Chennai had always served as a jumping off point for us. We’d usually land in the wee hours of the morning from an overseas flight and bolt straight south to Mamallapuram like a child to the loving comfort of it’s mother’s arms. We never spent anytime in Chennai because, like children perhaps, we found it scary. We thought it was too big, too populated, too polluted and too hard to get around.
That all changed the day our friend, chef Chindi Varadarajulu, opened her restaurant and bakery, Pumpkin Tales, in the upscale Alwarpet neighbourhood. We suddenly had a reason to dally in India’s fourth largest city and overcome some of the myths associated with it.
What does it mean to be India’s fourth largest city, for example?
Greater Chennai has an estimated “official” population of nine million. Another one million human beings are guess-timated to live in its slums and tent-cities. They are migrant workers who risk everything to come for jobs.
Chennai has jobs. It is the commerce center of southern India and has car manufacturing, cyber businesses and educational institutions as its key industries. Known as Madras until 1998, it has a deep harbour on the Bay of Bengal and was a key trade port for the British East India Company. Trade still attracts ex-pats today and Chennai is reported to have about 90,000 foreigners who call it home, including our aforementioned friend Chindi.
Scouting it out
Settling into the Raintree Hotel on St. Mary’s Road in Alwarpet, we were able to walk the streets – a few blocks only – to Pumpkin Tales. There were no side walks per se, but it felt safe to join the locals walking the sides of the roads under the umbrella of tall leafy trees. The streets were lined with pleasant homes and apartment buildings with an occasional restaurant or boutique in the mix. Myth two busted, it wasn’t that hard to get around here.
Things to do in Chennai
Attractions like India’s longest urban beach, the six kilometer Marina Beach and Chennai Marina Lighthouse, Kapaleeswarar Temple, Government House Museum, Fort St. George and St. Andrew’s Church are all close by. You could easily spend a few days exploring the history of the British East India company and the ancient temples of Shiva built in Dravidian style.
By night, the cosmopolitan side of Chennai is fun to explore with great restaurants and clubs to dance the night away in. Pauli-Ann and I perused organic grocers and the très chic boutique Amethyst when we found ourselves with a little spare time. Be sure to check out our detailed post on chef Chindi Varadarajulu to enjoy her insider knowledge and the recommendations for her Top Five Things to do in Chennai. We hope you’ll also enjoy the recipes from her restaurant, Pumpkin Tales; Pumpkin Soup and a Morning Glory Bowl.