“What’s in a name?" asked Shakespeare. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
I would say the same about Madras or Chennai, the city that I call home. The city is unique. It is both archaic and young at the same time. It encompasses regions like Mylapore and Triplicane that are beyond 1500 years old, or a young settlement that grew around Fort St George that is under 400 years old. And today apparently happens to be an anniversary when a piece of paper changed hands between the local Nayak chieftains and the British 375 years ago, which gave the latter a fishing hamlet. Fort St George was built here and the settlement, Madras, eventually grew into the city, adding villages to its boundaries. If you are travelling to the city sometime, here are 30 things that you can do, touristy, offbeat, local, all-inclusive.
1. Drive on the beach road early in the morning - start from Royapuram or Ennore and drive all the way up to Besant Nagar or ECR if you like .
2. Watch the fishermen play a tug of war as they pull their haul to the shore at the Marina Beach. Put some kadalai. In the evening, head to Elliot's Beach and have the thengai-mangai pattani sundal. Shoot some balloons and polish some bajjis.
3. Go birdwatching in Pallikarnai or at the Adyar Estuary. Pelicans and flamingos flock here and, if it’s the migratory season, you will need a whole day here. Besides birds, go on a turtle walk along the ECR or Neelankarai at midnight.
4. Go to the broken bridge and spend some time there. You can see the palace peeping out from the trees. And if possible, go there during sunset.
5. Know anyone at the harbour? Catch hold of them and visit the Outer arm, where the last mile of the land protrudes into the sea. If that is not possible, ask someone to take you to the place where the Royal Yacht Club was first located. It has been taken over by the Indian Sailing Association. Learn sailing from them and also ask them to show you the wall, which is still a testimony to the bombardment of Madras during the wars. The city was bombed by Emden the German cruiser during World War I
6. Lose yourself in the campus of IIT Madras. You may even find some blackbucks if you are lucky.
7. Guindy Park and Snake Park takes me back to my childhood, but I can lose myself here. If you have the time, plan a visit to Crocodile Park
8. Walk in Theosophical Society in Adyar over the weekend. You may need permission otherwise
9. A stopover at Kalakshetra, if you can, for a dance performance
10. If there is one area I would like to explore, it will have to be Triplicane. Walk around the old bookstores, get lost in the narrow roads, visit temples, eat at Ratna Cafe, look at the architecture around, gaze at some of the domes, see the remains of the old Nawabi culture around Wallajah and the agraharams in the area.
11. Chepauk - not just for cricket, but see the palace built in Indo Sarcenic style. Do visit the University while you are still in the area.
12. Go to Santhome Church and visit the basement and the little chapel
13. Climb up St Thomas Mount. Drive up if you can.
14. Visit one of the oldest lighthouses in Madras High Court premises. You may not be allowed to photograph though
15. Walk around the small lanes of Parry's corner. Look around Burma Bazaar, the Mint street and many other small streets in that area
16. Must go to Armenian Church, the only church left here that tells you something about the Armenian community that lived here centuries ago
17. Spend a day at Fort Museum in Fort St George. Walk over to St Mary's Church, the oldest church from the British days and ask them to show you the register when Robert Clive got married
18. Visit Connemara Library in the Museum premises and read or, at least, pretend to read. While you are at the museum, try and watch a play and visit the Bronze Gallery. These are must-dos.
19. Watch a play. Either at Museum Theatre or at Music Academy or in any of the halls.
20. Eat. Must visit Karpagam Mess. There are several eateries also in Mint Street that should not be missed. Devi Theatre has a bit of a fan following, too. And so do the kayendi bhavans. Roadside sandwiches in front of Alsa Mall. Now, this is something that I haven't missed out on from my school days.
21. Go to an old temple in the neighbourhood and listen to the "harikatha" stories. If you have the opportunity, do catch villupaatu.
22. Visit any three temples in the city - mine would be Gangadeshwar temple, Kapaleshwar temple and Parthasarthy temple
23. Listen to a kucheri in any of hundred halls or a classical music concert in the neighbourhood parks. Make your date with the city during December.
24. Go to Valluvar Kottam to get a taste of Tamil literature.
25. Perambur for the Integral Coach Factory or to the Enfield Factory if you have a craze for bikes.
26. Go for a tree walk. There are organisations in the neighbourhood that arranges for them.
27. Watch a Rajinikanth or a Dhanush movie in a regular theatre and whistle away. See if you can manage a pass to any of the studios in Kodambakkam or Vadapalani - catch a film shooting or visit some of the oldest theatres in the city – advise you not to watch a film though.
28. Shop in the markets or whatever is left today of them instead of your malls and supermarkets at least for a day. Walk around Ranganathan Street in T Nagar or pick up knick-knacks in Purasaiwalkam or in Luz market or any local market in your area. Or for old time's sake, visit Fountain Plaza or Spencers, which existed before the mall era.
29. Want to experience a bit of saree mania? Go to Panagal Park and bug the shopkeepers to show you every saree of your fancy at Nallis, Kumarans, RMKV, Chennai Silks, Sundari... shop till they drop.
30. The Metro is far from completion, until then take a ride on the MRTS.