In a city of over 9 million people, green-space is hard to find, make that city in India and green-space comes at even more of a premium. By now you know of my unbridled love for Chennai. Aside from it’s visual splendor that dazzled my camera each day of my two years there, living a life and raising a family in this city came with many more challenges.
There are a few priorities on our to-do list when we move to a new place and one of them is seeking out green-space for the kids and for our peace of mind. One of the first things we go in search of is a great park. We were lucky to have a beautiful yard around our home, but the abundance of parks in Chennai, added to the quality of life there immensely.
I’ve always said Chennai feels more like a village than a city and it’s parks are key to that feeling. Chennai grew rapidly, and continues to do so, but has somehow preserved a few lovely spaces for its inhabitants to enjoy the weeping trees, wildlife and spots of shade. Parks were key to surviving summer with three small children and taking a break from the constant noise and hustle and bustle of the streets is paramount. Chennai’s parks are havens for early morning and early evening walkers, families and often couples in search of a quiet spot to be close (wink wink). During the day, the parks are largely abandoned due to the heat and come alive only in the wee hours of the day. Some parks even require a walkers permit to keep crowds to a minimum and entry is only available to unregistered walkers after 8:00am.
Chennai’s quirks are many and its parks are no exception. Fiberglass trash bins shaped like animals dot the landscape, as do temples, murals, passionate political meetings and chess matches. To love Chennai, is to know it and exploring it’s parks are a great insight to its people and it’s culture.
Without further ado, here are my top five favorite green-spaces in Chennai:
1. Tower Park, Anna Nagar: Tower Park was built as the site of the 1968 World Trade Fair. The park is Chennai’s answer to Disney, with fountains, a skating rink, walking paths, a wildlife viewing area, multiple children’s play areas and light music piped throughout the park. The park is clean and it is clear that the community takes much pride in it grounds. The tower for which the park was named, was once a great scenic viewpoint for visitors, but has since been shut down, but remains another whimsical feature of the park. A dance stage and numerous murals are feasts for the eyes on your walk.
2. The Theosophical Society Headquarters: The Theosophical Society is by far, the park we frequented most in the city. It was very near to our house in Adyar and the serenity of its gardens and depth of its exotic vegetation made you feel worlds apart from the bustling city outside its gates. Founded in 1875, it’s object is “A Universal Brotherhood without distinction based on the realization that life, and all it’s diverse forms, human and non-human are indivisibly One.” There is so much more to the Theosophical Society, I encourage you to read up on it if it interests you, I assure you the history will not disappoint. The grounds are home to member-residents, a delicious library with ancient books, temples from a treasury of the world’s religions, a four hundred year old banyan tree and a tree of fox-sized bats.
3. Gandhi Mandapam: One of many shrines about the city dedicated to the many people of eminence that have graced it. While there are several temples and shrines within the complex the Gandhi shrine reigns supreme. The space is filled with tall grass, an abundance of benches and the light that streams through the lattice stone structure in the early evening evokes the light of the man himself.
4. Guindy National Park/IIT Madras Campus: Guindy Park is one of the only National Parks within the middle of a city and is India’s 8th largest national park at that. The park is rich with vast scrublands and forests and home to many rare and endangered species including the blackbuck. Entry to the park is restricted and visitors may only be accompanied by a park ranger at a time arranged in advance, but the visit is well worth the trouble. We spotted a variety of birds, blackbuck, spotted deer and monkeys on our visit. A large area was carved from the national park to build one of India’s most prestigious institutes, The Indian Institute of Technology. There is virtually no separation between the campus and the park itself therefore animals roam and graze amidst the students. With a guide you can walk the grounds of the campus where we spotted blackbuck and spotted deer walking right up to small shops and frolicing in the cool grass of the common areas. Nothing short of the magic of Yellowstone National Park as I know it.
5. Guindy Park & Guindy Children’s Park: Entry to Guindy National Park and the campus are restricted, but don’t let that deter you from visiting another subsidiary of the park, “The Snake Park.” Dubbed the “Snake Park,” Guindy Children’s park houses animals, snakes, monkeys, birds and a wealth of playgrounds for the little people. My favorites were the Rosy pelicans and my three kids always marveled at the silly monkeys, free roaming baboons and the national bird, the peacock.