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From World War bombings to ancient churches: new cycling tours cover Chennai’s history

Chennai’s Cycling Yogis joins hands with TTDC to explore everything from Madras’ ancient history to its streets with the funniest names, in its latest set of heritage cycling toursRamanujar Moulana, founder of Cycling Yogis, discusses the trend of cycle tourism, overlooked cultural spots in Madras and upcoming heritage cycling tours

Chennai’s Cycling Yogis joins hands with TTDC to explore everything from Madras’ ancient history to its streets with the funniest names, in its latest set of heritage cycling tours

Sitting roughly 700 metres away from Chennai’s Island Grounds, the place where India’s first flight, a plane commandeered by Giacomo D’Angelis, took off in 1910, history enthusiast Ramanujar Moulana unveils many other not-so-secret tidbits about Chennai’s rich cultural history. 

Following the set of four heritage tours conducted in early 2022, the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC), along with Ramanujar’s organisation Cycling Yogis, is launching a second series of six themed tour trails, beginning on June 26. 

World Wars trail

Prominent among these is the recently concluded World Wars trail, that revisits Madras’ tryst with the wars. “Lots of people aren’t aware of Chennai’s involvement in World Wars, so the World Wars trail will cover the Emden bombing plaque, air shelters used in the Second World War in Kasimedu, the Madras War Cemetery in Nandambakkam and the Victory War Memorial,” says Ramanujar. 

On the night of September 22, 1914 during the First World War, Emden bombed Madras. One shell fired from the powerful guns of the Emden hit a compound wall of the High Court, demolishing it completely. Later, a plaque was erected near this spot.
| Photo Credit: K V SRINIVASAN

Ancient Madras trail

The second tour, Ancient Madras Trail, focusses on Madras before its British settlements. This will explore a shrine of Alvar, the Thiruvalluvar temple, the Parthasarathi temple and Tiruvottiyur. 

Scottish and Irish Trail

On the other hand, the Scottish and Irish Trail will visit the Munro Statue, The Kirk aka St Andrew’s Church in Egmore, and other various Scottish contributions to Chennai architecture. It also plans to cover St Patrick’s school in Gandhinagar and St Thomas Mount, to observe the Irish stamp on our city. 

Stained glass window at St. Andrews The Kirk, Egmore, built to serve the Scottish community in Chennai. The church was consecrated in 1821, and is among the oldest churches in Chennai.

Stained glass window at St. Andrews The Kirk, Egmore, built to serve the Scottish community in Chennai. The church was consecrated in 1821, and is among the oldest churches in Chennai.
| Photo Credit: RAVINDRAN R

“When COVID was at its peak, I had to stop my previous research for safety reasons,” states Ramanujar, who has been highlighting Chennai’s heritage through his cycling tours for years. He adds, “It was during this time that I decided to create a trail dedicated to our doctors and healthcare workers. These trails were compiled and released in my book Madras By Cycle in 2021.” 

Medical heritage trail

The Medical Heritage Trail will cover places already listed in his book, like Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy memorial in Thiruvanmiyur, Dr. Edward Bulkley’s tomb right next to Madras Medical College, and the oldest eye hospital in Asia, Egmore Eye Hospital. 

Vada Chennai trail

From healthcare, he shifts focus to travel. The Vada Chennai Trail will take participants to one of the oldest railway stations in South Asia, the Royapuram Railway Station, to learn more about this city’s railway heritage. The trail also covers other unique, famous spots that showcase North Chennai in a truly vibrant way, right in time for Madras Day. 

Ramanujar Moulana

Ramanujar Moulana
| Photo Credit: Aswini Rao

Street names and charity trail

And yet, not all the trails are seeped in heavy history. “The concept of the last tour is quite simple but different. There are many streets in Madras with slightly strange and funny names, so I wanted to go visit all of these places. We also wanted to shed light on various charitable societies in Chennai.” he explains. Hence, the Street Names and Charity Trail will span all over Madras and stop at places like Constable Road, Brewery Road and Kolaikaran Pettai. They will also focus on charitable places like Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Vepery. 

“Cycle tourism is a one-of-a-kind experience because one becomes familiar with the contours and topography of the city. This is definitely not something you can experience by just sitting in a car,” he says, while explaining that even though he has lived in Chennai all his life, it took him all the 10 years he spent documenting it and curating trails to really get to know it.

This information he has gathered over the years has been published in different books, each specific to a particular area or theme. Ramanujar’s next book discusses foreign influences other than the British that made their mark on Madras. Countries like Italy, Germany, Denmark, Portugal, the US, Scotland, Ireland and Turkey all feature here. Titled The Global Heritage of Madras, it is set to release on August 21.

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