A straight line is the shortest distance between two points. At least that is what is scientifically proven. Yet, in the world of exploration and travel, commuting from one place to another is not always about distances. Even while travelling along a straight path, the possibilities of discoveries are limitless, the chances of chanced encounters aplenty and the scrutiny of existing wonders a wonderful prospect.
When one looks at the Chennai’s coastline that runs almost like a straight line it is little wonder that it perhaps is the most happening strip or zone of the city. In fact, when one thinks of things to do in Chennai, visiting the beaches is the foremost thought that crosses the mind. Luckily, while connecting the beaches along the trail one comes across some iconic city landmarks, social milieus and exciting interactions.
Let’s begin our journey from the popular Elliot Beach. Also called the Besant Nagar Beach it forms the end point of the Marina Beach. The beach is named after Edward Elliot who was once the chief magistrate and superintendent of police of Madras. Today Elliot’s Beach is thronged by visitors who dip their feet in the cool waters or sit on its soft sands. The Karl Schmidt Memorial named after the Dutch sailor is a prominent landmark on the beach sands though it stands in slightly dilapidated form. The surrounding beach area is an up market city region with numerous restaurants and café outlets. Most of the younger crowds find solace in the area around the beach, exploring its many restaurant and street foods, hanging out at ice cream or juice joints or driving along the beach.
When at Elliot Beach, pay a visit to the Velankanni Church and Ashtalakshmi Kovil nearby. Both these religious centers are prominent points of interest of the city.
Up north – Adyar River, Marina Beach, San Thome Church
From Elliot Beach, you can now begin your ride up north. Traverse through the road, passing petite homes, dazzling shopping outlets and food joints as you make your way to the next beach stop called the Marina Beach. Public transport in form of autos or online cabs are easily available as you make way inching parallel to the coast line all along which is shrouded out of sight from the main road until it emerges back again near the iconic Chennai Lighthouse. En route cross the Adyar River, one of the main rivers that drains into the Bay of Bengal. The Adyar Poonga on the banks of the river is an ecological haven for plant and bird species and a pristine environmental zone in an otherwise polluted and messed up river system.
Crossing the bridge and continuing one arrives at the locality of Foreshore Estate. From here begins the longest natural urban beach of the country, the Marina Beach. Though the beach is not visible from the main road from Foreshore Estate to Lighthouse, yet there are parallel loop roads that run along the beach.
As you proceed towards Lighthouse you can see the white beautiful towers of the San Thome Church also called St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica. Built over the tomb of St. Thomas, the church is a resplendent sight and one of the main religious and social hallmarks of the city. Continuing along the main road and passing over multiple schools and academies finally comes the Chennai Lighthouse. Open to public viewing recently; take a flight up its stairs or whiz past in the elevator to soak in the view of the city perched from atop the only lighthouse in India that is located within city limits.
The beach comes to sight once again and the stretch that begins now is also a walker’s paradise. Before we get into the walking pathway that begins from here and continues to more than 5 km till it reaches Anna Memorial, a quick look at the various loop roads. There are loop roads that run along the beach but are usually not commutable for the entire stretch. The loop road that runs from behind the lighthouse is a popular fish market and is crowded in the evenings as sellers and buyers huddle over negotiations. The fishing boats lie askew on the sands with nets thrown in casually as on the other side of the road, opposite the beach is various housing schemes built by the government for the stay of fishermen and the local working population. This stretch is not exactly where tourist come to enjoy the beach and the road is used to ease the high traffic pressure during different times of the day. The same loop road however continues from the Lighthouse and moves forward running parallel to the beach, the walking pathway and the main road that is alighted with signals, traffic police men and busy commute.
Chennai Lighthouse to Anna Square
The stretch of the beach lies bare, with various points of interests, statues and landmarks dotted along the way. But first a bit about walking. One can walk along the pathway watching the beach on one side and the main road on the other. The walking path is very popular amongst the locals and is usually crowded during early mornings and evenings. In fact, various groups, practice different fitness and social gatherings and this stretch of the beach is abuzz with joggers, walkers and health enthusiasts. But in case, you are not up for walking, don’t worry. There are quite a few bus stops along the path and you could easily hop in and out of any of the buses that stop here, because all buses ride along this straight stretch of the main road. Auto rickshaws are also available.
Starting from Lighthouse, the next main beach stop is the Gandhi Statue also fondly called the Gandhi Beach. The walking platform enlarges into a circular stepped area for people to sit under the gaze of the Mahatma who is garlanded on main national events. The skating rinks on one side and grass enclaves are inviting and refreshing. Not to forget, the area between the loop road and walking path is well maintained with floral plantations that add an aesthetic and pleasant outlook to the entire area. Continuing along the stretch the final stop is the Anna Square, near which the children’s Traffic Park, is a recently opened endeavor.
The Marina Beach is a long stretch and is fraught with a lot of structures and activities. The beach itself is a carnival of sorts, with food stalls, games and hawkers. The stretch is also known for various sports, such as there are two swimming pools as well as skating rinks along the beach stretch. However, there are also various statues and structures that mark important historical personalities and events that dot the Marina Beach. The Beach promenade called Kamaraj Salai includes the Victory War Memorial, Triumph of Labour Statue and statues of various personalities, such as Robert Caldwell, Kannagi, Thiruvallur, Mahatma Gandhi, Annie Beasant, Swami Vivekananda, Periyar and more. To the northern end of beach lies the Anna Square known for the memorials of former CM, CN Annadurai, MG Ramachandran, J Jayalalitha and M Karunanidhi.
On the other side…
The beach fun, floral delights, structures and statues, exercising and sporting all happen on the beach side of the road. However, opposite the main road also lie some iconic and important city landmarks. Visit the Vivekananda House or catch a local cricket match being played at the Marina Grounds. Steal a look of the Madras University or watch the welcoming gates of Presidency College. There are various architectural and historical buildings that line up on the other side of the Marina Beach and some of these can be great stop overs too.
The road that continues
From Anna Square the beach disappears once again as you head towards the Island Grounds, Fort St. George, the Secretariat and the Reserve Bank of India.
On the other end, as one continues past Foreshore Estate, you could reach the ECR or East Coast Road, that is a massive stretch of road fraught with resorts and restaurants and is a perfect evening drive way. ECR leads to Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry.
Travelling from Elliot’s Beach to Marina Beach is a good 9 km stretch. Yes for, most of the parts this straight line route, is generously laden with salty adventures and breezy experiences. The beaches in themselves are hubs of meeting points and enjoyment centers for adults and children alike. The various foods and atmosphere of the beaches are not zones of solitude but thriving areas of noise, interactions and frolic. Connecting them are points of architectural, historical, educational and religious significance. More importantly, as the daily humdrum of life continues on its streets and as people move about from one point to another, from one beach to another, we tend to lose sight of what falls in between. Taking stock of little steps that when added make up the larger picture, this stretch of travel from one iconic beach to another in Chennai is a perfect way to catch hold of your breath and enjoy the joys in between. Walk, cycle, take a bus, auto or cab ride. Either way keep moving!