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Introducing Chennai (Madras)

The 'capital of the south' has always been the rather dowdy sibling among India's four biggest cities, with its withering southern heat, roaring traffic, and scarcity of outstanding sights. For many travellers, it is as much a gateway as a destination in itself. If you're just caught here between connections, it’s certainly worth poking around one of the museums or taking a sunset stroll along Marina Beach. If you have more time to explore Chennai's varied neighbourhoods and appreciate its role as keeper of South Indian artistic and religious traditions, the odds are this 70-sq-km conglomerate of urban villages will grow on you. Recent years have added a new layer of cosmopolitan glamour in the shape of luxury hotels, shiny boutiques, classy contemporary restaurants and even a smattering of clubs and bars open into the wee hours.

One of Chennai's biggest assets is its people, infectiously enthusiastic about their hometown. They won't hit you with a lot of hustle and hassle, and they will mostly treat you as a guest rather than a commodity.

The old British Fort St George and the jumble of narrow streets and bazaars that is George Town constitute the historic hub of the city. The two main train stations, Egmore and Central, sit inland from the fort. Much of the best eating, shopping and accommodation lies in the leafier southern and southwestern suburbs such as Nungambakkam, T Nagar (Thyagaraya Nagar) and Alwarpet. The major thoroughfare linking northern with southern Chennai is Anna Salai (Mount Rd).