Chennai (Tamil Nadu)
Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, is popularly known as the Gateway of the South. It can be made most conveniently as the starting point for a tour of South India. The history of Chennai, known in the olden days as Chennapattanam or Madraspattanam, begins about six hundred years ago. Today the city abounds in many memorials. Swami Vivekanand has a place in the city as much as Annie Besant. Yet, Francis Day, Beri Timmanna, Andrew Cogan and Nagabattan, who led the earliest settlers to this strip of no man's land, are forgotten. Today, what were a few scattered fishing villages four hundred years ago, has grown into a metropolis, the fourth largest city in the country.
The seafarings Portugese were the first to build a factory in the vicinity of the present Mylapore. Early in the 17th century, the British East India Company established itself at Machalipattanam and made it a trading base. Madraspattanam, where the English first founded the factory and fort, was the northern section of the present Chennai City. Even today, the city has retained a charm characteristic of the typical South Indian heritage and way of living.
Fort St. George: Built in 1653, the fort is named after the Patron Saint that established British power in India. Today, it houses the offices of Secretariat and Legislative Assembly. St. Mary's Church in the fort was consecrated in 1680. It is the second oldest surviving Protestant Church in Asia and the loveliest monument of the Anglican Churches in the east.
Fort Museum: This museum has vast treasure of medals, weapons, coins, uniforms and many other artifacts of British period. It is located within the Fort St. George.
Marina Beach: Being a coastal city, Chennai is famous for its beaches also. Marina Beach is the most famous one. This beach, the second largest one in the world, is stretched 13 kms long. Memorial statues of various chief ministers of Tamil Nadu are placed here. Many beautiful buildings like University Buildings, Chepauk Palace (palace for Carnatic Nawabs), Senate House, Ice House (now Vivekanand Illam) etc are on this beach drive.
Sri Parthsarathy Temple: It is a famous and one of the representative master pieces of Pallav architecture. The temple, built in 8th century and subsequently renovated by kings of Vijaynagar, is dedicated to Lord Krishna as Parthsarathy. The idols of heroes of great epic Mahabharata, Arjuna- the Parth and Lord Krishna- the Sarathy (the charioteer) are depicted and worshipped here.
Kapaleeswarer Temple: This temple is another example of great Pallavas' exquisite and grand architectural legacy. Situated in Mylapore, the spectacular Kapaleeswarer temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and has beautiful bronze idols of some Shaivite saints. The place gets the name Mylapore because Goddess Parvati is shown here as a pea-hen- mayil worshipping Lord Shiva.
There are many other prominent tourist places like St. Thomas Bascilica, Theosophical Society -Adyar(founded in 1882), Kalakshetra ( established by Rukmini Devi Arundale to rejuvenate interest in the classical dance form- Bharatnatyam), Guindy National Park (the sole wildlife sanctuary in the world that falls within a city), Snake Park, Universal Temple- Sri Ramakrishna.
There are several places around Chennai which are worth visiting.
Pulicat: 61 kms from Chennai, Pulicat is one of the largest lagoons in South Asia. This is a major bird sanctuary for enthusiastic bird watchers. The best season is October-March.
Cholamandalam Artist Village: Established in 1966, this is a unique place where artists and artisans stay together and make their living by selling their products. A permanent exhibition of paintings, sketches, terracotta sculptures, batiks and other crafts are conducted here along with the sale of these products.
Tiruvallur: 50 kms away from Chennai, a Vaishnava temple dedicated to Veeraraghava Swamy, popularly considered Prarthanasthanam like Tirupati to complete the vows of devotees. The goddess is Kanakavalli. Having an imposing tower and an inspiring Flag Post, it draws a large crowd of devotees from Chennai and surroundings.
Sriperumbudur: On the western side of Chennai is the ancient town of Sriperumbudur is located. It is the birth place of Sri Ramanuja, the famous saint and great apostle of Vaishnavaite revival. The temple here is dedicated to Bhashyakar Swamy. There is a hundred pillared mandapam which is said to commemorate the avatharsthala or the birth place of the Acharya.