Hello and welcome to a new week. Today’s post is a GUEST post from Tim Blight from Urban Duniya. People may recall his interview HERE. He’s also participated in a couple of the podcasts. Today he writes about a city I’ve never been to or covered on the blog, Chennai in India.
Chennai, on the surface, is not the most alluring of cities. It’s big, sprawling out in all directions, without any real centre. It’s busy; Chennai is either India’s fourth or fifth most populous city, depending on where you think the city ends. And it’s as hot as Hades; 30 degrees in winter, 50 degrees in summer, and always humid.
Chennai doesn’t impress with its grand monuments; that’s left for north India. Nor does it excite with a pulsating scene like Mumbai. Chennai doesn’t reward those who come to sample; rather, it courts the visitor and asks that time be spent getting to know it, understanding it, falling in love with it. Because 9 million people can’t be wrong; there are reasons to stay in Chennai, and they are subtle and sublime.
Like understanding the subtle character shifts as one passes from one district to another, each with its own business centre, negating the need for a Central Business District. Chennai was once Madras; a British-operated port with a collection of rough-and-ready villages strung out along the coast to the south. Those villages amalgamated into the megacity of Chennai, but retain their individual personalities and quirks. Upmarket Mylapore is one of the most notable, with its banyan-tree shaded streets, temples and exclusive clubs. Triplicane is a large Muslim area, scattered with alleyways and canteen-style eateries waiting to be discovered. And Besant Nagar’s coconut palms sway lazily with the seabreeze ruling in off the Bay of Bengal.
Chennai is full of people – in the crazy fabric markets and fashion stores of T Nagar you’ll feel as if you’re amongst all of them, while in the calm boutiques and cafes of Nungambakkam you’ll wonder where they all went to. Chennai is like a whirlpool of southern India; it draws in people from all around it. You’ll find thousands of people who hail from outside the city, having come here to make their futures. They eat idly-sambhar, dosa, uttapam and iddyappam; vegetarian, coconut-infused rice and lentil treats. They drink coconut water (fresh off the trees that line the city’s streets), kaapi and rasam. They worship at Santhome Cathedral, the burial place of the Bible’s “Doubting Thomas” and Kapleeshwarar Temple, an architectural ode to Dravidian design.
Yeah it’s hot, so stay out of the intense sun, and do as the locals do; just be cool! Take advantage of the warm early mornings to stroll along the ocean promenade as the sun rises. See a Tamil film at the cinema during the heat of the day – Kollywood (as the local industry is known) churns out around 300 films per year, and they usually draw large audiences. If you’re looking for afternoon tea, places like Amethyst offer iced tea, cakes and sandwiches out on the verandah of a restored colonial-era bungalow. And make sure you’re at Marina Beach for sunset; as the sun sets behind you, grab a cold drink and allow the evening breeze to wash over you before heading out for dinner or a friendly party with old or newly-made friends.
Chennai is not a place to rush around expecting to be quickly wowed. But if you slow down, get to know it and catch the vibe, you can start to understand it. And if you’re lucky, you may just find yourself loving this big, busy and hot city way down south.
A HUGE thank you to Tim for contributing! Don’t forget you can reach Tim via these methods –
Take care everyone and May the Journey Never End!