Growing out of its conservative identity, the city is now projected as a melting pot of cultural festivals

The monsoon might have stripped the city of its beauty and left it reeling under layers of slush. But Chennai, at this time of the year, has much more to offer than many other tourist destinations. A good number of foreign tourists wade through shin-deep waters and rain-battered roads to get a feel of the city when it is at its creative best.

Cultural fests are all set to kick-off one after another, drawing fine arts buffs from across the world. The city, which had always been a transit point to neighbourhoods, now places itself among popular tourist destinations in the country.

Growing out of its conservative identity, Chennai is now projected as a melting pot of cultural festivals. The Department of Tourism cashes in on the festivals’ popularity and makes it a strategy for the State’s economic growth.

“There is a perceptible increase in the quantum of tourist inflow in recent years. It reaches its peak in October and the season is on till February. There is a global increase in the outbound tourism everywhere. The city receives a major chunk of foreigners for its cultural shows,” says V. Irai Anbu, Secretary, Department of Tourism.

The December Music Season, primarily to encourage local talents, has now become a global phenomenon. What was seen as an identity of Chennai is now serving as a prime tourist lure.

Veena artist and secretary of Nrithyodaya B. Kannan observes that music season, in its nascent stage, is confined to the second half of December. Now it begins in the second half of November and continues well beyond December. Foreigners make trips during this period to cover all cultural fests.

R.Sundar, secretary of Hamsadhwani, which organises an NRI music festival every year, says the music festival in Chennai was a confluence of the best forms of art and culture. “For the serious listener, it is an opportunity to see competitive spirit among singers in presentation of ragam thanam pallavi. For the foreign audience, dance is an attraction as many of them feel they can relate to India through its art forms.”

For arts’ sake

The Mamallapuram dance festival, which begins late December, is a unique crowd-puller. Every year, over 7,000 foreign tourists hit the heritage site to watch hundreds of performances of traditional folk forms and classical dance forms.

Chennai Sangamam, said to be India’s largest open festival, gives a glimpse of the State’s cultural diversity, highlighting its rich folk art forms, too. Organised during mid-January, coinciding with Pongal, Chennai Sangamam introduces over 4,000 performances every year at parks, streets and beaches.

The Tourism Department, on its part, conducts a month-long trade fair on Island Grounds, Tamil Isai festivals and Pongal festivals to promote the pastoral richness of the State.

The introduction of hop-on-fop-off coaches has propelled the popularity of East Coast Road, which is dotted with a string of tourist spots. Private players capitalise on the growing tourist flow into the ECR, if the mushrooming resorts, restaurants and amusement parks along the stretch are any pointer.

If arts attract a few, many hotels do their part by posting the State’s signature cuisines on internet to lure gourmets. Chennai’s hospitality industry is heavily relying on clients on business visits but the tourist pie is also swelling, says G.Ravi Kumar, Executive Assistant Manager of Green Park Hotels.

Bookings for the TTDC hotels are going on in full swing and the next two months is expected to be the busiest of the year for the hotels, Mr.Irai Anbu said.

Despite being seen as a safe place for tourists, Chennai is bracing itself to make its streets, hotels and highways more tourist-friendly. The Deputy Commissioner of Central Crime Branch, C. Sridhar, insists on foreign tourists who come on a tourist visa holding a list of telephone numbers of police officers in the city that they propose to visit. The phone numbers could be had from their respective embassies.

Mr. Sridhar says the tourists are advised to stay in reputable hotels and be careful when they use credit cards for shopping purposes. Hoteliers urge the government to promote the country as a safer destination as the terrorist attacks prove to be a discouraging factor for many tourists.

(With inputs from S. Aishwarya, Deepa H Ramakrishnan and R. Sujatha)

More In: Chennai