"Heylo Chennai" Top 5 Page for this destination Chennai (Madras) by abi_maha

Chennai (Madras) Travel Guide: 442 reviews and 885 photos

Living here

Well, it is official, we have currently relocated to Chennai. Having lived in the USA the last couple of years this sure is a huge change!! Somehow metros of India are a true reflection of this country, complete with the excessive population, traffic, pollution and the larger than life complexities! The change from Bangalore is stark and sometimes shocking. It took us a couple of weeks to get adjusted to the change but now I think we have finally 'settled' in :-) However I shall not change my hometown in VT to Chennai, atleast not for now...I am too much a Bangalorean at heart to do that! Having said that I am determined to explore and discover this city and hence this page too shall travel Chennai with me :-)

Though currently called Chennai, this metro of India was formerly called Madras. The name Madras is attributed to some Portugese travellers who settled here and later moved to Pondicherry, however this whole debate abated after the city was rechristened Chennai in 1996. Chennai offers the tourist an authentic version of South India, with all its traditions, orthodoxy and culture intact. Infact till date a lot of non-south Indians refer to all of South India as Madras and all of us South Indians as 'Madrasees' much to our disdain! In 1996, the Tamil Nadu government renamed Madras to Chennai providing the reason that 'Chennai' was the city's traditional name while Madras was one derived during colonial rule. <implicit is the fact that many cities in India are going thru this name change phase and Chennai is just one of them>. Chennai is the capital city of the state of Tamil Nadu, with a population of more than 8 million it is one of the most densely populated cities of India.

Chennai offers the traveller some awesome beaches- Besannagar, Marina, Tiruvanmayoor, Santhome etc; it offers the art lover The Kalakshetra, Dakshinchitra & Madras Music Academy. Hordes of temples for the piligrim and pious and some amazing food at restaurants like Saravana Bhavan, Murugans Idly, GRT Grand and other popular restaurants like Sangeeta and Adyar Anandha Bhavan. Also if you love sweets then head to Grand Sweets without fail! This is a city that will never fail to thrill the shopaholic the sheer magnitutde of the silk saree shops and the jewelry stores will simply take your breath away!

Contrasting this shopping glamor, even as you enter the Chennai Central Railway Station it is impossible to not smell the stench! Fisheries send their cargo via rail every day and hence this is an unmissable feeling. Add to it the humidity due to proximity to the sea coupled with a consistent 100+ temperatures and you have the complete picture of what to expect while in Chennai!!

My latest'find' in Chennai

As I said before I am reserving this corner on this page to update anything that catches my fancy in this truly marvelous city! I am going to explore the nooks and corners of this city and keep this page going with my finds! :-)

This week's find is a trip to the traditional Sowcarpet in the heart of Chennai:f you yearn for some authentic chaat and street food while in Chennai then Sowcarpet is the go-to place. Starting at Mint Street this is a beginners guide to exploring the area Upon some sound advice, we drove up to the high court complex and managed to find a parking there. From here it is a mere one KM walk through an amazing density of people, pedlars, merchandise and sights! Every street is known for a commodity (Broadway for spectacle frames, The parallel road for wedding invitations, a slew of stationary shops and so on) In typical Indian style a bit of asking for directions and voila- we were at Mint Street.
Our first stop was at kakada sweets- a multi storeyed sweet shop that also houses a restaurant on the first floor. We asked for aloo tikki and unfortunately first round he added dahi to it! But a second round of aloo tikki was ordered without the dahi and ooh-la-la, the tikki deep fried in pure ghee was a flaky sumptuous delight indeed. Follow it thru with a dahi kachori and the popular Badam Milk and your meal is almost done! A stroll inside revealed some irresistible goodies that we packed up for home. As we left the kakada kadai other aromas and sights beckoned, we walked up further and the Diwali fervor is already tangible- the streets are full of diya pedlars and just outside the Jain temple you find other items for pooja as well. A little further up you arrive at Golden Chaats Stall- a chaat 'vandi'- he serves up some yummm paani puris. On the way back at Lassi Point a meetha beeda is a must- turned out to be the highlight of the gastronomical feast we had indulged in! All in all, Mint Street is a heady combination of tastes, sights and experiences unlike any in Chennai, and if you are seeking an authentic street food experience, it sure is bulls eye! :D

Why do I say Culture Intact?

Being the capital of Tamil Nadu, the preferred language of communication amongst the local population is Tamil. However, English is widely spoken as the language of commerce and English speaking visitors should have no problem getting around. The city also has a fair number of people that speak Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi, but the intersting fact about Chennai is that it is a little like Paris. Even if the localites know your language they will talk back to you only in Tamil. They have a vague sense of pride in encouraging all visitors to talk n Tamil. You would be better off to at least make an attempt at saying things in Tamil than otherwise. Almost always if they do not see you making that effort they will go out of their way to make things a little tough on you...for instance directions will always be 'neyraa po' which means 'go straight'. You should know if someone says that it means either they do not know the directions to the place you are asking about or they don't care to explain to you!! :-) If on the other hand you atleast prefix your directional question with an 'engey' <which translates to 'where'> then there is a greater probability of getting the right directions.
This attitude <and I am using that word in a good sense> has helped Chennai accomodate millions of visitors and migrationary population without the loss of its tamilian soul and culture. Also I see the younger generations take unabashed pride in their roots and mother tongue. Having grown up seeing Bangalore lose its individuality to immigrants I sometimes feel Chenai's way of life is probably better..!
The other thing about Chennai is that despite housing some of the largest malls in India and other urbanized entities, it retains it's old world charm with cultural events that showcase Bharatnatyam and Carnatic Music, these events draw visitors and aficionados from the world over! This year I shall make it a point to attend some of them and post pics on VT! :-)
Last but not the least the city showcases some of it's history in staues at all major circles, this one that I have put up signifies a man controlling a horse that signified the end of horse racing.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Beaches, Temples & delicious food!
  • Cons:Humid and Hot weather; 35th most populated city in the world
  • In a nutshell:True Glimpse of the South Indian Culture and Traditions
  • Last visit to Chennai (Madras): Jan 2009
  • Intro Updated Oct 21, 2013
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Reviews (39)

Comments (4)

  • elpariente's Profile Photo
    Jan 12, 2013 at 10:32 AM

    Your tips are very interesting and the photos are very good
    Thank you
    Gracias !!!

    • abi_maha's Profile Photo
      Jan 14, 2013 at 10:18 PM

      Thanks for reading, most of the times the photos are courtesy my husband! :)

  • balhannah's Profile Photo
    Jun 22, 2010 at 2:30 AM

    Nice page Abi. The White Church looks a bit out of place to me, but it is lovely. Love the calm water and the boat photo.

  • goutammitra's Profile Photo
    Jun 9, 2009 at 10:44 PM

    Nice Chennai page Abi though there are many places I am sure you visited but not loaded. Maylapore temple, Museum etc. Nice tips. I dont' know when do I load my Chennai tips.

  • mallyak's Profile Photo
    Jan 30, 2009 at 11:04 PM

    Now it looks like a REAL CHENNAI Page!The croc farm ..is it the whittakers farm enroute to Mahaballipuram???I vaguely recall viisting it.

abi_maha

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