It was a hot summer day and my trip to Chennai was fast coming to an end. Though I had seen a lot of the town, I was yet to see the much-talked about wonderful things on the beautiful East Coast Road (ECR). So I got myself a seat booked in a bus for the trip alongside the ECR.

Cholamandal Artists’ Village
Arts Village on ECR in Chennai
(Pic by Destination8infinity, wikimedia)

This village was established in 1966 by the artists credited with the Madras Movement of Art (1950s–1980s), bringing modernism to South India. The founders of this acclaimed international artists’ community was K. C. S. Paniker, the principal of the Madras School of Arts and 39 other artists.

Located at village Injambakkam, 9 km from Chennai, it has around 20 resident painters and sculptors. They also run the Artists Handicrafts Association which manages the village and sale through the permanent exhibition at the complex. The place is a treasure house of paintings, sketches, terracotta, stone, metal sculptures, batiks and handicrafts.

History says that the place is named after the Chola dynasty which ruled the region from 9-13th century and promoted arts and culture. And the land was bought with the proceeds of the first batik exhibition. This community was the first to introduce batik fabric into the country. It boasts of being the residence of eminent names in the art world such as P.S. Nandan, Haridasan, S. Nanda Gopal, Vasudev, K. Jayapala Paniker, Gopinath, Senathipathy, M.V. Devan and Richard Jesudas.

Today, besides the museum and a gallery for Cholamandalam artists, the centre has two galleries—Labernum and Indigo, an art book store and a craft shop. There is a tree-shaded sand area which has an international sculpture garden. There is also an open-air theatre. The village is open daily, from 10am-5pm. It is 10-minute walk from the Golden Beach. Local transport is easily available and the Chennai International Airport the nearest airport.

Dakshin Chitra – call it a museum or a heritage village(Pic: Agraharam by Rrjanbiah, wikipedia)

Some call Dakshin Chitra a museum, others a heritage village. But it’s a place of tranquility where the arts, folklore, crafts of ancient South India find room. Located about 25 km to the south of Chennai, it is managed by the Madras Craft Foundation. It opened for public on December 14, 1996, founded by Dr Deborah Thiagarajan who is an Indian art historian of American origin. British-born Indian architect Laurie Baker conceptualised the museum, while Benny Kuriakose, his assistant, designed the public buildings.

Spread over 10 acres, it has 18 heritage houses, showcasing the living styles of people from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, North Karnataka, Kerala and Telangana. These houses are recreated by architecture students, carpenters and workers after dismantling the original houses and come close to the Chettiar themes of the Nattukkottai Chettiars. And the 4,220 artefacts in the museum reflect the daily life. Among these, 3,200 are art related, 950 clothing and 70 have contemporary aspects. There is a collection of books and journals too. Interactive activities related to art and craft such as necklace making or basket weaving, indigo dying and traditional games are held. Dance programmes and puppet shows are also held. One can buy sovenirs at the Craft Bazaar and munch at Bekal, a restaurant.

Covelong Beach
Kovalam Beach(Pic: Covelong beach by Kmanoj, Wikimedia)

Covelong beach, better known as Kovalam is a fishing village about 40 km south of Chennai. It was developed as a town by Saadat Ali, the Nawab of Carnatic and taken over by the French in 1746 and destroyed by the British in 1752! The fort here was built by the Dutch and now it’s a resort called Taj Fisherman’s Cove. Main attractions here are the ancient Catholic church, mosque and temple near the beach. People also love to come and fish here. But the adventure lies in wind surfing and there is a surf school too.

Madras Crocodile Bank
Home sweet home for crocodiles and other endangered species (Pic: Marsh Crocodiles by Kmanoj, Wikimedia)

This is an introduction to one of the oldest surviving species on earth. This reptile zoo and herpetology research station is Asia’s first crocodile breeding centre. The aim: to save three endangered Indian crocodile species—marsh or mugger crocodile, saltwater crocodile and gharial. Watching over 1,000 crocodiles housed here can be a scary as well as a humbling experience. Warnings of not feeding the animals are written all over. The grounds are covered by coastal dune forest and there are breeding colonies of water birds and a secure nesting beach for Olive Ridley sea turtles.

In fact, I was surprised to know that the centre is the biggest crocodile sanctuary in India, spread over 8.5 acres. It has 5,000 crocodiles and alligators, representing 14 of the 23 existing species. As of 2011, the CrocBank had 2,483 animals, including 14 species of crocodiles, 10 species of turtles, 3 species of snakes, and 1 species of lizard.

The centre has a puppet show for children and organises regular workshops and educational classes, publishes a biannual journal called Hamadryad and is home to the largest library of herpetological literature in India.

San Thome Basilica

This church also has a museum

(Pic:Santhome Basilica. by PlaneMad, Wikimedia)

This Roman Catholic minor basilica in San Thome was built in the 16th century by Portuguese. Under this church lies the tomb of St Thomas, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus. He arrived in Kerala from Judea in 52 AD and preached till 72 AD when he was martyred on St. Thomas Mount. Designed in Neo-Gothic style, in 1893 it was built by the British as a church. In 1956, Pope Pius XII gave it the status of a Basilica Minor. In February 2006, it was declared a national shrine at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. The church also has a museum.