Formerly known as Madras, Chennai is the capital of the Indian coastal state of Tamil Nadu, which is located on the Coromandel coast in the Bay of Bengal. Chennai is one of the four metropolitan cities of India where all aspects of life converge, be they cultural, economical or educational. It is a popular tourist destination and sees large numbers of visitors from elsewhere in India and abroad every year. A quality of living survey has rated Chennai as the safest city in India. It is also considered amongst India's top healthcare destinations thanks to its ever-expanding medical tourism industry. In 2015, it was named as one of the most essential cities to visit in the world by Lonely Planet. Chennai is also nicknamed the "Detroit of India".
There is always plenty to see during your stay in Chennai. Thanks to its state capital status and many centuries of distinguished history, this city boasts some fantastic architecture from both a British and Indian perspective.
These are some of the highlights of the city's many attractions:
SAN THOME (ST. THOMAS) CATHEDRAL – A Roman Catholic cathedral by the sea. It was built by the Portuguese and rebuilt by the British in neo-Gothic style. The churchis one of only three churches in the world known to be built over the tomb of one of Jesus' Apostles. The most important relic on display in the cathedral is the spear that killed the saint. OPEN: 5:30am to 8:30pm.
FORT ST. GEORGE Historically known as White Town, this fort was originally built by the British East India Company. It now houses the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, as well as the Fort Museum (Entry fee: INR 200 for foreigners). OPEN: 10am to 5pm.
ST. MARY’S CHURCH – The first Anglican church to be built in what was then Madras, it is also India’s oldest surviving British church. The church is popularly known as the ‘Westminster Abbey of the East’ and is situated just beyond the assembly building. St. Mary's also has 104 tombstones, the oldest being that of Lord Pigot. The visitor’s book dates back to 1903 and includes the autographs of King George V and his queen. It is also where the weddings of both Elihu Yale (Founder of Yale University) and Robert Clive marriages took place. OPEN: 10am to 5pm (Mon-Sat).
MARINA BEACH - Probably the most famous beach in India, Marina is also the India’s longest natural sandy beach in an urban area and the second longest beach in the world. It runs from Fort St. George to the Foreshore Estate. Along the beach, you can see several notable Indo-Saracenic buildings and monuments. The best time to visit the beach is between the months of November and February, as the weather there is calm and pleasant and you can enjoy the refreshing sea air whilst sipping away at your favourite drink. It is also a noted nesting place for Olive Ridley Turtles.
COVELONG BEACH – This beach is located on the road to Mahabalipuram. Being such a famous destination, it is constantly visited by tourists all year round. This beach is one of the most captivating and beautiful beaches around and, in the past, served as the main port for the Nawabs of the Carnatic. An ideal retreat among the palm trees will help you find peace of mind on a visit visit to this beach
CROCODILE BANK – Also situated on the way to Mahabalipuram, this beach is the home to many interesting species, including Indian and African crocodiles, alligators, and other reptiles, many of which are protected by the breeding programme centre in operation here. It also boasts a snake farm, where anti-venom is produced.
THE WAR MEMORIAL HALL - Situated along the beach road, this was built to commemorate and honour all the local soldiers who died fighting in World War II.
PARTHASARATHY TEMPLE - This temple is dedicated to the Hindu deity, Krishna. The name ‘Parthasarathy’ is a Sanskrit word referring to the ‘Charioteer of Arjuna’. Originally built in the 8thcentury AD, the temple presents images of the five forms of Vishnu. The most impressive feature that will catch your eyes is the temple’s coloured Rajgopurams (tower) which is built in pyramidical style, reflecting the distinct South Indian Temple Architecture Style. Visiting here will undoubtedly be a fulfilling spiritual experience whatever your beliefs. OPEN: 5:30 am to Noon & 4pm to 9:30pm.
KAPALEESHWARAR TEMPLE IN CHENNAI
KAPALEESHWARAR TEMPLE - This temple is dedicated to the god, Shiva. It symbolises the Dravidian style of architecture with its most notable feature being the 37 metre high gopuram (tower). The goddess Parvati, Shiva's wife, is worshipped here in the incarnation of the goddess Karpagambal (“The Wish-Yielding Tree”). Here you can see the holy Punnai tree, which is one of the oldest trees in Chennai. OPEN: 6am to Noon & 4pm to 9:30pm.
GOVERNMENT MUSEUM (Egmore Museum) - This is generally considered to be Chennai’s top museum. It houses a collection of South Indian bronzes dating from the 7thcentury Pallava era to modern times. Some of the most notable exhibits are statues of Shiva as Nataraja (the Cosmic Dancer) and Ardhanarishvara (an androgynous incarnation of Shiva and Parvati). In building 1, you can find exhibits ranging from the 2ndCentury BC to 16thCentury AD. In building 2, in the anthropological galleries, you can follow the story of South Indian human history with artefacts from prehistoric times right up to the tiger-headed cannon captured from the Tipu Sultan’s army after his defeat in 1799. OPEN: 9:30am to 5pm (Sat-Thu). ENTRY PRICE: Foreigners: INR 250; Camera/Video Camera: INR 200/500"
As the doorway to Southern India, Chennai offers splendid cultural opportunities, showcasing a rich heritage of art, music, dance, and cuisine.
BHARATNATYAM DANCE This classic Indian dance form originated in Tamil Nadu. A solo dance, believed to be the oldest Indian classical dance form, it is regarded as the forerunner of many other Indian styles of dance on display in other regions of India.
PONGAL FESTIVAL Celebrated in January, this festival marks the end of the southeast monsoon and the beginning of the harvest season in Southern India. It derives its name from a rice pudding called ‘?pongal?’, made from jaggery (freshly harvested rice and milk). Although the festival has its roots in countryside, it is celebrated with equal enthusiasm in the cities as well.
NATYANJALI DANCE FESTIVAL This is held every year at Chidambaram in honour of the god, Shiva, who is also known as Nataraja, the Cosmic Dancer. It is a 5 day long celebration held February or March. The stunning location of the Chidambaram Temple has a unique aura when visiting at any time, but especially during the festival. The event is organised as a joint cooperation between the Department of Tourism for the Government of Tamil Nadu, the Ministry of Tourism for the Government of India and Natyanjali Trust at Chidambaram Temple.
Chennai, as Madras, became an important trade centre during the British era and has never lost its charm subsequently. It now boasts some of the best and one of the oldest shopping malls and boutiques in India. Here are a few suggestions of what to look for and where to get it to make the most of an authentic Indian shopping experience:
SPENCER PLAZA - Widen your horizons with a visit to the oldest shopping mall in India. Originally built during the British era, what started off as a department store has grown to become one of the biggest shopping centres in South Asia. Today, it boasts around 400 shops and is a popular destination for countless tourists.
EXPRESS AVENUE – Home to the largest gaming arcade in South India, it also stocks many famous international clothing brands.
CHENNAI CITI CENTRE - Opened in 2006, this is one of the most exclusive shopping malls in Chennai. Here you can find an array of national and international brands, such as Indigo Nation, Giordano, Allen Solly, Mom & Me, Mochi, World of Titan, Health & Glow, Cookie Man, Adidas, Wills Life Style and many more. It also features world class entertainment facilities such as a cricket zone and a 4-screen INOX cinema multiplex. Chennai Citi Centre Chennai Citi Centre also offers plenty of options for eating at top multinational chains such as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Sangeetha, KFC, Wang’s Kitchen and many more.
NALLI SILKS - Set up in 1928 and an iconic institution of Southern India, Nalli has become synonymous with silk and kanchipuram sarees. With outlets at Nageswaran Road, Thiyagaraya Nagar and at other locations too, Nalli Silkshas an enormous collection of Chennai Silks.
CUISINE When it comes treating your culinary desires, no other city can beat Chennai. Here you can embark on an unforgettable journey to sate your appetite with traditional foods such as idli, dosa, sambhar and coconut chutney. Most of these items are served on banana leaves which might seem quiet exotic, but one thing is certain... you will love it! Moreover, don’t forget to treat yourself to Chennai's famous filter coffee.
TIDEL PARK - Completed in 2000, this 13-storey complex is one of the largest IT establishments in Asia and the largest in India. It hosts some of the country’s biggest companies, such as the State Bank of India, Canara Bank, TCS and Cisco Systems to name just a few.
TIDEL PARK. ONE OF THE LARGEST IT PARKS IN ASIA.
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