Chennai, India's fourth largest city, is neither ancient nor lovely but it is -- like Bangalore and Hyderabad -- booming. The first British settlement in India, it was established in 1639 by the East India Company on the site of a fishing village called Chennaipatnam. Madras, as the capital of Tamil Nadu was formerly known, is today a teeming, sprawling, bustling industrial metropolis, a manufacturing hub occasionally referred to as the "Detroit of the South," where many of India's IT companies are located. Unless you're here on business, or keen to shop, the city itself is only marginally fascinating -- a strange mix of British Raj-era monuments, Portuguese churches, Hindu temples, and ugly 21st-century buildings, massive billboards, and concrete overpasses; even one of the longest urban beaches on earth is not enough to hold the attention for long. Most travelers arrive here simply because it's a transport hub and soon leave, distracted by the attractions that start only a few hours away -- among them, Kanchipuram, city of "a thousand temples," is a day excursion away, or a day trip en route to the beach resorts near Mamallapuram, a World Heritage Site, which lie directly 2 hours south. Even charming Pondicherry is only 3 hours away, making Chennai a destination of choice only with businessmen here to catch the coattails of one of India's fastest-growing cities.
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