There are several attractions enroute from Chennai to Mahabalipuram. They cater to varied needs of the people visiting the area. Below is a summary of the major ones:
MGM Dizzee World:
The theme park (Open 10AM to 6:30PM all days) is located around 40KM from Chennai at Muttukadu on East Coast Road (ECR). It was the best amusement park in the country in the late 1990s but now has a tired look. There are still a large number of rides and overall it is still good value for money for a full-day's entertainment (Rs 500 adults, Rs 400 kids - no additional charges). As with most places in Chennai, hygiene is well below par - toilets are terrible, no proper changing rooms for swimming pool, food options are limited and unhygienic, etc. For such a full-fledged theme park, it is also a shame that parking is on the opposite side of the busy road. Lockers are available. Outside food is not permitted but there are some options inside: Four restaurants including a pure vegetarian and a multi-cuisine restaurant along with kiosks near major attractions providing drinks and snacks. The most popular rides are log flume, giant wheel, spider spin, roller coaster, the funny mountain, dashing cars, and super trooper.
Even though the name might imply connections to the world famous MGM Resorts and Disney World, neither is true. The establishment is M.G. Muthu Group. They also run several resorts including the beach resort adjacent to this property. That resort is excellent but it caters more to corporate events and so tourists may find themselves a bit out-of-place.
The boat house (Open 9AM to 6PM all days) owned and operated by the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC) offers row boats, pedal boats, speed boats and water scooters. The location is a backwater area of the Bay of Bengal with a water depth that varies between 3 ft and 6 ft - it is a great place for bird watching. TTDC inaugurated the original facility in 1984 but a major expansion took place in 2009 - a new bamboo boathouse and a floating boat jetty. The boathouse has a multi-cuisine restaurant (Surf, a unit of Coral Group) which provides a panoramic view of the area.
As with most government run tourist establishments in the country, although the location and the concept are excellent, the attraction suffers from a general lack of upkeep, maintenance, and service: pricing is reasonable but the staff are known to ask for tips at every occasion. Also, the times quoted are not adhered to and they generally short-change you so much so that the speed-boat ride finishes almost as soon as it starts. Some boating options are not available, either because of repairs or the staff opting not to give them out - at the time of our visit, water-scooters, a very popular thrill-ride that can reach speeds up to 100 KM/hr was not available as they were all in repairs. Never-the-less, for bird-watchers and for thrill seekers, this is a fairly good attraction to give a try.
The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT) and Centre for Herpetology (Open 8:30 AM to 5:30PM, Monday Holiday) is India's leading institution for herpeto faunal conservation, research and education. The crocodile bank is the first crocodile breeding centre in Asia and it covers area of 8.5 acres - 2500 animals are hosted here including 14 species of crocodiles, 10 species of turtles, 3 species of snakes, and 1 species of lizard.
The location is on ECR around 40KM from Chennai and entrance fee is minimal (Rs 35 adults, Rs 10 kids). The Croc Bank grounds are covered by coastal dune forest which provide a great haven for native wildlife such as water birds and Olive Ridley Sea Turtles. There are feeding times and occasional demonstrations both of which are worth it.
Caveat Emptor: Although the facility is amazing, people who have no interest in Herpetology may find it not that interesting.
The Museum (Open 10AM to 6PM, Tuesday holiday) is a village which attempts to preserve South Indian heritage and recreates some of the traditional homes of the four states in South India: Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. The facility is the creation of Madras Craft Foundation, a non-profit, non-governmental organization whose focus is on bringing the hidden cultural wealth of South India to light. It is a not-to-be-missed attraction for anyone interested in the arts and culture of South India or anyone who wishes to live the bygone era for a few hours.
Dakshinachitra (translation - “picture of the south”) is located next to MGM Dizzee World on ECR. The museum is huge (10 acres) and you need at-least a couple of hours to do justice to what is on offer.
Below is a listing:
- Craft Shop and Orientation Film at Seminar Hall in the reception area,
- Huge Tamilnadu section with Agraharam Brahmin House, Religious Art Exhibition, Art Gallery of retrospectives, Temple Chariot, Agriculturalist’s House (Thanjavur), Textile Exhibition Hall, Weaver’s House (Kanchipuram), Potter’s House (Chengalpattu), Basket Weaver’s Mud Houses (Tiruvallur), and Village Ayyanar Shrine,
- Kerala section with Hindu Houses (Calicut & Trivandrum), Cattle Shed, Granary and Textile Exhibition, Syrian Christian House (Kuthattukulam), and Padipura Gate.
- Karnatak section with Weavers’ Houses (Bagalkote),
- Andhra Pradesh section with Ikkat Weaver’s House (Nalgonda), and Coastal Andhra Thatch House with Cattle Shed and Granary, and
- Miscellaneous: Temporary Exhibitions, Restaurant, Library, Mandapam, Canteen, Craft Bazar, Amphitheater, Guest Houses, Artisans’ Quarters, and Lathe Workship.
It is a nice serene place with different live heritage industries (weaving, glass art, etc) on display along with houses of different areas of South India from the 19th century. Tickets are Rs 75 for adults, Rs 25 for kids and Rs 10 for camera. There are several shopping outlets inside with a large variety of cultural wares. There is a restaurant that is open for lunch (Kanali).