This was Katey’s first trip to South India, and in particular, her first trip to Chennai. While many things are very similar to the rest of India, Chennai manages to maintain its own particular flavor. The first thing Katey noticed, besides the very wet roads due to the unseasonably late rains, was the color. India in general is enamored with color, but Chennai takes it to a whole new level. There is barely a white surface in the whole city. Instead, the buildings are painted the brightest teals and pinks and yellows and blues, the temples are a riot of color, and even the men’s sarongs are rarely the staid blue plaids of the north.

It is not only the colors which mix in eye searing combinations, but also the people. While the people of Tamil Nadu tend to be shorter and darker in skin tone, the city has been a cross roads of cultures and trade routes since its foundation by the British in the 18th century. You can find people of all ethnic backgrounds, religions, and languages within the city. In many places you can find paintings on walls that represent the unity of Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. While the predominant language heard in the streets is Tamil, you can find all of the major languages in the markets.

There are also an abundance of markets in this city! And malls. Which are really just air conditioned markets. The city was designed not just to be a fort, but a trading port. This legacy carries on today. If you know where to look, or the right people to ask, you could probably find anything you desired to purchase here. But knowing who to ask is the key. While the city is the trading post of the South, it is not always easy to navigate as an outsider. Most of the myriad rickshaw drivers can get you were you need to go if you know where you’re looking for.

However, this lack of direction can mean unexpected discoveries as you learn your way around the city. Temples pop out of nowhere, puppies play on the smaller side streets, and little market stalls clutter the alleys and main roads alike. It can be a bit overwhelming, even for seasoned visitors to India with so much action all of the time. But if you need a break, pop into one of the temples, churches, or mosques to take a deep breath and center yourself.


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