Planning a Trip
Getting There & Away
By Air -- There are daily flights to Chennai's International Anna Airport (Airport Information Centre; tel. 044/2256-1818) and the Kamaraj Domestic Airport from all major destinations in India; both Madurai and Tiruchirappalli can be reached by flights from here. Anna International Terminal and Kamaraj Domestic Terminal are situated just over 12km (7 1/2 miles) from the center. The 30-minute taxi ride from the airport to downtown (Mount Rd.) Chennai should cost around Rs 175 to Rs 350 ($4-$8/£2-£4) for a prepaid taxi.
By Train -- Chennai has two major railway stations. Chennai Central (Georgetown) connects Chennai with most major destinations around India, while Egmore (tel. 131) is the point of arrival and departure for trains within Tamil Nadu or Kerala. Some trains from within the state now also pull in at Tambaram Station, an hour from Chennai. You can get recorded train information by dialing the computerized tel. 1361 (remember to have your train number); alternatively call general inquiries on tel. 133 for arrivals and departures. To plan train travel, we suggest you go online to www.indianrail.gov.in or www.southernrailway.org. Or book your train at your hotel, at a travel agency , or at the Rajaji Bhavan Complex (ground floor) in Besant Nagar.
By Road -- You may not realize it by glancing at a map, but Tamil Nadu is a fairly massive chunk of India, and it will take more than 15 hours to drive from Chennai to Kanyakumari in the far southwest of the state. Nevertheless, getting around is best done from the relative comfort of a rented car, with the wonderful rural landscape unfurling mile after mile (keep the window open to smell the freshness of turned earth and roasting cashews) and a driver who knows the way. Kerala Adventures (tel. 0484/231-3744; www.keralaadventure.com; firstname.lastname@example.org) has a well-run office in Chennai, headed by the charming Mr. Prem (tel. 094-4261-2988). Proprietor John Babu is knowledgeable and will help plan an itinerary that takes in the best of Tamil Nadu, before moving across the mountains into Kerala's Cardomom Hills, west to the coast, and -- time allowing -- north to Karnataka. Best of all his tariff structure is not only transparent, but offers excellent value. For tours within Tamil Nadu, you can use GRT Tours & Travels (tel. 044/6550-0000), but they will try to push you to stay in their hotels and resorts, all of which are comfortable but not necessarily the best in each class; however, it's worth getting a comparative quote from them. Also reliable, and worth getting quotes from, are: Balakrishna Tourist Taxis (tel. 044/2641-6340), Sita World Travel (www.sitaindia.com), Travel House (www.travelhouseindia.com), or Madura Travel Service (www.maduratravel.com). Regular buses are available for travel to almost any point in the state, Bangalore, and Tirupati; contact the State Express Transport Corporation Bus Stand (tel. 044/2479-4707; daily 7am-9pm).
For general tourist information, contact Indiatourism (tel. 1913). Staff at the Indiatourism offices (154 Anna Salai; tel. 044/2846-0285 or -1459; fax 044/2846-0193; email@example.com; Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 9am-1pm), across the road from Spencer's, is busy but attentive. CityInfo's useful Chennai This Fortnight: The City in Your Hands is a useful bimonthly booklet; it highlights hotels, restaurants, and shopping options and has listings for just about everything, from suggested walks to entertainment events. But the most useful pre-trip planner may be the following websites: www.chennaibest.com covers everything from art and shopping and restaurants (by cuisine style, with short reviews) to e-shopping; and www.chennaihub.com is similarly useful, only with even more detail (dance academies in Chennai? pool parlors?) and the option to book.
Orientation & Pool Parlours
Extending westward from the Bay of Bengal, Chennai is quite unwieldy. Linking the north and south of the city is Anna Salai, which starts out as G.S.T. Road (or Mount Rd.) near the airport in the southwest, and terminates at Fort St. George in George Town in the northeast. Two major rivers snake their way through the city -- the Cooum River in the north, and the Adyar River several kilometers south. Between these, the most popular section of Marina Beach stretches between the sea and the city's busiest districts, where you'll find most of its hotels and a number of attractions. George Town lies just north of the Cooum's confluence with the Bay of Bengal. Southwest of George Town (around the Cooum River), Egmore and Triplicane form the heart of the commercial city. Farther south, the neighborhoods of San Thome and Mylapore are where you'll find the most significant religious monuments -- San Thome Cathedral and Kapaleshvara Temple.
Getting Around Chennai
By Taxi & Auto-Rickshaw -- Chennai is a large, sprawling city, and its many sights are spread out and quite impossible to cover on foot. Auto-rickshaw drivers in this city are particularly adept at squeezing impossible fares out of foreign visitors -- you would be well-warned to always fix a price upfront. Unlike other large cities, Chennai does not have taxis cruising the streets or idling at taxi stands. If you want a taxi, you will have to phone for one -- for short distances, this is hardly worth the long wait or cost. For longer rides, call taxis are a good option and run by fairly reliable meters that start at a minimum base fare of Rs 50 ($1/60p) for 3km (2 miles), with Rs 10 (25¢/15p) for every additional kilometer. You can also negotiate flat rates. After 9pm, fares are surcharged anything from 25% more to double. Try Bharat Call Taxi (tel. 044/2814-2233) or Chennai Call Taxi (tel. 044/2598-4435)..