Nestled in the south-east coast of India, Madras (now Chennai) has a unique topography whereby it can easily be located on India’s map. The whole of Tamil Nadu resembles the silhouette of a lady and Chennai’s position is right at the forehead, adorning it as a ‘bindi’ (forehead decoration done by women in South-east Asia). It continuously reminds one of the prominence this city enjoys and its place right on top of the state, both literally and figuratively! Having taken birth in Chennai, I always felt a certain kind of affiliation with the place. It was only too obvious that the place pulled me all the more since I owe my roots to its soil. So last time I paid a visit to my hometown, I made sure that I make an inventory about all the things which make it so very special and leaves one with a sense of longing, long after your plane’s whooshed down the runway of the Kamraj airport. And I sure had my task cut out as the city’s got so many undertones and layers to its fabric, that it’s almost impossible to put it all down in a page. It’s a general presumption on the part of people that just because Madras ( I prefer calling it that way as I find the old world charm of the word, much more appealing) is fast becoming one of the most sought after commercial and economic hubs of the country, it is devoid of any cultural identity or its basic ethos. Well for all such presumptions to cease, all I can recommend is a visit to the city and can also provide further reasons for making such a recommendation; even if that means facing the possibility of a lawsuit regarding wrongful representation of facts!
Chennai experiences tropical weather conditions as it lies on the coastline and therefore is not subject to extreme variations in the temperature. However it generally is hot and humid and in the summer months, which run from late May and early June, the heat is searing. It’s not preferable for tourists to have a dekko of the place during this period as the heat (highest temperatures have gone up to 45 degree Celsius) saps you of all your energy reserves; and that’s not an ideal condition to be in for a person keen on exploration of the city. Hence the appropriate time to visit is in the month of December and January, time when the monsoon is on the decline and the climate turns up several notches lower, making it the ideal time for eager and enthusiastic tourists to unpack their bags. Chennai possesses a rich culture in terms of its historical significance and also due to the melting pot of different communities it has become. There are a significant number of people from the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat (Marwari community) who have blended themselves adeptly to the whole landscape and are an inherent part of the city’s population. Blame it on the confluence of all these multi-ethnic people coming together due to increased commercialisation or the inflow of expatriates from all over the world, it has immensely contributed to the status of Chennai being called a truly cosmopolitan hub. Very rarely do we find Eid celebrated as fervently as Pongal (harbinger of the harvest season in Tamil Nadu).
There are a lot of places of interest for the culture- starved soul to visit. One major landmark which marks the capital is the shore temple of Mahabalipuram, which is located on the outskirts of Chennai, about 100 kms from the main city. It was built by the great rulers of the Pallava dynasty, who ruled over the place for a considerable period of time. The distinct feature of these magnificent architectural marvels is that they are carved out of single sandstone and the intricacies of the constructions are something which can only be gawked at, due to the precision and testimony of hard work it signifies, at that point in time. Mahabalipuram is also home to an underwater port city (as per accounts of British historians), the remains of which were unearthed recently due to the 2004 tsunami calamity. The town is a haven for amateur archaeologists and emerging historians for the glorious legacy it carries and the countless tales those sculptures narrate.