5 Places Not to Miss When Visiting Chennai
Chennai is an amazing city. A city that had been European before it was Indian. Boasting tourist attractions that are deservedly world famous, you’re likely to have a plan before you arrive. You must see the Kapaleeshwarar temple, right? Fort St George? A city such a gem of the Crown, that the British swapped Québec just to get it back from the French. The old Madras however has less-known treasures you shouldn’t miss. Visiting Chennai George Town, the old city you’ll find plenty of such places. Within easy reach of the Elements Hostel!
The British East India Company founded their compound on land leased from Vijayanagar rulers in 1640. The Company needed a port to protect its routes near the Malaccan Straits. Legend has it, however, the reason for this particular spot was that Francis Day wanted to be close to his Portuguese mistress in San Thomé (now part of Chennai). The fort was completed in 1644, named Fort St. George, after England’s patron. Fort St. George now houses the legislative assembly of Tamil Nadu state. An attraction nobody visiting Chennai would miss.
The Black Town was traditionally the settlement of the loyal local subjects outside Fort St. George. As opposed to White Town, where the Europeans lived – actually named after their white houses. In the 18th century part of the district was demolished for defense purposes, with a defense area designated by pillars. Black Town shifted northwards, expanding quickly. It was renamed George Town in honor of King George V in 1911. Yet it is still the old town of Madras, offering the most interesting local and colonial memories when visiting Chennai.
Here are five landmarks and sights you might not have planned on seeing, but for someone visiting Chennai they are a must:
The Madras High Court Complex – Rule Britannia
In 1862, Queen Victoria, Empress of India gave charter for high courts for India’s three presidency towns, Bombay (Mumbai), Calcutta (Kolkata) and Madras (Chennai). The status of these high courts is still recognized by the independent Indian state.
The newly founded Madras High received a beautiful new complex built in the former cleared defense zone, completed in 1892. The Indo-Saracenic style complex still houses the most number of courts in the whole of Asia.
The first lighthouse serving the Madras harbor is located within the grounds. It also gives home to the law university, founded in 1891. These two are unfortunately in a state of very bad repair.
The Ripon Building – A Colonial Gem
The perfect example how an old landmark building should be expanded, modernized, yet preserved. Completed in 1913, the impressive white colossus has recently been expanded with a modern annex building tastefully hidden in the back. The beautiful front of the building is still intact, and kept in nicely renovated condition. Small wonder, since the complex houses the Corporation of Chennai, the municipal maintenance company. The CoC employs hundreds of thousands of people, and founded in 1687 it is the second oldest in the world!
Mallikesvarar Temple – Once Buried, But Rose Again
Mallikesvarar or Mallikarjunar Temple is in Mannady, a nice and friendly neighborhood of George Town. Perhaps not as grandiose as the famous Kapaleeshwarar temple, but definitely at least as interesting. Built 700 years ago, the once buried ancient temple has been dug up. Now, still two meters under present day ground level, it’s a shrine to Lord Shiva once more.
The Kalikambal Temple – Where Heroes Come
The Kalikambal Temple is located in the next street. As the goddess Kalikambal is considered the guardian of the city, it is very important for local believers. Tourists, however seem to neglect the shrine, although it has an impressive history. An ancient temple was moved here in 1640. A plaque commemorates, how according to the legend the famous warrior king Shivaji sneaked here in disguise to worship the goddess in 1667.
No Visiting Chennai Without The Burma Bazaar
When Tamil refugees fled Myanmar (then Burma) in the 60s, they moved to Chennai in great numbers. The foundation looking after their community assigned them an area to settle. It was in what was left of the former defense are under the cannons of Fort St George. Parry’s Corner is still a center of the Burmese community, and the Burma Bazaar in Parry’s Corner, George Town is must see, when visiting Chennai.
It’s pretty much how you imagine a classic Asian marketplace. It is, however, not a kitsch tourist trap, but a functioning, authentic center of commerce. It will give you a chance to see the real thing, while visiting Chennai. Be prepared to be overwhelmed though, the Burma Bazaar is a very intensive experience!
Of course there are literally hundreds of other places of interest in the city, which the Elements Hostel crew will gladly advice you about. These are perhaps just the top five places you shouldn’t miss while visiting Chennai. Explore the rest!