India: ITC Grand Chola, Chennai
ITC Grand CholaNo. 63, Mount Road 600032 Guindy, Chennai, India 91/44/2220-0000 itchotels.in/hotels/itcgrandchola
Look for repeating patterns in the hotel's stonework: the flowers, elephants, and lattice designs reference classical Chola architecture and were carved by traditional artisans from Mahabalipuram, a port town in Tamil Nadu famed for its temple sculpture.
Stand inside the ring on the floor in the Lotus Lounge, modeled after the speaking rotundas in Chola Dynasty temples, and your voice will echo loudly—but only to anyone standing within the circle with you.
If you've been indulgent, head to Cheroot, the cigar bar, and clear your palate with a Madras Marina, an addictive blend of fresh coconut water, coarse black pepper from Malabar, and rosewater, garnished with a sprig of rosemary.
- 600 rooms
- 78 serviced apartments
- Grand suite with private pool, elevator, and dining room
- Eva rooms for female travelers
- Rooftop pools
- Smoking lounges
The Grand Chola is one of a number of hotels going up right now in Chennai, India's fourth-largest city and a rapidly developing industrial hub. With its massive capacity and convention facilities, the Chola is making a play to establish itself—and the city—as a major international conference destination.
But it turns out that three girls on holiday, determined to think about anything besides work, can find plenty of indulgent distractions at the Chola. When my friends and I arrived at our room in the Towers, we were met by an unflaggingly gracious and attentive butler, Suri, with flutes of chilled watermelon juice. Spiced cookies, pears, and chocolate truffles waited on the mantel; warmly scented honey-vanilla toiletries lined the dressing room shelves. Our room came equipped with an iPad, which controlled everything from the lights to the television, and we spent a lot of time running in and out of the room just to give each other the pleasure of simultaneously lying in bed and opening the front door.
We could have happily swanned about in our gold-and-cream suite for days, subsisting on room service ordered off that iPad. Out in its marble halls, though, the Grand Chola offers 10 different bars and restaurants, with food spanning the globe from Italy to Korea.
But when I'm in India, I want to eat Indian food. So one morning began under the double-story ceilings of Madras Pavilion, the all-day buffet, with a scoop of rice-and-lentil pongal, milky South Indian filter coffee, and a pile of fresh figs. Another day, lunch was Madras Pavilion's bracing rassam—a thin, traditional tomato-based soup laced with cumin and coriander—and Mangalorean seer fish curry with a tangy tamarind kick. Many guests will want to reserve a night (and an empty belly) for Peshawri, the meat-heavy, tandoor-focused sister restaurant of Delhi's famed Bukhara. The leg of lamb, marinated in malt vinegar, cinnamon and black cumin, was delicious, but all I really wanted wasto be left alone with a spoon, my bib, and a giant bowl of the buttery, black-lentil dalbukhara, which is famous enough in India that you can buy it pre-packaged in grocery stores.
Vegetarian dishes are also the star—and sole attraction—at Royal Vega, Grand Chola's most exciting dining option. Three years in development, the menu draws from the royal kitchens of India in strict accordance to Ayurvedic principles. What that translated to on the table was an array of dishes whose flavors and textures were in a lovely balance with one another, from the crunchy parmal patties of puffed corn and ground nut, spiced with carom seeds and grilled in butter, to the incredibly fresh, clean-tasting spinach with paneer cheese. The sweeter dishes, so different from the syrupy Indian desserts of my childhood, have stayed with me the longest: the warm, flaky, gold-leafed laddoo that began our meal; the refreshing little side dish of rosewater-soaked raisins and milky almonds. A pulao of long-grain basmati rice and sweet-sour zarasht berries from Kashmir was comforting and elegant all at once—not unlike the Grand Chola itself. —Nina Shen Rastogi
IN THE AREA
- Amethyst: A chic boutique full of beautiful shoes, jewelry, and clothing in lightly Westernized styles—the kind of items that say, "I've been to India, but I'm not going to put on a costume to prove it." Treat yourself to tea in the lush, lovely cafe on the ground-floor veranda before making your way to sister store Chamiers, which has a funkier inventory of homewares and gifts, as well as clothes. Amethyst: Near Corporation Bank, Whites Road, Royapettah; 91/44/2854-1917; amethystchennai.com Chamiers: New # 106, Old # 79, Chamiers Road; 91/44/2431-1495/496; chamiershop.com
- Kapaleeswarar Temple: Situated on a busy street in Mylapore, this gorgeous 16th-century temple in the Dravidian style remains an active place of worship. Towers covered in painted stucco figures depict tales of Lord Shiva, his consort Parvati, and their son Ganesh, the bright, saturated colors popping like comic-book panels. Visit during the spring festival ofArupathimoovar and you may receive food offerings from religious and community organizations: rice mixed with soupy sambar, tamarind, or lemon, perhaps; or the saffron-and-cardamom-spiced almond milk known as badham kheer. Between Chitrukullan North St. and Kutchery Rd., Mylapore; 442/464-1670
- The Chennai Music Season: Starting in mid-December, music-lovers flock to Chennai for what is known simply as "the Season"—a month-long celebration of Carnatic music and dance. With thousands of performances occurring round-the-clock at venues across the city, you can drift in and out of concerts and lectures from morning till night, fortifying yourself along the way with dosas, almond halwa, and filter coffee from the bustling canteens that sprout up around the music halls (and are almost as big a draw as the shows themselves). During the season, check The Hindu or other local listings for performance details.