A LONG ARTERIAL road leading from north Chennai to Little Mount at its southern end Anna Salai , (or Mount Road) is the city’s main thoroughfare. The “Aar- ; den houses” that belonged 1 to Chennai’s elite stood on either side of it until well into the early years of the 20th century. Today, it is a modern : . commercial road, lined with hoardings depicting film stars, and the expansive homes of the past have been replaced by riultistoreyed buildings.
Anna Salai begins on an Wand in Coum Crek, just Mouth of Fort St George. The site is watched over by the statue of Sir Thomas Munro, the governor of the Madras Presidency from 1819 to 1826. Nearby, set in an expanse of greenery, is the prestigious Gymkhana Club. Sited close to the army headquarters, this was an exclusive facility for military officers. Until 1920, its membership was restricted to garrison officers only and, even today, the club grounds belong to the armed services.
The Old Government Estate, southwest of the Gymkhana Club, houses the mansion where the governors of Madras once lived in regal splendour. Though the main building is falling apart, the banqueting hall, built in 1802 by the second Lord Clive, the eldest son of Robert Clive, retains its grandeur. It was named Rajaji Hall after the first Indian governor-general, Rajagopalachari, popularly known as Raja. Inside this elegant Neo-Classical building, an impressive broad staircase leads up to the vast banqueting hall, which has beautiful panelling and chandeliers. Anna Salai then enters its commercial stretch. Along this length of the road are some of the city’s oldest commercial landmarks, including one of India’s largest bookshops, Higginbotham’s Spencer’s, an international department store, and the Taj Connemara, one of the city’s finest hotels.
Across the road from them is the Old Madras Club, now somewhat dilapidated. Established in 1832, it was known in its heyday as the “Ace of Clubs”. Further down, the 19th-century Thousand Lights Mosque gets its name from the tradition of lighting 1,000 oil lamps to illuminate the Assembly Hall that once occupied the site. Standing further south is St George’s Cathedral, planned by James Lillyman Caldwell and built by Thomas de Havilland in 1814. Its tall spire, measuring 42 m (138 ft), is one of Chennai’s major landmarks.