In the northeastern corner of Tamil Nadu on the Bay of Bengal, Chennai (still commonly referred to by its former British name, Madras) is India’s fourth largest city, with a population nudging seven and a half million. Hot, congested and noisy, it’s the major transport hub of the south and most travellers stay just long enough to book a ticket for somewhere else. The attractions of the city itself are sparse, though it does boast fine specimens of Raj architecture, pilgrimage sites connected with the apostle Doubting Thomas, superb Chola bronzes at its state museum, and plenty of classical music and dance performances.
Geographically Chennai divides into three main sectors. North of the River Cooum stands Fort St George, site of the first British outpost in India, and George Town, the commercial centre, which developed during British occupation. George Town’s principal landmark is Parry’s Corner, located at the southern end of Rajaji Salai. Sandwiched between the Cooum and Adyar rivers is central Chennai, the modern, commercial heart of the metropolis, crossed and served by the city’s main thoroughfare, Anna Salai. East of Anna Salai is the atmospheric old Muslim quarter of Triplicane and beyond is the long straight Marina with its massive beach, fishing boats and hordes of domestic tourists, saris and trousers hitched up, enjoying a paddle. Further south along the coast is the district of Mylapore, inhabited by the Portuguese in the 1500s, with its two important places of pilgrimage and tourist attractions, Kapalishvara Temple and San Thomé Cathedral.