Quite unlike any other fort in India, Fort St George, Chennai stands amid state offices facing the sea in the east of the city, just south of George Town on Kamaraj Salai. It looks more like a complex of well-maintained colonial mansions than a fort; indeed many of its buildings are used today as offices, a hive of activity during the week as people rush between the Secretariat and State Legislature. The fort was the first structure of Chennai town and the first territorial possession of the British in India. Construction began in 1640, but most of the original buildings were replaced later that century, after being damaged during French sieges.
The most imposing structure is the eighteenth-century is the Fort House, coated in deep-slate-grey and white paint. The traveler can also check out the excellent Fort Museum. It displays a collection of portraits, regimental flags, weapons, East India Company coins, medals, stamps and thick woolen uniforms and others. The squat cast-iron cage on the ground floor was brought to Chennai from China, where for more than a year in the 19th century it was used as a particularly sadistic form of imprisonment for a British captain.
South of the museum, past the State Legislature, stands the oldest surviving Anglican church in Asia, St Mary's, built in 1678 and partly renovated after the battle of 1759. Constructed with thick walls and a strong vaulted roof that has withstood the city's many sieges, the church served as a store and shelter in times of war. It is distinctly English in style.
The Chennai Government Museum has remarkable archeological finds from South India and the Deccan, stone sculptures from major temples and an unsurpassed collection of Chola bronzes. Large statues of Shiva, Vishnu and Parvati stand in the centre, flanked by glass cases containing smaller figurines, including several sculptures of Shiva as Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance, encircled by a ring of fire and standing with his arms and legs poised and head provocatively cocked. One of the finest models is Ardhanarishvara, the androgynous form of Shiva; the left side of the body is female and the right male, and the intimacy of detail is astounding. There is also a children's gallery and an Indo-Saracenic art gallery.
One of the longest city beaches in the world, the Marina (Kamaraj Salai) in Chennai stretches 5 km from the harbour at the southeastern corner of George Town, to San Thome Cathedral. The travelers can take a stroll here and enjoy the sunrises and the sunsets.
Over the years numerous buildings have sprung up in the state capital and among them are the surreal modern memorials to Tamil Nadu's chief political heroes. The memorial to illustrious movie actor and chief minister MGR is amazingly popular.
India's most stylish home-made motorcycle, the Enfield Bullet, is manufactured at a plant on the outskirts of Chennai, 18km north of Anna Salai. With its elegant tear-drop tank and thumping 350cc single-cylinder engine, the Bullet has become a contemporary classic. Bike enthusiasts should definitely see the factory which is as much a period piece as the machines it turns out.
The Crocodile Bank at Vadanemmeli, 14 km north of town on the road to Chennai was set up in 1976 by the American zoologist Romulus Whittaker to protect and breed indigenous crocodiles. The bank has been so successful (from fifteen crocs to five thousand in the first fifteen years) that its remit now extends to saving endangered species, such as turtles and lizards, from around the world.
The topography of Tamil Nadu is such that it offers respite from the hot, humid climate of a tropical country. The outstanding hill resorts are flocked by both national and international travelers.
Much the best known of the hill resorts is Udhagamandalam (formerly Ootacamund, and usually known just as "Ooty"), in the Nilgiri Hiils. The ride up to Ooty, on the miniature railway via Coonoor, is fun, and the views breathtaking. There are some scenic walks out of the town and several viewpoints which, together with boating and horse rides, make up the quintessentially Bollywood-ish activities which attract hordes of Indian tourists.
Further south and reached by a scenic switchback road, the other main hill station is Kodaikanal. The lovely walks around town provide views and fresh air in abundance, while the bustle of Indian tourists around the lake makes a pleasant change from life in the city.
Given the coexistence of so many stunning archeological remains with a long white-sand beach, it was inevitable this would become a major destination for travelers. Over the past two decades, Mamallapuram has been receiving tourists from all over the world. The Shore Temple is now sadly a shadow of the exotic spectacle it used to be when the waves lapped its base, though the atmosphere generated by the stone-carvers' workshops and ancient rock-art backdrop is unique in India.
2 km north of Mamallapuram on the Kovalam (Covelong) Road lies the Government College of Sculpture. It gives a fascinating insight into the processes of sculpture training. The travelers can watch anything from preliminary drawing, with its strict rules regarding proportion and iconography, through to the execution of sculpture, both in wood and stone, in the classical Hindu tradition.
A further 3 km north along Covelong Road from the college, set amid trees and close to the sea is the extraordinary Tiger Cave. It contains a shrine to Durga, approached by a flight of steps that passes two subsidiary cells.
Following the line of an irregularly shaped rock, the cave is remarkable for its elaborate exterior which features multiple lion heads surrounding the entrance to the main cell. If one sits for long enough, the section on the left with seated figures in niches above two elephants begins to resemble an enormous owl.
A magnificent collection of Chola bronzes, the finest of them from the Tiruvengadu hoard, unearthed in the 1950s, fills the Thanjavur Art Gallery. It houses a high-ceilinged audience hall with massive pillars, dating from 1600 AD. The elegance of the figures and delicacy of detail are unsurpassed.
Trichys Rock Fort is a massive sand-coloured rock on which the fort rests towers to a height of more than 80m, its irregular sides smoothed by wind and rain. The Pallavas were the first to cut into it but it was the Nayaks who grasped the site's potential as a fort, adding only a few walls and bastions as fortifications. From the entrance, off China Bazaar, a long flight of red-and-white painted steps cuts steeply uphill, past a series of Pallava and Pandya rock-cut temples (closed to non-Hindus), to the Ganesh Temple crowning the hilltop. The views from its terrace are spectacular, taking in the Ranganathaswamy and Jambukeshwara temples to the north, their gopurams rising from a sea of palm trees, and the cubic concrete sprawl of central Trichy to the south.
At Madurai the travelers can unravel the 17th century Thirumalai Nayak Palace, 1.5 km southeast of the Meenakshi Temple. It also has a palace museum that consists of unlabelled Pandyanjain and Buddhist sculpture, terracottas and an eighteenth-century print.
Apart from the magnificent beauty that Kanykumari exudes it is also significant for the 1970 Vivekananda Rock Memorial. It can be reached by the Poompuhar ferry service from the jetty on the east side of town and houses a statue of the saint. The footprints of Kanya Devi can also be seen here, at the spot where she performed her penance.
For more on the life and teachings of Vivekananda, one can visit the Wandering Monk Museum (Vivekananda Puram), just north of the tourist office on the main.