Chennai which was formerly known as Madras is the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and is the fifth most populous metropolitan area and the fourth most populous city in India. With its long sandy beaches, historical places, parks, and culture the city brings about a potpourri of aesthetic delights for tourists and residents alike. The fact that Chennai is the third most visited city in India by foreigners makes it a destination that is a must-see among all the cities in India.
Chennai is known for its long and sandy beaches and the longest urban beach in the world which is called Marina beach is located here. This beach which is dotted with gardens, walkways, memorials, statues and a lighthouse also has some deserted and quiet spots. Even though many tourists make it a point to visit this beach, swimming is not allowed here and there are no lifeguards. In spite of this fact, thousands of people visit the place and as a result many parts of the beach have polluted waterfronts. There are numerous structures and statues that adorn these sandy shores and some are old whereas many have been built recently while renovating the place.
Most of the statues on Marina beach are of local or national legends such as Mahatma Gandhi, Thiruvalluvar, Robert Caldwell, Subhash Chandra Bose, Annie Besant, and numerous other local heroes and saints. However not all statues are of freedom fighters or saints, some are symbolic in nature; the most notable being the Triumph of Labor statue.
The beach is also famous for its structures and some of them have historical significance while others are governmental institutions. The most important edifice is the Vivekananda House which was witness to the sojourn of the great monk Swami Vivekananda in 1897 when he stayed here for nine days. Today the structure holds arts exhibits about the life and mission of Swami Vivekananda and the ideologies of Hindu religion.
Monuments, Historical buildings and Institutions
The beach is also in close proximity to many memorials, monuments, historical buildings and institutions. Some of the most notable of these are Victoria War Memorial, University of Madras, Presidency College, Anna Memorial, All India Radio (Chennai), Inspector General of Police Headquarters, Forensic Science Department, and MGR Memorial. In addition to this there are three railway stations near the Marina beach which make it easily accessible: Chepuk Railway Station, Light House Railway Station, and Thiruvallikeni Railway Station. A visit to Chennai is truly incomplete without visiting the Marina beach with its teeming hustle and bustle along with a stunning view of the sea from isolated quiet spots.
This beach is located in Besant Nagar in the southern part of the city and is the end-point of the Marina beach shore. There are many restaurants on this shore and this is one of the famous hang-outs for college students; especially during the weekends. Many people now visit Elliot’s beach instead of going to Marina beach and it is sometimes hard to find parking space on weekends when the restaurants are crowded and so are the sands. This beach is also famous for the Carl Schmidt Memorial which was built in 1930 in memory of a European sailor who died saving the lives of some swimmers. However, sadly the memorial lies in a dilapidated state and needs renovation.
The most notable beach near Chennai is the Covelong (Kevalam) beach which is located about 30 miles from the city. Situated on the East Coast Road en route to Mahabalipuram this port town was developed by the Nawab of Carnatic but subsequently came under the British Empire in 1752. The Dutch built a fort here in the colonial era and today it has been converted to a private luxury beach resort named Taj Fisherman’s Cove.
Government Museum Complex
The Government Museum Complex is located in Egmore which is one of the busiest part of Chennai and the museum itself is sprawled over 16 acres of land. It is made up of six buildings and 42 galleries that have a wide range of artifacts on display. Some of the fields that are covered by the thousands of art pieces are numismatics, natural history, sculptures, zoology, archeology, palm leaf manuscripts and paintings. Established in 1851 the huge complex consists of the Museum itself, Connemara Public Library, and the national art gallery. The library was established in 1890 and has centuries-old publications and also acts as a depository library for the UN.
Fort St. George
Fort St. George is the first fortress that was built in India by the British Empire and the city developed around this fort as it gave momentum to trade which flourished to give birth to one of the busiest metropolitan cities in India. The name of the fort derives from the fact that it was completed on St. George Day on the land bought by the East India company to further its spice trade in the region. The fort is famous for its oldest Anglican church called the St. Mary’s Church which was built in 1678-1680 A.D. The fort also houses a museum which has weapons, coins, uniforms, medals and other artifacts that are reminders of the British rule in India. The fort also has the Wellesley House named after the British governor Richard Wellesley. A statue which is 14.5 ft. high stands near the entrance of the Wellesley House and depicts, with carvings, the handing over of two sons by the emissary of the Mughal ruler Tippu Sultan when he could not pay the ransom to the British.
Places of Worship
The city has been a cosmopolitan one since very early times and numerous famous temples, churches and mosques can be found here. The most famous temple is the Kapaleeshwarar temple which is situated in Mylapore. This temple is dedicated to the Hindu lord Shiva who is the god of destruction and is worshipped in the form of Kapaleeshwarar. The temple comes alive during the nine day festival of Panguni from mid March to mid April. During this festival which is also known as Bramhotsavam, the deities are mounted on Vahanaas or “vehicles” and carried around the temple and the water tank.
Vadapalani Andavar Temple
The temple is dedicated to lord Murugan who is worshipped as the lord of the Tamil but also has “Sanctum Sanctorum” for lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati, and Lord Ganesh. This is one of the most frequented temples of Lord Murugan in Chennai and also has large spacious halls for religious ceremonies and marriages.
St. Thomas Mount
St. Thomas Mount is a small hillock located in the neighborhood of Guindy and is in close proximity to the Chennai airport. This place is also called Bhringimalai and is thought to be the place where St. George who was an apostle of Christ was martyred. Believed to have reached India in 52 A.D St. Thomas is said to be one of the first Christians to reach India and therefore the place was also visited by Pope John Paul II during his visit to India in 1986. The hill offers a breathtaking view of the city and also houses the Indian army’s Officer Training Academy (OTA).
San Thome Basilica
This is a Roman Catholic (Latin Rite) minor basilica that was built by the Portuguese in the 16th century and rebuilt by the British in 1893. The architecture of the edifice is neo-Gothic since this was the main architectural style of the British during the 19th century. San Thome Basilica is the most important church of the Madras-Mylapore Catholic Archdiocese and was given the status of Minor Basilica by Pope Pius XII in 1956.
St. Georges Cathedral
St Georges Cathedral was inaugurated in 1947 and is one of the important places of worship for Christians in India. The church itself was opened in 1815 A.D even though the official inauguration and renovation took place in 1947. The stained glass windows in the church are a sight to behold and depict the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. There are numerous memorials, tablets and statues that adorn this cathedral which now has a church membership of over 1200 families.
Parks and Zoos
Guindy National Park
This is the eighth smallest national park in India and covers only 2.8 square kilometers; an extension to the governors residence. Originally a game reserve, the park was converted to a national park by transferring it to the Tamil Nadu Forest Department in 1958. The park has a scenic landscape that is home to 14 species of mammals such as spotted deer, Jackal, Small Indian Civet, Common Palm Civet, and the three-striped Palm Squirrel. The Guindy Snake Park situated in the national park is home to many species of snake and is also an important source of anti venom serum.
Madras Crocodile Bank Trust
The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT) was established in 1976 in order to save three species of crocodile – the marsh or mugger crocodile, the saltwater crocodile, and the gharial, which were tottering on the brink of extinction. The park proved to be a great success in saving these species and had more than 400,000 visitors in 2007. The place is home to more than 2400 crocodiles today and has other species such as snakes, turtles and lizards which are viewable by the public. The MCBT publishes a biannual herpetology journal called Hamadryad, and is home to one of the biggest libraries of herpetological literature in India.
Arignar Anna Zoological Park
The Arignar Anna Zoological Park which was established in 1855 is about 20 miles from the city and was the first public zoo in India. This is also the largest zoological garden in India and is sprawled over 1200 acres which houses more than 170 species of birds, mammals, and reptiles in about 80 enclosures. Originally called the Madras Zoo and also known as the Vandalur Zoo this is one of the largest zoos in South Asia and also has a rescue and rehabilitation center for animals.