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Chennai Sightseeing Tours begins with an arrival in Chennai
Chennai or Madras is the fourth largest metropolis in India. Located on a 17 km stretch of the Coramandel coast, the city is trisected by the waterways of Cooum and Adyar and the Buckingham Canal. Popularly regarded as the ‘Gateway to the South’, Chennai presents culture that is distinctly different from that of northern India. Music, dance and all other art forms of the South are cherished and nurtured in this city, which though industrialized continues to be traditional and conventional in many ways.
Chennai is a city where the traditional and the modern blend in life everywhere. From traditional vegetarian fair to fast foods, from nine-yard sarees to the latest in fashion, from ancient temple architecture to modern high-rise – with Indo-Saracenic and Victorian as stops along the way – from classical music and dance to discos throbbing to heady beats, Chennai has them all and many more vivid contrasts that are a pleasant surprise. And perhaps the most striking of them all is that here is a modern metropolis with beaches, parks and even sanctuaries in the heart of the City. Chennai offers a wealth of nature and a rich historic past to visitors in the ambience of a city with every modern facility. Modern Chennai grew out of a small village when in 1639 a fishing hamlet called Madraspatnam was selected by early English merchants of the East India Company as a site for the settlement. There are a number of churches in Chennai that are connected with the life and times of St. Thomas. There are also several ancient temples around Chennai, and, within the city itself are two magnificent temples – a temple in Triplicane and another in Mylapore.
Significance : Capital of Tamil Nadu.
Climate : Tropical climate with very hot and humid conditions. Winter and summer temperatures do not vary much as it rains frequently throughout the year.
Chennai offers a wide variety of traditional and trendy merchandise such as carvings on brass, stone, wood and ivory, leather bikinis, bags and shoes. Traditional items from all over Tamil Nadu can be bought from Chennai like Pattamara Mats and the leaf and palmyra-fiber handicrafts from Tirunellveli, Metal works from Tanjavur, bronze and brass castings and traditional jewellery from Kumbakonam, stone carvings from Mamallapuram and Silks from Kanchipuram. The most popular shopping centers are in Rannganatha Street in T. Nagar and Anna Salai.
Fort St. George: The British East India Company under the direct supervision of Francis Day and Andrew Cogon built Fort St. George in 1640 AD. The fort houses St. Mary’s Church and fort museum. St. Mary’s Church is the oldest Anglican Church in India built in 1680 and the tombstones in its courtyard are the oldest British tombstones in India. This ancient prayer house solemnized the marriages of Robert Clive and Governor Elinu-Yale, who later founded the Yale University in the States. Today the fort is used by the state legislative assembly and as the secretarial offices of the Tamil Nadu government.
The flagstaff at Fort St. George is still the tallest in India. South of the Fort is the War Memorial, a graceful monument built in 1939 in memory of the warriors who sacrificed their lives during the First World War. The Island Grounds, the biggest lung space in the city is situated on an island formed by the river Cooum. This ground is the eventful venue of Trade and the Tourist Fairs held periodically which are seasonal attractions. The High Court with the decorative domes and corridors reminiscent of Indo/Saracenic architecture and the adjacent Parry’s corner are the important landmarks of Chennai.
Fort Museum : This museum contains many relics pertaining to the tenure of the East India Company and British India. It has a collection of contemporary paintings as well as the rare exhibits of weapons, uniforms, coins, costumes, medals and some other artifacts dating back to the British period.
Kapaleeswarar Temple : The biggest temple in the city, it is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple contains inscriptions dating back to the 13th century AD, and is a fine specimen of the Dravidian style of architecture. The 37-metre gopuram is especially noteworthy for its intricate carvings that depict stories from Hindu mythology.
Sri Parthasarathi Temple : The temple built in the 8th century is dedicated to Lord Krishna. It was built under the patronage of the Pallavas. It houses the idols of the five avataras of Sri Vishnu and has a small temple shrine dedicated to Vishnu’s consort, called as Vedavalli Ammai in the native language of the region.
Santhome Cathedral : San Thome at the southern end of Marina derives its name from St Thomas, the apostle of Christ who is believed to have come to Madras sometime during 52 AD. He was killed on St Thomas Mount just outside the city in 78 AD and was interned in San Thome beach where a church was later built. Several years later, another church was built further inland and his mortal remains were transferred from the old church to the new one. In 1606 the church was rebuilt as a cathedral and in 1896 it was made a basilica. The beautiful stained glass window at the basilica portrays the story of St Thomas and the central hall has 14 wooden plaques depicting scenes from the last days of Christ. In the cathedral is a 3 ft high statue of Virgin Mary, which is believed to have been brought from Portugal in 1543.
The Snake Park and Children’s Park : The snake park attracts visitors of all ages as it houses a variety of Indian snakes and reptiles, which can be viewed from close quarters. Adjacent to the snake park is a children’s park, which has a large playing ground and a good collection of birds and animals.
The Marina Beach : Lining the east of the city is the famous Marina Beach. Supposed to be the second longest beach in the world, it is 12 km long. The beach can be ideally visited in the early mornings or in the late evenings when the area becomes a virtual fair ground with food stalls and other entertainments.
The Theosophical Society : The world headquarters of the Theosophical Society, formed to facilitate and encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy and science is situated in beautiful sylvan settings in Adyar. The society was founded by Madame Blavatsky and Col. Olott in USA, and later moved to Adyar in 1882. Apart from shrines of all faiths and the peaceful Garden of Remembrance, there is a 95-year old library which has a very good collection of rare Oriental manuscripts written on palm leaves and parchment.
Kalakshetra : In Thiruvanmiyur, beyond Elliot’s beach, is Kalakshetra or ‘Temple of Art’. It was founded in 1936 by Rukmini Devi Arundale to train, encourage and revive interest in Bharatanatyam, which is the classical dance form of the state and also textile designing and weaving. This institution is among the finest of its kind in the country and is run on the ancient gurukulam system. Throughout the year Kalakshetra conducts music recital and dance performances in different parts of Chennai.
Birla Planetarium : The Birla Planetarium at Kotturpuram, between Adyar and Guindy, is the most modern planetarium in the country. It houses a fully computerized projector to depict the skies. Adjoining the planetarium is a Periyar Science and Technology Museum, which will be of interest to students and other science scholars.
National Art Gallery and Government Museum: The museums situated in the heart of the city at Egmore were founded in 1857. It houses various sections on archaeology, geology, anthropology, numismatics, botany and zoology. There is also a fine collection of sculpture and armory in the museum.
Anna Square: The mortal remains of Dr. C.N. Annadurai, former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu was buried at the Anna Square, which is at the northern end of Marina Beach. Situated about 30 km from the city, the Anna zoological park is spread over an area of 510 hectares. Its main attractions are safari parks, a nocturnal animal house, an Aquarium, Natural Museum and many others.
Valluvar Kottam : The memorial to the poet-saint Tiruvalluvar is shaped like a temple chariot and is, in fact, the replica of the temple chariot in Thiruvarur. A life-size statue of the saint has been installed in the chariot, which is 33m tall. The 133 chapters of his famous work Thirukkural have been depicted in bas-relief in the front hall corridors of the chariot. The auditorium at Valluvar Kottam is said to be the largest in Asia and can accommodate about 4000 people. It stands as a modern memorial to the great poet who represents the glorious culture of the Tamils.
By Air: Chennai has domestic as well as international airports. The Kamaraj Domestic Airport and the Anna International Airport are located at Tirusulam, 20 km from the city, connecting it to all the major cities and countries of the world.
By Train: Chennai is also well connected to all the major cities in India through a wide network of railways. The main railway stations are at Madras Central and Egmore. There are regular trains connecting it to all the major cities of India.
By Road: The excellent road network of Chennai makes it easily accessible from other important cities of Tamil Nadu and the neighboring states.