- Introduction and Trip Planning
- Etihad Lounge, Washington Dulles
- Etihad First Class, Washington Dulles – Abu Dhabi
- Etihad Business Class Lounge, Abu Dhabi Terminal 1, and Abu Dhabi – Chennai Business Class
- Park Hyatt Chennai
Chennai isn’t a tourist city the way that Delhi or Mumbai are (not that those are primarily tourist cities). Nonetheless there are certainly things to see and do there, a former colleague from there flagged especially Mahabalipuram a UNESCO World Heritage Site an hour and a half outside the city center, 11th century temple Varadaraja Perumal temple, 7th century temple Kapaleeshwarar,m and 8th century temple Triplicane where you’ll see elephants as well. Marina Beach in Chennai is the world’s second longest, and there’s Ashtalakshmi Temple which is on Besant Nagar beach. There’s plenty of shopping for silks, handicrafts, and jewelry.
I had organized for a guide, but the morning she was supposed to turn up the hotel rang to let me know she had called in sick. The person calling was an assistant duty manager named Arun who had a suggestion. We should talk for a few minutes about what I was interested in seeing, and he would be happy to show us around the city himself! The only catch was that he would be available come the end of his shift, so we would meet up for him about 5 o’clock.
Given that it was evening, we wanted to stay nearby, and my interest in South indian food really resonated with Arun he offered to take us to some of his favorite places, the restaurants he visits often. That sounded great to me.
Our first stop was Saravana Bhavan, a Chennai-based chain (they have 20 locations in Chennai) that has expanded internationally. There’s even two locations in New York and they’re in Dallas, I hadn’t heard of it but will need to try it here in the States to see how the South Indian vegetarian cuisine translates.
It was all locals, we were the only tourists. That, combined with my taking photos, made me something of a curiosity and the manager insisted on having his photo taken with me.
The food was fantastic — and cheap. For instance, the Idly Sambar Ghee was 70 INR (~ US$1.15).
We finished up the meal with Indian filter coffee, which I then ordered a couple of times at the hotel (always to the astonishment of staff), but as sweet as it is I wouldn’t have wanted it at all since.
Driving around Chennai at night, it struck me that the city was very much alive — it didn’t shut down at the end of the day — and unlike many cities around the world with similar shopping districts and similar construction, the shops were all lit up brightly.
We also tried another chain, Thalappakatti which has over a dozen locations in the greater Chennai area (but that hasn’t made it beyond the region).
We made a final stop for dessert.
Arun was fantastic, he shared his favorite places and foods and we spent hours talking about his experiences with Hyatt, his time working at other properties in the chain both in Chennai and in Goa, and he had great stories of general managers in the region. He had really gone above and beyond making himself available to us, and the cheap local eats he shared were great — the hotel does a good job with its food (outside of in the breakfast restaurant, I think) but this was better… not to mention a fraction of the price.
When we checked out of the hotel Arun was on duty. He had left a gift at the desk for us, a bag of gulab jamun mix so we could make at home the dessert we had enjoyed with him. But since he was there he came out to see us off. It’s people like that who really make a stay.