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Travel Guide Asia India Tamil Nadu Chennai

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Introduction

Beach in Chennai (Madras) - boys playing in the waves

Beach in Chennai (Madras) - boys playing in the waves

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Chennai (formerly Madras) is the capital of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is the gateway to the varied culture of south India. The fishery towns that were situated here along the Coromandel coast grew together during the British colonial times, forming the major city of Chennai. Now Chennai is the cultural and commercial capital of southern India and fourth biggest metropolitan area of India. Chennai is a modern city with beautiful buildings and a lot of green areas.

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Brief History

In the 17th century two merchants (Francis Day and Andrew Cogan) of the East India Company established a trading post between the with palmtrees surrounded rice fields and fishery towns. The fortified settlement was finished in 1640 and was called Fort saint George. Outside the walls of the fort was situated George town, the "indigenous" town, where the British stored their goods. Every street in George town was devoted to another handicraft. Under British rule the villages in the surroundings grew together. One of these villages was the 16th century Portugese settlement of San Thome, the sacred location where apostle Thomas would have stayed (and from where Christianity in India was spread).

Long before the arrival of the Europeans, in the 7th century, the Pallavas (an ancient Tamil kingdom) built a seaport at Mylapore. The Kapeleshvara temple shows the old age of the city, as well as the Parthasarathi temple in Triplicane. With the colonial time started the commercial advance of the city. Nowadays most trade buildings and enterprices are established in George Town. Fort Saint George is the location where the government of Tamil Nadu is seated. The area of Chennai is 172 square kilometres, where the old and the new, the stately colonial buildings and the modern skyscrapers form a dynamic picture. The rich cultural heritage of Tamil literature, music, and dance finds a continuation at the universities and cultural stages.

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Sights and Activities

  • Marina beach - Second longest beach in the world
  • Mahabhalipuram - sculptures of pallava empire, is located 60 kilometres south of Chennai

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Events and Festivals

  • Holi is quite popular in the Indian sub-continent and is traditionally celebrated on the day after the full moon in the month of Phalguna (early March), according to Hindu callendar. Holi is a thanksgiving festival, where people offer prayer to God for good harvest and fertility of the land. However it has a legend attached to it according to which an arrogant king resents his son Prahlada from worshipping Lord Vishnu. He attempts to kill his son but fails each time, finally he asks his sister Holika, who is said to be immune to burning, sits with Prahlada in fire. However Prahlada emerges alive and Holika is burnt to death. Holi commemorates this event from the Hindu mythology, and huge bonfires are burnt on the eve of Holi as its symbolic representation. This festival is also associated with the immortal love story of Krishna and Radha, and hence celebrations are spread over a period of 2 weeks in Vrindavan and Mathura - the two cities associated with Krishna. Holi is a festival of freedom from social norms and caste inhibitions are shed for a day as people indulge in fun and merry-making. Colors and 'gulal' are showered on the people dressed up for the occasion and the whole community seems to merge into one big family under the guise of colors, without any distinction whatsoever. Children with face smeared with colors run around with 'pichkaris' (big syringes to splash colored water) and play amongst themselves. People exchange good wishes, sweets and gifts. Holi is also marked by vibrant processions which are accompanied by folk songs, dances and drum beating. Parties are also organized where snacks and the traditional milk-based drink “Thandai” is served which is often intoxicated with “Bhang”. Of late, lots of foreigners have started taking interest in this festival and they even enjoy the colors and the intoxicating drink. It is advised to cover your hair with a cap and eyes with sunglasses to avoid the colors splashing the eyes and damaging the hair.
  • Republic Day - Republic Day is a national holiday in India every January 26 to commemorate the adoption of the Constitution in 1950 and the declaration of independence in 1930. The capital of New Delhi is the focus of the celebrations, including a flag raising ceremony, wreath laying, 21-gun salute, Presidential speech, and presentation of awards for selflessness and bravery. A massive military parade includes elephants ridden by children who have received national accolades.
  • Gandhi Jayanti - Gandhi Jayanti is a national public holiday commemorating the birth of the peaceful activist, Mohandas Gandhi on October 2, 1869. The celebration coincides with the United Nations’ International Day of Non-Violence. In India, Gandhi is remembered through statues, flower and candle offerings, prayers and singing the devotional hymn Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram. The Indian government issues special mint rupees and postage stamps bearing his picture.
  • Ganesh Chaturthi - The ten-day September festival of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrates the birthday of the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesh with culture, concerts and feasts. The biggest events take place in Maharashtra where people worship an idol for ten days before taking it to the river or sea and drowning it.
  • Navarathri, Dussehra Festival - This theatrical Hindu festival takes place over ten days in October. The first nine feature dancing to honor the Mother Goddess. The tenth day commemorates Lord Rama’s defeat of demon king Ravana and goddess Durga’s triumph over Mahishasura, the buffalo demon. The event is called Durga Puja in east India where the faithful create huge statues to immerse in the Ganges River.
  • Diwali - Diwali is the five-day festival of lights held in India in late October or early November each year. The widely celebrated Hindu event marks Lord Rama’s victory over the demon Ravan. Homes and streets are decorated with lights, candles and small clay lamps, and new clothes are worn and sweets are exchanged.

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Weather

Chennai has a tropical climate with hot and humid weather year-round. The average maximum temperature ranges from around 28 °C in December to 37 °C in June. Average lows range from around 20 °C in January to 28 °C in May. Average annual precipitation is almost 1,300 mm with half of that falling in the months of October and November alone! January to April is fairly dry and the best time for a visit.

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Avg Max28.9 °C30.6 °C32.7 °C34.7 °C37.5 °C37.3 °C35.4 °C34.5 °C33.9 °C31.9 °C29.5 °C28.5 °C
Avg Min20.4 °C21.2 °C23.1 °C25.8 °C27.6 °C27.4 °C26.2 °C25.6 °C25.3 °C24.3 °C22.7 °C21.2 °C
Rainfall34.5 mm12.5 mm15.3 mm17.7 mm42.9 mm53.7 mm100.8 mm129.2 mm125.3 mm290.9 mm348.9 mm145.6 mm
Rain Days2.70.90.71.12.47.512.814.210.213.512.98.4

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Getting There

By Plane

Chennai International Airport (MAA), located at Tirusulam is around 8 kilometres south of the city centre. The airport has both domestc and international terminals. Domestic flights are available to almost all the big cities in India. International flights are avialable to many cities around Asia and Europe, which include Frankfurt, London, Paris, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, Muscat, Singapore and Colombo, amongst others.

Airlines to/from the Middle East such as Etihad and Oman Air also fly to Chennai from Abu Dhabi and Muscat respectively.

The airport is situated on the busy Grand Southern Trunk Road (National Highway 45) and is also served by the Airport station (Tirusulam) on the Suburban railway network. The proposed Metro Rail System (Chennai Metro) will also connect the Airport with other important places in Chennai.

By Train

Chennai is an important railway station on the southern railway network. It is well connected to all the major cities of India by express trains, including those to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad. The city has two main railway stations: Chennai Central, used mostly by the long distance inter-state trains, and Chennai Egmore for regional trains. For more details about timings, fare and availability of seats have a look at the Indian Railways official website.

By Car

Chennai is very well connected and to other parts of India by road. Five major national highways radiate outward towards Kolkata, Bengaluru, Tiruchy/Madurai, Tiruvallur, and Pondicherry. With the progress of the Golden Quadrilateral project, driving down from Bangalore is an option too. There are many car rental companies available.

By Bus

The Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus (CMBT), the terminus for all intercity buses from Chennai, is the largest bus station in Asia and has buses throughout Tamil Nadu and further afield in India.

By Boat

Chennai has a port, but the only relevant connection is the long trip to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

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Getting Around

By Car

It is generally not advisable for foreign travellers to drive on their own as they might be unaware of the traffic rules and congestion in the city. The roads in Chennai are better maintained than the average Indian road. The main highway is Anna Salai also known as Mount Road.

Chennai has about 71,000 auto rickshaws. The fares of Chennai auto-rickshaws have been an enormous political topic for many years and has contributed to the perception that the city's auto rickshaw drivers never use meters and continually fleece passengers. However, despite the reputation, trips by auto rickshaw actually are quick, cheap and quite often based on the metered price.

By Public Transport

The Chennai Suburban Railway provides rail services in the wider Chennai area. The suburban trains are generally reliable and fast. The frequency of suburban trains is generally good and it is advisable to take a first class ticket during peak hours. Trains offer a reliable alternative to quickly reach your destination when compared to buses which might get trapped in traffic jams. The fare in Chennai suburban trains is the lowest in the country and you don't have to compromise comfort for the meagre amount that you pay as in other Indian metros. There is a separate ladies compartment in the suburban trains that are relatively less crowded even in peak hours.

The Metropolitan Transport Corporation provides bus services throughout the city. MTC Chennai operates AC bus service between important routes like Parrys - Tambaram, Parrys - CMBT, Chennai Central - CMBT, Chennai central - Tambaram, etc. Most frequent AC bus runs between CMBT towards Pondicherry and are known as East coast road (ECR) buses and is very popular for intracity travel too.

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Eat

Chennai has numerous restaurants, offering an assortment of cuisine. The beach restaurants are well maintained and serve great food during the evenings. The eat outs in Chennai range from budget, midrange and to up-market. There are swanky star quality restaurants, plain open traditional vegetarian or non vegetarian restaurants- where you share a table with strangers, street stalls, tea kadais, fast food centers, western fast food centers, food courts, coffee shops, bakeries to exclusive specialty establishments. Vegetarian restaurants serve tiffin and vegetarian meals. There are also a number of restaurants that serve a variety of Tamil, Andhra and Kerala vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare. Many of these restaurants have nowadays diversified and offer other Indian and Indianized Chinese dishes as well. Usually the check includes a service charge, written next to 'S.C.' If no service charge is added, it is customary to leave a moderate tip.

Vegetarian

  • Hotel Saravana Bhavan (HSB)
  • Murugan idly shop

Non-vegetarian

  • Ponnusamy Restaurant
  • Thalappakattu Briyani

Sweet

  • Adyar Anandha bhavan (A2B)
  • Aavin milk guava

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Drink

Chennai is a difficult place to drink. Government rule states that only establishments with a minimum of 21 rooms can obtain a bar or liquor license. Hence there are no standalone bars or pubs here. All the bars that are around are part of some hotel or the other and in general overpriced.

Government run liquor stores called TASMAC are all over the place but in general not at all a pleasant experience. They usually have rude staff, are filthy and usually never have the brand of your choice. Also they always tend to mark up each bottle by ₹5-10 over the listed price. Go for it if you want a one time war like experience in order to obtain some booze!

Nightclubs close at 23:00, even on Fridays and Saturdays, according to government rule.

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Sleep

Budget

There are many budget hotels near the Egmore train station, especially around Kennet Lane and Triplicane.

  • Hotel Regent - 11 Kennet Lane. About 350 rupees for a double room. Tel: +91-(0)44-28253347.
  • Broadlands Lodge - 18 Vallabha Agraharam Street. About 450 rupees for a doubleroom. Tel: +91-(0)44-28545573.

Upscale

View our map of accommodation in Chennai or use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)

Booking.com

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Keep Connected

Internet

There's good coverage over most of India for Internet cafes. However, following the recent terror attacks in Mumbai and some other cities, all internet cafes have been instructed by the authorities to maintain a register and note down the identification details of all persons using internet. Sify iWay is a reliable and cheap cafe with over 1,600 cafes over India. iWay also allows you to open a pre-paid account that you can use all over India. Whenever you have Internet access probably the best and cheapest way to call family and friends at home is software that allows users to make voice calls over the Internet such as Skype.

Wifi hotspots in India are, for most part, limited. The major airports and stations do offer paid wifi at around RS.60-100 an hour. Delhi, Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai are the only cities with decent wifi coverage. At Mumbai airport, you get to use WiFi internet free, for an hour or so.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The country code for India is 91. To dial outside the country from India, prefix the country code with 00.

The general emergency number is 100 (emergency response police & fire), while for ambulance you should dial 102 or 112, though some regions have 108 for this emergency. 108 is used in in the Indian states of Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Goa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Odisha,Assam, Meghalaya, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. 108 can be called for medical, crime, fire, or any other emergency from any phone.

Local phone numbers can be anywhere from 5-8 digits long. But when the area code is included, all landline phone numbers in India are 10 digits long. Cellphone numbers usually start with '9', '8', or '7'. Toll-free numbers start with 1-800.

If staying longterm it is probably wise to think about investing in a mobile phone. You'll possibly need to provide a photocopy of your passport and itinerary, so come prepared. Make sure you arrange it upon arrival in a big city, as it can sometimes be difficult to organise with language barriers and such in more regional areas. You can buy a cheap nokia for about RS.1,200 with a pre-paid plan. Airtel is a good carrier to think about as they have great coverage, and constant offers for cheaper calling. To recharge, most shop vendors with phone carrier signs can do it via their own phone. You give them your mobile number, they put it in their phone and you'll both get messages as to whether or not the recharge has been successful. Also, if possible, buy the phone in the state where you do the most travelling as the charges are higher in the states where you did not originally buy the phone.

Over the entire country there are plenty of public phones, even in the middle of the countryside. Although most of the time these phones are not very well maintained and have horrible connections. Therefore remember when using one of these public phones one must be extremely patient.
For international calls from payphones, you'll have to visit a reputable internet cafe with a phone-booth. Mobile phones are usually a better and cheaper option.

Post

India Post is the national postal service of India, and on their website you find details about prices to send postcards, letters and parcels, both domestically and internationally. For most postcards to send internationally, it is better to visit the post office before writing on the card as you may need quite a few stamps. Parcels must be taken to a tailor, he will then sew it up in white linen. Make sure he seals it with red wax, otherwise the post office may refuse to send it or try to get you to pay them to do it. Sewing up a parcel should only cost RS.50 to 200. In general, post offices are open from 10:00am to 1:00pm and 1:30pm to 4:30pm in most bigger towns and cities, though there are regional variations and some might keep longer hours or be open during (part of) the weekend as well. Ask around.

If you want to send bigger packages/parcels, it might be better, faster and sometimes even cheaper, to contact a private company like DHL, TNT or UPS.

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Quick Facts

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Coordinates
  • Latitude: 13.060416
  • Longitude: 80.249634

Accommodation in Chennai

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Chennai searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Chennai and areas nearby.

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This is version 37. Last edited at 15:38 on Nov 20, 17 by Utrecht. 45 articles link to this page.

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