Chennai, India - Stein Travel
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Chennai

Chennai (formerly known as Madras) is the capital of the friendly state of Tamil Nadu, and makes for a great gateway to India's celebrated south. Founded in 1639 by the British (acting under the auspices of the Dutch East India trading company), this city on the Coromandel Coast is now the fourth-largest in India, home to nearly 7.5 million people.

If truth be told, modern-day Chennai is a dusty, chaotic and unattractive city - and is primarily used as a transit-point for travellers looking to access the close-lying areas of Pondicherry and Kerala. Accommodation options in Chennai are limited, shopping is not really worth the considerable stress of negotiating its roads and downtown areas, and there is not a great amount to see and do in the city itself.

Still, for travellers looking to access India's southern regions, and especially those who want to travel through the famously friendly and temple-strewn state of Tamil Nadu, Chennai is a useful entry-point to India - usually offering cheaper airfares than flights to Mumbai (especially for visitors arriving from the east).

Information & Facts

Language

Although English is generally used for official and business purposes, Hindi is the official language and is spoken by about 40 percent of the population. Urdu is the language common with the Muslim demographic. India has a total of 22 official languages

Money

The currency is the Indian Rupee (INR), which is divided into 100 paise (singular paisa). Major currencies can be changed at banks, and authorised bureaux de changes. It is impossible to obtain rupees outside India, but no matter what time you arrive in India there will be an exchange office open at the airport. It is illegal to exchange money through the black market and it is advisable to refuse torn notes, as no one will accept them apart from the National Bank. It is best to change money into small denominations. Travellers cheques and major credit cards are widely accepted, particularly in tourist orientated establishments. ATMs are not generally available.

Sightseeing

Chennai is not usually a place that tourists to India spend much time in - using it rather as a gateway to access the close-lying (and far more interesting) cities of Puduchery (Pondicherry), Trichy and Thiruvananthapuram (formerly Trivandrum). Chennai has good rail and bus connections to these places, as well as extensive flights to other major Indian cities.

For those tourists who find themselves with a couple of days to kill in Chennai, there are a limited amount of sights that capture the imagination. The Basilica of the National Shrine of St.Thomas is a bright white, neo-Gothic, spired building - and is purportedly built over the tomb of St Thomas the Apostle. The Big Mosque (also called the Wallajah Mosque) is a beautiful structure, with extremely pleasing lines and - despite its size - possessing a remarkable symmetry. Completing Chennai's list of top religious sights is the The Parthasarathy Temple, an 8th-century temple dedicated to Lord Krishna.

Chennai also has a long coastline, full of sandy beaches with great ocean views. However, unfortunately for tourists, swimming is absolutely not allowed at any of these beaches due to dangerously strong undercurrents.

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