Chennai, India

Chennai is the capital of Tamil Nadu state and the gateway to Southern India. This fascinating city on the Bay of Bengal features both compelling character and cultural significance at every corner.

This is a unique angle on how local Indian cultures thrive, even in one of the world’s fastest-growing cities. Despite the city’s size and pace, it’s easy to unwind, especially on its beachfront.

Chennai as it is known today was founded as Madras by the British East India Trading Company in 1639 where they developed one of their first Indian outposts. The British built Fort St. George, completed in 1640 which today houses the legislative assembly, and around it the first English settlement in India was formed.

Madras grew around the fort, and with connections to Bombay and Calcutta formed through the British railway developments, the city became a center for trade. When India gained its independence in 1947, the city began to form a new identity, and in 1996 the city was renamed Chennai.

Your Chennai cruise will reveal the entry to India’s south, a region with its own individual identity and culture. The Tamil tradition rules here, from clothing and dance to architecture and art. The cuisine is also specific to the region, flavored by a range of spices and using rice as the basis of many dishes. The spicy Chettinad cuisine is arguably the most famous, with Chettinad pepper chicken a favorite of the locals.

It makes sense to begin your exploring where the city’s own journey began, in George Town. This vibrant and chaotic area of the city resembles the seed from which Chennai grew. One of the best ways to discover the area is through a guided heritage walk where you will learn about the city’s vastly significant history and heritage.

The historical sites in Chennai are not confined to the George Town area. There are a number of impressive monuments, colorful temples and grand churches located throughout the city. Sri Ramakrishna Math, also known as the Universal Temple, is one of the most impressive temples, while the likes of the Karaneeswarar Temple and Kapaleeswarar Temple, the city’s oldest and best known religious complex, are also unmissable attractions.

Only three churches in the world are built upon the tomb of an Apostle of Jesus Christ, one of which can be discovered at Chennai. The stunning Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Thomas was built upon St. Thomas' tomb and since its 2004 restoration it has become one of the most impressive churches in India. You could also take the opportunity to visit St. Mary’s Church, recognized as one of the oldest surviving churches built by the British in India.

After absorbing the many temples, churches, monuments and museums, a little rest and relaxation is in order. There is no better place to spend this than along one of the world’s longest city beachfronts. Head to Marina Beach for seven mile long sands or Edward Elliot’s Beach for a quieter, more sedate atmosphere on the sands of Chennai.