India: Chennai, Tamil Nadu

Quick note just to say that there are still a couple of spots left in tomorrow’s gluten-free (and vegan!) bread baking class: Get Baked! at 11am here in TorontoWe’d love to have you, and you can sign up online at Meghan’s site.  Why do I teach gluten-free (and vegan!) bread baking classes?  Well, the answer awaits you in this post.  But here’s a hint, my muse (the lovely Ashley) will be there tomorrow, and you’ll get the whole scoop then.  You know you want to come play with us — hope you can make it!

The first official stop on our sightseeing tour of South India (after we got our landlegs back under us in Goa and said goodbye to the magical masala dosa), was Chennai (formerly Madras).  Chennai is an IT hub, a big city, and the capital of Tamil Nadu.

Chennai is a city that (like Mumbai) employs a traffic measure that I call “Honk & Go”.  Essentially, if you honk, you get to go.  And you don’t use turn signals for passing, you just honk continuously until you are passed the other car.  All of the trucks & buses have “Sound Horn” written on the back to ask you to please “Honk & Go” and somehow it all works.  It’s madness, and it’s loud, but it works.


And some signs tell you things like “No Entry for Bullock Carts”.  That’s how you know you’re not in Kansas anymore.


Our sightseeing plan was to go and see the National Art Gallery.  But we were only in Chennai for a day, and that day was a Friday.  For your information, museums and galleries in Chennai are closed on Fridays.  Onward!

So we went to go see a gorgeous Hindu temple.  There are three main gods in the Hindu Trimurti: Brahma (creator), Vishnu (the maintainer), and Shiva (the destroyer of evil).  The temple we visited was a Shiva Temple called Tiruvalithayam.

As you approach the temple complex, there are vendors outside selling flowers for offerings:


Offerings are also made out of coconuts (you break them on the ground, to symbolize breaking the ego), bananas, and flowers.  The food is then offered to the poor as an act of charity:

This was the entrance gateway (gopuram) of Tiruvalithayam:

The quantity of sculptures that adorn the gopuram is unbelievable, but so is the detail of each character:

Inside the Tiruvalithayam temple complex there were many shrines:

And each had ornate and colourful sculptures:

This one was atop a shrine to Ganesh:

If you see a bull, it’s representing Nandi, Shiva’s mount:

I became captivated by the geometric patterns of the mandalas drawn in chalk or painted on the ground around the temples of South India:

We also went to visit the San Thome Basilica.  The church is built over the grave of St. Thomas (aka. Doubting Thomas / Thomas the Apostle, who preached in India from 52-72 A.D.).  It’s a Neo-Gothic style British Cathedral that was built in 1893.

And you know how I love archways:


We also went into Fort St. George (built by the East India company and completed in 1644, and now houses the State legislature) to visit St. Mary’s Church, “the oldest Anglican Church east of the Suez”, which was consecrated in 1680:


I was confused by the number of churches we were visiting, but of course it all makes sense.  Chennai has the second largest port in India, and so sailors have been traveling to Chennai for trade for ages — and needed places to worship, and to bury their dead.  Fascinating!

Back in our hotel, we were pleasantly amused by the decor.  This was the art hanging in the lobby:

And this was the art hanging above our bed:

And the food in the hotel included a buffet breakfast (clockwise from green blob: mint chutney, idli, hashbrowns, uttapam, vada, pea curry, spinach uttapam, and vermicelli upma in the centre).


The best were the uttapam (savoury pancakes made with onions and a mix of spices):


Or mint idlis with chole and poori and a couple vada for good measure:


And of course, many lovely cups of black tea accompanied breakfasts:


We also did a buffet meal out at a vegetarian restaurant… the kitchen staff there seemed surprised to see people other than locals eating there — they had their noses pressed up to the glass of the kitchen window watching us choose food and eat.  But they were very hospitable and the food was great!


They also had 2 types of flatbreads — whole wheat roti (on top) and naan (bottom):


Perfect food to see us on our way to Mahabalipuram!  Stay tuned…

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Categories: Travel


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  1. India: Mahabalipuram | The Kitchen Operas - April 9, 2012

    […] next stop following Chennai on our tour of South India was Mahabalipuram (formerly Mammalipuram) in the state of Tamil […]

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