Chennai is so much more than authentic rasam and appam…it is a city with a splendid historical past and a global outlook for the future.

Most people going to Chennai are there for work or business. If it’s pleasure they’re looking for, they head to Bangalore or Kerala. Which is a pity, because Chennai is full to bursting of interesting surprises. A traveller interested in history and tracing a city’s genealogy through the ages, would simply love visiting Chennai.

So if you are about to find yourself in Chennai for a fortnight or more, brace yourself for an explosion of culture, great food, warm people and a great quality of life.

Life, as told on the streets…

Chennai (then Madras) has enjoyed a rich history through the ages. A prominent seat of learning, as recognised even 200 years before Independence in 1947, it was the site for the State’s feted Madras University. Tamil Nadu’s first newspapers and printing presses were located in Madras. Later, the British set up their first Government offices in Madras.

While Chennai is, without doubt, a modern city with global aspirations, you can catch glimpses of its past when you walk or cycle down its many bylanes. There’s a British-era milestone here, a historic tree there. Then there are the passionate joggers and cyclists who train regularly on Chennai streets. The city has a rich culture of street sports, with the first ever street football competition taking place here in 2015.[1] It also helps that local residents’ groups are keen on maintaining area security and cleanliness, and they work closely with the municipality to preserve heritage grade structures and natural flora and fauna. It is frowned upon to honk your car horn or make noise in a residential locality, and littering is dealt with swiftly. Though the main city areas are chaotic and normally choc-a-bloc with vehicular traffic, the quiet bylanes are leafy, pollution-free and idyllic.

Modernity sits cheek by jowl with history

Though Chennai has taken the pains to preserve its historical monuments, places of worship[2], forts and British-era buildings, it does not live in the past. A decade ago, it became a worthy challenger to neighbouring Bangalore as an IT behemoth. The opening up of the economy for FDI and all forms of enterprise, has led to the setting up of several MNCs and major domestic businesses here. By degrees, the city has undergone a gradual transformation from being a predominantly Brahmin city to a cosmopolitan centre of trade and commerce.

This also explains why several of its yesteryear palaces and large private residences have been converted into 5 star hotels in Chennai. A case in point is the magnificent The Leela Palace Chennai, a luxury Chennai hotel created inside an existing sea-facing palace[3]. It is the city’s only modern palace hotel. Meanwhile, the current site of the Chennai Municipal Corporation is the original headquarters of the Madras Municipal Corporation set up by the British in 1688![4]

The city with excellent infrastructure

Chennai also boasts of some of modern infrastructure that supports both residential and commercial growth. Successive state Governments have taken care to build highways and flyovers, install good drainage and garbage disposal systems, improve water supply to key residential areas, and incentivise mass housing. The city also has some of the best colleges and schools, apart from international restaurants, large malls and multiplexes. It is simply one of the best cities in India, and well worth a two-week visit, at the very least.