Three days in Chennai

We flew into Chennai from Trivandrum on Kingfisher Airlines. The approximately one hour domestic flight was quite smooth and the cabin crew were dressed in attractive uniforms, and provided the passengers with good service. We were even given a snack box and a soft drink. I should mention that Chennai used to be known as Madras in the past, and was an important trading port during British colonial rule. Today, it is the 4th most populous city in India, and the capital of Tamil Nadu state.

Upon arrival at Chennai airport we found that it was undergoing major renovations, so there were a lot of construction work going on, and building materials lying around. We waited for the taxi pick up from the hotel in town that we had already booked earlier. We waited in vain as it never came. This was our second time in India that we had experienced this let down. Even after we phoned the hotel it was of no avail, so we just found an old taxi that looked like an exact replica of the taxi cabs in London.

I had changed some of my US dollars into Indian currency at the airport, but found out that it was not enough to cover the cab fare. I told the driver that I wanted to stop at a bank to change more money, explaining to him why. However, he agreed to take a combination of dollars and rupees to make up the total fare.

Our hotel, the Malles Manotaa was listed as a serviced apartment, but it looked just like a standard hotel to us. There were plenty of stores and commercial establishments around the hotel, and after checking in we immediately went to a bakery nearby to check out what was available. Well, there were a lot of delicious looking pastries and we bought a number of them. Their tastes didn't disappoint at all. We had an early dinner at the hotel and turned in early that first night as we had planned to take the bus to Pondicherry the next day. (Separate blog on trip to Pondicherry posted on here already)

After our trip to Pondicherry we retired again early as both of us were exhausted from the long bus ride. The next morning after breakfast we enquired at the front desk downstairs about taking the bus to MGM Dizzee World, an amusement park on the outskirts of Chennai. It looked like we had to take another bus from the same bus terminal where we took the bus to Pondicherry. As luck would have it, this bus also ran the same route to Pondicherry on East Coast Road, so we had the chance to enjoy some of the scenic views on the trip the previous day. However, the ride was much shorter, I think only about 45 minutes maximum.

Dizzee World looked just like other theme/amusement parks I've been to, but on that particular day it wasn't so crowded. I suppose because it was a weekday. However, they were several groups of school girls in their uniforms along with their teachers, who incidentally were nuns. The girls loved it when we took photos of them! I don't think I tried any of the games or rides as they are made especially for children. I must say though that the park was well maintained and looked quite clean. After a relaxing afternoon at this park we took the bus back to Chennai, then another three wheel auto rickshaw to our hotel, and had an early dinner again.

I have always liked Indian food since I was a young boy. Growing up in Rangoon, Burma there was no short supply of Indian restaurants in the city and suburbs. In fact, Burmese food is heavily influenced by Indian cuisine. I mention about Indian food because at the Malles Manotaa hotel, breakfast was included with the room. The very first morning when we went to the rooftop restaurant for breakfast, I noticed a row of trays on the long table filled with assorted Indian dishes. They looked very tempting so I started to help myself thinking it was part of the breakfast menu. There was this young man who was obviously one of the hotel staff behind the table. He had asked me earlier what I wanted for breakfast and I said that I would just help myself. I was wondering why he started to look a bit uncomfortable, when he told me that the trays were part of a special order by a group of company employees who were staying at the hotel! Oh my, I had made what the French call "faux pas." Anyway, with a sheepish grin, I hurriedly put my plate away and just settled for a good old Western breakfast of omelette and toast! I have been known to 'put my foot in my mouth' on several other occasions too! Luckily, there were only a couple of other hotel guests around at that time, and on the other occasions, I have always managed to put on a straight face.

On the third and last day of our stay in Chennai, we decided to do a tour of the city since our flight to Colombo was leaving only in the evening. The doorman at our hotel introduced us to his friend who owned another of those 3 wheel cabs. We told him we wanted to hire him to take us around the city, and after we agreed on the price we set off first to the Thousand Lights mosque which is a multi domed mosque and a revered place of worship for Muslims. Although India is a predominantly Hindu country there is also a sizable Muslim population.

Next stop was the Kapaleeshwar Temple which is one of the main tourist attractions in Chennai, and another place of worship, but this time for Hindus. The door to enter the temple was locked but a man there offered to show us the inside of the temple for 500 rupees which we agreed to, although I thought it was a bit of a rip off. The tour inside didn't take long as it was not a very big complex.

On the way to our next attraction I stopped at a vegetarian restaurant for lunch. It was a very busy place but the service was quick. I was served a variety of vegetable dishes with rice on a banana leaf. It was all you can eat and one can ask for second or third helpings too! The price was very cheap also, I think only 30 or 35 rupees.

The highlight of our short tour was the St. Thomas Basilica a 16th century Portuguese church which was rebuilt by the British in Neo-Gothic style in the late 19th century. Imagine a big Roman Catholic cathedral in Hindu India! It is rumored that Thomas, one of the apostles of Jesus was assassinated nearby and today, you can see the tomb of St. Thomas in the cellar of the cathedral. Although we are not Catholics we were both impressed with this magnificent church and spent more time there than at the other sites we visited. Oh, I should add that there is a quaint little bakery on the same street just as you leave the church grounds. For a small shop it had a wide selection of confectionaries and snacks available at reasonable prices.

We took a short break to walk along the wide streets near the beach. I remember seeing many nice looking hotels and houses in this area, and I thought to myself that this must be one of the prime locations in the city. I also wondered what it must have been like in the days of the British Raj, with their exclusive Gymkhana clubs where 'dogs and natives not allowed inside' signs were posted at the entrance.

The last stop on our sight seeing tour was Marina beach along the Bay of Bengal (and part of the Indian Ocean) which is said to be the second longest beach in the world. As far as the eyes could see, it certainly looked very long to me. I had read some negative reviews about this beach, mainly saying that the beach was always crowded and dirty. Well to me, it was not crowded at all, maybe because it was a weekday. As far as it being dirty, I have been to much dirtier beaches around the world. Anyhow, if you are in the mood to go for very long walks in the sand, then this is the place to go to.

It was getting late and we had a plane to catch, so from Marina beach we went back to our hotel. We were very satisfied with this mini city tour, and our driver too. He was very good and waited for us patiently at every stop we made. Goodbye Chennai, goodbye India, perhaps we'll see you again.