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To describe a city as a ‘melting pot’ or a ‘pot pourri’ might be a bit of a cliché, but book a flight to Chennai with Qatar Airways and you’ll see that even the most hackneyed sayings have to come from somewhere. Chennai has a timeless quality to it, possibly because the city itself is barely 400 years old, but the villages that it has swallowed up in its expansion date back to over 1,000 years.
Each area of Chennai has its own history and, together, they combine to create a city that is a juxtaposition of the old and new. In addition to its indigenous population, the French, the Dutch, the British and the Portuguese have all knocked on its doors and all have left something of their mark behind them. Fly to Chennai with Qatar Airways and visit a city that is as eclectic as you could hope for.
Chennai’s diverse history can be seen in the monuments that have been left behind by the many different cultures that settled here. Similarly, the famous rub shoulders with the general public here and nowhere is it more evident than on Marina beach; the second longest beach in the world. With its stunning coastline, silky sands and crystal-clear seas, this beach is one of the main reasons people travel to Chennai.
However, if you’d like your trip to Chennai to have something for all ages, then be sure to visit Semmozhi Poonga, a 20-acre park located in the city centre. In amongst the lush flora, you’ll find medicinal plants and fragrant herbs. There are plenty of benches for older visitors and plenty of play areas for younger ones. Alternatively, if you’d like to see some fauna with your flora, head down to India’s first zoo, Arignar Anna Zoological Park. In addition to tigers, panthers and hyenas, you can hire an elephant to carry you around the park or go on a lion photo safari.
There are many temples to be found in Chennai but perhaps the one that has the most universal appeal is the MA Chidhambaram Stadium – also known as ‘the temple of cricket’. Located in Chepauk, it has already held 25 Test matches and three World Cups. Cricket is India’s most popular sport so, if you want to see a match, you’ll need to book tickets in advance.
Something else that has ingrained itself in Indian culture is the train and Chennai’s Railway Museum will allow you chug into the past with some fine examples of old engines. However, no trip to Chennai would be complete without taking part in the Chennai Turtle Walk, in which you can help relocate turtle eggs for safe release into the sea. This walk takes place at midnight and the route takes your from Neelangarai to Besant Nagar beach.
Travel to Chennai and you’ll be presented with more food than you could have imagined, ranging from street food to fine dining experiences. As far as street food goes, chaats are to India what hot dogs are to Americans: popular and delicious. They come in various guises, from sweet or salty to soft or crisp.
If you decide to eat like the locals, then be sure to check out the plentiful street food available at every corner. However, you might want to factor a fine dining experience into your trip to Chennai, in which case you should definitely look up the more exclusive restaurants in Gulndy. Alternatively, look for the restaurants frequented by the locals in and around in Alwarpet, where you're guaranteed to find tasty, traditional Indian food.
Just like the food, there are two distinct types of shopping: street markets and high-end shopping. The markets are pretty much what you’d expect them to be: buzzing, vibrant and heady with the scent of roasting spices. However, there are a few that stand out from the crowd, so be sure to look out for the one on Ritchie Street.
What makes it unusual is that, as well as the usual handicrafts, silks and spices, a large part of this market is devoted to electronics. If you’re looking for a gadget, this is the place to go.
However, when it comes to high-end shopping, then look no further than Express Avenue. With over 200 shops covering over 900,000 square feet, it’s Chennai’s biggest shopping mall and it’s easy enough to spend a day there.
Flights to Chennai bring you into India’s third busiest airport, Chennai International Airport. There are plenty of taxis and car-hire facilities although, as the airport is in the south of the city, the distance you’ll have to travel to get to your accommodation will be fairly minimal.
Visa restrictions for entry into the country will depend on your country of origin, length of stay and whether your trip is for business or pleasure. So before you fly to Chennai please check the visa and passport requirements.
Currency: Indian Rupee (INR)
Voltage: 230 V 50 Hz
Plugs: Type C / D
Language: Hindi / English
International dialing code: +91