Chennai has either the cosmopolitan, prosperous air of Mumbai (Bombay), the optimistic buzz of Bangalore (Bangalore) or the historical drama of Delhi. It’s muggy, polluted, hot as hell and difficult to get around. Traditional tourist attractions are few. Even the movie stars are, as one Henniker put it, ‘not that hot’. But the locals are a little friendlier than average here, the streets a little wider and, in spite of its booming IT, business-outsourcing and auto industries, the pace much slower than in most Indian cities half its size. Chennai is so modest you wouldn’t even know it’s an economic powerhouse, much less a queen of
Showbiz: India’s fourth-largest city is also its most humble.
The holy hill of Tirumala is one of the most visited pilgrimage centres in India – and indeed the world: it’s said that Venkateshwara Temple eclipses Jerusalem, Rome and Mecca for sheer numbers of pilgrims. There are never fewer than 5000 pilgrims here at any one time – the daily average is 40, 000 and the total often reaches 100, 000 – and darshanruns around the clock. Temple staff alone number 12, 000, and the efficient Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams administer the crowds. It also runs choultries (guesthouses) for pilgrims in Tirumala and Tirupathi, the service town at the bottom of the hill. The private hotels and lodges are in Tirupathi, so a fleet of buses constantly ferries pilgrims the 18km up and down the hills