Stuff to see in Chennai
My friend Navin sent me the following post, which is from the blog of a friend of his. I've asked Navin to get his name for me so I can credit him properly, but here's his guide to Chennai and surrounding area...
In Chennai ...
Some of the architecture (esp. temple architecture) is fabulous .. and your friends will only be limited by the amount of time they have on hand. Some of these are really old (we're talking about temples dating back to the Chola & Pallava period from the 8th century). There are some really neat churches too... the 15th/16th century churches - Santhome Basilica, Luz Church, St. Thomas Mount, St. Andrews, the Armenian Church, and then the more recent 19th century churches built during the Raj years - like the Gothic-style one in the Loyola College campus. Visiting the temples can be timed during periods of the day/week when there are no major pujas going on - so you could avoid the crowds.
The Museum & National Art Gallery in the Egmore area is another do-not-miss place. General state of dustiness & neglect, but stunning pieces of work. The museum building itself dates back to the mid-19th century. The museum's bronze collection is probably unmatched. Lots of old Rajasthani & Mughal paintings.
On the way to Mahabalipuram (touristy, but yet another not-to-miss location ... the whole temple town is a priceless piece of temple architecture) ... you may want to check out the old-old Murugan temple at Thiruporur (off the Old Mahabalipuram road) ... you're likely to find researchers & archeologists at work at the temple (trivia - Prabhakaran, the LTTE head-honcho, apparently got married here at this temple sometime in the early 80s :-))
Another place, on the very *top* of my list of places in Chennai to visit, is Dakshinachitra. It's a heritage center, about 10 miles south of Thiruvanmiyur on the East Coast Road to Mahabalipuram. Setup to provide insights into how people in South India lived. Separated into geographical divisions .. there are areas devoted to Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. They've recreated old homes, with artifacts in place. This whole place is a work of love ... you'd be able to step into "typical" Syrian Christian homes, Keralite Hindu homes, Tamil Brahmin "agraharams" or neighborhoods in the vicinity of temples, and the like. It's hard to describe, but believe me, it's a fascinating place & quite unique. There are additional activities at the time of festivals - for example, Onam which is coming us soon, Christmas, Pongal, and the like. And it's on the way to Mahabalipuram in any case.
Another place, along similar lines, is Cholamandalam, the artists' village (again on East Coast Road) in Injambakkam, just a couple of miles south of Thiruvanmiyur. You may miss it while driving by, a landmark - there's that ubiquitous "Food World" grocery store adjacent to the artists' village. It's a unique concept - dedicated to nurturing artists in sculpture & painting. And the coastline ..... skip the beaches in the city, and head south on the East Coast Road. After you pass Neelankarai/Injambakkam, just look for any small lanes heading off to the left of the road, and it's highly likely you'll end up on the beach. These stretches of the shoreline are absolutely beautiful, and deserted most of the time. no crowds at all ... except for the occasional few who are vacationing in one of the beach homes nearby.
Bookstore: You've absolutely got to visit "Landmark", the pre-eminent store in the city for books, music, movies. Two locations - the original one on Nungambakkam High Road, and the new 2-story location inside Spencer Plaza.
Clothes: Whole bunch of places, depending on your budget. "Trendy" every-day clothes - Stopper's Shop (Chetpet), Globus (T. Nagar), that huge store in Alwarpet (I forget the name - Lifestyle ??? ).
Sari/kurti boutiques - Shilpi - one of the oldest boutiques in the city (Haddows Road, and another location in South Madras - probably Alwarpet), Pithambari (just off Mount Road), Roshanlal's (Mount Road), Surang (Cathedral Road), Sona's (Kasi Arcade complex). Ffolio - another upmarket boutique on Khader Nawaz Khan Rd.
Fabrics - FabIndia (Woods Rd, just off Mount Road), another place on Khader Nawaz Khan Rd in Nungambakkam - forget the name now ("Gujrati", or Gujrali" ???) . And while in the nighborhood, check out "Bath Twirl - Towliya" ... a funky boutique collection of bath towels, yes, I'm not kidding :-)) - on Khader Nawaz Khan Rd.
OK, and now some nice places to eat ...... :-)))
South Indian : Annalakshmi (easily the best south Indian restaurant I went to during my recent visit), on Mount Road. Dakshin in the Park Sheraton Hotel, and the lunch buffet in the Residency hotel in T. Nagar were pretty good. "Ganges" - Kodambakkam High Road, near the intersection with Nungambakkam High Road, and in the basement of the complex with Komalas - the veggie buffet there was pretty good too.
North Indian : I'm partial to "Peshawari" in the Chola Sheraton hotel on Cathedral Road. Pricey, but the food's excellent. The last time I was there, a few weeks ago, there was a 25% discount if you paid with Amex or Diners. I've heard "Basera", on the East Coast Road, is good too, but I haven't been there myself. Ditto with "Pathankot" in Thiruvanmiyur, and "Dhabba Express" in Teynampet.
Chinese: I didn't go to too many places, but "China Town" on Cathedral Road, right across the road from Hotel Maris and Chola Sheraton, was pretty good. They use MSG though (aka "ajinomoto"), I was told most Chinese restaurants in the city do that, so you may want to tell the waiter beforehand if you're allergic to that stuff. My friend got a slight headache a few minutes into the meal... and he suspected the dishes had MSG - I'm OK, but he's pretty sensitive to MSG. We checked with the waiter, and bingo, my friend was right :-(
Tapas: ... didn't have time to check this out, and I've no idea if it's authentic or not (I love the ones I frequent in the bay area), but there's a Tapas bar called "Zara's" (in the same complex as China Town). Maybe some bloggers here may have some feedback on this one.
Near Mahabalipuram: a nice restaurant in the GRT Temple Bay Resort hotel (formely the Temple Bay Ashok), just north of Mahabalipuram. The lunch buffet was *excellent*. If you're going there, call ahead to reserve a table by the huge ceiling-to-floor windows with the view of the beach & the sea. Stunning, stunning, views. You can get catamaran rides into the sea (definitely, a pre-lunch activity :-))), or you can rent a bicycle and just tool around the place. I loved this hotel ... bright & airy & spacious ..
Another nice place to eat near Mahabalipuram (this was highly recommended but I didn't have time) is the open-air restaurant on the beach in the Taj Fisherman's Cove resort hotel. I think it's open around 7:30 every night.
I'm leaving out the usual sightseeing spots ... I'm sure your friends can pick up a book, or look up the Rough Guide or the Lonely Planet travel info on the web. And not very far from Chennai is a great little town - Pondicherry (there was a whole blog on it by shehrezad, you may want to check that out). And Kanchipuram - if your friends are interested in history & temple architecture, they'd want to make a day's trip to this town - the ancient capital of the Pallavas & then the Cholas , and innumerable fascinating temples - some of the oldest in the country from the 6th & 7th centuries.
Only 3 months to go!!!