Chennai

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 May, 2006, 12:00am

1 Marina Beach


This 14km stretch is the most popular beach in Chennai. St Thomas' Church, the final resting place of that doubting disciple, lies at one end. At the other is a man-made harbour with a ramshackle array of shop-tenements. Between these stand government buildings, Madras University and Fort St George, from which the city sprang. Echoes of Hong Kong's Ice House Street can be found in the quaint, semi-circular Ice House, built during the Raj and used to store ice for the merchants and British gentry.


2 Sri Parthasarathy Temple


The devotions of Hindus at prayer are a must-see, and where better than this central temple dedicated to Lord Krishna? The beggars at the entrance will daub you with a blessing smear of red turmeric unless you fend them off with rupees. Take your shoes off before entering and tip someone to guard them while you walk the dark interiors (no photography allowed). Note the guarded inner sanctum, where the sacred lingam is hidden from the profane, to be touched only by those who have purified themselves and who, being of clear mind, may approach its secret treasure.


3 National Art Gallery


Located in Egmore, this fine structure was built in 1906 - making it Indo-Saracenic - in the days when light lunch was taken at 10am. Inside are 10th- and 13th-century bronzes, 16th- and 18th-century Rajasthan and Mughal paintings, 17th-century Deccani paintings and handicrafts from as far back as the 11th century. For refreshments, try the shopping complex along Pantheon Road. The ground floor houses an air-conditioned coffee shop that sells chocolate milkshakes as well as cakes and sandwiches - handy if your palate needs a break from curries.


4 St Thomas Mount


Take the train from Egmore Station to this hillock for six rupees ($1). Known as Chinnamalai to locals, the site is between Meenambakkam airport and the city. It's revered by Christians for its association with St Thomas, who was assassinated here and is commemorated by a stocky little church built by the Portuguese in 1523. Note how devotees approach the stone cross, with its Persian inscriptions, embedded in the wall behind the altar, placing their right hands on the relic. This is the mysterious Bleeding Cross. When unearthed in 1558 it bore spots like bloodstains, which reappeared after scrubbing. The last reported bleeding of the cross was in 1704. From the mount, take an auto-rickshaw to the smart Hotel Mount Heera and sample Chennai's Golden Eagle beer.


5 The Theosophical Society Estate


Memories of this society, and the teachings of founding theosophists Madame Helena Blavatsky and Colonel H.S. Olcott, were revived during the hippy 1960s, when all things spiritual were invoked in the search for bliss. In 1886, the society's headquarters moved from the US to Adayar, Madras, where they occupied a splendid old mansion surrounded by gardens on the estuary of the River Adyar. Huge banyan trees and shrines evoking all the world's religions remain features of the mansion and estate. The library is renowned for its collection of sacred texts.


6 Pondy Bazaar


This is the place to buy something quintessentially Indian that you won't be able to find easily elsewhere. Try the powder dyes used to colour statuary from the shrine accessories shop. Or there are tinware trinkets, available in 1,001 variations, from Ratna Stores. Locate Naidu Hall, a multi-floor sari shop - 'for the real woman since 1939' - with at least four sweet and gentle female attendants per counter on every level. Its staples are saris and a vast selection of glistening bangles. The pavement snack shop, Hot & Cold Chips and Chats, serves fine juices and vegetarian fast food.


7 Spencer Plaza


Billed as, 'the mega-mall that has it all', this enormous emporium also provides relief from the heat. Friends meet inside the cool, tiled entrance before shopping at classy outlets such as Shiraz Arts on the first floor, with its Kashmiri rugs and carpets. Superb snacks can be found downstairs at Food World, where the Punjabi samosas, Chettinad chicken rolls, Shakti chats and vegetable hot dogs are outstanding.


8 Kalakshetra Colony


This Tiruvanmiyur district enclave is devoted to reviving the classical arts, and was founded as a 'temple of art' by Rukmini Devi Arundale in 1936. The traditional form of dance, in all its purity and dignity, is the trademark of the Kalakshetra Colony. Music (instrumental and vocal) is practised by students, and the art of Indian make-up, traditional costume and theatre-craft are learnt by advanced and post-graduate students.


9 Georgetown


Be prepared for a dusty walkabout in this bustling area north of the port. There are several scattered Hindu temples, including Kachaleswara near the HSBC branch in Rajaji Salai, which hums with the usual chaos. But it's the preponderance of churches of many denominations, including the bomb-proof Anglican St Mary's, that catches the eye. Also prominent is Fort St George, built by the East India Company in 1640, which once housed the British regiments' mess. Today, it's home to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly.


10 The port


If you fancy your chances in a brawl, then why not pop into a port discotheque after sampling the rough liquors at a wine store - bleak, no-frills stalls that spring out of the district's narrow, ancient streets. This area is the haunt of merchant sailors from ships that have been tying up in this port of call for generations. Its harbour has seen everything from the demise of the tea clipper to the rise of the super tanker.