Hidden Trails Chennai

From atop this hill in Chennai, you can watch airplanes fly by

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Watch the airplanes take off above your head and the city spread beneath your feet, from this stretch atop the Tirusulam hill, into the Pallavaram forest range

150, 151, 152… Standing at the top of the steps leading up to Tirusulam hill, towards the Balamurugan temple, I look behind and sigh. In the process of clicking pictures, I have missed counting more than a few set of steps. Deeming accuracy a lost cause, I instead train my eyes up the elevated slope snaking endlessly in front of me. It is a slow Sunday, and from here, you can see the entire city spread out in a languid sprawl.

Tirusulam hill opposite Meenambakkam Airport is one of the city’s lesser known spots for fitness and Nature enthusiasts. The peak offers a breathtaking view of the city: its buildings, hillocks, lakes and gorges on one side. On the other are metro trains passing parallely, and beyond them, planes taking off from the runway. As far as airport views go, the nearby St Thomas Mount is Tirusulam’s more famous sister hillock. However, in exchange for its fame, Tirusulam offers solitude and greener pastures.

From atop this hill in Chennai, you can watch airplanes fly by

From atop this hill in Chennai, you can watch airplanes fly by

Get set go

The journey begins at the Tirusulam suburban railway station, also reachable from Airport Metro station. Walk across the train tracks, past the Tower Testing and Research Station, and take the first left. This route will lead you towards the Tirusulam Village Administrative Office, from where you take a right.

Two roads diverge into the woods here, and both lead to the peak. The first passes along the village and its pastoral scenes — skipping goats, a hen clucking at smashed melons from the nearby store’s inauguration and women applying kolam in front of their houses. The second is a canopy of green and grey, the winding concrete road surrounded by yellow blooms of the peltophorum tree, neem trees and thorny shrubbery.

I choose the first route to go uphill, stopping to ask for directions to the ‘Balamurugan hill’ set atop the peak. At the footsteps of the hill is a huge gate brown with rust, guarding the 170-odd steps leading up to the peak. Despite its locks, a well-used muddy pathway on its side provides a way around it.

From atop this hill in Chennai, you can watch airplanes fly by

Heaving my way through the steps, I pause to catch my breath and drown in the sounds of chirping birds, and bells revealing grazing cattle in the forest. Every so often, the air rumbles with the sounds of airplanes flying overhead.

Top of the world

A 10-year-old in pigtails squeals as she zips past me; she has pink skates on and is holding on to her father’s scooter. Bharathi Varsha and her father Robin Selvaraj come here from Adyar to practise skating every alternate day. “There are few other places in Chennai that offer free space as well as such natural elevation to train,” says Robin. “We are practising for the upcoming State level skating championships.”

The spot is slowly gaining favour among fitness enthusiasts as a place to train for marathons, cycle, skate, jog and exercise. The views also attract photography enthusiasts; I pass by a couple on a scooter, posing in all their glory.

From atop this hill in Chennai, you can watch airplanes fly by

Further uphill, a man lies sprawled on the road facing the cliff, his bike, glasses and keys strewn next to him while his friend takes a video of him. Turns out, the duo are shooting a TikTok video. Kamaluddin and Mohammad Akeel are from Kolkata and have been working for a shoe company in Chrompet for the past four years. “We first heard of this place because of the Tirusulam dargah here. Eventually we liked it so much that we started coming here regularly,” says Kamaluddin.

In fact, the place is a trinity of religious structures. Apart from the old mosque and temples, there are churches here — a huge white cross visible from the foot of the hill. To go to the dargah however, you need permission from the municipal office. Certain areas of this region are the property of the Police department and so, are barricaded. “Sometimes, Christian groups also organise night-time prayers here that go on until 2 am, for which they need special permission,” says Robin.

From atop this hill in Chennai, you can watch airplanes fly by

In front of the Balamurugan and Sri Dhatchayani Devi temples, under a neem tree, sits a broken sculpture of a Hindu goddess, dressed in green. As if in meditation, she overlooks the horizon. The now defunct gravel quarries of Tirusulam are also visible from here. Having been out of use for the past decade, they have collected rainwater and turned into deep ravines.

It’s nearing dusk and the air is thick with the scent of the forest. The cows are coming home, and I follow suit.

Note: This trail is best visited as part of a large group and only in daylight. Special permission may be required to visit certain sections of the region.

In this column, we document the city’s lesser-known oases for you to explore.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 9:24:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/from-atop-chennais-tirusulam-hill-you-can-watch-airplanes-fly-by/article29877472.ece

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