Many a business trip later, I decided to do a leisure trip to Chennai (erstwhile ‘Madras). A friend who had studied in Chennai guided me about the places of interest there. Being a diligent travel buff , I visitedmost of the places suggested by my friend. Despite coming into being at the dawn of the British era in India (about 350 years back) and having more than its fair share of period buildings, Chennai exudes a distinctly local fl avor with its local markets, temples and ethnically dressed people. A circuitous short drive took me from ITC Grand Chola to St. Th omas Mount, which accorded me a bird’s eye view of Chennai. Th e old church at this peaceful spot is dedicated to St. Th omas, one of the 12 apostles of Christ. Legend has it that during his evangelistic trips, his end came about in Chennai. Th e oldest British period church in India, St. Mary’s, is also located in Chennai. Despite all my attempts to persuade the security staff , I couldn’t visit this heritage treasure as it is within the precincts of Fort St. George, which now houses the Legislative Assembly and the Secretariat, and the current government regulation doesn’t allow tourists to enter the premises with camera. Th e same premises also houses Wellesley Hall, another period building of note, which I had to skip due to the same governmental regulation. The vagaries of such whimsical regulations that deprive a tourist an uninterruptedview of the heritage sites a city possesses are amusing, particularly in view of the fact that a Rs.1600-crore secretariat building here has been converted in to a hospital as one of the chief ministers decided to not sit in that building since it was built on behest of an earlier Chief Minister from opponent camp.
I also visited the Basilica of the National Shrine of St.Th omas. Th is is one of the 3 churches across the globe that is built over the tomb of a Jesus apostle – the other 2 being in Vatican (St. Peter’s tomb) and Galicia, Spain (St. James’ tomb). Th is imposing basilica has been built in cruciform (crossshaped) floor plan. Kapalishwaran Temple was another notable place I visited. Th e temple has a typical Dravidian temple façade with elaborate carvings on the exterior. Th e National Gallery of Modern Art is housed in a heritage building that is currently under restoration. Th e architecture and craft smanship on the exterior of this building is remarkable. Th e Connemara Public Library is also located here. Th is one of the four National Depository libraries in the country that receives all books, periodicals and newspapers published in India.
This library’s old building is another heritage site. Th e ceiling of this old building is made from thousands of stained glass art pieces. It houses books dating as far back as 1553CE. Travellers to Chennai must also visit Dakshinchitra – an amazing place where traditional houses from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been brought and reassembled to give visitors glimpses of the traditional South-Indian lifestyles. You might have heard of Spencer’s – one of the oldest departmental stores in Chennai. Its wooden building was destroyed in a fire a few years back. Th e only thing that survived was a small part of the wooden façade. Th at artifact has now been beautifully inte grated in the spankingnew multi-level mall that has replaced the gutted departmental store.
Although Chennai boasts of the secondlongest beachfront in the world, swimming here is not advisable. Th e sea is rough with strong undercurrents that lead to many deaths every year. Also, given the conservative nature of the city, revealing beachwear is most likely to attract unwanted attention and negative reactions. My brief summation of Chennai – seemingly, it is just another busy metropolis, but its tucked-away heritage sites will wow you.