A walk through the lanes of old areas like Mylapore or Triplicane, away from the bustle of the main streets, can feel like a peek straight into the city’s past. And the best way to do this is with a local guide, who brings it alive through fascinating stories of the people and the places along the way. Here are our top picks for navigating the city on foot.
1. Story Trails: explore history and heritage haunts
Discover the contemporary avatar of Chennai through the timeless tales of its markets, temples, palaces, spices and crafts. Story Trails has a range of unusual guided walks like the Jewellery Trail that digs deep into the Indian love of gold and glitter. You’ll get to watch gems being set in elaborate pieces, and learn about the maharajas’ fabled jewels and their symbolism.
Or you may want to embark on the Steeple Chase, which lifts the curtain on erstwhile Madras’ hidden Christian heritage, beginning with the arrival of Saint Thomas in 52 AD. For those in need of a more active tour, there is Stories on the Run, a running trail by the seaside, sprinkled with scoops about the British Raj in India.
2. Chennai Magic: learn about the locals
Explore the three neighbourhoods with the oldest histories and most colourful narratives with Chennai Magic’s guided walks in Mylapore, Triplicane and Georgetown. Each of the walks delves into the multicultural ethos of these localities through the prism of their traditional bazaars, heritage landmarks and religious buildings. These include Kapaleeswara Temple, which was rebuilt 300 years after the Portuguese destroyed it in the mid 16th-century.
Their latest offer is the Food Walk through the leafy residential neighbourhood of Adyar, which allows visitors a peep into the daily lives of residents. There is also a visit to a local home that includes a hands-on cooking demonstration, followed by lunch with the hosts.
3. 5 Senses Tours: movie industry secrets and shopping like a pro
Bollywood is India’s pride, but how about a slice of Kollywood – Chennai’s very own film business that first began rolling in 1897? From a tour of the most famous film studios, to behind-the-scenes glimpses of film shooting, and perhaps even a chance to join a dance choreography session, 5 Senses Tours’ Kollywood Experience is a comprehensive introduction to one of India’s largest film industries.
There is also the Shopping Tour and Bazaar Trail that is a feast for the senses, criss-crossing through the city, beginning early at the Koyambedu wholesale vegetable-and-fruit market and ending at an arts and crafts emporium.
4. Chennai Photo Walk: capture the city’s colours on camera
Because, sometimes, the best sights are to be found from behind the viewfinder of a camera. After all, millions of Instagrammers all over the world can’t be wrong. Explore the lanes and bylanes of Chennai with a bunch of shutterbugs, comparing notes about the city and photography throughout the jaunt. The Chennai Photo Walk takes place twice every month on Sunday mornings, with different themed routes: from churches to cricket, gardens to gods; this motley group has surprises in store each time.
5. Chennai Food Walks: savour the city’s best street food
Unlike Delhi and Mumbai, this laid-back south Indian city is not exactly known for its street food. “Not fair,” says ex-IT professional Sridhar Venkatraman, who leads food walks through various localities during weekend evenings. His walks are not associated with any formal restaurants, instead shining the spotlight on fast food and street food (below).
“Stop, eat and move on,” says Venkatraman of his walks, where the idea is to pack in as much nosh – from vadai (deep-fried fritters) to traditional sweets – as possible in a couple of hours. The walks are free of charge, with guests paying for the food they buy at the various stops. Along with food stories, he shares trivia about the city, and the specific neighbourhood.
– TEXT BY CHARUKESI RAMADURAI
PHOTOS: STORY TRAILS, CHENNAI MAGIC, 5 SENSES TOURS
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.