We make a last minute
decision to travel on the long Hari Raya Puasa weekend. But where?
We have not been to India yet. Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu,
is only a 4-hour flight away and it happens to be one of the four
visa-on-arrival entry locations for us Finns (others being Mumbai,
Delhi, and Kolkata). So, South India it is for four days!
We stay in The Park hotel on
Anna Salai. We arrive at Chennai late on Friday night, and don't
do much but go to sleep.
We are not sure if VOA is
worth it. Upon arrival, it takes us some time to find an official
to grant us one, and for him painstakingly long to record our
travel information in a huge book.
We've already met security
screening with body scanners in major tourist attractions in
China, like museums and historic places, especially Tian'anmen
Square. In India they have them in hotels too. Every time we
enter, our bags are subject to inspection and bodies go through a
Next morning (Saturday) when
getting out of the hotel we are immediately surrounded by a number
of aggressive auto rickshaw touters. We don't have an idea where
to go, and to be honest, where exactly the hotel is located (i.e.,
which side of a busy intersection --- the hotel is not marked in
the map, the map does not have street numbers, and the streets do
not have signs --- welcome to India!) So we ask the hotel staff.
They mark the hotel in our map, but really they don't have a
slightest clue. Finally, the Google map helps.
Eventually we give up to one
of the touters who promises to take us to Marina Beach for 80
rupees, instead of offering a tour around a whole set of tourist
sites for a few hundred, like others do.
Even here on the beach, the
rickshaws bother us. Otherwise it would be a nice stroll, even if
it is getting hot.
Spencer Plaza. An
air-conditioned complex full of shops to find western comfort food
and toiletries, tells our guide book. For us it looks a bit shabby
and out-dated, mostly selling fashion directly from the 80's.
Next morning (Sunday) we
start with a run in the hotel gym, which is actually pretty good,
only that the fuse blows after 30 minutes and halts all four
treadmills. We are in the end of our workout anyway.
We hire a driver to take us
to Mamallapuram and Kanchipuram today.
These girls quite
persistently try to sell us cheap jewellery; actually for tens of
minutes that we have to wait for another vehicles to move out of
our way so that we can go on with our trip. Fortunately, the girls
don't know how to operate the car door from outside.
Our next stop is about 60
kilometers away inland in Kanchipuram, a temple city. We visit
four temples from different eras, but only have pictures from the
last two. The first one is quite simple and small, the last ones
larger and quite intricate in decorations.
We return to Chennai pretty
late so for the dinner we opt for the hotel's restaurant 601. We
start with a South Indian platter, and then have some mutton
biryani. The server advises us to skip the chicken dish we were
about to order, since that would be too much for two of us. And
We end with sorbet and ice
cream, flavors vanilla and hazelnut and some mango(?)
An anecdote of the South
Indian service culture: these days it is quite customary in
restaurants worldwide that when a dish is served the server comes
back in a little while to ask if everything is ok/tastes good, or
something along those lines. Not in India!
Ok, the server comes back to
ask if everything is ok, but then continues to interrogate about
every single piece of the course if it tastes good. Quite
annoying, since it happens after each course. And one can't
dismiss it, since unless getting an answer they keep on insisting.
Next day (Monday) we make
another road trip to Pondicherry and Auroville. We have the same
driver as yesterday. We don't complain: he drives well and does
not talk too much. Unlike some other drivers we've had in past, he
also stays awake for the whole trip.
An annoying incident happens
this morning when we are having breakfast in the hotel restaurant.
A guy, presumably a marketing representative of the hotel chain
sits down at our table (without asking if it is ok) and gives an
advertising speech for the chain's membership card. He hands out
his business card and a brochure, and since we are eating, we just
put them aside, and tell him we'll study them and make our
decision later. He remains seated and an awkward silence follows.
After a few quiet moments
and some puzzled looks exchanged between two of us, the guy asks
if we want to get the membership. We tell him again that we'll
take a look at the material later, and then decide. He goes on
with his marketing blabber, and eventually Tomi picks up the
newspaper he was previously reading and Tei tries to concentrate
in her food. Finally, the guy leaves.
The picture: a brand new
office building by the highway.
Aayi Mandapam monument in
Bharathi park (= Government park). The monument was built in the
And if you must, you can
check the movies that the monument has been featured in:
A demonstration (or alike)
has happened in the town before we arrive; some crowds are still
hanging around, and there is a strong police presence with special
vehicles and barricades. We guess it has something to do with the
projected hanging of the three men that were sentenced of
conspiring to kill the prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
Then we find Hotel de
l'Orient. here the lunch time is also over, but they promise to
prepare us something quick and small, such as salad and
sandwiches, which we enjoy with local Indian wine Sula's Chenin
We reach Chennai around 8pm,
after a long and jammed ride. Again we opt for the hotel
restaurant; this time it is Lotus, a Thai restaurant. Food is ok,
although we order too much, and this time we don't have a server
telling us that. However, otherwise the service is overly
attentive, to the level it gets annoying.
Another ancedote of the service culture: Both times we dine at the
hotel restaurant we are asked to fill in a feedback form right after
the dinner, without a prior notice and with no opportunity to opt out.
You can just guess that in the second incident the only feedback we
give is that this kind of forced feedback is quite annoying and ruins
part of the dining experience.
Our last day (Tuesday) is
full of misfortune. We skip the planned morning run and the
breakfast, since neither of us feels quite well. We head out
instead to look for an early lunch place in the nearby Little
Italy, which we never find. Then we have quite inconvenient walk
to the Government Museum. Before we have a chance to buy the
entrance tickets, Tei gets bird poop on her shirt, and we need to
return to the hotel to change.
We have our last dinner in
another Italian place, this time quite an upscale restaurant Prego
in Taj Coromandel hotel. We have difficulties in finding the
place; our tourist guide does not mention that the restaurant is
located in a hotel, so we keep looking for another cosy home style
place in the ground floor of shop houses.
Again we are early and the
lone customers, so we get the service staff's undivided attention.
We have scallops and
fennel-asparagus salad to start with, and then tuna and spring
chicken for main courses, and chocolate cake with chili flavored
(and shaped) marzipan.
After the dinner we pick up
our luggage from the hotel and leave for the airport, with the
same driver again. We sleep the whole return flight to Singapore,
and skip the meals, even if SIA's Indian vegetrian meals are