Adrio Wolf (39), a tourist from Italy, has been spending all his daytime in the clusters of churches in George Town since February. “The sound of those pealing bells, the choirs, the walls - I love everything about these buildings that remind you of invasions and influences,” he says, recalling the history of early Jewish and Armenian settlements in the city that the Armenian Church stands as a testimony to.

This is Mr. Wolf's third visit to Chennai, and a week later he is all set to travel to Kerala to explore the antiquated churches that he calls India's best kept secret.

The sun-kissed beaches, the historic monuments and famous temples of the city might be major attractions for the increasing number of tourists from foreign countries. But for many others, the comfort of luxurious hotels and air-conditioned buses does not fit into the idea of tourism. They prefer to bring in an ethnic flavour to their journey by lodging in busy, congested areas, using auto-rickshaws or walking to places that suit their specific interests. Even the ones who hire tour planners want ‘customised trips' that often include places different from the regular tourist spots.

“A walk along the city's lanes and shores tells you so much about life here,” says Rayston Rollande, a tourist from the U.K, about the streets of Triplicane. “The regular package tours give a feeling that everything is so homogeneous - same old burger joints, malls and rehearsed history guidance. You have to walk more to know more,” he says.

Tourist assistance agencies too seem to offer services with these changing requirements. “Many tourists are quite well-informed. They do not wish to see all places, and seek much more than plain sightseeing,” says Mohammed Arif, director, Parveen travels.

“The foreigners come prepared with their audio sets, maps and all printed material about places they want to visit. All they want is a little help in translation,” says Albert N., director, HumantripIndia, an organisation that helps foreign tourists explore the streets and lanes of the city in autorickshaws.

Tour operators say that while those who come on short trips with a flexible budget opt for package tours, many with specific interests and some experience often give travelling alone a shot.

“Though the number of foreign tourists has increased, they now travel in smaller groups,” says Mr. Arif, adding that these groups often “ask for specialised trips, sometimes only smaller temples, sometimes just handicraft showrooms or just French settlements.”

It helps if autorickshaw drivers are aware of a few things. “I often suggest that tourists visit the Vivekananda house, after they visit Ramakrishna Mutt, or the High Court if they are on a heritage tour. It helps to build trust and then they want you to drive them to places every time they come here,” says S. Ramachandran, who drives a tourist autorickshaw.

As the number of informed travellers increases, travel assistance blogs also help with the right choice. Many forums also assist them plan their trips, find partners with similar travel interests and even part-time translators.

“I had posted a request on my blog asking for a translator giving the specifics of my travel four months back. An exchange of e-mails followed and thankfully I have someone who understands the kind of guidance I want,” says Charles Wit (34), who is visiting fishing villages in the State.

P. Suprabha, a history graduate from the University of Madras, helps him negotiate difficulties in locations and language, and interact with isher folk who assist him in angling, and arrange sea trips for him. “This is the only way you take back home unique stories to tell,” he adds.

Keywords: Chennai tourism

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012

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