The one big drawback to selecting Madras as an arrival point in India is the heat. The climate is tropical and despite two monsoons a year (June–Aug and Sept–Nov) it is always very hot and very humid. Remember, they’ve named a curry after Madras. Some like the hot humid atmosphere and slip easily into the calm, relaxed pace of life for which Tamil Nadu is famous; others simply melt, and regret not choosing a northern capital in which to adjust to Asian temperatures. The coolest season, but still rather warm, is Dec–Feb, and it’s worth turning up for the Pongal (Spring Harvest) festival of mid-Jan. During this extravaganza, Madras paints itself and its sacred cows in bright colours, and goes singing, dancing and begging for a whole week. Though more sedate, the big Dance and Arts Festival of mid-December is also a major attraction. Madras has any number of festivals, and each one is a near-riot.ARRIVAL/DEPARTURE
Madras is the Gateway to the south. The perfect base from which to commence one’s discovery of southern India. Air, rail and bus connections are all superb.
Meenambakkam airport is connected by Indian Airlines to Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Bombay, Calcutta, Cochin, Delhi, Hyderabad, Madurai, Port Blair, Trivandrum,
Vizakhapatnam; by Vayudoot with Coimbatore, Madurai and Cochin; and by East West Airlines to Bombay.
International flights are operated by Air India from Frankfurt, Jeddah and Kuala Lumpur; Air Lanka from Colombo; British Airways from London (Heathrow) via Abu Dhabi; Indian Airlines to Colombo and Singapore; Malaysian Airlines from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore Airlines from Singapore.
The airport has international and domestic terminals (linked by Rs5 PTC bus service), and is located 14 km (8 3/4 miles) from the city. From the airport, you’ve a choice of Aviation Express private coach (Rs30), PTC mini-coach (Rs30), taxi (Rsl00- 120) or auto-rickshaw (Rs50-60) into town. It’s a 40-60 minute journey.
Madras has two stations: Egmore, which serves the south (right down to Kanyakumari), and Central, which connects with the rest of India (notably Bangalore, Bombay and Cochin). Both stations are close to each other, off Poonamallee High Rd, and you can use the suburban trains to get around Madras itself—say, up to Fort St George or to Madras Beach, or down to Guindy for the National Park. Rail reservations are easy; to tap the tourist quota, go to the Indrail office, 2nd floor, inside Central station. It’s open 10 am-6 pm and you don’t need an Indrail Pass for reservations, just your passport.
TTDC buses (for short-range destinations like Mahabalipuram, Kanchipuram, Tirupati etc.) leave from Mofussil bus-stand, off Esplanade Rd. TTC buses go from the nearby Express bus-stand at Parry’s Corner, just behind the High Court building, and service long-haul venues like Hyderabad (15 hrs), Bangalore, Kanchipuram (3 hrs), Coimbatore, Madurai, Mysore (9 hrs), and Trivandrum (16 hrs). Inside the chaotic terminals, there are always kids eager to direct you to the right bus for a small tip. To avoid long queues for tickets, buy them at the TNTDC tourist office, and at the crowded bus-stations. Tamil Nadu has one of the country’s most efficient public transport systems and even the smallest district town is connected with Madras.
Madras divides into three main sections: busy, commercial Georgetown to the north (with GPO, American Express, bazaars, budget hotels, in and around Netaji Subhash Bose Road); Egmore in the city centre (for bus/rail terminals, airline offices, consulates, tourist offices and decent hotels/restaurants, in and around Anna Salai/ Mount Rd); and Guindy/Adyar, the quiet, rural ‘green belt’ (with wildlife park, beaches and Theosophical Society) to the far south.
Getting around Madras, you have two problems: first, all the streets were renamed following Independence, and the new names haven’t stuck (everybody still calls Anna Salai, Madras’s chief thoroughfare, by its old title of Mount Road); second, transport round town is hit-and-miss. The inner city is crowded with unemployed auto- and cycle-rickshaws who’ll do anything, even mount the pavement, to get your business. But few of them speak English, and even fewer know where they are going. With rickshaws always fix the cost of the journey—around Rs2.50 per km for auto-rickshaws, Rsl.50 per km for cycle-rickshaws—in advance. Sometimes it’s better to hire a taxi as they do tend to use meters, and have a better sense of direction. Most travellers see Madras by bicycle.