The smallest among the four Indian metros, Chennai (earlier Madras) is Tamil Nadu’s capital and your portal to the state’s rich culture. On the one hand you’ll find here the layers of history that made ‘Madras’. They’re still resonant in the names of the places you may visit today: Mylapore and the great 7th century Pallava dynasty port; Triplicane and its ancient temple; Santhome (San Thome) and the 16th-century Portuguese settlement, built where St Thomas is said to have settled and died; Fort St George and the first British settlement in India; Adyar and the headquarters of Annie Besant’s Theosophical Society; Kalakshetra, the place where Rukmini Devi Arundale practically created contemporary Bharatnatyam.
On the other hand, you’ll also find quintessential Tamil culture. Carnatic music and dance gatherings which are an integral part of urban life in a way no other city can claim; coconut chutney and filter kapi; and larger-than-life cut-outs of politicos jostling for space besides kitschy film posters, for this is Tamil Nadu, and religion, film and politics often seem one.