Trip to Chennai

by Varsha Panicker

Hot and happening city; Chennai

I recently heard a friend comment that there were only three seasons in Chennai - hot, hotter and hottest. I couldn't agree more. Chennai was now hot and I was wondering how it would be during the hotter and hottest seasons. The city has changed a lot since I last went there in '97.

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It's less smelly (I remember while travelling by train, as soon as one got the stink of basin bridge station, one knew that we had arrived in Chennai, then Madras), the roads are wider, lots of cars, new glass and steel office buildings, lots of shopping malls and endless stream of people. I thought Mumbai had those kind of crowds, especially at Churchgate and Dadar stations where one would see endless crowds streaming by hurriedly to reach somewhere. Here on the other hand, the crowds were the same, but walking by more liesurely and not with the same purposefullness with which they move in Mumbai.

Shopping at one of the malls is a nightmare - there is such a crowd all around. I mean not just at Sarvana stores (and they have four of them in T.Nagar alone!) which are malls where you get everything from clothes and accessories to kitchen utensils and all at a cheaper rate than at any of the more fancy malls, but also the sarees and dress material shops like Pothy's and Chennai silks. I had gone out a day after the puja and that too when the schools and colleges had opened and at three in the afternoon! yet there was hardly any space to keep your foot at these saree shopping plazas. They are actually plazas with three/four floors and at times even basement where one could just keep on looking at all sorts of silks and synthetic and cotton sarees.

The other thing that caught my attention were the huge hoardings all over the city skyline. Everywhere I saw sarees and movies and political leaders and jewellery ads splashed on hoardings bigger than the buildings. Chennai is certainly becoming the happening place now. there's a new IT place under construction and the offices there are simply monstruously large. A new elevated railway station is also coming up in that area. Once the IT crowd comes in there would be a boom in the economy and Chennai is definitely going to change though I hope it doesn't go the Bangalore way.

A pleasant and welcome change from my last visit was the number of eateries that have sprung up. Last time I remember I was fed up of eating idlis and dosas and curd rice. There was hardly any place to eat any other cuisine. This time around we managed to eat Gujarati/Rajasthani thali and pathani food as well. apart from the regular chinese restaurants, there are even Malaysian and Thai restaurants. There are even food plazas like Planetyum where there are different cuisine outlets all at a single place.

The other place is the fruit shop at Greams road near Besant Nagar beach for their heavenly juices, shakes, puddings and mousse. At last I managed to dig into fresh strawberry with cream. Yummy! there is also something called a lemon mint juice which is simply irresistable and refreshing. The place is so sought after that there are people who patiently wait their turn to get a table in the tiny nooks and corners of the shop, which I must mention was very neatly kept. They also have drive-in menu as many of the patrons come here for dessert after a lunch or dinner at someplace else. The other surprising thing is that the waiters do not accept tips. they return it politely to the customers. and everything on their menu is priced between Rs. 10 and Rs. 100. pretty cheap for such heavenly delights.

The other recommended place, if you are into idlis and dosas and sambars, is the Murugan's at Besant Nagar beach. They have other outlets too. The idlis are soft and big accompanied by sambar and three different types of chutneys which are served as much as you want. The place is ridiculously cheap. but there is always a waiting period as the place is in great demand. but the wait is worthwhile.

The sad thing in Chennai was the sorry state of the govt. museum at Pantheon road. The buildings are not being maintained properly. There was an atmosphere of dull and heavy energy. The exhibits are ill-lit. People in chennai drive their vehicles at their own pace, which is pretty fast. It's like 'you-watch-out-for-yourself'. motorists change lanes the way they want to. If you plan to drive in Chennai, better watch your tail, side and front, all at the same time. So after a five-day visit we came back to Mumbai.

Closest Airport: Madras International Airport (7km from the city) connects domestic and international destinations.

Closest Railway station: Chennai Cenral (links North & West India) and Egmore Station (links South India)
Co-ordinates: 13.04° N 80.17° E

Best time to Visit: November to February

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