Among the longest unbroken beaches, Marina Beach in Chennai is where waves become pools and clouds sink into the deep waters, taking me back in time to my short stay 20 years ago
A parrot sits next to its master-—an astrologer—who will ask him to pick a card and your future will emerge. I gaze in awe—I thought this guardian to the future was lost in black and white movies or maybe had wound itself in one the apps that clutter our lives. But here he is—living amid the waves and the balloons. My feet sink into the sand, as I head towards the ocean. In Chennai after 20 long years, how can I not spend an evening on the famous Marina Beach?
I remember being in awe as this was the first beach where I had experienced the mighty ocean. Actually, it was my first job outside Delhi then and everything appeared so larger-than-life. The ocean is a wild element, so magnetic yet so scary. A beach is a beach, everyone says, but this beach is the longest natural urban beach in the country along the Bay of Bengal. The amazing visible stretch begins from Fort St George in the north to Foreshore Estate in the south, a distance of 6 km.
The beach is full of people. The vendors have set up makeshift shops in the sand. Some are setting up their eatery stalls as the light is going to be around for an hour or so. Then there are night beach bummers who love listening to the song the waves sing. But I am happy to be the sunset tourist. Well, this evening I am in a rush, back from a meeting and stopping on the way to the airport, just a memorabilia to carry back. I don’t have time to explore but I do reminisce.
Attractions around Marina Beach
Chennai hasn’t changed a lot. There is still the preference to speak in Tamil. Traffic has increased tremendously on the roads as well this beach. This has and always will be the area where Chennai is experienced in its full glory. The Marina Beach road is a walkers’ paradise morning and evening. The promenade was conceived and built in 1884 by Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff, the governor of Madras from 1881 to 1886. He gave it the name Madras Marina.
The promenade road is formally known as Kamaraj Salai. Strangely, this is the city’s historical building and statue area too. It’s quite odd to find colonial era buildings, statues and the vast ocean so close. It makes you wonder if time has really stopped.
The Victory War Memorial is at the northern end. This memorial is dedicated to the warriors who lost their lives in the World Wars. Head to Anna Square which is also the northern end, to see the memorials of CN Annadurai, MG Ramachandran, J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi, former chief ministers of Tamil Nadu. Someone tells me that there is a Lilliputian Children’s Traffic Park near the Anna Memorial, adjacent to the Anna Swimming Pool. But I am not keen on running around. I like the breeze, the waves and there is pleasure in being near this mighty water body. Delhi being landlocked, the ocean is a treasure.
For those who have time, the Triumph of Labour statue was the first statue erected on this promenade. There is a statue of Mahatma Gandhi near the lighthouse. But it being a Monday, I don’t go near the lighthouse since it’s closed. There are statues of Robert Caldwell and Kambar, Subhas Chandra Bose, Thiruvalluvar, Annie Besant, Swami Vivekananda and many more eminent figures.
The other side of the road has some majestic structures such as the University of Madras, the Presidency College, Queen Mary’s College, Chepauk Cricket Stadium, Vivekananda House, Police Headquarters, Dr. Annie Besant Park, All India Radio.
Near the lighthouse is a shopping area. I see this when I exit the sands. Alas, no time to enjoy this colourful bazaar. This is the road which goes to Adyar where I stayed for a short while, the plush locality which is neighbour’s envy and owner’s pride.
Eliot’s beach is another happy sunrise and sunset spot in Adyar. For anyone who has been to Marina, Eliot’s appears to be a mini-playground but I like it for the solitude it offers. Not a madhouse of public affairs, it is like the personal garden where you relish your time. It also has the Velankani Church. This too was where I experienced an amalgam of cultures. Unlike a pure Christian church, it offers a blend of Indian and English rituals.
Circa 2001: Eliot’s Beach
Chennai was a different world from Delhi. I wasn’t a cosmoplitan citizen, just someone deeply rooted in Delhi. The language is different, the ocean is a little darker and the air more humid. Though Marina beach is the longest beach there, I liked the Eliot’s beach better. It has less people and the beach restaurants serve awesome fish. There are policemen in the area, so no one misbehaves. There is the famous Velankani church there where The Lady is worshipped with candles, divas, sindoor and like Hindu temples, you need to take off your shoes before entering. A little ahead on the same beach road is the Ashtalaxmi temple. This stretch is lovely in the evening–the breeze whips through your hair; the coconut and vada and idli sellers by the roadside will compel you to stop and take a bite. Every evening, I would watch the fishermen bring in their boats with the catch of the day. The sails come down and the boats are left covered on the shore, as they head home. Some even sit around for a drink with friends. I wonder if it’s still this friendly and quiet.
A Playful Time
Screaming children break my reverie. The waves are calling, yet they are so far. I go closer to catch the swirls. Swoosh, my shoes and jeans are wet now. An ironic smile lights up my face—the water is welcoming, but I am not carrying an extra pair of shoes or pants in my bag. I turn to find more children enjoying a ride on the horses. A couple walks by holding hands. Beaches are fun.
The waves are powerful. Like the lion, they roar as they come charging towards the beach, but the soft sand melts them. Such a powerful message they carry, for it is the calm shores that can melt all storms. And the sun is setting as I take off my wet shoes to find a cab that will take me to the airport.
My only wish: I should have gone to see the Theosophical Society-Adyar with its 450-year-old banyan tree and the Snake Park where a venom extraction demonstration is held every Sunday.
How to reach Chennai
Chennai is easily accessible by road, air and railways from all cities. If you are around for a long period, you could drive to Puducherry and Auroville via the East Coast Road. Then you could do Kanchipuram with its temples and silks in a day. You could head towards to the Crocodile bank to see the magnificent creatures.