The city of Chennai, formerly known as Madras, is well-known — if not notorious — for its sultry, tropical climate. Indeed, most guidebooks for the Indian state of Tamil Nadu (of which Chennai is the capital) will tell you to plan your visit for December, January or February, the coolest and driest months of the year.
But here’s a reason to buck that advice: Chennai has some incredible attractions that are just as much fun in the rain as they are under sunny skies—and you can enjoy them even more without the biggest tourist crowds of the year. Plus, most Chennai-ites will tell you that the warm rains that fall throughout the summer help give the city its charm. Arm yourself with a sturdy umbrella and enjoy these great Chennai activities when the heavens open.
Enjoy less crowded attractions
Visiting Chennai’s main attractions in peak tourist season can feel a bit like trying to board a commuter train at rush hour. (If you happen to enjoy this experience, or at least the spectacle of it, the gorgeous Chennai Central station, built by the British in 1873, is well worth a look.) With a sprinkle of rain to thin the crowds, however, often-mobbed destinations such as the quaint but fascinating Chennai Rail Museum and the grand, imposing Government Museum become much more pleasant and accessible.
The same is true of Chennai’s famously crowded Ranganathan Street, a must-visit for bargain hunters. When that sprinkle turns to a downpour though, you may want to head to one of Chennai’s many opulent indoor shopping malls, such as Phoenix Market City or Spencer Plaza, where the food and people-watching can easily occupy an entire wet afternoon.
Get spiritual indoors
According to the principles of Ayurvedic medicine, whose roots in India reach back 3,000 years, the coming of the rains is a time to focus inward and to replenish your physical and spiritual reserves. In central Chennai, the 7th century Kapaleeswarar Temple makes a spectacular setting for a few hours of peaceful reflection, as does the only slightly less ancient (8th century) Parthasarathy Temple nearby.
For a more hands-on experience, why not book in for a day at the Crowne Plaza’s luxurious Escenza Spa? A staff trained in Ayurveda and massage stands ready to soothe both mind and body, and maybe help the two get reacquainted.
Map the Escenza Spa
Chennai is famous for its inexpensive and spicy street food, but when it’s raining it’s a great opportunity to check out the city’s sit-down restaurants. The traditional cuisine of Southern India — short on meat, long on dosas, sambar (a lentil broth) and the fluffy, flattened rice balls known as idli — is well-represented in Chennai. The Ratna Café in the heart of the city a beloved institution dating back to the middle of the last century. These days, though, Chennai’s burgeoning army of well-heeled young foodies are as likely to head for Thai food at Benjarong or head out of town for immaculate, modernist Chinese at the Tao of Peng.
Get wet — On purpose
If it’s raining anyway, embrace it. Chennai overlooks the Bay of Bengal where the water is always warm. Rough waves and dangerous undercurrents mean swimming is forbidden at Marina Beach — the city’s most popular beach by far, and the second-longest urban beach in the world. Instead, for swimming and more adventurous water sports, most Chennai-ites head down the coast to Covelong Point or Mahabalipuram, where you will also find some of the few outposts of surfing culture in India.
The friendly staff at your Chennai hotel can help you with board rental or surfing lessons, if you’re in a mood to catch some waves — or with anything else, for that matter. But when you’re prepared to enjoy Chennai rain or shine, one thing you won’t need help with is finding out the forecast.