Yes, the cities can be confusing places to negotiate in India. A lot of people from a lot of different social classes live together and public spaces belong to everyone. Hence public spaces can get quite chaotic. The bus stations and railway connections are primarily used by the poor and middle classes whereas the airports are affordable for the upper middle classes and beyond.
There is no point in foreigners getting off at bus stations and complaining that they were dirty or generalising that this is India. No, it is not. India is not a poor country but a country with poor living with other classes. The latter too are not so easy to meet or mix with. It is good to keep this is mind and also celebrate the fact that so many types of people use the roads together.
I do have some favorite spots where I get away from crowds in the city.
- Thiruvalluvar Nagar Beach, Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai
One of the southern beaches that lies along the East Coast Road. A google map search will give you a navigation to this beach. It is reasonably clean and has a decent crowd. Recently a group of civic minded residents have taken interest in keeping it even cleaner.
2. Vasant Vihar, Krishnanmurti Foundation, Greenways Road, Chennai
J.Krishnamurti upon being asked what to do with visitors to this center is said to have remarked “give them a cup of tea”. So yes, you can invite yourself in for chai in the mornings and afternoons and lunch upon prior notice to the center. They have one of the most beautiful gardens in the city and thankfully it is open to the public. They also have a study and a guest house for those visitors interested in exploring the philosophy of JK deeper.
3. Narada Gana Sabha, Mylapore, Chennai
The music season in the city is not to be missed . Carnatic music to me is a deep and transcendental experience. Narada Gana Sabha is an auditorium which I like for its great location and unpretentious organizers. Basically an unpretentious place with good music, good food and a nice music shop. You can also look up The Music Academy, a sister auditorium close by, with a more exclusive atmosphere.
4. Dakshinchitra, East Coast Road, Chennai
One the success stories in art rehabilitation, maybe even the best, in India. Dakshinchitra has a wonderful library related to the indian arts , a well curated program of cultural events, some nice shopping of artisan products. It holds within in various exhibits of houses from different parts of south India , I believe many of these houses were relocated piece by piece from their original places.
5. Madras Square, Neelankarai , Chennai
Other places to let your hair down in Chennai would be the restaurants. The five star hotels usually have a peaceful atmosphere and affordable coffee shops. Amongst the private restaurants I like the Madras Square: pretty, quirky building, a small garden space and good food.