Chennai‘s long and beautiful coastline is in many ways the city’s greatest gift and also the best counter for its unforgiving heat. While one would be mad to try sunbathing at the beach in summer afternoons, a trip to Elliots or Marina Beach presents Chennaiites with the perfect opportunity to cool off after a hot day. While the city’s most popular beaches such as Marina and Elliots Beach may not be suitable for taking a plunge, Chennai’s coast is also home to a number of great smaller beaches such as the ECR Akkarai Beach and Kovalam Beach. These beaches also offer a number of activities to beat the heat such as jet skiing and surfing, with Kovalam, in particular, becoming a popular surfing hotspot in recent years.
Dressing for the weather is just as important for a tropical destination such as Chennai, much the same way it is for cold places. And no one knows this better than the locals in Chennai, where the most popular local wear is the traditional white dhoti and shirt for men and cotton sarees for women. The loose clothing of Chennai is perfect for countering the humidity of the city’s climate, while the white colour and cotton fabric help deal with the heat and sun.
When summer‘s in full force, Chennaiites make it a point to avoid going out during the day when the sun is in full force. However, that doesn’t mean that city locals don’t step outdoors till the sun is down. Chennai’s biggest saviour from the summer heat is the sea breeze. With Chennai being a coastal city, most parts of eastern Chennai get the benefit of the sea breeze which sets in as early as 3pm on most days and cools the city down. So stepping out in the sun is fair game for Chennaiites as long as it’s post 3pm and anywhere within a few kilometres of the sea.
As soon as the summer season sets in, Chennai’s streets and footpaths become full of fresh fruit stalls selling various summer fruits. A hit among locals and one of their favourite ways for cooling down, these stalls predominantly sell local summer produce ranging from watermelons and muskmelons to pineapples and the king of fruits, mangoes. While most stalls selling uncut watermelons and muskmelons are relatively safe to buy from and consume, one should be careful when buying cut fruits from roadside vendors and take note of whether the fruits are stored within nets to ward off flies and other pathogen-carrying insects. When it comes to mangoes, however, it is advisable to only buy from well-established fruit shops since the use of carbide for artificial ripening is rampant in street markets in the city.
Chennaiites also make sure that their diet is compatible with the season and most locals make it a point to stay away from having too much spice in the summer months since spicy foods are a major contributor to body heat. Fortunately, Chennai’s cuisine is known for its flavourful character and there are more than enough options to savour the city’s cuisine without having spice. Even when Chennaiites have a spicy local meal, they make sure to complement it with a serving of fruits or curd rice, which is a staple in the summer months.
Bathing in the outdoors has been a proven and effective counter to summer heat in Chennai across generations. While folks in the olden days swam in large public wells, lakes and rivers, most water bodies in Chennai have now fallen victim to rampant pollution. Fortunately, this gap has been filled by an upswing in the number of public swimming pools in the city in recent years. The city now has a large number of swimming pools run by both the state and private parties that are frequented by locals to stave off the summer heat.
Gulping down glasses of buttermilk is undeniably Chennai’s favourite way of beating the heat. Locally called More, makeshift stalls and vendors selling buttermilk on cycles are ubiquitous in Chennai in the summer months. Most vendors sell the drink in the traditional way and store it in earthen pots, which acts as a natural coolant. While buttermilk is the most popular summer drink among Chennaiites, it isn’t the only way to stay hydrated in the city. The summer months also see a number of stalls spring up on roadsides selling lemonades and fresh juices.