Chennai is the capital city and seat of power of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which has been the home of the Tamil language for more than 2,000 years. If not for its present merits, the city is worth paying a visit to just to be in the presence of a culture and a language that predates even the Roman Empire.
Apart from traditional arts and culture, the city of Chennai is also home to Kollywood, which is the Tamil language counterpart to Hindi’s more popular Bollywood. While Bollywood has attained immense global recognition in the recent years, the Tamil film industry is just as vibrant and boasts some of the biggest film productions and stars to have come out of India. It is also home to the two-time Oscar-winning music director AR Rahman.
From Mylapore’s Kapaleeswarar Temple to Tambaram’s Dhenupureeswarar Temple, Chennai has been largely successful in preserving India’s great and antiquated religious architecture. With more than a dozen temples and temple ‘towers’ dotting the city’s skyline, these ancient marvels once reigned as Chennai’s original skyscrapers. Any holiday plans to check out South India’s rich temple culture is incomplete without a visit to Chennai.
At 13-kilometers-long, Chennai’s Marina Beach is reputed as the second-longest urban beach in the world. While it is also the most popular one among Chennai’s many beaches, with an average width of 300 mts, there’s plenty of space and sand to go around for everyone at the Marina.
Apart from drawing thousands of tourists from around the world, Chennai and its suburbs also hold a unique place in the travel maps of several rare migratory birds. Birding in Chennai is dominated by two destinations, the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary on the outskirts and the Pallikaranai Marshlands within city-limits. Among the two, the Vedanthangal Sanctuary is particularly popular among birders since it attracts several rare species such as the Grey Pelican and the Large Egret.
While India is famous for its love of cricket, Chennai serves as a microcosm for that particular sport’s frenzy in the country. Be it in county cricket (IPL, where the home team Chennai Super Kings is set to make a comeback next year) or international fixtures, Chennai’s sprawling MA Chidambaram Stadium draws some of the largest crowds in the country. Catching a match here would definitely give any fan a true sense of India’s fervor for cricket.
The city also boasts of a frenzied fan following for a number of other sports ranging from football and badminton to beach volleyball and chess (former World Champion Viswanathan Anand hails from this city). So a sports fan of any game will feel right at home.
Beaches near Chennai are also one of very few coastal areas in India where Olive Ridleys, an at risk species of turtles, come to breed every year. During the hatching season, activists and student groups undertake ‘Turtle Walks’ along the beaches to rescue turtle hatchlings from wandering off into the city roads and guide them to the ocean.
Every year during the months of December and January, Chennai plays host to concerts where over 2,000 individual artists take to the stage and give performances in the region’s traditional carnatic music, making Chennai one of the best places to witness South Indian art and culture.
While harassment and violence against women still remain a big concern for tourists travelling to India, Chennai has made a reputation over the years for being one of the safest cities in India, topping most surveys on the issue.
Chennai’s cuisine is renowned the world over for its wealth of vegetarian options. Be it the dosas with three types of ‘chutneys’ or its four-course full meals served traditionally on banana leaves, Chennai surely won’t disappoint any vegetarian foodies visiting the city.
While the vegetarian fare in Chennai may be world-renowned, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the city’s got just as many options for meat-eaters as well. True to its coastal town identity, Chennai is renowned for its seafood and also for being a hub for various non-vegetarian cuisines from Tamil Nadu such as the Karaikudi Chettinad cuisine.
While Pondicherry is the most obvious culprit, the former French colony is far from the only weekend destination close to Chennai. A scenic coastal road hugging Chennai called the East Coast Road (on which Pondicherry also lies) can take you to several great weekend destinations including the age-old temple town Mahabalipuram (40 kms) and former Dutch and Danish colonial forts in Sadras (72 kms) and Tranquebar (270 kms).