After a few days in the field (mentioned in my previous post), I was quite happy to get back to the city and closed out my final workweek here in India. Prior to this internship I did not know what to expect from Chennai, or Madras as people like to still call it. I knew very little about the city and had never spent much time in the region either. My knowledge of the south and its culture did not extend beyond stereotypes and stories my friends told me. However, two months later, I can confidently say that I have a sense of the city; and I like it. In no particular order, here’s why:
- People– there’s no doubt that this is one of Chennai’s greatest assets. The people you meet in this city, aside from the auto-drivers, are wonderfully friendly. Everyone is down to earth, welcoming and generally unconcerned with showing off material wealth (which I appreciate greatly). Perhaps it was also just that the group of friends I found (interns from Stanford, MIT and other employees at IFMR) were great company. Overall, I got a very positive vibe from the Chennai-ites and the city’s foreign residents alike. There’s no doubt that they helped make this summer enjoyable and memorable.
- Access to the Beach- Being a costal city the beach is easily accessible. Whether you want to spend your weekend relaxing in a coffee shop by the coast or walk along the beach or even go surfing, it’s there. Chennai beaches also become vibrant and full of life as the sun sets and the heat subsides- you can ride horses, eat masala corn on the cob, play carnival games, buy random knick-knacks and much more. Over and above everything though, it’s great to see kids, parents and even sometimes grandparents bonding and playing with one another by the beach. One of my favorite things about India, is that people tend to stay positive and enjoy the small things in life- one trip to any beach in Chennai will show you just that.
- Cleanliness- Now, Chennai is no Singapore, but as far as Indian cities go, it’s definitely on the cleaner side. With fewer slums and people than Bombay and Delhi, it is cleaner and easier to navigate than I initially expected it to be. Do watch out for the chaotic traffic though- it’s still India after all. Also, people in Chennai seem to especially enjoy driving on the wrong side of the road, so that’s always fun.
- Close Proximity to Weekend Getaways- Although there are a limited number of weekend getaways you can take, there are a few good ones. From Chennai you can take buses to Mammalapuram (aka Mahabalipuram), which is home to a number of temples and interesting rock carvings. Further south from there is Pondicherry- a cute French town with some good food and surprisingly well-kept streets; not to mention it’s where Life of Pi started. About 6 hours away by bus or train is Bangalore, which is supposedly a very vibrant, modern city (full of startups and young people I hear). Additionally, there are a few hill stations and parts of Kerela that are accessible by bus, albeit a bit far. If you have the budget and desire to travel outside of India, Sri Lanka and Singapore are just short, reasonably priced flights away.
- Temples- Mylapore in Chennai has a number of really beautiful temples. South Indian temples are tall, carefully sculpted, pyramid-like structures. Definitely recommend seeing them.
I recommend visiting Chennai, especially for a short trip with a group of friends. On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much to do. And, as far as touristy things go, it’s a little limited. However, there are definitely some hidden gems in this city. Between seeing intricately designed temples, exploring bars and restaurants, relaxing by the beach, and interacting with friendly locals, you could turn it into a great weekend trip- or a two month internship.