Abu Dhabi and Chennai
Abu Dhabi (29 December - 1 January)
We flew from Manchester to Abu Dhabi on Etihad Airways. It was the first time we had flown Etihad and we were very impressed with the aircraft and service. We arrived in Abu Dhabi in the evening and went straight to the wrong hotel. We went to the Millennium Hotel NOT the Grand Millennium where we should have been ! A quick taxi ride brought us to the right place.
The Grand Millennium Hotel
The view of Abu Dhabi from the top floor of our hotel
Our hotel was located next door to the Al Wadha Shopping Mall. The Mall turned out to be handy as there was a Starbucks which was a great place to grab a coffee and people watch, although it could have been a mall anywhere in the world.
Al Wadha Mall decorated for Christmas
Next day, we set out to explore Abu Dhabi. There isn't a great deal to see in Abu Dhabi as a tourist, but perhaps the most impressive thing to visit is the The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, on the outskirts of the city. The design of the Mosque can be best described as a fusion of Arab, Mughal and Moorish architecture.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest in the UAE, can accommodate 40,960 worshippers.
Kris was required to dress in a burqa (which the mosque provided) even though she was already dressed very conservatively.
Outside the Mosque
And inside: Kris looking (and feeling) a bit self conscious
The opulent and perhaps slightly "over the top" interior of the Mosque
One of three huge chandeliers
The other thing we had been told that we HAD to do was afternoon tea at The Emirates Palace Hotel. The hotel was quite splendid.
The lobby of the hotel
Le Cafe, where we had afternoon tea.
This is just one course of afternoon tea. There were two more ! We made the mistake of ordering two teas instead of sharing one!
On our last day, we spent a lazy morning in the hotel and then went for a walk along the beachfront area.
The Corniche, a tree-lined walkway adjacent to Abu Dhabi's main beach
Marina Beach on News Year Day with a view of the many high rise buildings in Abu Dhabi
As we were about to head back to the hotel, a dramatic and colorful display of aerobatics started along the beachfront.
An exciting exhibition of formation flying which we watched from the beach.
Once the display had ended, we headed back to the hotel and then out to the airport to catch our next flight to India. To our surprise, after some confusion finding the correct check-in, the nice man who checked us in upgraded us to Business Class - for free. He said it was a New Year present for us. Very nice !
Chennai ( 2 January to 4 January)
We arrived in Chennai (which used to be known as Madras) about 4:00 am. Although the airport was not terribly modern, it was very quiet and we were through the formalities very quickly. We were met outside by our driver, Hari and a courier, who took us to our hotel, The Vivanta by Taj. As we hadn't had much sleep, we were happy to get to our room and fall into bed.
The hotel was very grand and very much in the colonial style, but it was beginning to show it's age and wasn't quite as luxurious as perhaps it had been in years gone by.
After a few hours sleep, Hari came to give us a tour of the city, together with a tour guide. We started in the Fort George area, which had originally been built by the British in 1644 to keep out the French. The fort is now mostly offices and military buildings but some of the original buildings remain, including St Mary's Church, which was built in 1680.
Hotel Main Lobby
Pool area (originally called The English Garden)
Lounge area with courtyard behind
St Mary's Church (1680)
St Mary's Church interior
The Church was full of poignant reminders of the British Raj, mostly memorials (like this one) for soldiers who hadn't (quite) made it home to Britain.
There is a larger church devoted to St Thomas (sometimes called "Doubting Thomas" who supposedly died in Chennai. His remains were carried away by the Portugese, but they left behind a small scrap of bone and a Basilica has been built around his (now empty) tomb.
St Thomas Basilica
Next day, we continued our tour of the area with a day trip to Kanchipuram, one of the seven sacred cities in India, with over one hundred temples. Fortunately, we only visited three.
Inside the temple
Temple Tank (originally used for ritual bathing, now used mainly for irrigation)
Outside the temple
We stopped to see silk being woven, on looms which could have been used a hundred years ago.
This is a "modern" jacquard loom (note the program cards to the left of the weavers head)
Traditional hand loom - it takes seven days to set up
Silk drying in the sunshine
In the afternoon, we drove to Mahabalipuram, a small town on the coast, with a UNESCO World Heritage site called The Five Rathas (or Five Chariots) carved from solid stone in the 7th century. Their original purpose is unknown and they are unfinished.
The beach at Mahabalipuram
Kris with our tour guide, Mirunalini, in front of the three of the Five Rathas
The Shore Temple, also 7th century AD.
Detailed stone carving on the wall of one of the "Rathas"
After our day of touring the area, we returned to Chennai, with Pondicherry our next planned stop.