Children in ill-fitting school uniforms playing cricket in the hot sun, people sinking their teeth into colourful ice candies and vendors conjuring up mangoes with a tinge of yellow on their skin from a cart full of green ones — Adolf Alan (54) has them all captured in his camera.
Here for a fortnight from Germany, he says the soaring heat of the city does not deter him from wandering around because that is what he is here for. While early mornings are spent on the beaches enjoying the tolerable heat, noon is a time for roaming around the old parts of the city and evenings when he practises yoga at a centre in Adyar.
Contrary to the belief that the number of foreign tourists in the city drastically declines due to the scorching heat of May, a significant number of them have stayed on this year relishing travelling and other interests of their own.
Tourism Department officials say that tourists from Germany, Malaysia, Britain, South Africa and Singapore prefer travelling after the regular October-February period. “We normally have foreigners coming even during these months, but this time with Easter later than usual, the number has come down a little,” says P. Asoka. President, Tourist Guides Federation of India.
Madurai, Tiruchi, Kanyakumari, Thanjavur and Darasuram are the preferred locations for foreign tourists during this time of the year.
S. Ramachandran, a tourist auto driver, says that with Chennai being the transit point for all international flights, many tourists take a day off their itinerary to see places in the city.
“They don't prefer to walk because it is really hot, and having limited time, they summon us to take them to places, unlike other times when they prefer to explore things on their own.”
Tour operators say that April and May being ‘slow' months does not cause much loss anyway, mainly because they compensate it by promoting domestic tourism. Many resorts registering fewer numbers of foreign tourists are in turn focussing on marriages, exhibitions and conventions. Lan Crusaig, a tourist, says: “Most of them offer at least 20 per cent discount for tourists, and many tour operators are willing to provide tailor-made travel in this part of the year.”
For Sujai Karthik, organiser, Chennai Trekking Club that has many foreign tourists participating in short treks, this season is one when informed travelling becomes necessary. “Trusting a few Google maps that showed streams, we once went to Venkateswara forests only to find them all dried up. Nagallapuram on Western Ghats has streams with water throughout the year,” he says.
P. Asoka. President, Tourist guides Federation of India, feels that some tourists are discouraged because of the poor quality of the guides. “Most foreign tourists with keen interest in history fail to get impressed, and we miss out on repeat clients,” he says.
Edison James, a tourist from Britain, says this season is also the time many professors are relatively free to help him with his research on sub-continental species of rice. Engaged in other interesting pursuits are Abbey Markus and Glistey Werner from Germany who have been learning to play the flute for almost a month now in Mylapore.
From knowing more about punching of Kancheepuram hand-woven silk saris, to bronze statues in Egmore Museum, and from witnessing the splendour of old churches to Indo-Saracenic architecture of monuments, the tourists residing here are making most of the time.
“This new generation of foreign tourists wants to understand, explore and gauge the city and every cross-section of its population, to re-establish a living here, and understand what kind of ‘Indian offerings' suit them. They know they need time for that, and that is what they are doing,” says Christe Raajan, Former Chairman, Travel Agents Association of India.