A Week in Chennai: First Impressions and Family Adventures in India’s Southern Gem

After our enchanting stay in Sri Lanka, we decided that a visit to India was a must. With only a week to spare, we knew that this would be a brief introduction to a vast country, but we were eager to catch a glimpse of what India has to offer.

Traveling with our four-year-old daughter means that our trips are not as intense as they could be—yet there’s always a desire to see and experience more. For our maiden journey to India, we chose Chennai as our destination. Flying from Colombo to Chennai is quite straightforward.

In this article, we’ll share our impressions of the city, hoping to provide a glimpse into its vibrant life and culture.

Hindu Temple

What's This About?

Exploring Chennai

Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu, is a vibrant mix of tradition and modernity located on the Coromandel Coast of India. Known for its rich history, cultural significance, and a bustling film industry, Chennai is home to some of the most remarkable landmarks such as Marina Beach, Kapaleeshwarar Temple, and Fort St. George.

The city offers a unique blend of classical music, dance, and local cuisine, making it a pivotal educational and economic center in South India. Discover the enduring charm of Chennai, where ancient traditions seamlessly integrate with the dynamic pace of modern life.

Street Art

During our visit, we stayed at the Somerset Greenways Chennai hotel. This hotel offers a comfortable and convenient base for exploring the city. It is known for its modern amenities and excellent service, providing a pleasant experience for both tourists and business travelers.

The rooms are spacious and well-appointed, equipped with all the necessary facilities to ensure a comfortable stay. Additionally, the hotel features recreational facilities such as a swimming pool and a fitness center, which are great for relaxation after a day of sightseeing.

The Somerset Greenways also boasts a variety of dining options, catering to different tastes with local and international cuisine. Its location is advantageous, situated close to key attractions and shopping areas, making it easy for guests to explore what Chennai has to offer.

Somerset Greenways Chennai

During our stay in Chennai, we chose a hotel located in a particularly pleasant area. The neighborhood was green and tranquil, free from the noise and heavy traffic typical of more central locations. Conveniently, we found an ATM and a small shop nearby, which made our daily necessities easily accessible.

Another benefit of our hotel’s location was the 24-hour clinic next door, ensuring that medical help was readily available should we need it, though fortunately, we did not.

Tuk Tuk

Embracing India’s Vibrant Contrasts

Traveling with our four-year-old daughter, who is quite petite and of short stature, we still rely on a stroller to help manage longer distances. This proved invaluable as we love to explore cities on foot, and her little legs aren’t quite up to the task of covering large distances yet.

Navigating the city with a stroller was mostly manageable; however, crossing streets was a challenge. Traffic in India can be chaotic, with drivers often ignoring the rules and rarely giving way to pedestrians, even when the traffic lights signal it’s safe to cross. This made some street crossings tricky, but not impossible.

Street in Chennai

India is a land of contrasts—intense heat, bustling noise, heavy traffic, and occasionally unpleasant smells and litter can be overwhelming. It’s sad to see, but it’s also a part of the reality of this vibrant country.

We had braced ourselves for potentially worse conditions, so these challenges didn’t come as a surprise. Nonetheless, experiencing this aspect of India firsthand was still striking and added to the complexity of our adventure.

On the Road in Chennai

Discovering the Sacred: A Visit to Santhome Cathedral Basilica in Chennai

While exploring Chennai with a stroller, we made our way to Santhome Cathedral Basilica, a truly stunning structure that stands out remarkably from the urban landscape of the city.

Upon entering the cathedral, we were immediately struck by its tranquil beauty and took the opportunity to rest and escape the bustling city noise outside. At that moment, we were unaware of the significant historical and spiritual importance of the place. It was only later, through a guide, that we learned the church is built over the tomb of St. Thomas, one of Jesus’ apostles.

Santhome Cathedral Basilica

The present structure, built in the Neo-Gothic style, was constructed in 1893, replacing an older structure from the 16th century built by the Portuguese. The basilica is named after St. Thomas, who is believed to have traveled to India around 52 AD. He spent considerable time in the region and was martyred on a hill, now known as St. Thomas Mount, which is located near the cathedral.

Inside in Basilica

Visitors and pilgrims to Santhome Cathedral Basilica can admire its stunning stained glass windows depicting scenes from the life of St. Thomas, its towering spires, and a museum containing relics associated with the apostle. The tranquil atmosphere of the cathedral offers a spiritual retreat from the bustling city outside.

Inside in 
Santhome Cathedral Basilica

The cathedral not only serves as a place of worship but also as a beacon of cultural heritage, attracting thousands of visitors who come to marvel at its architecture and delve into the spiritual legacy of St. Thomas. This revelation added an unexpected depth to our visit, enhancing our appreciation for this beautiful and sacred site.

An Hour at Flower Bazar: Observing Local Life Amidst Chaos

One of our intriguing experiences in Chennai involved a visit to Flower Bazar, which, contrary to what we had anticipated, turned out to be not just a floral market. Expecting to be surrounded by a bounty of flowers and colors, we instead found a vast, bustling marketplace where vendors sold just about everything imaginable. The area was filled with noise and crowds; scooters and tuk-tuks made their way through any available space, and vendors laid out their goods along the sidewalks. The environment was notably dusty and loud.

Bazar in Chennai

We didn’t purchase anything but simply strolled around, searching for a market specifically dedicated to flowers. Eventually, we asked a local who informed us that “Flower Bazar” was merely the name of the market, not a literal description of its offerings. Another challenge was hailing a taxi amidst the chaos, which proved to be quite a task after our market exploration.

Man in Flower Bazar

Despite the overwhelming noise and chaos, observing the local life at Flower Bazar was genuinely fascinating. Watching how the vendors interacted and conducted their trades provided us with a vivid slice of everyday life. The locals were not intrusive; their curious glances were directed at us—visibly foreign in this setting—but everyone was respectful, and no one aggressively tried to sell us anything. We didn’t stay long, spending about an hour there, but it was enough time to get a feel for a typical local market in Chennai. This brief visit allowed us to appreciate the bustling atmosphere without becoming too overwhelmed.

Sugarcane Juice Maker

Exploring the Vibrant Flavors of Chennai’s Cuisine

Chennai’s cuisine is a delightful representation of South Indian flavors, characterized by its aromatic spices and an array of textures. The city is famous for its idlis and dosas, which are staple breakfast items made from fermented rice and lentil batter. These dishes are typically served with flavorful accompaniments like sambar (a lentil-based vegetable stew) and coconut chutney. Another popular dish is vada, a crispy fried snack.

Chennai also offers a variety of spicy curries and rice dishes like biryani. For those with a sweet tooth, traditional sweets such as payasam (a sweet pudding made from milk and sugar) and kesari (a semolina-based dessert) are a must-try. The use of tamarind, mustard seeds, curry leaves, and coconut in many dishes gives Chennai’s cuisine its distinctive taste, reflecting the city’s rich culinary heritage.

Indian Cuisine

During our stay in Chennai, we quickly discovered that Indian cuisine was significantly spicier than we anticipated. When we inquired whether the dishes we planned to order were hot, the staff recommended alternative, supposedly milder options. Despite this, we still found the food quite fiery, to the point where our lips and stomachs felt the burn. At the hotel, we even tried ordering pizzas, which, to our surprise, were also spicy.

Fish Market in Chennai

Subsequently, we decided to stick to the hotel’s restaurant that offered European cuisine, where we could specify that our meals be made without any spice. Traveling with a young child, it was essential for us to find food options that suited his palate, as the typical spicy Indian dishes were definitely not suitable for him. This experience made us more cautious about where and what we ate for the remainder of our trip.

In Supermarket

Chennai Unveiled: A Family’s Journey Through Culture and Chaos

As our week in Chennai came to a close, we reflected on our whirlwind experience in this dynamic city. From the tranquil yet bustling surroundings of Somerset Greenways Chennai hotel to the vibrant chaos of Flower Bazar, each day was filled with new sights, sounds, and flavors. We navigated the challenges of street crossings amidst the lively traffic and discovered the sacred atmosphere of Santhome Cathedral Basilica, adding a spiritual depth to our journey.

Walking in Chennai

The culinary adventures were particularly memorable, albeit fiery, teaching us to navigate and appreciate the local cuisine with caution, especially given our young child’s dietary needs. Despite the intense flavors that often tested our palates, we found refuge in familiar dishes when needed.

Colourful Street

Chennai, with its blend of traditional and modern, its hectic streets and serene corners, left us with a richer understanding of the city’s cultural tapestry. Our trip was a brief but vivid glimpse into the daily life and heritage of one of India’s most fascinating cities, reminding us of the beauty and diversity that travel brings into our lives.

Fish Market in Chennai
Cow on the Street

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