In yet another article in the Beyond the Gates Series, Abhinand Shankar explores the various reasons as to why the beloved ‘Bessie’ beach is one of insti’s all time favourite hangout places.
Photo Credits – Vaishnavi Vishwanath
Named after the then Governor General of Madras Presidency, Edward Elliot, Elliot’s Beach is situated about 4 kilometres away from IIT Madras. The beach is often addressed by the endearment “Bessie”. Historically significant is the Schmidt Memorial at Bessie. It was built to commemorate a Danish sailor named Karl Schmidt, who had drowned while rescuing a young girl from the sea.
The street leading up to Elliot’ s Beach is perfect for a walk or a jog. Free from encroachment by vehicles, 5th Avenue is lined up with beautiful houses and nestles a few quaint bistros. As one walks down the street, one is welcomed by the whisper of waves and the whiff of the sea. Bessie is hailed as “the cleaner, quieter alternative to its elder sister Marina”.
Bessie is surrounded by restaurants and cafes, that offer a delectable spread of the local favourites. The iconic “Dindigul Thalappaakatti”, “Faaso’s”, the sea-facing resto-café “Mash”, “Pupils” branded as the “students’ restaurant”, seafood serving “Cozee” and KFC have come up across the beach offering an unlimited, unobstructed view of the Bessie. Set a few blocks away from Bessie, critically acclaimed restaurants such as the romantic rooftop Hola and the quaint Jonah’s Bistro offer an international twist to the city’s food scene.
Despite the presence of these establishments, the vendors on the beach do not seem to complain about any loss in business. The entrance to the beach, a short three-step climb, is lined up with vendors selling flowers- from the sweet-smelling, pristine white jasmines and beautiful red roses to the lesser exotic countryside varieties of marigolds and alamandas. There are a variety of foods at the beach to keep a hot conversation or gossip going. The hot, green chilli bajjis with white coconut chutney served on a plantain leaf is a must-have.
Chaaru, who has been making bajjis for 20 years now at RTTP Bajji Stall, says,” Business is very good in the summer and during the monsoon. Many people have come for a cup of tea and bajjis to my stall. See. I have laid out tables and chairs for all the visitors.” She adds with a proud smile, “Some actors and actresses have also eaten my bajjis”.
Chandrakala Bajji Stall has not just bajjis but also vadapaavs, chaat and the local favourite of sea food aficionados- the crispy deep-fried “meen varuval” [fish fry] being offered. Several stalls offer “Delhi Appalam”- the South Indian equivalent of “pappad” served with masala powder. Fresh roasted corn sprinkled with masala power and scrubbed in lemon is worth the indulgence. A mixture of boiled peanuts, carrots, raw mangoes, masala powder and lime is almost a ubiquity here. Also, pink, organge and white son papdi, reminiscent of one’s childhood, is sold here. All in all, Bessie is a food lover’s paradise.
Apart from food, there is also scope for a lot of other things. For those who would love to stand in the water, there is not much to worry as the waters are said to be relatively cleaner than the Marina. However, in summer, some visitors take it a step ahead and bathe in the waters to escape the blistering summer heat.
The clean sands are practice grounds for several Frisbee groups in the city. One can buy a Frisbee from its many sellers on the beach and enjoy a good game. Bessie is the center for the city’s Ultimate Frisbee Club. With several Frisbee clubs having sprung up, the annual Chennai Frisbee Heat organized in Bessie offers a bit of action in the otherwise dull October and November months. In the mornings, local football teams call the sands of Bessie their playground. For the sporty and the athletic, these are great opportunities.
One can indulge in his/her inner child by going on the “Giant Wheel” or on one of the carousel rides in the fun games arena. Several stalls offer “balloon shooting” and mask painting in the evenings. The many travelling soothsayers offer to read one’s palm for a sum of fifty rupees. One can enjoy a horse-ride on the beach on weekends. For the no-nonsense, old-school ones, a long conversation is never impossible here.
For a good selfie, one can always rely on Bessie. Sunrises and sunsets are beautiful to watch here. Interestingly, the commercial complex facing Bessie houses “Tantra”- a tattoo station.
During the months of May, June, July and August, Elliot’s Beach resembles a colourful village fair with abundant activities catered to all age groups. While the cool sea breeze is a relief in summer, the hot bajjis and masala chai at the beach are much sought-after at Bessie during the monsoons. What stays the same throughout the year is Bessie’s serenity.
It might also interest you to know that Besant Nagar boasts of its own Humour Club, a gathering of mimicking, story telling and miming enthusiasts that takes place every first Sunday of the month. The club, which is open to all, offers one a chance to interact with prominent members of the city’s art scene.
The streets of Besant Nagar are the favourites of Chennai’s cycling clubs, including The Chennai Bikers and the Tamilnadu Cycling Club. Cycling from Insti to the Elliot’s Beach is, for the most part, relaxing and refreshing. While the Madhya Kailash road junction might seem like a congested maze, the path leading to Besant Nagar is free of potholes and bottlenecks.
Besant Nagar is well-connected with Adyar in terms of transportation. While autos provide service throughout the day, the “23C” numbered bus run by the MTC [Metropolitan Transport Corporation] frequent the CLRI Bus Stop [opposite IITMadras Main Gate] every 15 minutes and is connected to the Besant Nagar Bus Terminus.