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Chennai

TTDC / Chennai

Before the arrival of the British in 1639, Armenian and Portuguese traders used to live in the Santhome area. It was a fishing village, in what used to be called Madrasapatnam, with Madras as its shortened name. The British bought the piece of land from the King of Vijayanagar, and built Fort St. George. Today, it houses the Secretariat Complex of the Government of Tamil Nadu.

Weaving of cotton fabrics was the flourishing local industry at that time. So, the British invited weavers and traders to settle by the fort.

There are many versions and legends as to how this city’s name kept changing [between Madras and Chennai] from time to time. But all speculations of the changing names were put to rest in 1996, when the ruling Government of Madras renamed the city as Chennai, which stands good till date.

The most distinctive buildings in the city are the seven large temples in George Town, Mylapore and Triplicane. The Chepauk Palace, University Senate House, and the High Court Buildings stand tall and regal; so do some of the city’s eloquently engineered marvels like The Santhome Church, St. Andrew’s Church, St. George’s Cathedral... the stamp of the British era is still very visible in many parts of Chennai.

Chennai and its suburbs have more than 600 Hindu temples. The Parthasarathy Temple in Triplicane is the oldest and was built by Pallava kings in the 8th Century. The Kapaleeswarar Temple, built in the 16th Century, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The Luz Church [1547-82] and St. Mary’s Church [1678-80] are the oldest churches in Chennai. The Armenian Church of Holy Virgin Mary [1772] has an Armenian cemetery with tombstones dating from around the 17th Century.

Chennai is also home to the International headquarters of the Theosophical Society, with its sprawling gardens in Adyar, which stretches right up to the Bay of Bengal.

Fort St. George

This was the first fortress built in India by the British in 1639. It is one of the city’s prestigious landmarks and houses the State Legislature and Secretariat. The St. Mary’s Church inside the complex was built in 1860. The fort also has an interesting museum within its walls.

St. George Museum

This museum was opened to public on 31st January 1948, and is being maintained by Archaeological Survey of India. It is inside Fort St. George, and has a variety of Swords, Daggers, Rifles, Pistols, Mortars and a Canon on display. It also showcases the uniforms of officers of various ranks in the British Army. It has Ten Galleries spread over three floors.

The Marina Beach

The pride of Chennai and the second longest beach in the world, it runs from Fort St. George in the North, to Foreshore Estate in the South, covering 6 kms. It is a sandy beach with an average breadth of 300 meters.

The beach was conceived by Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff, the Governor at that time, who built the promenade and aptly named it the Madras Marina.

It has the light house, and the entire stretch is interesting with memorials, statues of public figures and literary icons, and stately buildings that are remnants of the British past.

Santhome Cathedral Basilica

Believed to have been originally built in the 16th Century by the Portuguese over the remains of St. Thomas, an apostle, it was rebuilt as a Cathedral by the British in 1893. Since then, this is popularly called as Santhome Church. Pope John Paul II visited and prayed at this tomb on 5th February 1986.

The St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica is a national shrine for St. Thomas. What stands today is the British version. This church is only one of three known churches in the world, built over the tomb of a saint – the other two being St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and the Santiago in Spain.

Memorials of Mahatma Gandhi, Rajaji, Kamaraj and Bakthavatsalam

Gandhi Mandapam is a famous landmark that’s located near the Children’s park, and was built as a memorial for Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation. There are also memorials for stalwarts like Rajaji, Kamaraj and Bhaktavatsalam located nearby, in honour of their contributions to the nation.

Vivekananda House and Museum

The Tudor Ice Company was built in 1842 to store ice blocks. Since then, it has been called the Ice House even after the company closed its shutters. Bilagiri Iyengar, a noted lawyer, bought it in 1885 and named it “Castle Kernan” in honour of his friend and judge in the Madras High Court.

When Swami Vivekananda visited Madras, he stayed at the Ice House from 6th February 1897 to 14th February 1897. In commemoration of his stay, the period had been celebrated every year as Vivekananda Navaratri. The pujas and festivals performed by the Ramakrishna Mutt were later shifted to the new mutt premises in Mylapore. Even so, this place continued to stay as the memorial of Swami Vivekananda.

In 1930, the Government took over this building. And in 1963, on the birth centenary of the swami, it was renamed as the Vivekananda House and converted into a museum.

Around Chennai

Kolavai Lake

This lake is located in the Kanchipuram District. Chengalpattu Town is on the southern end of this big Kolavai Lake. The Madras Naturalists Society discovered many winged migrants in its brimming waters.

Pulicat
This sea shore town, 60 kms from Chennai in Tiruvallur District, is also called as Pazhaverkadu. It is a haven for bird lovers and ornithologists. As the second largest in India, after the Chilka Lake, it is well known for its tranquillity. The lake opens into the Bay of Bengal in a shallow mouth. Hundreds of thousands of migratory birds throng this ancient lagoon, which is famous for its flamingos. During winters, this water body attracts around 15,000 flamingos among other wetland birds.

Mamallapuram
Mamallapuram is better known for its Shore Temple and rock cut Pallava architecture. But what many don’t know is that its beach stretches for over 20 kms.

Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary
Established in 1858 in an area of 70 acres, the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary’s season begins between November to March where thousands of migratory birds congregate from all over the world. The word Vedanthangal means the Hamlet of the Hunter. For centuries this sanctuary has been protected by the local populace who use the water from the tank to irrigate fields -the high nitrogen content that comes from the bird droppings, helps them save on the cost of fertilisers. It was as early as 1798 that the locals convinced authorities to protect the birds. Every year around 40,000 birds [including 26 rare species] roost here and hatch their chicks to fly back to varying destinations.

Gudiyam Caves
It is 10 kms away from the Poondi Dam. In 1863, Robert Bruce Foote, a British geologist, discovered a stone hand axe from the Stone Age. This opened up research about the 1, 00,000 years Palaeolithic Age antiquity of this region.

Kapaleeswarar Temple

Legend has it that Goddess Parvati worshipped Shiva in the form of peacock [means Mayil in Tamil]; hence this place is named Mylapore. Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal are the main deities in this temple. The replicas of 63 revered Saivite Saints, called Nayanmars, are located here, and it is one of the most sacred Hindu shrines in Chennai. It has a large temple tank. Arubathimoovar Vizha, Car Festival, Tirukalyanam and the Theppam Festival are the important festivals of the temple.

Island Ground

The Tamil Nadu Tourism Department conducts a three-month long tourism fair on this island, which was created around the Cooum River. It is located next to the War Memorial. Millions throng this 3-month fair, which is held between January [Pongal holiday] and March.

High Court

One of the vintage structures of the city built in 1892, and an important landmark, it is located in Chennai’s busiest business district. This is also one of the largest judicial complexes in the world.

Theosophical Society

This society was founded in the USA by Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott. It was later shifted to Adyar –Chennai in the year 1882, and is currently the International Headquarters of this society. This society encourages the study of comparative religions, philosophy & science and rational thought. The grand old Banyan Tree, or the Adyar Bodhi Tree, is located in this campus. The tree has branches spread over an area of 40,000 sq.ft, and is believed to be largest one of its kind in the world.

Elliots Beach

Elliots Beach, popularly called Besant Nagar beach, is named after Edward Elliot, the superintendent of police and chief magistrate at that time. It is not a very long beach, but is very popular among youth as there are many eateries in and around this residential area. There is a memorial on this beach built to honour Karl Schmidt, who lost his life here while saving others from drowning. At the southern end of this beach there is the famous Velankanni Church. A little further south is the Astalakshmi Temple, which has all the avatars of Goddess Lakshmi.

Kalakshetra Foundation

Founded by Rukmini Devi Arundale in 1936, it is the nursery for budding dance artists in India. This centre has produced some of the finest bharatanatyam dancers in the country.

Birla Planetarium

This planetarium was inaugurated on 11th May 1988, and it is popularly called as the Modern Indoor Universe. The sky theatre has a seating capacity for 236 viewers, and its multi-dimensional activities and special projection arrangements keeps the audience spell bound. There is a Periyar Science and Technology Museum next door.

St. Thomas Mount

A shrine in dedication to Our Lady of Expectation [Mother Mary] was built in 1523 on top of the mount, which is called Parangi Malai. The altar of this church is said to have been built over where St. Thomas is said to have been martyred. The Blood Stain mark on the cross, found even today, has endeared the name Bleeding Cross to it. A flight of 160 steps leads to the summit. The oil painting of Madonna, believed to be painted by St. Luke and brought to India by St. Thomas, is placed atop the Altar in this church.

Ripon Building

Built in 1913, this white building with its 132 feet tall tower clock is one of Chennai’s sensational sites. It is the Administrative Complex and Council Assembly House of the Chennai City Corporation. The building was named by the British in honour of Lord Ripon, who was the Governor General and father of Self-Government in India.

Government Museum

The plan for this museum was initiated by the Madras Literary Society in 1846, and it was established on 1st January 1951, with Dr. Edward Balfour as the First Officer in charge. This is the second oldest museum in the country, after the Kolkata museum, and has 6 independent buildings and 6 galleries. Set on 16.25 acres of land, it is rich in archaeological, numismatic and Roman collections too. The Buddhist ruins from Amravati can be seen here in this museum.

The National Art Gallery

The Gallery was built in 1906 following the Indo-Sarsenic architecture style. It houses paintings and sandal wood sculptures from Thanjavur, Rajasthan, Kangra and the Deccan.

Connemara Library

The Connemara library, a treasure trove of books, periodicals and newspapers, was opened to visitors in 1861. This library was named after the then Governor of Madras, Lord Connemara. It has a collection of over 6, 00,000 books and a Braille library.

ValluvarKottam

Shaped like a Temple Chariot, this landmark was built in 1976 in honour of the great Tamil poet-saint Tiruvalluvar. A 33 ft tall Statue of Tiruvalluvar has been installed for public viewing. All the 133 chapters and 1330 couplets that he penned, have been captured in bas relief, and is the special feature here.

Guindy National Park

This park is unique in that it has the rarest type of vegetation, and is perhaps the only one of its kind to be located within a large metropolis. Set on 282 hectares, it has over 350 species of plants and 30 species of trees with giant banyan trees that are over 100 years old. Within this area is the Children’s Park, of around 22 acres, to educate children and make them aware about animals and conservation. The Children’s Park has a small zoo with a variety of animals for such education.

The Guindy National Park also houses a snake park within its premises. It has 23 species of Indian snakes, and exotic species of crocodiles, tortoises, turtles and lizards.

Snake Park

This is situated adjacent to the Children’s Park. The King Cobra, Python, Turtle and Monitor Lizard are some of the popular reptiles here. Extraction of venom is a live activity that has held the fascination of many.

Arignar Anna Zoological Park

It is one of the largest zoological complexes in South East Asia, spread over a sprawling area of 602 hectares. It was inaugurated in 1985. This park houses 40 varieties of mammals, 20 avian species and 14 species of reptiles.

Amusement Parks

VGP Golden Beach
MGM Dizzee World
Maya Jaal
Kishkinta
Queens Land

ChokiDhani

Set on 15 acres, it recreates a typical Rajasthani village environment. It is around 27 kms from Chennai, and is on the road that leads to Kanchipuram. Here, one can find a live display of the culture of the land, its food, art and artisans. The village tour starts with the traditional tilak welcome which is unique to the region.

Temples in and around Chennai

Vadivudai Amman temple at Tiruvottiyur, Devi Karumariamman Temple at Thiruverkadu, Kamakshi Amman Temple at Mangadu, Marundheeswarar Temple Thiruvanmiyur, Jaganath Temple at Kanathur and the Jain temple in Vepery are the popular and most visited temples in the city.

There are Murugan Temples at Kunrathur and Tirupporur; The temples at Thirumazhisai, Thiruninravur, Thiruneermalai, and Thiruvidanthai are dedicated to Lord Vishnu; Masilamaneeswarar temple at Thirumullaivoyal, Thiruvudaiyamman temple at Melur, Anjaneyar Temple, Rajarajeswari Temple and Raghavendra Temple at Nanganallur, Sri Sai Baba Temple and ISKCON on the East Coast Road are other famous temples in this region.

Excursions

Crocodile Bank

Romulus and Zai Whitaker established the Madras Crocodile Bank in 1976, a herpetology zoo and research station on the outskirts of Chennai. Set up with the aim of saving three endangered species – the marsh or mugger crocodile, the saltwater crocodile and the gharial, the center is the biggest crocodile sanctuary in India. It has the largest collection of crocodiles and alligators with 14 species of crocodiles, 10 species of turtles, 3 species of snakes and a lizard species. The Crocodile Bank is situated 40 kms south of Chennai at Vadanemmeli, on the East Coast Road to Mamallapuram.

Covelong Beach
Around 40 kms from Chennai is a fishing village called Kovalam, which came to be called Covelong by the British who couldn’t pronounce its name. This pristine, palm lined beach is really beautiful and picturesque, and it was once set up as a port by Sadaat Ali for Carnatic Nawabs. Around 1742 the French took control here and it was destroyed by the British in 1752.

Covelong also has an old fort that was built by the Dutch, which now houses a 5-star hotel – The Fisherman’s Cove. There is also a famous dargah for Tamim al-Ansari which is a popular destination for many.

Dakshin Chitra

This exotic Arts Village was founded by the Madras Craft Foundation, for preserving the rich art and cultural heritage of Tamil Nadu, and the other three states of South India. It has traditional handlooms and replicas of model houses in the four South Indian states.

Muttukadu

The Muttukadu Boat House, on the east coast road, has facilities for rowing, wind surfing, water skiing and speed boat rides. Inaugurated in 1984, it has 15 row boats, 27 speed boats and 9 pedal boats besides two high speed aqua scooters. Soon it will also have the added attraction of a floating restaurant.

Mudaliarkuppam

It’s known as the Raindrop Boat House and is located 92 kms from Chennnai. Set on the Odiyur lake backwaters, it has rowing, cruising, speed boats and kayaking facilities. The boat house also organises motor boat trips to the beach island nearby.

Fairs

All India Tourist & Industrial Fair is held during January - March. World Tourism Day [27th September].

India Leather Fair is held between December & January, every year.

Various Special Fairs are held at frequent intervals, depending on the season and the festival.

Festivals

Arubathumoovar Festival, Kapaleeswarar Temple [March-April]

VaikuntaEkadesi Festival, Parthasarathy Temple [December-January]

Kandhashasti Festival, Kandaswamy Temple [October – November]

Annai Velankanni Festival, Velankanni Church [August – September]

Music Concert & Dance performances at various halls and sabhas throughout Chennai [held every day] [December – January]

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