Chennai 21-23 September 2017 - 2nd phase of of our time in the city

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September 23rd 2017
Published: September 30th 2017
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Day 4: Thursday 22 September in Chennai

After a late breakfast (although I chose not to have breakfast except for a banana that Tom brough back for me – I can’t take all this constant eating!!!), we were met by a Webjet rep who was taking us to The Iris hotel where we were staying for the next 3 nights (3 1/2 stars rather than 5 star).

We went for a walk in our new area. While Tom had a haircut (for $1.60 lol) I went for a ½ km walk and came across very depressing slums. Make-shift housing, no running water (trucks were bringing water in) and numerous beggers. Very sad. And yet, ½ km the other way theere was magnificent buildings and wealth. India is a contry of contrasts.

After an hour’s walk, we were very hot so popped into KFC (!!) for lunch. Airconditioning was magnificent.

A few hours later we spotted on Google maps that there was The Vault Stockexchange which was a local bar. This was a rare find. After a half hour walk we found the place which was in the basement of a bulding. It took us a little while to adjust our eyes and ordered a couple of local Stellen beers as well as watched India batting against Australia at Eden Park in Kolkota (Calcutta).

After a couple of beers, we headed back to our hotel making sure we returned along a different road. I really don’t know what I would do without Google Maps, getting around all these strange towns and cities. Fantastic.

That night we had a buffet Indian dinner in our Hotel.

Day 5: Friday 23 September around Chennai

After breakfast, we picked up our 2 new travel companions, Debbie and Dave from Hobart and drove to the impressive town of Kanchipuram, 70 km from Chennai and 66km west of Mahabalipuram.

One of the most important spiritual centres of Hinduism, and a major pilgrim destination; Kanchipuram has several medieval temples with spectacular architecture. It used to be the capital of the Pallava kingdom from the 4th to the 10th century, and was a centre of learning for all the major religions of South India. Hindu temples are still present and in use today, and there are archaeological remains of Jain temples. Unfortunately, although Kanchipuram was reputed to be the centre of Buddhism in South India, and was visited by Chinese Buddhist monks, there are no remains of the Buddhist presence today.

It is known as the Golden City of a Thousand Temples, and is one of the oldest towns in India. It is famous for both its temples, many of them remarkably well preserved and for its hand-woven silks. Kanchipuram is one of the seven sacred cities of India and it is the only one associated with both Shiva and Vishnu.

We visited Ekambareshwar Temple, Kailashnath Temple, Kamakshi Temple, the Vaikunthaperumal Temple, all built in the 7th and 8th centuries.

With a weaving tradition dating back to the Pallava era (when silk was the royal cloth), Kanchipuram is justly famous for its particularly fine silk saris, embellished with stunning patterns. Apart from the temples, we were givn an opportunity to visit the local homes of the weavers and watch them create magic out of silk thread into saris. We saw a manual weaver and a computer guided weaver at work, both weaving a sari for weddings. We then visited the silk shop – of course.

Whilst there Dave and Tom organised to have a Kingfisher beer which really wasn’t really cold. I left them to it!!! Tom went to sleep in the van after that!!!

It was lunch time so we drove to a lovely clean restaurant and has a light Indian lunch. It was lovely having this flavoursome food.

Following Kanchipuram, we continued our drive to Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram), a small seaside village that was once the main port of the Pallava Dynasty from the 5th – 9th centuries.

Mamallapuram, is a town in Kancheepuram district, 58 km south of Chennai. It is an ancient historic town and was a bustling seaport during the time of Periplus (1st century CE) and Ptolemy (140 CE), from where ancient Indian traders sailed to countries of SouthnEast Asia.

By the 7th century it was a port city of the South India dynasty of the Pallavas. It has a group of sanctuaries carved out of rock in the 7th and 8th centuries: rathas (temples in the form of chariots), Mandapas (cave sanctuaries), giant open-air rock reliefs such as the famous Descent of the Ganges, and the Shore Temple, with thousands of sculptures to the glory of Shiva.

Today it is the site of several antique sculptural marvels. Declared as the world heritage site by UNESCO, Mahabalipuram boasts of some of India’s most sublime rock-cut art. The town was earlier called Mahabalipuram, but was later renamed as Mamallapuram or the place of the great wrestler - Narasimhavarmam I. He made this port a flourishing trade centre. The only shore temple, which remains here, is the spectacular two-spired shrine, which is unique in that it houses both Vishnu and Shiva in its sanctum.

The open-air bas-reliefs, structured temples, man-made caves and the five monolithic “rathas” (chariots carved from single processions) reflect this art at its best. "Arjuna's penance" here is the world's largest bas relief measuring 27 meters by 9 meters. The hillside is scattered with eight temple porches with bold sculptures inside and there is also still one surviving shore temple, built in the 1st century. A row of Nandi Bulls surrounds its walls and Mahabalipuram also boasts an excellent openair museum where you can watch stonemasons at work.

After we head back to Chennai. The drive was incredible as the traffic was horrific. It was even worse than Bangkock 20 years ago!! It took us 2 ½ hours to travel 55 kms so was dark by the time we got back to our hotel.

Once again, we had an Indian buffet dinner in our hotel after a much-welcomed shower. It had been another very hot, humid day although sometimes overcast.

Day 6: Chennai 23 September 2017

After being picked up by our driver and guide, we drove to George Town. We were not allowed to take any cameras into the old Fort as behind the dry mote nd wall was the Military, all the Governemnt buildings and the Chennai Police.

We saw Clive House at Fort St. George, Madras said to be the first English settlement in India during 1609. Fort St George (or historically, White Town) was founded in 1644. The construction of the fort provided the impetus for further settlements and trading activity, in what was originally an uninhabited land. Thus, it is a feasible contention to say that the city evolved around the fortress. The fort currently also houses the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly and other official buildings. The fort is one of the 163 notified areas (megalithic sites) in the state of Tamil Nadu.

The Portugese first arrived in 1522 and built a port called São Tomé after the Christian apostle, St Thomas, who is believed to have preached in the area between 52 and 70 CE. In 1612, the Dutch established themselves near Pulicat, north of Chennai.

In 1746, Fort St. George and Madras were captured by the French, who plundered the town and its outlying villages. The British regained control in 1749 through the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle and strengthened the town's fortress wall to withstand further attacks from the French. In 1769 the city was threatened by Mysore and the British were defeated by Hyder Ali, after which the Treaty of Madras ended the war. By the 18th century, the British had conquered most of the region around Tamil Nadu and the northern modern–day states, establishing the Madras Presidency with Madras as the capital.

Gradually, the city grew into a major naval base and became the central administrative centre for the British in South India. With the advent of railways in India in the 19th century, the thriving urban centre was connected to other important cities such as Bombay and Calcutta, promoting increased communication and trade with the hinterland.

Madras was the only Indian city to be attacked by the Central Powers during World War l, when an oil depot was shelled by the Germans on 22 September 1914, as it raided shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean, causing disruption to shipping.

We drove further around the city, noting many of the Colonial buildings having been restored. One such building was the Southern Railway Headquarters, one of the fine examples of Indo-Saracenic architecture in the city

Next we visited Marina Beach with its second longest beach in the world along the Bay of Bengal. We went for a walk along the littered beach and paddled in the sea. There were mand fishing boats and nets along the waters edge. Most locals come to the beach in the cool of the evening and particularly on the weekend.

We saw the Triumph of Labour statue, also known as the Labour statue, which is a statue at the Marina Beach, Chennai. Erected at the northern end of the beach at the Anna Square opposite University of Madras, it is an important landmark of Chennai.The statue shows four men toiling to move a rock, depicting the hard work of the labouring class. It was sculpted by Debi Prasad Roy Chowdhry.

Next was the construction of the National Art Gallery in Madras was completed in 1909. The new building, with a stunning façade, was built of pink sandstone brought from Sathyavedu, and formed part of the Madras Museum campus. It was opened, on 23 January 1909, by the Governor of Fort St. George, Sir Arthur Lawley, and called the Victoria Memorial Hall after the Queen-Empress Victoria. The residential architecture in the city was based on the bungalow or the continuous row house prototypes.

We stopped at the Santhome Church, which was originally built by the Portuguese in 1523 and houses the remains of the apostle St. Thomas. We went down stairs where prayers were being chanted and where St Thomas layed. We could take photos. This church was rebuilt in 1893 in neo-Gothis style.

Afterwards we drove to Mylapore in the south which is the site of the famous Kapaleeswarar Temple which is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It has a typical Dravidian gopuram. Tom and I had visited this temple before our tour had started but we didn’t have a guide then so learned about the stories of Shiva and more about Hindu beliefs.

Chennai is home to many museums, galleries, and other institutions, many of which are free of admission charges and are major tourist attractions as well as playing a research role. The "Fort Museum" inside the premises of Fort St. George was well worth visiting, as it is an important museum having a noteworthy collection of objects of the British era in its collection. The museum is managed by the Archaeological Survey of India and has in its possession, the first Flag of India hoisted at Fort St George after the declaration of India's Independence on 15 August 1947.

For lunch, we went to Debbie and Dave’s (our travel mates from Hobart) hotel and had some lovely Indian kebabs and cold beer. Our driver and guide then picked us up at 4.00pm when it was a little cooler and drove us to the Flower Market, and Bazzar. Now this was certainly an overload of our senses.

Crowded markets, narrow lanes, chaotic traffic, and noisy hawkers… Majestic buildings, fascinating history, vivid colours and mesmerizing images... The pulse of any city is in its markets. From the early morning flower bazaars to the ever-bustling vegetable markets, these vibrant pockets of life in this city are great places to gauge the local way of life. Fascinating history, streets teeming with life and spilling over with colour, noise and exuberance; one is never short of sights to take in on this tour.

There were 100s of people buying flowers for the up-coming Dawali Festival which we experienced last year when visiting Delhi. Most of the times, people buy the flowers by weight. Some of the flowers were made into beautiful arrangements that were to be hung up in houses or on ladies’ heads.

We then drove closer to our hotel where we walked up and down the street looking at all the shops and taking in the Saturday evening activities of the locals. We ended up in a supermarket where we got some snacks for our train ride the next day.

After returning to our hotels, we showered and relaxed over an Indian buffet dinner.

After 5 ½ days in and around Chennai, we were pleased to be able to look back over our photos to see the wealth of new information and sites we have. Although very hot and humid, we have enjoyed the city.

Additional photos below
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24th September 2019

Car Rental in Chennai
Beautiful post. Chennai is best place to spend your holidays with rich diversity.
24th September 2019

Thanks for your comment. We thoroughly enjoyed the region.

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