Chennai isn't charming, but it does offer good shopping -- if you want a one-stop mall destination, head to the labyrinthine Spencer Plaza, conveniently located opposite Taj Connemara. Said to be the largest shopping complex in South India, Spencer Plaza was Chennai's first mall, and is still the most popular, but with low ceilings and claustrophobic corridors, and a generally confusing layout, this is not mall shopping as you know it in the West. It has around 400 shops; if you haven't for instance had a chance to shop at the famous FabIndia, where you can pick up cotton garments, kurtas (tunics), and ethnic furnishings and linens for next to nothing, you can do so at the small Spencer Plaza outlet. There are however five more outlets in the city, all open daily; if you hate malls, the best (and biggest) FabIndia outlet is in a beautifully renovated heritage home: Ilford House, 3 Woods Rd. (off Anna Salai; tel. 044/2851-0395 or 044/5202-7015). Spencer Plaza also has an outlet of Hidesign, the Pondicherry-based outfit renowned for top-quality leather goods, created by Indian craftsmen and internationally renowned Italian designers. There is also a Hidesign in the Ispahani Center (one of the city's smallest, glitziest and most peaceful malls) located on Nungambakkam High Rd.; tel. 044/2833-2111 or 044/5214-149); here you can also pop into Casablanca for men and women's wear (women shouldn't miss a look at particularly the Gecko range). But perhaps the best shopping experience, also in Nungambakkam, is to stroll along Khader Nawaz Khan Road: potholed it may be, but Chennai's retail "golden mile" holds the densest concentration of Indian high-street designer stores in the city (as well as, bizarrely, a Marks & Spencer). If you're not going to Pondicherry, this is where you can browse the goods produced by the community in the City of Dawn at Naturally Auroville Boutique (8 Khader Nwaz Rd.; tel. 044/2833-0517); also pop into Cotton World just above, and don't miss Evoluzione at #3 (tel. 044/4213-9800).
If you prefer a more sanitized environment, browse the Taj Coromandel's Khazana Shop (37 M.G. Rd.; tel. 044/5500-2012 or -2827), where you'll find a particularly good selection of top-quality silks, saris, and various objets d'art in an upmarket, luxurious environment (and pay the price). Across the road from the Coromandel, Central Cottage Industries Emporium (672 Anna Salai; tel. 044/2433-0809 or -0898) is the fixed-price government emporium with a virtual monopoly on package tourist shoppers. Farther up the road is Poompuhar, the government emporium of Tamil Nadu (818 Anna Salai, near recommended bookstore Higginbothams), which has a better selection of art pieces unique to the state -- this is a good place to pick up a Thanjore painting or woodcarving, or bronze figurines. Before you reach Poompuhar you will pass the respected Victoria Technical Institute (www.vitichennai.com), also on Anna Salai, which stocks predominantly paintings and carvings.
Cane & Bamboo (21 Marshalls Rd., Egmore; tel. 044/2852-8672) is another good shop for curios and gifts -- trays, bowls, spoons, lamps, and other handicrafts made of different types of wood sourced from all over India -- and managed by the knowledgeable Mrs. Thangam Philip, who can tell you about the different artifacts she stocks. But perhaps our favorite Chennai shop is Amethyst at 14 Padmavathi Rd. in Gopalapuram: an excellent collection of clothing, furniture, and souvenir handicrafts made with Indian fabrics and a mix of traditional and fab modern Indian design elements (look out for the Avadh collection of contemporary clothes from Lucknow with "retro" accents, and stunning jewelry made by Amrapali) and a great coffee shop where you can relax while pondering just what to purchase. Nearby is Kalpa Druma (71 Cathedral Rd., Gopalapuram; opposite Chola Sheraton tel. 044/2811-7652 or -1695), spread across three buildings, one of them five stories high, for a huge variety of housewares, handicrafts, gifts, and antique furniture across all budgets -- hard to believe that Chennai has the only outlet! Like Amethyst, Chamiers (85 Chamiers Rd, tel. 24311495; www.chamiersshop.com) offers a holistic shopping experience, with a cafe where you can sip organic coffee or fruit juice. Aside from the variety of gifts, and the well-known international Indo-Western brand Anokhi, there's Lokessh Ahuja, an interesting menswear range. Finally, even if you have absolutely no intention of buying a silk sari, you must visit Nalli Chinnasami Chetty (9 Nageswaran Rd., T. Nagar, near Panagal Park; tel. 044/2434-4115; www.nallisilk.com), a Chennai institution, where you can't help but fall in love with the exquisite silks, including the famous Kanchipuram silks. While on the busy shopping mecca of T. Nagar, look out for Kazaana Jewellery (the other outlet is on Cathedral Rd., the first shop in India to introduce a "guarantee card" to buy back any item at market rate); aside from quality saris and silks, T Nagar street is one of the best places to look for clothing bargains, while Pantheon Road is the place for cheap but attractive linen. And eco-warriors shouldn't leave town without looking over Prana: Live Natural (D6 6th St., near Chintamani, Anna Nagar East; tel. 044/4217-0077): organic clothing for men and women, all natural or naturally dyed (or "safe-chemical" dyed).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.