Here are a few budget-friendly architectural marvels in Chennai

In Egmore, impressive colonial structures hide in plain sight, where one can simply walk in and take a look. Lucky for us, because we only have ₹100 to spend

All my ‘99 Not Out’ adventures start from a petrol bunk and ₹30. This time though, it is different: “Anna, ₹30 ku petrol please?”; ₹50 minimum,” replies the annoyed employee. Considering the possibility of a failed attempt, I ride with my friend on my Activa, in pursuit of heritage buildings and their history, in and around the bustling streets of Egmore. “Have you seen the Bronze Gallery in Egmore?” I ask. To my disappointment, my 22-year-old companion, born and raised in Chennai, shakes his head in a firm ‘no’. Every third millennial I have asked, has given me the same answer. The fact that one can simply walk into many of these places does not make a difference. And thus, equipped with a ₹100 note, we start our trip to discover budget-friendly architectural marvels.

Government Museum complex

The museum sprawling across the 16-acre Pantheon Complex, has different sections: six buildings and 46 galleries. Many of the buildings inside the Museum campus are over 100 years old.

The Museum Theatre, a colossal structure, with its brick-red layers winding down, is easily the most impressive. But today, it stands locked: weekends are when the building livens, with theatre shows and other performances. We walk past the Museum Theatre to the Bronze Gallery, to the sound of whirring drills on cement. It is under renovation, yet the museum guard says, “Over 1,000 people visit, daily.”

The pink sandstone structure of the 110-year-old National Art Gallery had its foundation stone laid on January 26, 1906 by the Prince of Wales, later King George V, and was inspired by Mughal emperor Akbar’s Bulund Darwaza in Fatehpur Sikri. Today, its intricately carved panels and newly painted windows remain shut. Earlier called Victoria Memorial Hall, the gallery is expected to open its doors to the public, this year. But, I will never stop trying to sneak a glimpse of the inside: and so, I close in, only to see a construction worker, ushering in a few foreigners; while I am instantly shooed away.

Here are a few budget-friendly architectural marvels in Chennai

Egmore Railway Station

An Indian flag, of considerable dimensions, flutters in the afternoon wind. The flag is a new addition to the colonial structure that we all pass by quite often. After paying a parking fee, I head to get a platform ticket — the familiar sounds and smells of family vacations envelops me.

A host of travellers runs inside lugging their bags and a few others, catch up on their nap right at the ticket counters. The iconic colonial building retains its charm even after the repaints in red and white, done on the red brick and Tada sandstone. Designed by Henry Irwin, the station turned 110-years-old last year. The Indo-Saracenic structure, which is said to have been laden with Dravidian motifs (one of the first attempts in doing so), has had two extensions — in 1930 and 1980. An emblem of the elephant is visible, despite a few tree branches trying to mask it. The South Indian Railways had five main stations in Madras, out of which the three main ones were Egmore, Beach and Tambaram.

I always associate railway stations with a certain sense of speed. This time, it’s no different as I watch ‘coolies’ argue for a customer, and families hug goodbye, all in quick succession.

Here are a few budget-friendly architectural marvels in Chennai

Government College of Fine Arts

A host of students are lost in their daily game of cricket.A mural depicting Shiva, doubles up as a stump for them. The sculptures that define the iconic campus, some new; some dilapidated, are a picture of good craftsmanship: two of them are oddly similar to the students themselves — while one sets out with a backpack on his shoulders, another, sits and watches the game with a sly smile.

We walk past the elegantly colonial administrative office, adorned with stained arch panels over the windows, to reach the grand red brick structure: the library and museum. “The library closes at 3 pm,” the watchman tells us. The old well is in ruins: yet there is beauty in the chipped concrete and green creepers winding down.

All of these stand witness to India’s first Fine Arts institution, the Madras School of Arts which was founded in 1850. Spread over four acres, the school was started by Dr Alexander Hunter as a utility-oriented training centre : the artworks that were made in the facility were sent to England at one point. Noted artists like EB Havell introduced different branches. In 1929, Tagore’s student, DP Roy Chowdhury became the first Indian principal of the facility. KCS Panicker, another notable figure who helmed the college, pioneered one of the major art movements in Madras, by forming the Cholamandal Artists’ Village.

Here are a few budget-friendly architectural marvels in Chennai

St Andrew’s Church (The Kirk)

A few metres away, the once wooded, almost invisible St Andrew’s Church (The Kirk) stands tall — now amid a meticulously planned parking lot. The church is practically empty. On seeing the dome, I realise The Kirk bears a resemblance to St Mary’s Church inside Fort St George. The well-maintained structure is easily one of the most important architectural marvels in the city. And it was built 201 years ago. The church was designed and constructed by Major Thomas de Havilland with Colonel Caldwell as chief engineer, at a time when a number of Neo-Classical churches were being built in England and Scotland.

We walk in through the side entrance, and past the office room to reach inside: the pews laden with wicker, still remain as good as new. Four ball lights, emanate a soft golden hue, and are attached to finely detailed grills. The painted glass panels over the windows let a sliver of sunlight fall on the marble floors inside. The church borrowed its design from Martin-in-the-Fields, a stately Anglican church in Westminster, Central London. It was dedicated in 1821 to the Scottish men in the then British Army: The Kirk translates to ‘church’ in Scottish.

Now, feeling British, we go looking for a spot of tea, ₹7 in hand.

Here are a few budget-friendly architectural marvels in Chennai

In this column, we explore the city to unearth its most interesting facets for both tourists and locals. There is just one catch. How much can you do with ₹99?

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 6:17:54 PM |

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