A Day Out In Chennai
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Where I stayed
The early January weather was lovely and mild, so unlike the oppressive summer months.
Our hotel room gave us a wide angle view of the sunrise over the eastern horizon, albeit at some distance. A pleasant way to start the day, followed by a wholesome south Indian breakfast. Somehow, the very same dishes never taste so good in Mumbai, and we stuffed ourselves greedily!
We are from Mumbai - surrounded by the sea. We are not particularly enamoured of the seaside. We have not actually been to a beach, any beach, in years. So Chennai's long, sandy Marina Beach on a cool winter morning, came as a very pleasant surprise.
After driving down the entire length for a quick recce, we gave the main public beach with its many stalls a miss, and chose a quiet section opposite the DGP's office instead. It was a lovely, broad expanse of clean sand followed by a slight crest just before the shoreline. Colourful fishing boats were "parked" on the crest.
The waves looked deceptively gentle and inviting.
A solitary bicycle parked in the middle of the sand added to the canvas.
A man asleep on a fishing boat completed the picture postcard.
The beach was not actually as sparkly clean as it appeared. All sorts of rubbish was washed up on the shore line. Most of it was not plastics as found along Mumbai's coast, but flowers and coconut shells - remnants from religious ceremonies. Chennai is so progressive compared to other Indian cities when it comes to water conservation, even the most dilapidated structure has a commendable make shift water harvesting system in place. Why not compost wet waste instead of chucking it in the sea? Nonetheless, the Marina is a lovely beach and we enjoyed our short walk on its pleasant sands.
Fort St. George, next on the agenda, was a bit of a let down. The museum and surroundings were more interesting for their old world architecture than for the contents.
After that, we headed straight to the Government Museum to see the Chola bronzes. This was something we had always wanted to see. Fortunately the bronze galleries were open that day. The display was good with a separate section for the magnificent Natarajas, called "Natesa" here. The museum charges an extra Rs.200/- for still camera use, which we gladly paid. I just wish the lighting arrangements had been amateur camera friendly. The reflections through the glass cases spoilt most of the pictures. Several good publications and scholarly treatises are on offer at ridiculously cheap prices at the counter. Before we knew it, it was 2pm.
On to Saravana Bhavan – a Chennai institution. We found a small branch in T Nagar, very narrow and crowded, but somehow the courteous waiter managed to find us a cosy table to ourselves. Rejuvenated with two cups of brilliant coffee and some yummy tiffin, it was now time for retail therapy. Where better to begin than with the multitude of saree stores at T Nagar's Panagal Park. After a satisfactory purchase at Nallis, it was off to Pothys. Hordes of shoppers were congregated outside on the steps going into the store. Strangely, the counters inside were not congested. I spoke too soon. The counters were not congested when I made my selections. The payment and delivery counters were another story altogether, not to mention pushing through the crowds just to get there. There is a method in the madness though, that ensured speedy collection of money and prompt delivery of goods. Battling our way out of the by now very crowded store was a night mare. We also wanted to see what the much hyped Saravana Stores across the road was all about. Perish the thought. The crowds there were so deep that they spilled across half the road. It was chaotic. It suddenly dawned on me that they were all Pongal shoppers, much like the Diwali shoppers in Mumbai's Dadar market. It seemed a lot more crowded at T Nagar though. Couldn't blame them, with the huge variety of goodies on offer. T Nagar will convert the average lady into a shopaholic. Or so it seems to us outsiders. When my relatives from here visit Bombay, they go similarly beserk in Dadar and Linking Road!
Mylapore, around the Kapaleeswar temple, is another favourite place. It continues to exude an old world charm. A fascinating array of quaint little stores offer a variety of goods ranging from temple and ritual items to dance jewellery, textiles and a whole range of kitchen ware. We bought some good quality "ever silver" ware and stocked up on Leo Coffee and Ambika Stores offerings. I also noticed a very modern Saravana Bhavan here, next to a vastly renovated Sukra. Sukra is known for its temple jewellery.
An Adyar Ananda Bhavan and a Sri Krishna Sweetmeats outlet also enjoyed our patronage. By this time, we were knackered and gladly retired to our hotel for a hearty prawns dinner – a fitting end to a thoroughly satisfying day.