on the ashes of the East India trading empire, much greater global
empires are flourishing on its ‘barren strip of sand’. Hugh
and Colleen Gantzer discover how 17th century Madras laid
the foundations of forward looking 21st century Chennai
Birth of Chennai
the British believe that they founded Chennai, they are right and
they are also wrong. Back in the 17th century Andrew Cogan and Francis
Day of the East India Company, got a grant of land from the local
chieftains and founded a trading post, known as a factory
in those days. Day claimed that he chose this sandy strip because
it gave the John Company access to excellent long Cloath.
But rumour has it that he was influenced by his girlfriend who lived
in the Portuguese colony of San Thome, some distance away.
Thome was the name that the Portuguese gave to the ancient religious
and cultural centre known as Mylapore. It had been renamed by the
Portuguese because of its associations with Christs apostle,
Thomas Didymus. The saint had lived, preached and died here. Before
him, however, Mylapore had been a great port, second only to the
great old port of Mahabalipuram where monuments dating back to the
7th and 8th centuries still stand.
in the last century, Madras was renamed Chennai, one
of the many pre-colonial names of this historic city. In a way,
it reflects its citizens urge to proclaim that their megapolis
began long before Francis Day obtained his barren strip of sand.
and tradition are more important to Chennai than they are to most
other cities in India. But though these are still the bedrocks of
Chennai society, their citys burgeoning business climate,
attuned to a globalised economy, has imparted new perspectives to
the outlook of many of its people. Hotels, shopping plazas, cutting-edge
industries and places to dine and entertain in elegant comfort have
sprung up. In the 21st century Chennai, grace and glamour are perfectly
History glows gently in old Fort St George, where the British first
established their trading factory. Here is the historic St Marys
Church associated with Robert Clive, Elihu Yale of the American
university, Hobart after whom Tasmanias capital has been named,
and many others who built the late Empire On Which The Sun Never
Sets. The Fort Museum is an excellent introduction to the colonial
past of Chennai.
Southern Spice serves piquant and deliciously authentic South
Indian fare at Taj Coromandel, Chennai
fascinating complex, dating back to the British era, is the Madras
Museum built in the eclectic Indo-Saracenic style. It houses the
Connemara Public Library, the Victoria Memorial National Art Gallery,
the Museum of Modern Art and the Natural History Museum. Do visit
the Amarvati gallery in the museum: its exhibits are priceless.
there are the churches associated with the life and death of St
Thomas. He came here in the 1st century AD and, behind the altar
of the shrine of Our Lady of Health at Little Mount, a flight of
steps leads down to the cave in which the saint lived and prayed.
Outside the church, there is a spring said to have been made by
the Apostle. He was killed in a cave in St Thomas Mount and,
in this church, there is a curious portrait of Mary, the Mother
of Christ, said to have been painted by St Luke, the Physician and
Evangelist. The great Basilica Church of San Thomas has grown around
the crypt in which the body of the saint was laid to rest.
- The Pub at Radha Park Inn, Chennai
premier place of worship, however, is the Temple of Kapaleeswarar,
often spelt Kapaleshwar. This is a living temple rich with sculptures,
customs, rituals and traditions, some of which reputedly date back
to many centuries before the Christian era. According to Chennais
historian S Muthiah, writing in his Madras Discovered,
the temple authorities themselves feel the present temple
was built about 300 years ago. It is more that likely, however,
that the present shrine occupies the place hallowed by many of its
predecessors for more than 20 centuries.
wildlife enthusiasts, there are the Arignar Anna Zoological Park
which also has a lion safari park; the Guindy National Park within
the city; the Snake Park where they often demonstrate how snake
venom is extracted; and, 44 kms out of Chennai, its famed Crocodile
Bank which has been responsible for bringing many of these ancient
and eco-sustaining creatures back from the verge of extinction.
the Crocodile Bank is the 7th century port of Mahabalipuram, now
called Mamallapuram. Impressive rock-cut sculptures, shrines and
an old lighthouse to guide mariners to and from Southeast Asia,
stand virtually on the beach.
one is quite sure why this thriving port was abandoned so suddenly,
but we believe that great cyclones, boiling out of the Bay of Bengal,
drove its people to seek safer places.
dating back to the 7th century Pallava dynasty is the old capital
of Kanchipuram. Its many temples are as fascinating as its radiant
silk fabrics known globally as Kanjeevaram Silks. It is about 75
kms from Chennai.
renowned cultural lifestyle boasts a classical dance or musical
performance virtually every evening. Its cultural season peaks in
room at Welcomgroup Chola Sheraton
were very popular once, till a strict police decided that they were
operating under false pretenses! This is still an iffy situation,
so do check it out before making plans to shake a leg. Though, the
latest destination in town is Flame Le Club, the new
dance club at Le Royal Meridien. Pubs, complete with draught beer,
are generally more up-market than those abroad largely because the
best are bars in starred hotels. Our favourite is the hi-tech, barn-like
Geoffreys at the Radha Park Inn. Shopping can become a major
obsession in Chennai with its enormous shopping plazas, silk stores,
glittering jewellery shops particularly known for the purity of
their gold and handicrafts for which the government emporia are
the most reliable, but you could pick up good bargains elsewhere.
We found that Panagal Park in T Nagar is a good place to shop for
silks and jewellery. Chennai is strong on leather products and Hidesign
in Ispahani Centre stocks a wide range, which are sold in Selfridges
and John Lewis in London.
you are willing to venture into the grey market, amble along the
pavement in front of the shacks and shops of Burma Bazaar, but you
need time to pick, haggle, examine and come back the next day.
Business of Business
famous Kapaleeswarar Temple
in the last few years, has begun to tap its potential as the commercial
and industrial gateway to the south. The industries traditionally
associated with the city, granite and leather, have burgeoned with
new techniques and customers abroad. Pharmaceuticals and auto ancillaries
are making a significant impact. A knowledgeable source estimated
that they could account for as much as 50 per cent of the exports.
New-industry watchers believe that Chennai is a dark horse moving
up fast in the software and biotech fields. Major players like TVS,
Ford and Hyundai have clearly been impressed enough by the discipline,
high productivity and education of Chennais workforce to make
long-term investments here. Andrew Cogan and Francis Day were visionaries.
But even they could not have foreseen the time when, on the ashes
of their East India trading empire, much greater global empires
would flourish on their barren strip of sand. 17th century
Madras laid the foundations of forward looking 21st century Chennai.
Cathedral Road, Chennai 600086.
Mexican food like Flautas, Lam Burritos,
Tortillas and Chicken Fajitas.
They also have Italian dishes.
A meal for 2 would cost about Rs 350-Rs 500.
Alwarpet, Chennai 600018.
range of cuisines cover Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Thai,
Continental, Burmese and Vietnamese.
Some items are Steamed Chicken Momos, Stuffed Chicken
Legs ala Baps and Koukswe.
Average meal for 2 would cost between Rs 200-Rs 300.
15, Khader Nawaz Khan Road,
Chennai 600006. Tel: (044) 8253836
of their popular items are salads, seafood, HK Dimsum,
Fish in Banana Leaf and Steamboat.
For 2 a steamboat costs Rs 500. An average meal for
2 would cost between Rs 300-Rs 400.
TTK Road, Chennai 600018.
Frontier food like Ran Peshwari, Chicken Cheese Kebabs
and Dal Kabul Special.
A meal for 2 would cost between Rs 300-Rs 400.
Dr Radhakrishnan Salai, Chennai 600004.
food with specialities like Turkey Biryani and Chest
A veg thali costs Rs 52.
An average meal for 2 would cost between Rs 200-Rs
Alwarpet, Chennai 600018.
Tel: (044) 4996635.
of Bengali food like Doi Maachh and other items like
Lucknowi Chicken Biryani.
A meal for 2 would cost between Rs 250-Rs 300.
redoubtable city institution is perfect for those determined
to eat as the locals do.
Here you can gorge to bursting on good, cheap vegetarian
food in perfectly clean, hygienic surroundings.
Yellow top taxis are available only from the airport and
from select starred hotels cab ranks. They levy a fixed
charge. A convenient option is to hire a car by the day
from the many car hire companies offering this facility.
A well-known one is Europcar at No 10, Greenways Road,
Raja Annamalai Puram, Chennai 600028. Telefax: 044-4953239.
Auto-rickshaws are available in numbers and though they
have metres, these are not used. Fix a price before you
get in. The city is well connected by buses. There is
also the Metro Rail or MRT.
Park Sheraton Hotel & Towers
TTK Road, Chennai 600018
Tel: (044) 4994101
Fax: (044) 4997101/ 4997201
With its underground parking for 200-250 cars,
this 283-room hotel is modern in the grand hotel
style. Rooms in its towers block come with airport
transfers, breakfast and complimentary use of
its business centre. Its Dakshin restaurant offers
superb South Indian fare.
Rates: Corporate floor-Rs 5,000; Executive Club-Rs
6,000; Rs 500 extra for double occupancy.
Mahatma Gandhi Road,
205 room hotel has the ambience of a southern
palace with its 6th and 7th floors housing the
exclusive Taj Club. It has three speciality restaurants.
Two serve South Indian and Continental. The third,
the Golden Dragon, presided over by Chef Hardy
from Hong Kong, serves delectable Cantonese food.
The 24-hour coffee shop, Matchpoint, overlooking
the pool, specialises in pastas and salads, and
theres also a bar.
Superior Rooms-Rs 7,300 (double); Taj Club-Rs
Cathedral Road, Chennai 600086
the 92 rooms in this hotel, the 44 Duplex Rooms
offer the best value for money. It is also conveniently
located in the city centre. With the tariff comes
transfers, breakfast and a l 1/2 hour happy hour
in the Residents Lounge. Its speciality restaurant,
the Peshwari offers excellent tandoori food.
Luxury-Rs 5,000; Duplex-Rs 6,000; Rs 500 extra
charge for double occupancy.
Road, Chennai 600002
on a quiet street, this 150-room hotel is one
of the old landmarks of Chennai. Its heritage
rooms overlook an atrium garden or the pool. It
has a multicuisine 24-hours coffee shop, bar and
its outdoor Raintree Restaurant prepares an excellent
South Indian thali apart from its other Chettinad
specialities. An added attraction are its dance
and classical music performances.
Superior Room-Rs 5,400 (double); Executive (B)-Rs
Royal Meridien Chennai
1, GST Road, Saint Thomas Mount
(044) 231 4343
(044) 231 4344
set within 3.5 acres of exquisitely landscaped
gardens and within easy reach of the international
airport and the citys business districts,
Le Royal Meridien Chennai is the perfect destination
for a business traveller who demands unparalleled
luxury and convenience. Facilities include extensive
conference and banquet rooms for up to 1,000 guests,
interactive satellite TV with high speed internet
access in all rooms and a dedicated Royal Club
GST Road, Chennai 600027
low-spreading, 167 room hotel on the airport road
is targeting the business traveller with its 52
Executive club rooms offering fax and DVD connections,
airport transfers, complimentary breakfast, happy
hour and valet service. Rates: Superior Room-Rs
4,500 (double); Executive Club-Rs 5,500 (double)