Chennai – the first word that comes to your mind may be ‘humidity’.
The second word may be ‘heat’. Thrown in heat and humidity and you have a fair idea of the city’s infamous weather.
Chennai, much like Bangalore, grew fast – the IT industry ensuring rapid expansion. The result was that Chennai lost one-fifth of its green cover in a short span of 20 years due to urbanisation. But the city need not just be known for heat and humidity.
In 2011, there were 260 parks in Chennai. But the very next year, proposals were submitted for 200 new parks, and 87 of those parks became a reality within the next couple of years.
What most people don’t know is that Chennai is the only city with a national park in the centre. And there are plenty of green spaces for you to cool off from all the ‘heat’.
Here are some of the best parks in Chennai where you can get some lung-cleansing fresh air and mood-boosting tranquillity.
Guindy National Park
Established in 1977, Guindy National Park was originally a game reserve that was carved out of the dense tropical forest in the 17th century.
In the 1900s, parcels of land were cut out of the forest that spanned 505 hectares and given out to various government and educational institutions. What remains now is a much smaller area that continues to enjoy special protection from the government, along with the IIT-Madras and Raj Bhavan, for being natural habitats for a wide variety of flora and fauna.
The ecosystem in these areas contains rare natural plants like the tropical evergreen scrub, wood-apple, sugar apple, and herbs, among others.
Blackbuck, spotted deer, small Indian civets and nearly 150 species of birds also call these places their home.
May Day Park
Measuring 5.9 hectares, May Day Park is relatively small in size. It was originally known as Napier Park after Francis Napier, the Governor of Madras, during the 1860s when the park was created. The entire area was then occupied by Burghall’s Stables, a horse carriage and an equine accoutrements rental company. In 1869, a part of this land was converted to the park you now see today.
Napier Park also housed one of the first modern sewage pumping stations, which was built in 1932. Walking around, you can spot the graceful Ashoka Pillar unveiled in 1966 and a monument commemorating its change of name to May Day Park in 1990.
Why the name change? Because Madras was the first city in India to observe May Day in 1923. Today, the park is maintained by Simpson & Co, one of the oldest automotive establishments in India, dating back to 1840.
Meaning ‘classical language park’, Semmozhi Poonga is the first botanical garden that was set up in Chennai in 2010. Sprawled over 8 hectares, the park houses more than 500 species of plants apart from the numerous ancient trees that were already present when the park was being built.
Some of these trees are more than a century old. Earlier, the Woodlands Drive-In restaurant, the city’s first such eatery, was located here, which sadly closed down in 2008 after which the park was built.
Walking around in Semmozhi Poonga is a treat with its smaller gardens inside featuring a tree court, butterfly garden, fern garden, water and rock garden, and a mural walk.
Opened in 1859, People’s Park was envisioned and realised by Charles Trevelyan, the then Governor of Madras.
About 45 hectares in size, the park was one of the biggest in the city, holding 12 lakes. It also had many prominent landmarks within its perimeter like the Madras Zoo, the Victoria Public Hall, Moore Market and the South Indian Athletic Association. It also had some quaintly named sections like the Ashoka Pillar Lawn, the Tea Party Lawn, and the Royal Bath.
It also has My Lady’s Garden, which hosted a flower show for several years. But over time, the park’s topography has changed in multiple ways. The zoo shifted to Vandalur in 1985, and additional buildings came up nibbling away at the green space. The railways expanded, and a large portion of the garden was handed over for construction to the suburban railway network. What was once a flourishing and colourful lung space in the middle of the city ran into weeds wearing a dilapidated look.
Today, only My Lady’s Garden survives, but it does so in all its vibrancy with age-old trees and exotic flora exuding charm.
Easily one of the most alluring and serene parks in Chennai, Huddleston Park was constructed in 1875 by the members of the Theosophical Society. It’s one of the most important heritage landmarks of the city and is most famous for housing a 450-year-old banyan tree locally known as the Adyar aala maram.
Sadly, the tree fell over in 1996. Spread over 160 hectares, this huge park is home to various species of birds and animals and, over the years, has emerged an ‘eco-spot’ for birdwatchers, heritage enthusiasts and photographers.
If you are looking for some green spaces near where you live, consider buying home in localities close to these parks and gardens.
This article was originally published on www.thehindu.com