Last Sunday I went with my son to Vandalur zoo (Arignar Anna Zoological park) near Chennai. It is about 25Kms from Chennai city on the NH45 national highway (the same road as Chennai Airport, Tambaram railway station) and driving there is easy once you cross Tambaram. There is ample car parking available inside the zoo premises. The Chennai suburban electric train service is another way to reach there with the station at walking distance from the zoo.
(Update 26/August/2013: I read today in Wikipedia article for Vandalur Zoo its history. Its origin traces back to 1854 to then director of Govt Central Museum at Madras Edward Green Balfour. Its present location in Vandalur was planned in 1976 and opened to public on 24 July 1985)
The zoo charges for entry are Adults: Rs.20, Children: Rs.10 and for Photo camera: Rs.25. You can see many varieties of animals, birds, fishes in the zoo. The zoo is situated on a large forest land with lot of space for each animals, so the area you need to cover is quite huge. There seems to be lot of vacant areas with no animals and the overall animal count seems to be low compared to the area of the zoo. You can cover the entire zoo in multiple ways:
- by walk
- by renting a cycle (just after the entrance in front of Hotel Tamilnadu)
- buy a ride in the electric golf-carts (you need to wait for this in a queue)
- buy a ticket in the zoo tours (in motor van or trams, these are to be booked in advance for the same day)
We went there in the afternoon (in the scorching sun, which was not a good idea) around 1:30PM. By the time we went options 2,3,4 were not available for us – so we took the trip by walk. We saw the animals near the entrance (Monkeys, etc.), then the birds and so on.
There are adequate number of resting area (shades) provided for sitting and relaxing, Toilet facilities are okay. The zoo severely lacks in food courts and cafeterias. Inside the zoo area there are a Aavin ice-cream booth, a small snack shop and in the entrance a restaurant Hotel Tamilnadu owned by Tamilnadu Government. After spending nearly two hours walking, we were tired and hungry – we wanted to get some snacks and my son wanted to eat a ‘dosa’. At that time we were half-way inside the zoo, we walked all the way back to the entrance and went to Hotel Tamilnadu hoping for some eatables. To our utter dismay the restaurant was in bad condition (water stagnating on the floor), people having arguments with the billing counter staff (only one for a crowded zoo) and non-availability of any food. They don’t seem to be serving Dosa/Idly or any other light snack – only rice items, veg and non-veg biryani’s which too had ran out very soon. This re-enforced my general view that Governments (that too in India) have no business running a service industry, Hotel industry is a great example of that and you can add Resorts, Airlines to that list. We decided to cut-short our trip and came out of the zoo. The parking lot attendant helped us by suggesting a “Hotel Sangeetha” which was on the other side of the national highway, just opposite to the zoo. We drove down there, had some good Dosas and Fruit-Juice, came back re-energized.
We came back on time (had to buy the entrance ticket again) for our Lion Safari tour. We managed to book this ticket (advance booking for the 4:30PM tour) for the Lion Safari tour. The whole tour lasts for about 20 minutes and runs every hour twice. You are taken in a special caged van to a special enclosed area inside the zoo where lions are free to roam. The vehicle you are in goes very near to the Lions who are oblivious to our presence inside the van. If you are visiting Vandalur zoo don’t miss this tour.
If you wish to see the entire zoo, you will need a full day (nearly from dawn to dusk) to cover it. Keep a good pair of walking shoes, sun cap, drinking water, food & eatables.