I admit it. Chennai wasn’t chosen because we wanted to visit Chennai but because we wanted to stay at ITC Grand Chola. But then, the city does have its perks. We planned a vacation centred around just our hotel stay and weren’t too keen on venturing out with the kids, and the sun shining down as warmly as it was. Once there though, there was enough to endear the city to us and turn it into something that I would recommend. An old city where the modern jostles for space with the ancient, flyovers reach out above alleyways and bazars that seem to have been there since ages, connecting two very different faces of the city seamlessly.
We stayed a night at the Radisson Blu in Chennai’s heart and two nights at The ITC Grand Chola. While we were expecting luxury at Chola, Radisson didn’t disappoint either and was a luxurious stay as well, not to mention comparatively much more pocket friendly. So apart from lazing around in the hotels, here are 8 Things to Do on a Laid-back Trip to Chennai, India that don’t require any degree of ambition to accomplish.
1. Stay at ITC Grand Chola, Chennai
The epitome of luxury and great hospitality, ITC Grand Chola is in a class of its own. Opulent decor, rich in luxuries and amenities, and a huge property in the heart of the city; it is everything you would want from a hotel. From the many dining options, each with enough standing to draw crowds on its own merit, to the spa and swimming pools, a stay here is sans any cutting of corners. All out, indulgent luxury. For more about our stay at the Grand Chola, read here.
ITC Grand Chola: No. 63, Mount Road, Guindy, Chennai- 600032, Tamil Nadu, India. P: +9144 2220 0000
2. Gorge at The Great Kebab Factory, Chennai
Whip up an appetite and if there is a place in Chennai where you can eat like there is no tomorrow, it is The Great Kebab Factory at The Radisson. You will be served mouth-watering kababs in seven different styles – roasted on the tandoor, on a sighri, shallow-fried in a tawa, a mahi tawa, deep-fried in a kadhai, steamed in pots or grilled on a stone. They start by putting in front of you an assortment of chutneys. We were served varied fruits, salads, Subz Galouti Kebab, Paneer Firdosi, Kamal Kakdi ke Goolar Kebab, Pudina Ananas and more just for starters (they claim to have about 450 kebabs on offer, of which they serve a few and keep rotating!). Each and every snack was an entirely different flavour and the only thing I didn’t want a second helping of was the Paneer, possibly because I am not a big fan of paneer. For mains, if you still have the appetite, there is a fragrant Awadhi Subz Biryani, Awadhi Paneer Masala, Aloo Bhey Ki Subzi, Dal Awadhi & THE Dal Factory (the only thing I tried in mains as I was too full, though everyone liked other dishes as well, this was the most recommended and I was completely sold on it). Do keep some space for the desserts. The Shahi Tukda was average, the Kesari Phirni delicious and the Paan Ice Cream stole the show. An absolute must.
The Great Kebab Factory: Radisson Blu, 2, Ethiraj Salai, C-in-C Road, Egmore, Chennai. P: 044 30257999
3. Shop at Nalli Sarees
While in Chennai, a visit to Nalli is still a must. Nalli Sarees has many branches all over Chennai, pick the closest. The one we visited was spread over many floors and had a huge variety of not just sarees but dress material as well. A feast for the eyes, these would make for great gifts too. If you’re not a shopper, go for the experience.
4. Get a Dose of History at Mamallapuram
If you plan on visiting Pondicherry, on the way to or back you can stop at Mamallapuram. If you’re a history buff, you’ll probably want to plan a trip here anyway. Mamallapuram, or Mahabalipuram, is a town known for its temples and monuments built in the 7th and 8th centuries. If you’re short on time, even driving through the place is a good idea to admire the ancient archeological sites that are adjacent to the road. The seafront Shore Temple comprises 3 ornate granite shrines. The caves or Seven Pagodas here are believed to be from the time of Mahabharata and look impressive even from a distance. Krishna’s Butter Ball is a massive boulder perched on a small hill, that has been there since ages. [And here are 10 Things to Do in Pondicherry (Puducherry) India]
5. A Chettinad Meal at Hotel Guru
On our way back from Pondicherry to Chennai, we stopped at Hotel Guru in Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram). It was one of the most memorable meals on the trip, as we really enjoyed our traditional Chettinad Meal the traditional way, i.e. eating with our hands. Okay, I admit, I could only go so far before I had to resort to using a spoon, but at least I tried! The meal was served on a banana leaf, to add on to the authenticity. Comprising of Rasam, Sambhar, Rice, Papad and Vegetables, it was a mouth-watering meal with Seviyan Kheer and Buttermilk served as desserts. The Fresh Pineapple Juice that we had tasted so fresh that it was akin to drinking juice from a pineapple still attached to the tree.
Hotel Guru: ECR, 603104 Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, India. P: 093846 24046
6. Dosas, Idlis, Sambhar, Filter Coffee & More
Are you not dying for a belly full of vadas, idlis, dosas and more! Ratna Cafe serves great authentic South Indian Breakfast (comes recommended after a walk on the Marina Beach) and the Sambhar that they serve in buckets is simply the best. For the best South Indian Coffee, head to the award winning Sangeetha Restaurant. If you are not prone to tummy trouble while travelling, the Fruit Shop on Greams Road offers the yummiest juices, shakes, smoothies and exotic ice cream based fruit shakes, with the Mango Shake being top of the tops.
Ratna Cafe: 255, Triplicane High Road, Triplicane, Chennai | 240, Kilpauk Garden Road, Kilpauk, Chennai | South Mada Street, Alamelu Manga Puram, Sankarapuram, Mylapore, Chennai. P: 044 2848 7181
7. Local Fruit
The freshest pineapples, coconut water, mangoes and melons greeted us wherever we went. As we stepped out of Nalli during our stay in Chennai, we spotted a vendor selling a fruit that seemed to attract a lot of locals and gave it a try. A bit like a mellow mango, the Palapayam was a fleshy yellow fruit that we all enjoyed. Look out for it piled along roadsides and dig in.
8. The Beaches in Chennai
If you are visiting the coastal region, a visit to the beach is on top of the list (unless you decide to go my way, and decide you just don’t want to swap the luxury of the hotel with sun and sand). Chennai has a few beautiful beaches, some more crowded than the others. The Marina Beach is 13 km long and the second longest beach in the world. It lies towards the eastern side of the city and the scenic beauty here is a big draw. Historically, the most important port used to be the Covelong Beach which stretches along the Coromandal Coast. With water sports, palm tree lined views and white sand, it is a wonderful place to visit. The most popular among the young crowd and also as a night destination is the Elliot or Besant Nagar Beach. It is closer to the city and less crowded. The Ashtalakshmi Temple built on sand and the Velankkani Shrine are very popular here.