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Chennai – Our Gateway to South: South India I

As is the case with most multinationals today, the end of the year is a special period as most of our clients are from the Western part of the world. Christmas and New Year is a time when most of the clients are off for vacations and the cascading effects flow to us who find it really easy to get leaves during this time. On top of this, the Human Resource within our firm was overly generous in providing additional 2 official holidays thus practically making the scene more favorable for a vacation – a 5-day leave makes it a 16 day off from work. And so not leaving anything to chance, I had applied for these 5 days of time offs well in advance. All that was left was to decide the destination. After deliberating over numerous possible options in India and abroad, we decided that the best sensible destination to head to was Southern part of India which had been a recommendation from many friends. Some of the known ones who had been to that part of the country had talked such highly of the locations there that once we started thinking about it, temptations simply escalated and we finally froze our vacation destination as South India. After due research, we finalized our itinerary for the trip and made required hotel bookings and got our flight tickets. The plan was set and we were set to fly off Delhi on the night of 18th December 2015 for a much-awaited sojourn. There followed a lot of hectic activities as part of build up for the journey including shopping, research, and other preparations.

As per our plans, we were there at the Domestic Terminal of Indira Gandhi International Airport by 8 PM on Friday a bit in advance of the time for our 10 PM Indigo flight. We checked into the flight and submitted the luggage. After clearing the security we proceeded to check out the terminal as we had about an hour to kill before the boarding gates opened. After having last few flights from the grand Terminal-3 of the airport, this terminal did seem small enough to be a miniature model of the airport. There were limited options for window shopping, which frankly was a relief as it meant more time to sit back and relax. We grabbed a quick dinner at the food court and as we wrapped the meal the announcement informed us of a half-hour delay in the flight. We had a round of coffee to kill time and then proceeded to the boarding gates in the airport basement.
Waves at Elliot's Beach
Soon enough we were on the bus that would take us to our ride – an Airbus 320 aircraft. Yes, domestic terminals still operate on a traditional bus-to-the-plane model at this airport. We boarded the flight and did customary messages ritual to inform families about the boarding before switching off our mobile devices. The plane took off and we happily bid a silent goodbye to our home-city before flying off for a vacation and the thought that we would only return back in the New Year gave little chills of excitement. It was overall a smooth flight apart from a small surprise which I had planned to kick start our first long vacations after Bali. Let me keep that surprise true to its name and have some things better be under wraps. Soon enough the flight captain announced the initiation of the descent and we were pleasantly surprised when we touched down right at the scheduled time of 1 AM (remember a half hour delay to start with) at the Kamaraj Airport in Chennai. The airport is named after a famed Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu who apparently had contributed a lot for the development of the state. It was pretty late by the time we came out of the Airport and all we cared for was to reach home and hit the bed which happened by 3 in the morning. [Yeah one of the reasons for choosing South India as a destination was to spend some time with Mom and Dad who had shifted to Chennai recently.] Obviously before hitting the bed, we had a long (for the time) chatting session with mom over a perfect tea.
With all the Flora, Chennai Zoo
Entrance, Arignar Anna Zoo
Giant Whale in Background, Government Museum
Next day we had a relaxed morning and had a late start to the day which was obvious given the late night previous day, in fact, it was more of early morning that we went to sleep. By the time we were awake and freshened up, an awesome brunch awaited us – mom special Chola Bhatura – something which I had indicated only as a passing comment long ago over the phone. It was a meal which couldn’t be compensated with anything and we were filled until the brim of our capacity. We had planned a trip to the zoo that day as it was apparently an important attraction of the city owing to a special lion safari which in general is not available in zoos. The zoo is located in Tambaram area which was about 40-45 kilometers from our home in Nungambakkam area. As we reached the zoo, we spent some time at the forest guest house while formalities for entrance were worked out. In no time, there was a battery operated vehicle to take us throughout the zoo campus and introduce us to varied species of animals and birds. As went through, we were amazed at the creativity of nature in spreading innumerable colors and forms among fauna. We saw a white peacock and a grey parrot and a bird in red and other in orange. There was no dearth of colors of shades from bright red to faded blue to fluorescent yellow – as if a rainbow was determined to showcase all colors of nature. While we enjoyed the display of nature, my wife kept nudging me about the irony of having these creatures made to venture freely in skies in cages – prisoned for their beauty. I agree with her viewpoint and did share the irony but kind of moved forward for lack of a clear idea on how I could help.

Next, we moved to the prime attraction for which we had been waiting for since morning which kind of turned sour. We reached the boarding point for the Lion Safari and the forest officer there directed us to the forest ranger canter which was to take us around. We were going to be led into jungles within the zoo where lions venture freely – imagine the size of the zoo! However as one would have it our luck was limited to seeing the king of the jungle only in cages. When one interacts with locals, stories abound on how one can see lions roaming freely in the area and even approaching the safari vehicle windows. The credibility of these come from the fact that mom dad ha themselves witnessed these scenes. Well slightly disappointed we decided to let it go and completed the uneventful safari and returned home by evening. After dinner, we spent the latter part of the evening exploring surroundings of where we lived and crisscrossed the Sterling Road area and its tributaries.

Next day, was the turn for the Government Museum for which we left by about 11 in the morning. Again, I know the faces one makes on hearing the name of museums but apparently this was had a slight variation which makes it interesting. Once we ticketed and entered the gates, we realized that rather than a building it was a campus – spread across 3 building and vast open spaces. The 20-year-old museum has a lot to speak about the history of art, culture, living styles and flora & fauna. As we entered the first building we realized the primary differentiating factor of this building. It showcased anthropology which one expects only in science centers to some extent. But what was different here was variety and spread. The preserves of remains of hundreds of living beings were showcased in a systematic manner with plentiful of details for each display. Life on earth was captured so nicely and displays ranged from skins to teeth to skulls and skeletons. One of the major attraction was a huge whale skeleton hanging from the roof and covering a large hall. Alongside there was entire lifecycle of larvae depicted with actual remains from various stages. Real-sized skeletons of elephant, giraffe, and horse were another high points of the section. The second building showcased all the weaponry and equipment used in ancient times along with a glimpse of several art forms from the history. The third building is bronze section and is relatively secured as expensive bronze statues of deities and kings abound in this section. The section also includes coins and medals from medieval to ancient times.
The Symbol, Elliot's Beach
Roasting the Corn, Elliot's Beach
Later in the evening, we visited the Elliot’s Beach which is situated in the outskirts of the city across the Adyar River. Adyar River in itself is a pretty big river which overflowed heavily during the flood earlier in the city. On the way to the beach, we crossed IIT Madras, Madras University, and Anna University which are all famous institutions of higher learning. It took almost 40-45 minutes for us to reach the beach but the journey was worth it. It is a really nice and clean beach away from the city rush. The cloud is good and the water is inviting. We spent some good time having fun in water amidst the oncoming waves. Later we sat across the sands and enjoyed corn and pineapple. The road across has a few upscale cafes which provide decent options to choose from if one prefers the “sophisticated way of life”. On return from the beach spent some time in T Nagar markets and the Mount Road which is one of the affluent areas of the city. Our driver Basha acted as a great guide and his good old ambassador reminded of old fortunes and luxury from past which has succumbed to the pressures of multinational luxurious and smoother rides. [My love for Ambassador and an article on its discontinuation]

While we were enjoying were tours through the “salais” local word for roads and having fun in this part of the country, we were realizing the harsh truth about the situation there. The city had been badly devastated in recent floods and the havoc was visible. Interaction with locals and a trip across the town was enough to realize the level of impact that the floods had on the life of people. People are full of pain and horror stories abound. Any slight nudge is enough to bring out their yells and agony isn’t hidden easily. Pictures and videos trying to capture the scene during floods are common on every cell phone but they still seem to fall short of capturing the real impact. Houses were filled with water and even upper floors were submerged in the aquatic havoc while people resided on roads in upper lying areas of the city. The rage in the heart of people was evident against lack of government apathy. It is indeed saddening to see a city, called one of the top 4 metros of the country, limping to normalcy and being left on its own for this.
Waves at Marina, a rare clean stretch
Market at Marina Beach

MGR's Memorial, Beside Marina Beach
Next morning we had an early start for a change as it was going to start on a devotional note. We visited the Kapeeleshwar Temple at about 7 in the morning. The temple is located in the Mylapore area which also gives it a name of Mylapore temple. This is a famed Shivite Temple – most South Indian pride themselves in being a follower of either Shiva or Vishnu. The temple is spread across a significantly large campus and our guide “Kumar” took us around the campus and showed each temple nicely. He got us a special puja in all the four key temples in the complex – each of Ganesha, Murugan (a form of Kartikeya), Shiva and Parvati. In the evening we went to the Marina beach which is noticeably different from Elliot’s beach we were at last evening. This is a lot more rushy and touristy beach which leads it to be a bit dirtier. There was almost a form of a fair with an entire street of shops selling everything possible under the sun. We spent much lesser time on this beach as it wasn’t as much fun and returned. On our way back we visited the San Thomas church. The church has an amazing architecture with beautifully carved structures both inside and outside the building with lots of woodwork. Mother Mary and Jesus were making their presence felt all around. The peace inside the church was pleasing.

People line up, Parthasarathy Temple
Dinner South Style, Murugan Idli Point
Next morning again had an early start as we visited the Parthsarthy Temple in the morning at 7. This is a famous Vaishanvite Temple in the city and a place of devotion for locals believing in the powerful god considered to be a creator of the world. We had a nice darshans post which we spent some moments in peace and tranquility of the complex. We took the famous rice prasad which tasted great and we had to take in extra to satiate our taste buds. Later in the evening, we went to the Phoenix mall located in Velachery area. It was chosen as it was touted to be the biggest and newest mall. It is a pretty big establishment and houses all the latest brands. Though it still lacked the scale of ones in Delhi but overall a good place to hang out and shop. While returning from the mall we stopped at Sri Venkateshwara Boli which was recommended to us by a dear friend for some snacks. We purchased packed snacks for the travel ahead and then had our dinner at adjoining Murugan Idli Point. The joint had great South Indian cuisine served in traditional style over the banana leaf. We had an awesome Nepali waiter to guide us through various dishes and teach how to roll in and off the banana leaf plate. Our next stop was the Sarvana Stores which are famed locally for being the biggest stores. The particular store we went to is a 7 storied grocery store which was much more than a grocery store. It offered everything from grocery to clothing to other household requirements and had very well arranged collection across the floors. We picked some stuff as a souvenir of the shop.
San Thomas Church
Seeing off while on Guard
Next day we had a one-day excursion to Sriharikota, the satellite launch facility of ISRO, India’s space organization. This trip would be covered in detail in a separate post. After the visit, we left for Ooty the same day to get on with our trip. We also stopped by in Chennai for a day on the 3rd of January during our return journey. This time we bought some Kerala Chips and other snacks popular locally for gifting to friends and family back home. We landed back in Delhi on the 4th of January.

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