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Holidays in Town

Its summer holiday! Yippee! Exams are behind us! That is the thought of most school children. The idea of a vacation delights everyone from youngsters to elders. However last summer I was unable to go out of station as we usually do, since my grandmother had a fracture. My father promised to take me sight seeing in Chennai-my home town. He reasoned that several people visit Chennai on holidays. You would be surprised at the variety of holiday spots in the city, museums and historical areas, sanctuaries, places of worship, beaches, back waters, theme parks and malls - Chennai has them all. By the end of summer I looked at Chennai with new eyes. I will now share some of my experiences.
The mere thought of dates of wars and conquests makes one sleep. However after a trip to Chennai’s museum, those boring dates seemed to come alive, I developed interest in the subjects considered dead - history and archaeology. Moving along these sections, we read useful information printed beside each exhibit. We saw artifacts from Mohenjo Daro and Harappa and learnt a lot about the period from which they came. These apart, the museum also has a very informative Biology section. We were fascinated by the sight of the complete skeleton of a whale which covered the width and length of the hall. We also saw many stuffed birds and animals and learnt interesting facts about them. We left the museum shortly and entered another building adjacent to it “THE ART GALLERY”. This houses some of the glorious pieces of art and craft reflecting our rich cultural heritage. Here we saw classic paintings by eminent artists including some originals by Raja Ravi Varma and Gaganendranath Tagore and artifacts including jewellery. As we left the gallery I had learnt quite a lot about our past.
A few days later we went to the aquarium where we saw a variety of interesting and unusual sea creatures like the Sand Lobster, Electric Eel, and Anemones. We learnt how some of the sea animals which are small protect themselves from their predators, like the ‘Puffer fish’ that protects itself by puffing its body out and the ‘Zebra fish’ which hides itself in long sea weed. We also learnt many strange facts- it is the male Sea Horse which reproduces and not the female! And the Starfish has its mouth under its five long tentacles! Towards the end we saw a poisonous sea snake, whose venom is eight times more poisonous than that of a cobra, and for which anti venom does not exist in India today! Though the aquarium is hard to locate and has few exhibits, these are very well displayed.
A few kilometres away from the aquarium is the ‘Vivekananda House’ or the Ice House as it is popularly known due to the fact that ice was stored here in the late half of the eighteenth century. This was renamed ‘Vivekananda House’ after Swami Vivekananda. One of his famous quotations during the freedom struggle that inspired many people was ‘Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached’ remains famous to this day. Yet another quotation, perhaps more famous ‘my dear brothers and sisters of America’ – the way in which Swamiji addressed the congregation of religions, is also prominently displayed here.
We then visited the huge, centuries old Parthasarathy temple in Triplicane near the Vivekananda House harbouring many shrines. The Presiding Deity is Lord Krishna after whom the temple is named. After visiting the temple and seeking the Lord’s blessings we returned home.
Two days later early morning we set off on a trek through The Guindy national Park, now a deer and blackbuck sanctuary and formerly the hunting estate of the Governor. Walking along the forest trails we saw several colourful butterflies and heard many bird calls. Mr. Karthikeyan the forest guide who accompanied our group of ten, helped us identify various birds including unusual ones like the Shikra and the Coppersmith. He also showed us hoof marks, animal droppings and a snake’s trail. We were fortunate to spot herds of deer and a couple of blackbuck! We took rest for a while next to a pond, where we actually saw a Kingfisher swoop down to catch a fish. Soon it was time to head home as it was nearing noon. On our return we are lucky enough to spot a star tortoise. We also saw a monitor lizard crashing through the undergrowth.
Our curiosity aroused, we went to the snake park which was close to the sanctuary. We saw a variety of non-venomous and venomous snakes. This park also had several other reptiles like crocodiles, chameleons and other exotic lizards. They even had an endangered species of crocodile – the Gharial found in the Gangetic plains. We were also fortunate to witness the extraction of venom by a local Irula tribal. These tribals have a wealth of knowledge about snakes. Here I am sorry to report that a two hundred year old giant Aldabra tortoise a star attraction for a long time died recently.
With a few weeks to spare we visited Mahabalipuram, the ancient capital of the Pallavas. Here we saw the shore temples of which only one survives on land, the other five being submerged under water. Local fisherfolk offered to take us into the sea to show us the sunken temples, but in the aftermath of the tsunami we declined. We saw the big boulder which symbolizes Bhima’s butter ball, the panch (five) rathas of the Pandavas, the world famous rock carving of Arjuna’s Penance, some monolithic temples and other half finished structures. We feasted on tender coconuts and water melons before having lunch at a heritage hotel. Uniquely, a Pongamia tree grows right through the middle of this restaurant! On our return we stopped at Tiger’s cave (though there have never been any tiger here!) and also visited the ancient Varaha Swami temple, one of the one hundred and eight-sacred Mahavishnu temples. We took in a movie at Mayajal and returned home late at night, driving past theme parks like MGM and VGP Wonderland, the Mathukadu where we enjoyed boat rides of all types –paddle boat, row boat and speed boat!
The sound of crashing waves and the aroma of freshly field baji’s (fresh vegetables batter fried in oil-pakoras in North India) greeted us every time we walked along the golden sands of the Marina-the world’s second longest beach. We noticed wandering peddlers and temporary shops, and also saw an unusual sight of a monkey performing tricks in front of a small gathering. This sight upset me very much as the monkey was being forced to act in an unnatural way to please the crowd. As we neared the water front the sound of the crashing waves grew louder and louder. We stood in the water for a long time and enjoyed getting wet in the spray. We walked back rather reluctantly licking our ice cream cones. On one of our many beach trips we also visited the samadhis of C.N. Annadurai and MGR at the northern end of the beach.
Amma also took me to Abhirami Mega Mall where we saw the movie Hanuman. We visited one other mall-Spencer on Anna Salai where we window shopped and munched on cookies. Lest you think its all fun and frolic, Appa also took me to an old age home where I was saddened to see elders abandoned by their families. However the bunnies, turkeys, ducks and hens there gave it a sylvan atmosphere.
The summer vacation is almost over. This summer I learnt a valuable lesson. I realized one need not always go out of town to have fun. There are enough places to visit here in Chennai and I am sure it is the same with any other town. Parks. So I hope you to will learn to look at your own home town with “new eyes” just like I did.

Jahnavi S Das,
VIII-D,
Bhavan’s Rajaji Vidyashram,
Chennai

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