Getting There & Away
By Air -- There are daily flights to Chennai's International Anna Airport (Airport Information Centre; tel. 044/2256-1818) and the Kamaraj Domestic Airport (a minute's walk from each other) from all major destinations in India; note that both Madurai and Tiruchirappalli can be reached by flight from here. If you want to utilize the train while here, the Southern Railways computerized ticket reservation counter is just outside the domestic terminal exit. The airports are situated just over 12km (7 1/2 miles) southwest from the center but the ride to downtown Mount Road/Anna Salai can take 30 to 40 minutes; costs start at Rs 350 for a non-A/C taxi. You can also catch the train into town (Park, Egmore, and Beach stops) if you're willing to lug your luggage 500m (1,640 ft.) down the road to Trisulam Station.
By Train -- Chennai has two major railway stations. Chennai Central (in George Town) connects Chennai with most major destinations throughout India, while the second-largest, Egmore (tel. 131), is usually the point of arrival and departure for trains within Tamil Nadu or Kerala. Some trains from within the state now also pull in at Tambaram Station; not ideal as this is an hour from Chennai. You can get recorded train information by dialing the computerized tel. 1361 (remember to have your train number); alternatively call information at tel. 133 for arrivals and departures. Express trains take 6 hours from Chennai to Tiruchirappalli and 7 1/2 hours from Chennai to Madurai; book a seat on an A/C chair car. To plan train travel, we suggest you go online to www.indianrail.gov.in or www.southernrailway.org. Or book your train at your hotel, at a travel agency, or at the Rajaji Bhavan Complex (ground floor) in Besant Nagar.
By Road -- You may not realize it by glancing at a map, but Tamil Nadu is a fairly massive chunk of India, and it will take more than 15 hours to drive from Chennai to Kanyakumari in the far southwest of the state. For tours solely within Tamil Nadu, you can use GRT Tours & Travels (tel. 044/6550-0000), but they will try to push you to stay in their hotels and resorts, all of which are comfortable but not necessarily the best in each class. Also reliable, and worth getting alternative quotes from, are: Sita World Travel (www.sitaindia.com), Travel House (www.travelhouseindia.com), or Madura Travel Service (www.maduratravel.com). Regular buses are available for travel to almost any point in the state, as well as Bangalore, and Tirupati; contact the State Express Transport Corporation Bus Stand (tel. 044/2479-4707; daily 7am-9pm). Note that there is a new hop-on, hop-off tour from Chennai to Mamallapuram (four departures in the morning from Chennai starting 9am; four departures from Mamallapuram in the afternoon starting 4.15pm); for more information visit www.tamilnadutourism.org/hopontour.html.
For general tourist information, contact the busy but attentive staff at Indiatourism (tel. 1913; 154 Anna Salai; tel. 044/2846-0285 or -1459; firstname.lastname@example.org; Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 9am-1pm), located across the road from Spencer's. Chennai This Fortnight: Explocity is a useful bimonthly booklet that recently celebrated it's 20th birthday; it highlights restaurants, nightlife, accommodation and shopping options, and has listings for just about everything, from suggested walks to entertainment events -- it's also available online: www.chennai.explocity.com. To get a real feel for the city, purchase a copy of the relatively new glossy magazine 044 (referring to the city's area code).
Orientation & Neighborhoods
Extending westward from the Bay of Bengal, Chennai is unwieldy to explore, and it's best to concentrate on one area on any given day. Linking the north and south of the city is Anna Salai (also known as Mount Road), which starts out as G.S.T. Road near the airport in the southwest, and terminates at Fort St. George in George Town in the northeast. Two major rivers snake their way through the city -- the Cooum River in the north, and the Adyar River several miles south. Between these, the most popular section of Marina Beach stretches between the sea and the city's busy inner districts, where you'll find most of its hotels. George Town lies just north of the Cooum's confluence with the Bay of Bengal. Southwest of George Town (around the Cooum River), Egmore and Triplicane form the heart of the commercial city; Egmore is home to the Government Museum, one of Chennai's top sights. Farther south, the neighborhoods of San Thome and Mylapore are the old heart of the city, and where you'll find the city's two other top sights -- San Thome Cathedral and Kapaleshvara Temple.
Getting Around Chennai
By Taxi & Auto-Rickshaw -- Chennai is a large, sprawling city, and its many sights are spread out and quite impossible to cover on foot. Auto-rickshaw drivers in this city are particularly adept at squeezing impossible fares out of foreign visitors -- you would be well warned to always fix a price upfront. Unlike other large cities, Chennai does not have taxis cruising the streets or idling at taxi stands. If you want a taxi, best to phone for one -- though for short distances, this is hardly worth the long wait or cost. Call taxis run fairly reliable meters that start at a minimum base fare of Rs 50 for 3km (2 miles), with Rs 10 for every additional kilometer. You can also negotiate flat rates. After 9pm, fares are surcharged anything from 25% more to double. For a full listing of taxi companies, or one nearest to your hotel, check out www.chennaitaxi.com, or call Bharati Call Taxi (tel. 044/2814-2233; T. Nagar), Dial A Car (tel. 044/2811-1098; Mylapore), Comfort Cool Taxi (tel. 044/2538-4455; Egmore), or Zig-Zag Call Taxi (tel. 044/3245-7788; Ashok Nagar).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.