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Chennai is just as much of an urban jungle as any other major city in India. However, for all its new malls, factories, and IT parks, the city has also managed to maintain its green spaces fairly well in the form of several new parks and protected areas. While these pockets of greenery act as a buffer against the ever-increasing menace of pollution, they also provide locals and tourists an escape into nature in the midst of all the urban chaos. Here are some of the best green spaces to discover in the city.
This sprawling botanical garden is one of the first of its kind in Chennai and was opened in 2010 to house a collection of 500 new species of plants and over 80 trees (some of which are more than 100 years old) that already existed in the area. Spread over 20 acres, the park is one of the best-maintained green spaces in the city and boasts of over eight sub-gardens, an artificial duck pond and an open seating area for events. Thanks to its central location, the park has formed a unique culture of amateur photography and has been featured in several films as well. It is open from 9am till 6pm.
While birding in Chennai has become synonymous with the popular Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary near Chengalpattu, what many do not know is that the Pallikaranai marshland, a natural bird habitat located within the city, draws more species of migratory and local birds than even Vedanthangal! One of the most expansive wetlands in the entire state, the Pallikaranai marshland has a geographical area of over 80 square kilometres. The wetlands draw a huge number of photographers, birders, and enthusiasts during the annual migratory season and has attracted immense interest towards its conservation in recent years, after being plagued by encroachments and destruction of biodiversity. It is open from 9am till 6pm.
Constructed with the aim of protecting the fragile eco-system surrounding the Adyar River estuary, the Adyar Ecological Park, is one of the largest and most-diverse green spaces situated within the city. While the park is still being constructed in several phases, it boasts of a pristine evergreen forest ecosystem and also has several streams running through it. Spread across nearly 360 acres, the park comes within a designated Coastal Regulation Zone and has been a target of vigorous conservation efforts. Over 60% of the park is covered by water and is best-known for its spectacular views of the Adyar river and estuary. It is open from 10am till 4.30pm.
Inspired by the popular Botanical Gardens in Ooty, the Madhavaram Botanical Gardens is the largest and most-extensive garden of its kind in the city. The park is filled with nearly 400 different species of plants and also boasts of several recreational features such as mazes, waterfronts, play-areas, and an open-air theatre with a capacity to seat 150 people. The garden also boasts of a state-of-the-art glasshouse that displays several rare plant varieties and horticultural techniques including Bonzai, trellis gardens, and herbal plants. It is open from 10am till 5pm.
The sprawling International Headquarters Campus of the Theosophical Society in Adyar is one of Chennai’s oldest and most-popular green spaces. Situated along the banks of the Adyar river, the campus houses the Huddlestone Gardens, known for its extensive varieties of rare trees and wildlife. It is also home to the Adyar Banyan Tree, one of the largest in India, which is spread across 60,000 square metres. The tree was alive until the late 1990s, but subsequently fell under its own weight. The campus is home to rare tree varieties from across the globe such as mahagony, and also has a flourishing fauna that includes several species of spiders, wild cats, hares, jackals, and mongooses. It is open from 8.30am till 5pm.
Although they are not recreational spaces or parks, the campuses of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras and College of Engineering Guindy (which are located opposite each other), and the expansive campus of the Madras Christian College in Tambaram, are some of the finest repositories of greenery in Chennai. The IIT Campus is the biggest of the three covering 617 acres and is home to several species of wildlife, such as deer and hares. The Madras Christian College campus in Tambaram, on the other hand, is one of the largest artificial forests in the city, and boasts several different varieties of trees and a robust wildlife population that includes deer, mongooses, and peacocks. The campuses are open to the public during cultural programmes such as IIT Saraang and MCC’s Deepwoods, where you will see some of the biggest cultural performances in the city.
Located in the middle of the Vandalur Reserve Forest is the Vandalur Zoo, one of the largest zoological parks in the country and also one of Chennai’s best repositories for flora and fauna. Spread over nearly 1,500 acres, the park not only preserves the natural habitat of the area but also houses over 1,500 wild species, including 46 endangered species, such as the White Bengal Tiger. It serves as one of Chennai’s main tourist attractions and attracts more than two million visitors annually. It is open from 9am till 5pm.