City Guide

Four hours in Chennai

30 Dec 2015 by Neha Gupta Kapoor

1 - Kapaleeshwarar Temple

Arulmigu Kapaleeswarar Temple, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

What you will visit is the renovated version of the 7th century temple. The original temple was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1566 and was restored in the same century. Similar to most temples in South India, its roof is a depiction of a particular time in the life of the idols within. In this case, the temple is in reverence of Lord Shiva and his wife, Goddess Parvati. They’re also known as Kapaleeshwarar and Karpagambal amongst the locals. With each passing year, the area around the temple developed as a religious one. It gets its name — Mylapore meaning “peacocks’ town” — after the legend that an angry Lord Shiva had turned Parvati into a peacock, agreeing to return her to her human form only if she apologised to him at the spot of the temple. Today there are numerous shrines with different Gods here, of which Kapaleeshwarar and Karpagambal hold most importance. Within the premises are also a peacock and a peahen to depict the worshipped pair. It is sad to see these beautiful birds caged in mimicry of mythological tales. 

Visitors can be part of any one of the six daily rituals performed at 5am, 6am, 8am, 12pm, and 9pm. The best time to visit is early morning on a weekday so as to avoid rush and queuing for long. 

2 - Marina Beach

Marina Beach, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

The 3km sandy stretch is Chennai’s only beach. It gets crowded in the evenings with vendors of street food, raw fish, toys, trinkets and other such items. You may even get a chance to see a leashed monkey dance to drum beats. Locals, most from the fisherman community, playing cricket and flying kites are friendly to approaching visitors. The only time the beach isn’t crowded is during the afternoons, and that’s when you should avoid the seashore the most or risk getting a nasty sunburn. It is best to curb your temptation to take a dip in the ocean in a swimsuit as it may be scandalous to the locals, especially if its a lady swimmer. In fact, its strong unpredictable currents beg you not to venture further than knee-deep depths. On the off-chance you do decide to swim, visit the other end, away from the lighthouse, around sunrise. This is also when you can enjoy peace and quiet. 

The Madras Lighthouse, India’s only one within city limits is here. The reason behind it’s hype is lost on me. Its meteorological department is open to visitors. This is the only lighthouse in India with a lift — it’s only claim to fame. 

3 - Madras War Cemetery

Mount Poonamalle High Rd, Porur Lake, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

This is where you can visit the graves of soldiers who gave up their lives during the Second World War. It was built in 1952 and has 856 graves of servicemen and women who sacrificed their lives at the time. It’s not just family and friends, but many tourists who know of the lawn-cemetery make a trip to pay their respects. 

Walk towards the end of the cemetery to the Madras 1914-1918 Memorial. This is in remembrance of the First World War soldiers. However, unlike the cemetery, it doesn’t have buried bodies, but just nameplates acknowledging those lost to war. 

The land is beautifully maintained with pedicured lawns, symmetrically placed graves, and a huge cross of sacrifice in the middle. While the graveyard is primarily for christians, you will also find graves of muslims and pagans within. It is managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission that is responsible for the upkeep of over 20,000 graves and memorials worldwide. 

4 - Tranquebar

Tranquebar, Guindy, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Chennai is a conservative city where drinking in the open is frowned upon. This is why the city is robbed of any nice bars and pubs, unless it is opened by an establishment that owns 20 rooms or more to let. Women may specially make the extra effort to stick to house parties or a reputable bar at a luxury hotel, such as the one at ITC Grand Chola, Chennai. Tranquebar has a fine selection of wines, cocktails, and spirits. It has a young vibe to it with wooden beams and flooring, a wooden bar and colourful cushions with pop print. Lights and other soft furnishings have a certain personality to them, lending an edgy, yet charming ambience. If you’re feeling peckish, their appetisers are just as nice. The only drawback is that the bar shuts at 11pm (opens at 5pm). This doesn’t mean the party needs to end early — you can continue at The Cheroot Malt and Cigar Lounge in the same building. It is known for a tasteful selection of malts and cigars. It is open from 11am-1am. 

5 - Buhari Hotels & Restaurants

1st Cross St, Adyar, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Chennai is famous for its chicken 65, an invention by Buhari Hotels in 1965. It later introduced chicken 78, chicken 82 and chicken 90, all of which taste completely different to the other. However, of these, it is chicken 65 that remains the most sought after by locals and tourists alike. In fact, such is the glory of chicken 65 that it has been emulated by a number of restaurants around India, more in the Southern belt. What once used to be a small restaurant, it has now branched out to ten outlets all over Chennai. This is also where you can try authentic Chettinad chicken for which the state is famous, but make sure you’re prepare for a fiery treat! Apart from this, their seafood offerings are just as delicious — they also take orders for less spicy food. Unfortunately their desserts aren’t much to speak of.

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