Chennai is a fascinating city that blends both tradition and modernity. Although I am often frustrated by the frequent power cuts, blistering heat (around 38-40 degrees Celsius on average), lack of proper infrastructure, street poverty, pollution, mosquitoes, and impossibility of crossing roads, the city is at a very convenient location for accessing many sites of cultural and historical importance. For anyone spending time in Chennai, here are my recommended weekend getaways:
Pondicherry: Pondicherry is a former French colony three hours from Chennai where you can walk down cobbled streets, receive an elephant’s blessing at the Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple, and enjoy pain au chocolat on the French promenade. Other highlights include Paradise Beach, where you can unwind under palm trees, wade in the refreshing water or try various water sports, and Auroville, an experimental township built around a gold ball.
Bangalore: Bangalore is a comfortable 6-hour train or bus ride away, and flights are cheap (around $25 one way). The weather is 10 degrees cooler, which feels amazing during the summer. In Bangalore and the surrounding area, you will find excellent shopping and many different entertainment options, whether you enjoy amusement parks (Wonderla), gardens (Lal Bagh and Cubbon Park) or places of scenic beauty (Nandi Hills). Pictured is the Vidhana Soudha, the ornate state government building.
Mahabalipuram: Mahabalipuram, a seaside town en route to Pondicherry, boasts gorgeous cave sanctuaries, a shore temple, and Descent of the Ganges, a giant open-air relief. Mahabalipuram was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Kanchipuram: Kanchipuram is around 1-2 hours from Chennai and reachable by bus. Considered one of India’s holiest cities, it is home to five famous temples with awe-striking architecture (Kailasanathar Temple, Kanchi Kamakshi Temple, Kamakshi Amman Temple, Sri Ekambareswarar Temple, and Varadaraja Perumal Temple) and also lovely silk factories. I am a huge art fan, so I hired an auto driver for around 400 rupees ($6.50) to provide a tour of the temples (and local wildlife).
Within the city of Chennai, there are many beaches (Elliott’s Beach for people watching and Covelong Beach for swimming and surfing), high-quality restaurants (our favourites include Social, Crimson Chakra, That Madras Place, and Amethyst Café for upscale dining), and temples (the Kapaleeswarar Temple is a must!). If you have time to take a long weekend, I would also recommend scheduling a bus trip to the backwaters of Kerala. Several people from our office are from Kerala and it is supposed to be exquisitely beautiful (just avoid the monsoon season).