By Sudha Mathew
Madras to some, Chennai to some, this is a city that grows on you. At first sight, it looks and feels a tad bit provincial despite being one of the four Metro cities of India and an erstwhile British Presidency. After a while you realize that’s because its distinctive culture has been preserved alongside the growth of IT and manufacturing industry. Do interact with the locals to experience the warmth of the city along with their manic love of Tamil movies.
While Indian cities often aren’t planned with a view to incorporate public spaces and performances, there are a few fun things to do in Chennai that won’t cost you a rupee. When I tell people that it is one of my favourite cities, I am invariably asked about the best places to see in Chennai. This compilation also includes my recommendations to friends.
Be a beach bum
Chennai is a coastal city offering a medley of beaches to choose from. You could choose Marina beach, the world’s second longest beach and the most popular one in the city. Or you could go to Elliot’s beach in Besant Nagar, a young hip sibling of the venerable Marina beach. There are quieter beaches along the coastline like Thiruvanmiyur beach or Covelong beach. Drive around and choose one that appeals to you. Caution: You might see men wearing swimming costume but mostly people of both sexes are fully clothed.
Take a long drive on ECR Road
Rev up your car or bike and head out on the long stretch of East Coast Road popularly called ECR. Start at Thiruvanmiyur and end at Mahabalipuram. This drive covers a 40 km stretch and will take about an hour depending on speed and traffic. Once you are out of the city, you can spy the sea at many places along the road. If you have the time, you can walk around the World Heritage Site at Mahabalipuram. Tip: Go early in the morning or late in the evening when the heat is less and so is the traffic.
People watching at Kapaleeswarar temple
Possibly the most popular temple in Chennai, Kapaleeswarar temple is devoted to the Hindu god, Shiva. Devotees believe that praying here can cure you of any disease. Kapaleeswarar Temple is located in Mylapore, a very old area of the city. The little streets around the temple seemed to have stayed the same for decades. They are crowded with small shops catering to the needs of devotees with items like brassware, flowers, lamps, coconut and everything else required for worship. Offering interesting vignettes for street photography, this is the perfect place to get an idea of the cultural traditions of an ancient city. Take a look at this black and white montage of the area and its people. http://ow.ly/lkvPU
FYI: The temple is open from 5.00 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and from 4.00 p.m. to 9.30 p.m.
Eat for free at Grand Sweets
Ask a true blue Chennai-beats-in-my veins citizen where to buy the best sweets and there’s only one answer. Grand Sweets! Started by a man called Natarajan after umpteen failed businesses, this was his last attempt to become successful in Chennai. He did make it big and how! Though there are branches across Chennai, make sure you go to the original establishment in Adyar to experience its old world charm. Natarajan was a very religious person. He started a daily tradition of offering a large batch of sweets/savoury dish in a puja to God and then distributing it free to customers. The custom continues till today. The daily offering is usually a sweet dish and is extremely tasty. Tip: Go in the early evening to get your share.
Pretend you are alone in a forest at the Theosophical Society
The Theosophical Society once a buzzing hub of nationalist activities is now a large verdant area in Adyar known mostly to birdwatchers and morning walk enthusiasts. In this bustling city where it is hot throughout the year, the Society’s grounds provides a welcome green umbrella for a leisurely walkabout. Read more about the Theosophical Society http://www.ts-adyar.org/content/contact-us
FYI: Visiting Hours – Morning: 8.30-10.00am; Afternoon: 2.00-4.00pm
Monday to Saturday. Closed Sunday and Public Holidays
Care to share your fun things to do in Chennai with me?
by Sudha Mathew
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