum. Adjecent to the same is Childern`s Park with stunning collections of animals and birds.
The Arignar Anna Zoological Park (better known as Vandalur Zoo) is located southwest of the city and covers an area of 5.1 km². It has about eighty species on display, and includes a lion safari a nocturnal animal house and an aquarium. South of the city, along the East Coast Road, is an important centre for herpetological research called the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, which houses several fresh-water and salt-water crocodiles, alligators, gharials, and also turtles and snakes. The Botanical Garden of the Horticulture Department has a very wide variety of plants and even a fossilised tree trunk 20 million years old. A Summer Festival is held here annually during the month of May.
Valluvar Kottam, an auditorium built in memory of the poet Thiruvalluvar has the vrses of the poet inscribed on the pillars around the auditorium. It also has a 101-feet high temple chariot structure.
Ashtalakshmi Temple is dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi. It looks different than the other South Indian temples as it a modern construction, less than 20 years old. The Visvaroopa Baktha Anjaneyaar Temple has a 32 feet high idol.
While you visit Chennai, make sure to take some time off to visit the fascinating outskirts of the city. Some of these exquisite destinations are:
Mahabalipuram (58 kms)
Roughly 55 km away from Chennai, Mahabalipuram is a lovely seaside village that has once been the capital of the Pallava dynasty of Southern India. Today, the shore temple, the largest bas-relief in the world called Arjuna`s Penance and the famous and beautiful mandapams has made this town an attraction for one and all. Almost 5km north of Mamallapuram in the village of Salavankuppam, the Tiger Cave is a rock cut shrine dating from 7th century. Dedicated to Durga, it has a small mandapam featuring a crown of carved yali heads. Another 14 km from here lies Tirukkalikundram, a pilgrim centre with a hilltop temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Kanchipuram (75 kms)
Along with Chennai and Mahabalipuram, Kanchipuram forms the famous Golden Triangle of the Coromandel Coast. Kanchipuram is the hometown for world’s finest silk owing to its Kanchi weavers. One of the seven sacred cities of India, it was successively the capital of the kingdoms of the Pallavas, Cholas and rajas of Vijayanagar. The temples and gopurams are exquisite here, especially Kailasanatha Temple and Ekambareshwara Temple. The latter covers nine hectares, has a 59-metre-high gopuram, a 1000-pillared hall and a sacred mango tree said to be 3500 years old.
Tirupati (152 kms)
Situated in the Chittoor district in southern Andhra Pradesh, Tirupati is the abode of the legendary Lord of the Seven Hills. Tirupati is one of the most famous shrines in the country where worship of the Lord has been carried out for over thirteen centuries. The main attractions are the Pratima Mandapam, with the statue of Sri Krishnadevaraya; Tulabharam, the scales upon which materials for offerings are weighed; the Tirumalanayaka Mandapam, replete with beautiful carvings; and Dhwajastambham, and others.
Muttukadu (16 kms)
The backwaters of Muttukadu have been developed by the State to serve as a scenic picnic spot and a water sports centre. In February every year, a windsurfing regatta is organised here. Also competitions in windsurfing & other water sports are held and training & demonstration programmes are organized for youth.
Vedanthangal (85 kms)
One of the largest bird sanctuaries in India, Vedanthangal is a marshy 30 hectare park with lake visited by over 1,00,000 migratory birds every year. The majority of these birds can be seen between November and February. The variety of birds include Herons, Darters, Spoonbills, Pelicans, Sandpipers, White Ibis and Cormorants, Blue winged teals and Swans.
VGP Golden Beach Resort (30 kms)
An entertainment arcade for children & adults, it features folk dance performances, Art Center that sells handicrafts and articles made out of seashells and a clean beach ideal for sunbathing. It entertains the visitor with sculptured vignettes from the past, folk dances and ethnic seafood cuisine. The VGP Art Center, a part of the resort complex, sells merchandise ranging, from seashells to rural handicrafts.
Pulicat (54 kms)
Site of an old Dutch settlement dating back to 1609, Pulicat is a picnic spot famed for its lake. There are amenities for swimming, fishing, and windsurfing. History-buffs can wander around the ancient Dutch cemetery with its well-preserved tombstones.
MGM Dizee World (20 kms)
A fun place for kids, this is an amusement park with roller coasters, water slides and giant Catherine wheels.
The town known for Meenakshi Temple, the consort of Lord Sundereswarar (Shiva), is believed to have been founded by a Pandya king some thousands of years ago in the presence of Lord Shiva. The city has got its name from the nectar falling off from Lord Shiva’s hair as the city of nectar or Madurai.
The famous Rock Fort is precariously perched atop a massive outcrop of rock that rises abruptly out of the flat surrounding plain. Set in the middle of the town on the bank of the river Cauvery, it is visible for miles around. A citadel of the Chola kings in the Sangam period (2 BC to 2 AD) the Rock Fort has had a long and chequered history.
Thanjavur (58 kms)
Thanjavur, the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu, the capital of a powerful dynasty, the imperial Cholas whose empire extended beyond South India and Sri Lanka to the kingdoms of South-East Asia in the 11th century has innumerable temples and shrines to ornament the land.
Palani, a pilgrim spot atop a hill dedicated to Lord Subramanium, is easily accessible.
Pondicherry (162 kms)
A town with imminent French influence, once the once the hometown of famous philosopher Sri Aurobindo, includes several sight seeings like churches, museum, beach, the Aurobindo ashram, and Auroville.
176 kms from Madurai, this conch shaped island in the Gulf of Mannar is a holy spot for Hindus. The magnificent Ramanathaswamy Temple is well known for its longest corridors in the country, extending over a length of 1220 m long with its marvelous carved pillars. Those who visit here bathe in the sacred waters of Agaitheertam, a stretch of Clam Sea near the temple.
The Southern tip of India, Kanyakumari witnesses spectacular sunrise and sunset at the beach. The temple, Vivekananda Rock and Gandhi Mandap are among the places of interest.
Vellore (145 kms)
Vellore Fort, built in 16th century and occupied by British in 1760, is now has a small government museum inside the fort complex with sculptures dating back to Pallava & Chola times. The Jalakanteshwara Temple is a gem of Vijaynagar architecture built around 1566. Within the temple, the pillared mandapam is famous for yali and other mythical creatures. Large statues of Ganesh grace the entrance and mandapam.
Accessibility: Chennai has an international airport and is one of the major entry points into India. Also the Chennai Central station is the hub for all long-distance trains. There is another station called the Egmore station that is used for trains going to other parts of Tamil Nadu. There are daily trains from/to Bangalore, Bombay, Delhi and most other Indian cities.
Languages Spoken : Tamil, English and a bit Hindi & Telugu.