Do you remember the Madras of yesteryears, a sprawling city dripping old-world charm and courtesy? If you do, then you’ll be mighty surprised to see the bustling metropolis it has become in the twenty years since its name was changed to Chennai. Shedding its colonial flavour, for it was the East India Company’s first settlement in India, Chennai now takes pride in its true Tamil glory while scripting an amazing story of rapid technological growth. Among the Southern cities, Chennai seems to be quite likely the least glamorous to most Indians. However, if you look beyond the sweltering heat, the daunting traffic, and crowds, you’ll see that the warmth of the people, the delicious filterkaapi, the bustling areas of Chennai, and the vibrant culture will floor you!
Original Image by Vinoth Chandar: http://bit.ly/1kPTgnA
Living in Chennai and Loving it!
Tamil Nadu’s capital city has changed from a ‘conservative’ city to one with a booming party scene and plenty of diversity. Chennai city offers myriad treats – be it walking through the busy streets of Pondy Bazar for some retail therapy or listening to the soothing temple chants in history-steeped, temple-ridden Mylapore. Here, actors in Tamil cinema enjoy a cult status, often feted like gods by their whimsical fans. At the same time, an intelligent, culturally aware audience waits for the Margazhi Utsavam. The happy Chennaiites ensure that you are carried away by the gusto with which they celebrate Deepavali, Pongal, and various other festivals that crop up throughout the year. The city is waking up to new property trends including township projects and other modern forms of community living despite the lack of parcels of land in the city. Houses for rent and flats for sale in Chennai are all over the place, giving one enough choice to choose from!
Original Image by Vinoth Chandar: http://bit.ly/1PJUu0g
Like about any other city in the country, you may hear that Chennai is beset by problems related to traffic, pollution, hygiene, rudeness, and plenty of other limitations to put people off living in or visiting the place. Then again, let’s not be silly and get carried away by ‘popular opinion’.
– People constantly wailing about there being a language barrier must think again. Most urbanites can speak English well enough to help you. Use Hindi and hand gestures and watch comprehension dawn on the street hawker’s face! Even auto-wallahs seem to understand Hindi more.
– Forget all notions about the city being run by Tam-Brams (Tamil Brahmins for the uninitiated). The city is home to people of all religions and sects, and they all take their personal beliefs seriously.
– Who said Chennai is old-fashioned and strict? You’ll be amazed at its happening nightlife and cool watering holes. Go to the Madras Pub or Illusions, and you’ll see. People no longer stick to beautiful Kanjeevarams to be fashionable; they get dolled up in little black dresses too.
– There is a lot more than lip-smacking veggie fare on offer in the city. North Indians need not fret that their cravings for some Punjabi food will go unmet. Put away your preconceived notions about Chennai and enjoy cuisines of all kinds.
– People think that Chennai is unforgiving as far as modernity is concerned. They couldn’t be more wrong! ‘Metro Madras‘ is now quite liberal and very literate, offering better safety for women than many other cities in the country.
Original Image by Vinoth Chandar: http://bit.ly/1jfUOFH
Must-Visits in and Around the City
Places of interest in Chennai are aplenty, serving every taste and interest, and hard to choose from in fact!
For the Bookworm
The city that inspired Kannadasan and Ashokamitran can drive a book-lover crazy with its sheer variety of literary experiences. The Hindu holds its ‘Lit for Life’ literary festival in the city every January, where writers and other famous personalities have fun, enlightening discussions and encourage the youth to walk back into the enchanting world of books. There’s the Amethyst Café with its great bookstore or the Anna Centenary Library with its huge collection and peaceful ambience. Do add a trip to the Alwar book stall to your itinerary.
For the Music Junkie
Spend your December in Chennai if you don’t already. It is quite simply divine! The temperature in Chennai is the most pleasant during this time and, as one of the largest musical events in the world, the year-end festival and fantastic ‘kutcheris’ attract huge crowds every year. Most local theatres and performance art centres here are also the uncontested hubs of classical art forms. The Margazhi Festival of Dance and Music is a treat with a multitude of traditional and contemporary events that are high up on the social calendar. And, lest you forget, Chennai is where world-renowned music genius, AR Rahman, lives!
For the Gourmand
There is more to Chennai than Murugan’s Idli shop and Saravana Bhavan you know. Maybe nothing can beat the happiness of sizzling dosas and fluffy idlis. Oh, wait! There’s spicy coconut chutney with paniyarams, chicken Chettinad, Madras fish curry, kothu parotta, paneer soda, and other delights high on flavour for the unsuspecting foodie. The city offers lip-smacking street food in places like Seena Bhai Tiffin Centre in George Town or Rayars Mess in Mylapore. If it is fine dining you want, get yourself some exotic fare at the Taj, ITC Grand Chola, or the Hyatt Regency.
For the Art Aficionado
Touted as ‘a living museum of art, architecture, crafts, and performing arts of South India’, Dakshinachitra, located on the East Coast Road will enthral every tourist looking to imbibe Dravidian culture. The heritage of all the four South Indian states is reflected in this fantastic 10-acre ‘exhibit’. A couple of days reserved for Chennai sightseeing would make your time there even better. On the bustling Mount Road, there’s also The Old Curiosity Shop, run by the neighbourly Mr. Lateef, boasting of some of the best genuinely-antique curious articles.
For the Shopaholic
Chennai has mind-boggling options for people who want to specifically indulge in jewellery or sari shopping in the busy T. Nagar, Sowcarpet and the malls dotting the city. Stylish Nungambakkam or ethnic Parry’s have places to suit every budget in Chennai. For some excellent cottons to combat the relentless heat, go to Pantheon Road, Egmore. However, you have ample branded showrooms for apparel, fashion, home decor, footwear, etc. all across the city too.
Lonely Planet’s Top Pick
It doesn’t matter how adventurous or cautious you are, for you’re more than likely to find that Chennai will cater to your moods like no other city in India would. Maybe you want to eat a molaga bajji watching the sunset on Elliot’s Beach, travel by the metro and shop for DVDs for the weekend in Burma Bazaar, get a taste of adventure and road trips in Muttukadu – ECR, go crazy watching the crowd cheer the Chennai Super Kings in Chepauk stadium, take pictures of the Koyembedu flower market, treat your kids to the Vandalur Zoo, or picnic in Semmozhi Poonga Park. Or, if you are lazy, you can just sign up for Storytrails.
Original Image by Sarath Kuchi: http://bit.ly/1XlqaYZ
Beginning life in Chennai, where property rates and cost of living aren’t as high as in the other major cities in India, is easier than you think. With a dynamic lifestyle, Chennai is a place that wouldn’t disappoint anyone.
There has to be a reason why Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Travel 2015′ has chosen Chennai as one among the top 10 destinations, right? Let us know your favourite things about Chennai below!