DESTINATION FOCUS • July 2018
You’ve been to Delhi, Mumbai and Jaipur, now it’s time to shine a spotlight on India’s beach beauty, Chennai. For year-round heat, artistic soul and jaw-dropping temples there’s nowhere quite like this city, says Mr Chengappa, general manager of The Leela Palace Chennai
Some of Chennai’s most visited sights are its temples, museums and historic buildings. Fort St George, the first English fortress in India, Chettinad Palace and the magnificent Ripon Building are three of the most prominent landmarks on any tour of Chennai. There’s also the Kapaleeshwarar Temple, built in the 16th century by Vijayanagar kings and dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is guarded by a 36-metre-tall gopuram (gateway) tower that’s completely covered in intricately sculpted and colourful figures. The Government Museum and National Art Gallery make up one of the city’s most popular complexes, with six different buildings all worth exploring. Inside, you’ll find 17th and 18th-century paintings and a host of historical artefacts. Seek out the Bronze Statue Gallery, one of the most fascinating parts of the museum, with pieces that date back to the ninth century.
Marina Beach, one of the world’s longest, is an iconic place to relax in Chennai, dotted with historic monuments and a lovely, famous lighthouse. This is where I come for an early morning walk to see the sunrise across the Bay of Bengal; it’s the most rejuvenating way to start the day. While Marina Beach attracts thousands of visitors, Besant Nagar Beach (also known as Elliot’s Beach) enjoys a much calmer atmosphere. It’s also the site of the Karl Schmidt Memorial, honouring a Dutch sailor who died saving an English girl drowning out at sea.
The city is one of India’s most important destinations for Bharatanatyam, a classical dance form that originated in Tamil Nadu and is now the oldest dance of India. If you want to have a go for yourself, I’d recommend visiting a home studio, which will help you understand the basics. Then there’s the Kalakshetra Foundation an important centre for the revival of Indian art, crafts and music that holds festivals and performance programmes throughout the year. If you want to experience Chennai’s art scene first-hand, go to its events page to find something that appeals.
Chennai is a buzzing culinary destination, with so many cuisines on offer, from Italian and Asian to European – you can find just about anything. For those who know their chana masala from their aloo gobi, vegetarian restaurant Saravana Bhavan is well worth a visit, while Murugan Idli Shop offers up traditional tiffin plates that’ll sate your regional food cravings. And of course, I must mention the range of delicious Indian cuisine served at Jamavar at The Leela Palace Chennai. From golden tandoori tiger prawns to the lobster neerulli, the dishes here are some of the best in all of Chennai.
It’s not only the rich history and sprawling beaches that make Chennai special, the city is a shopper’s paradise. It’s the base of the World Gold Council’s India operations, while jewellery stores such as GRT Jewellers and Kalyan Jewellers help bring the sparkle to Chennai with their ethnic and contemporary jewellery designs. Silk saris are another speciality of the city; Nalli Silks and Pothys, as well as a plethora of other shops in the T Nagar neighbourhood (known for its vibrant saris), offer a range of Kanjivaram, tussar and raw-silk saris for all occasions. You could lose an entire day spent picking up souvenirs around this area alone.
Mr. Chengappa is general manager at The Leela Palace Chennai, a five-star hotel along the Adyar Creek. To discover the hotel, click here