There’s no place like home
It’s 6am, and the sun rises at Marina, playing peek-a-boo with the waves that eternally push forward with just as much resolve as they recede. The pale-ish tinge of the morning sky makes a subdued, yet consuming background for the golden sand bustling with activity: people on their morning walk accompanied by the tranquil rustle of crashing waves, area pasanga engaged in their morning games, and fishermen’s stalls rife with people seeking the freshest vanjaram. The saline air of Marina permeates the coast, seemingly endless to the eye. Endless not just in terms of distance, but also in terms of serenity, diversity and life.
The Marina is the heart of Madras, central to the city’s culture and almost sacred to its makkal. Yet, it’s still one among several things that makes this ooru extra special. Chennai, or Madras if you’re missing home a little too much, is a city that embodies the classic-contemporary fusion. At one moment, you’ll find yourself taken aback by the historic marvel that is the Mylapore Kapaleeswarar Koil, with its meticulously crafted gopuram towering above. Hop on an MTC bus and fast forward a few minutes, you hit the cute, cosy avenues of Besant Nagar, filled with pretty little cafes around every corner that make for a perfect evening date.
With so much beauty packed into one little city that’s home to many of us, I really am spoilt for choice picking a few must-dos if you ever get a chance to visit Chennai. Nevertheless, here are some things about home that scream get on the next flight and go home already.
Dosa and Filter Kaapi
Ah! Whether you’re a 16 year-old or a 60 year-old, are you even a Chennai-ite if you don’t crave this every other day (or hour)? While the world is divided on several complex issues, Chennai’s crispy v/s soft dosa debate puts everything else to shame. Crispy or soft, accompanied with piping hot sambar (pronounced sah-m-baar and not sam-burr) and flavourful thenga (coconut) chutney, a good dosa is a good start to the day. That, paired with strong, aromatic filter-kaapi served in vintage steel cup and saucer with a copious topping of foam, and one is all set to seize the day. For an authentic experience, head to one of the several Sangeethas located across the city.
Cliched? Yes. Artistic and culturally significant? You bet. Dakshina Chitra portrays the beauty and diverse heritage of Southern India, consisting of art, architecture, lifestyle and craft. Each of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have dedicated spaces within the property that are a testament to deep-rooted cultures and traditions prevalent within niche societies. Dakshina Chitra has a collection of 18 authentic houses embedded in historic contexts, with an exhibition of native culture in each of them. The houses in Dakshina Chitra were bought from owners who had planned to demolish their house, and were transported and reconstructed here. Having visited Dakshina Chitra a couple times myself, I can vouch that it is a place for history-lovers, or those who have a penchant for Indian art, crafts and all things cute.
If you got a chance to check out the itenary of every person who has ever travelled to Chennai, you can be rest assured that Kapaleeswarar Koil would be on the top of every last one of them. Such is the popularity of this Shiva temple located in Mylapore, which was built in 7th century CE, and portrays Dravidian architecture in all its grandeur. Shiva is worshipped as Kapaleeswarar, and is represented by the lingam. His consort Parvati is depicted as Karpagambal. The area around the temple is a market hotspot, which along with the sacred tank is a sight to behold at sunset. Public Transportation/Cabs are recommended modes of transport to the temple, as the lanes are quite narrow and often crowded. After visiting the temple, treat yourself at the iconic Karpagambal Mess, situated beside the temple. Delectable Badam Halwa, Khichidi, and Filter Kaapi is the perfect way to complete your quest for divine gratification.
Everyone has heard of Marina, but chances are that you haven’t ever come across the quaint Covelong (Kovalam) Beach. One of the most understated places to visit in Chennai, Covelong lies along the East Coast Road, which is popular for scenic spots and weekend getaways. Covelong Point houses a surfing facility, which is popular among tourists and expatriates seeking adventurous starts to their weekends. Novices can get a taste of the adrenaline-gushing sport at their surf school, and even sign-up for regular lessons. In the introductory class, skilled instructors demonstrate the basics of surfing, with high-expectations that you’d be able to “ride the wave” in a few attempts. Safe to say, I was a salty disappointment. Other water sports at Covelong Point include kayaking, wind surfing, and stand-up paddle surfing.
The iconic St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica never ceases to amaze me each time I pass by. The structure teases motorists stuck at the Santhome signal with a peek of its steeple. As one proceeds closer, the church reveals itself in all its architectural glory. The majestic church rises 155 feet above the ground, adorned with stained glass windows depicting the patron Saint Thomas and other Apostles. It was built by Portugese explorers in the 16th century, over the tomb of St. Thomas, and reconstructed in 1893 by the British. This church is one of the only three known churches in the world built over the tomb of an apostle of Jesus, the other two being St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Galicia, Spain.
There you have it! That’s my list of five must-dos if you ever visit Chennai. Given how excruciatingly difficult it was to pick five, I really could go on and on. So, what are you waiting for? Pack your essentials, and head to this wonderful city endowed with with heart and life. Throw in Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry as a part of the plan, and you’ve got one memorable tour charted out.
On that note, brb going home.