The first thing most people realise when they first step foot in Chennai is that the sun really, and we mean really, loves Chennai. In fact, the city is famously quipped to have only three seasons: Hot, hotter, and hottest! So if you’re expecting a sunny beach city along the lines of Goa, you’re bound to get more than what you bargained for. Nonetheless, Chennai also has great beaches, amazing food and a vibrant culture – all of which are best enjoyed after the sun has dived behind the horizon!
The one thing that really stands out about the people of Chennai is that they really love their language. And considering that Tamil, the language of Chennai, boasts of a 2,000-year-old heritage, it’s understandable. However, this pride is often misconstrued by many for arrogance or reluctance to speak other languages, especially Hindi, the most widely spoken language in India. The best way to deal with this language barrier is to pick up at least a few basic words in the local language, or at least put in the effort, which is something Chennaiites are most appreciative of and they will do everything they can to help.
Autorickshaws are ubiquitous across India, but the ones in Chennai are particularly notorious for trying to fleece customers. This is particularly due to the fact that unlike in some other cities, autos here don’t run by a fixed meter system. The government has set rates several times, but almost no autos adhere to it because of lack of enforcement. Fortunately Chennai has a rather extensive public transport system that almost works as a point-to-point commute.
Chennai is often called the ‘City of Great Distances’ and for good reason. Being flanked by the sea on one side, Chennai has both grown inland and along the coast. And in recent years, the city’s urban agglomeration area has grown hugely, meaning that going from one end to the other in Chennai could stretch 100 km. Travelling by road between various destinations in Chennai could be time-consuming and tiring, but thankfully, Chennai has a very well-equipped railway system with three separate modes in the local line, MRTS and Metro rail that makes travelling long distances a relatively simple affair.
While the city has kept pace with development and has made great strides in recent decades, Chennai’s people are still considered to be a little on the conservative side. This can manifest in several ways and even some simple things such as smoking in public, particularly for women, or public displays of affection might attract unwanted attention. While there aren’t any cases where this mindset has led to violence or attacks, the atmosphere can be slightly restrictive if you come from a more liberal place.
Another major way in which this conservative mindset manifests is that home-owners usually have a strong reluctance to give houses to bachelors, single woman, or live-in couples. There have also been some cases where houses in certain localities have a vegetarian bias and don’t allow cooking non-vegetarian food inside their houses for tenants. Nonetheless, this isn’t a trend that can be generalised and with enough searching, you can find some great and relatively easy-going options with chill landlords.
People from other major metros in India often lament that everything in Chennai shuts down too early and even nightclubs have an early curfew – most shut down at midnight. While this is true in most cases, there are several places within the city that stay open until 2 am, if you know where to find them that is. From dessert joints and cafes such as LPK in Nungambakkam to pubs such as the Velveteen Rabbit in Alwarpet, these spots are local favourites and the best way to make the most of Chennai’s nightlife is to ask advice from locals in the know.
While Chennai might go to bed early, it only follows that the city wakes up early too. Unlike most other cities where shops, restaurants and other establishments open relatively late, almost everyone is up and about in Chennai by 6.30. It goes without saying that some of the best experiences in Chennai are had early in the morning. From visiting Udipi restaurants at 7 am to savour the day’s first batch of idlis to visiting the buzzing flower markets and temples at sunrise, Chennai mornings are full of experiences that you can’t often have in other cities.
In Chennai, predicting which place will be crowded and when can be a pretty baffling exercise. However, all it takes to decode this is to keep in mind a few things. For example, certain well-known Indian festivals such as Holi aren’t celebrated as much in Chennai, while there are major local ones such as Pongal, where people from all across Tamil Nadu descend on Chennai, causing overcrowding. Another thing to keep in mind is that political rallies and protests mean traffic trouble and that temples and cultural venues are a lot more crowded on Fridays than during weekends.