Chennai is the fourth largest city in India, and is the capital city of the state Tamil Nadu. It is a fast developing metropolitan city well connected by rail, road and air.
Places to visit
I have been to Chennai on a number of occasions. It is such a fast developing city that every time I visit, there is something new to see.
Chennai is, of course, a coastal city and offers a number of beaches to relax in and watch the sunset. The most beautiful of all is the Marina Beach located on Kamarajar Road along the east of the city. It is the second longest beach in the world and runs a length of 12 kilometers. It is a noisy place buzzing with activity. Hundreds of youngsters can be seen playing beach volleyball, football, or simply throwing Frisbees to each other. On one side of the beach is a small skating ground where kids learn to skate. You can repeatedly see them falling, while their strict coaches tell them to not stop and keep going, completely oblivious to their tiredness or injuries. You can see horses running along the length of the beach by the water. For 20 rupees, you can sit on the horse and ride for a short distance. There are hundreds of small shops dotting the beach and selling various things – fried fish and other seafood, sea shells, roasted corn, etc. Perhaps the most popular of all is the “molaga bajji”, which is an authentic South Indian chilli crispie. The crispies come in various varieties – potatoes, eggplants, cauliflowers, and bananas in addition to the chilli variety, but the “molaga bajji” is considered the best. Mildly spicy and served with a sweet-sour sauce, it is typically what you would call “great taste at a small price”. For just 20 rupees, you get a plate of 6 such crispies. The “molaga bajji” is what I look forward to most whenever I visit the beach. One plate is never enough and I can’t possibly get myself to leave the shop before I have had at least 3 plates. The best time to have some of this hot spicy food is right after you play in the waves and are wet.
The Marina Beach is a truly lovely beach to visit. Another beach worth visiting is the Elliots Beach in Besant Nagar. It is quieter and smaller. (The “molaga bajji” plate here is slightly more expensive than in Marina Beach, because Besant Nagar happens to be posh area!)
Besides the beaches, Chennai has excellent amusement parks. The largest ones are M.G.M Dizzy World and Kishkintha. It is located near Tambaram, whereas M.G.M is located at Muttukadu, on the way to Mamallapuram. Both parks have exciting rides to satisfy thrill-seekers.. The moment you enter these parks, you can already hear people screaming from the rides inside. It gets more and more exciting by the minute. When you go inside, you realize there is so much to see and so many rides to try but so little time! The best time to visit such amusements parks is a weekday because they are extremely crowded during the weekends – you would be spending over half your time waiting in queues!
Another attraction in Chennai is the Crocodile Park. Near Mamallapuram, it was set up in 1976 to save the crocodile population from dying out. Various varieties of Indian and African crocodiles and alligators are bred here in captivity. It is indeed a scary sight to see so many crocodiles together!
For the shopaholics, Chennai has its share of shopping centers like Ampa Mall, Spencer’s Plaza, Abirami Mall etc. One shopping center I am personally very fond of is the Pondy Bazaar situated in Thyagaraja Nagar. It is a long road of just shops, shops and more shops. There isn’t anything you can’t find in the Pondy Bazaar. From clothes to spices to toys to gadgets, you have shops to sell everything you could ever need. The Bazaar is buzzing with activity, with people rushing from one shop to the other looking for that precise t-shirt or that precise flavor of ice-cream.
Covelong is another place worth visiting in Chennai for those who would like to experience and understand the history of Tamil Nadu. It is replete with forts and churches as well as a beautiful beach.
Other tourist attractions in Chennai include the Birla Planetarium, the MGR Film City, Muttukadu boating house and the Kalakshetra. There are famous churches like the St.Thomas Mount, Basilica of San Thome, St. George’s cathedral and St. Mary’s church. Chennai offers places to visit for people of all age groups and all interests.
Chennai has an excellent network of buses and local trains. The public transport network in Chennai is one of the best in the country. You can get from any corner of Chennai to any other corner using public transport – all at a very nominal cost! Watch out for the auto rickshaws, though, because they charge exorbitantly high prices.
People and culture
If I were to describe the culture of Chennai in one word, I would call it “conservative.”
One of the best things I like about Chennai is the conservative nature of its people and the low cost of living there. You could come across a person who is extremely rich but you simply can’t figure that out from his appearance and apparel. He, like any other common man, would be happy to use public transport buses to go where he wants, or even walk on the road, despite the scorching heat and the fact that he has three cars at home. People in Chennai like to be modest and dress in a simple way.
Also, people there are very friendly. It isn’t unusual for a random passer-by to stop and talk to you while you’re standing at a bus stop, and tell you casually what he thought of the weather and the crowded marketplace nearby.
Another unusual thing you may notice about Chennai is the fact that you have a large number of two-wheelers on the road. People prefer to use bikes and scooters to travel rather than cars. The language spoken in Chennai is Tamil. It is extremely difficult to learn, speak and understand. It is spoken in various dialects and styles in various parts of Tamil Nadu and the Chennai Tamil is a different dialect in itself!
The culture and traditions of Chennai constitute a whole subject themselves, and cannot be explained in brief. I would still like to share some noticeable aspects of this culture that I have experienced and come to love. Women love to have flowers in their hair! Jasmine and roses are their favorites. People are very fond of visiting temples. Friday is considered an auspicious day and people go to temples nearly every Friday.
South Indian food is absolutely delicious! The food in Chennai is a culture in itself. There are some many food items to taste, that I can’t even decide where to begin! Idli, dosa, vada, parota, upma, pongal, bajji, bonda, appam, idiappam, rice, sambar, rasam – the list is endless – and there are around 10 different varieties of each of the dishes I just mentioned!
Traditionally, food is served on a banana leaf, with all the vegetables and side-dishes served on the top side of the leaf and the main course (normally rice) on the bottom half. Rice is the staple diet in Chennai, and in fact, in all of South India.
To taste the best idli, dosa and pongal in all of Chennai, I would recommend the Murugan Idli Shop. It has branches in all parts of the city. After your meal, do ask for your filter coffee and let the aroma and taste relax your senses. Another famous food joint in Chennai is Hot Chips. Hot Chips offers all Chennai food under one roof at very reasonable costs.
To conclude, Chennai is a place one must visit, not only to visit the various tourist attractions but to experience a truly unique culture.
Image Source: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/arunganesh/2259827725/]