Not many think of Chennai as a city that has lots to offer to a traveller. The capital of Tamil Nadu is a pure commercial hub. The weather keeps tourists at bay too. Summers extend up to 9 months and when it rains, it pours! In my opinion, Chennai is underrated. The city has a thriving local culture and a historic past as the ‘Madras Presidency’ of British India.
I have had the opportunity of visiting Chennai twice. But if you ask me if I saw ‘x’ monument or ‘x’ temple or ‘x’ church, my answer will be a disappointing ‘No’.
My first brush with Chennai goes back to the year 2003. Back then, I didn’t have the craze (or the ‘grown up’ sense) to travel and tick as many places off my list. My dad worked in the aviation field. He flew down to Chennai twice a week. So during the summer vacations of 2003, he took us to Velankanni – a tiny pilgrim town for Catholics 320 km south of the capital. We were to fly down to Chennai and hire a private car to Velankanni. I had just finished my 9th standard final examination and was ready for a pilgrimage!
While growing up, my parents took us to almost all the religious sites – Velankanni, Infant Jesus-Nasik, Old Goa, Lourdes and even Holy land in Israel. I’m not sure if they are proud of me after so many efforts considering I’m hardly religious.
Our stay at The Park Chennai remains the maximum time I spent in the city on that trip. We saw the Marina Beach and Guindy Snake Park, but I have little memory of those visits. What I do remember is eating the best masala dosa, vada sambar and filter coffee at a nondescript roadside stall on the highway to Velankanni. I haven’t really had that great a dosa anywhere – not even at Cafe Madras in Matunga or the Saravana Bhavans in Dubai.
Velankanni in 2003. Yours truly on the right (Tomboy for life 😛 )
My second visit to Chennai came ten years later in 2013. I was here on an official trip. I faintly remember the conversation with my manager. He asked me if I liked to travel, and when I replied ‘yes’, he said, “Good, I’m sending you for a roadshow in the South”.
The Sharukh-Deepika starrer Chennai Express was about to release in August 2013. The Bollywood buff that I am; in June, I booked myself a ticket on the Chennai Express from Dadar to Egmore. I stayed at one of the budget hotels in Chennai in the busy market area of Thousand Lights, Greams Road. On the second day, I had 10 hours to myself before boarding the train from Chennai Central to Ernakulum.
Anjappar Chettinad in Nungambakkam was high on my list to try Chettinad cuisine. The restaurant’s Chicken Chettinad has been etched in my memory forever. Kapaleeshwarar temple in the heart of cultural Chennai, Mylapore was closed when I arrived between 12 and 4pm, their non-operational hours. Dejected and disappointed, I moved towards St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica and spent a good two hours there, marvelling at the neo-gothic architecture. It’s worth noting that St. Thomas Cathedral is among the only four churches in the world that is built on the tomb of an apostle. The other three are St. Peters in Rome, St. James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain and Monastery of St. Thaddeus in Ghara-Kilise, Iran.
Bad luck followed me, as the Vivekananda museum was closed too, on a Monday. As much as I wanted to walk along the Marina beach stretch, the heat at that hour of the day was unbearable. So I headed back to the hotel, packed my bags and moved towards the train station for my journey onwards.
The only picture I have from Chennai in 2013
In March 2017, I visited Kanyakumari – the southernmost tip of India in Tamil Nadu; but Chennai is yet to happen. I know I’m not done with Chennai. I haven’t seen half of what the city has to offer. So I hope to go back someday…soon! For now, here’s my wish list for Chennai. You are welcome to recommend more places in the comments.
- Royal Enfield factory tour
- Elliots beach
- Anna centenary library
- Day trip to Mahabalipuram
- Crocodile farm
- Watch a Rajnikanth or Vijay starrer at Sathyam cinema
- Food trail beyond vegetarian fare
- Peacock trail in Mylapore
- Exploring colonial Madras
- Trail on Chennai’s Christian history
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