Chettinad. For a foodie, the name is synonymous with the Chettinad cuisine! For a connoisseur of art and heritage, it is the majestic mansions which beckon!
Chettinad is dry and arid region in South Tamil Nadu. There are many things – Magnificent mansions, Mouth watering menus, Rural milieu and of course Marvellous temples to explore here! We did a short trip in 2011 and again in 2015 to the hinterland of Tamil Nadu. We thoroughly enjoyed.
The drive to Karaikkudi, the major town in Chettinad region was a breeze till Dindigul. Beyond that the two lane highway was a pleasure to drive under the canopy of road side tamarind trees. We were in Karaikkudi by afternoon for lunch.
As we entered the sleepy little town, we could see huge Chettinad mansions in at many places in the city. Searching for BANGALA – the hotel where we were staying – was not difficult. It is a local land mark. We were in time for a Chettinad lunch!
The credit for putting Karaikkudi and Chettinad on “must see” tourist destination should go to Mrs Meenakshi Meiyyappan who has painstaking restored the family owned heritage structure into a lovely boutique hotel. You should see her eye for detail and aesthetic sense that has gone into making this place what it is today. She has personally trained all the staff – who are with her for a long time – including the cooks who dish out mouth-watering menus.This was another reason why we chose to stay here!
Here is a quick tour of the hotel. The hotel has been renovated in the last few years and looks beautiful. Check out their website at the end of this post.
The Entrance foyer
The dining area. This has now been changed into a spacious one which we saw when we had lunch in 2015. See their website at the end of this post.
The sit out on the first floor
After lunch, we had a chat with Mrs Meiyyappan and finalised the activities. We are to go around the and see few mansions in the town. On the next day, we planned to visit the village of Kanadukathan which has the largest concentration of Chettinad mansions. We also wanted to visit the workshop of Attangudi tiles – the colourful handmade cement tiles.
Shanthi came with us as a guide. Our first stop in exploring the Chettinad Mansions was AMA House. Built in 19th century, this is a fine example of grandeur of a Chettinad Mansion. Typically, these mansions are so huge that they are fort like and stretch between two streets, the front door opening onto one while the back door onto the other!
The view from Veranda – The doors of the different halls are aligned in straight line with the gate. Since Chettiar men were always on travel for trade, this was necessary to help ladies of the house to watch from inner court yard anyone coming to house
The Grandeaur of main hall – This is the hall where all the major functions like Marraige is held. Notice the huge tusks of Elephant from Burma!
The Dining halls – Look at the colourful Attangudi tile work
The colourful grills of balcony – Note the colourful roof which is made of copper plating!!
Carvings on the doors which are made of Burma teak
The Inner Court yard – This place and rooms around it are used by ladies of the house. Since ladies never used to go out, it was necessary to provide light to them and hence the court yard.
Our second stop for the day was at the house of Mrs Meenakshi Meiyyappan. Beautifully maintained by her, this is again another example of how these mansions would have even in their hey days.
The Grand entrance
The Main Hall – Notice the Czech chandelier and colourful roof
Antique Rose wood chairs inlaid with mother of pearls from Indonesia
Wood work on the door
Unfortunately, these outstanding mansions are vanishing by the day as the present owners are either not interested to maintain them or they are unable to do so due to their financial condition. Those who believe in family pride continue to live in these houses but are unable to maintain them.
Just look at this house in this pictiue – the one in the rear – which is bigger than the ones mentioned above but is badly maintained. The main door made of Burma teak in this house with intricate art work is worth anywhere around 60-70lakhs!!!
But the families who live in are poor and unable to maintain the house. Eventually many of these mansions have been sold to antique dealers who after pulling down the houses take away the artefacts from the house and return the plot.
The evening was spent in the lovely garden. The dinner was a feast of seven course meal!
Our next day’s plan was to visit the village of Attangudi and the village of Kanadukathan.
Attangudi is famous for its beautiful handmade cement tiles. A quick drive from Bangala brought us to the place where the trust run by Mrs Meiyyappan runs a tile unit. It is very interesting to see how these colourful tiles are made by hand. There are more than 20 factories manufacturing these tiles in this village which is a cottage industry. The local sand available suit tile making.
Here is a glimpse of the tile making process.
A mould is kept on a casing with glass base.
Colours are poured into the slots
Mixture of cement and sand is poured onto the mould and then removed for curing and drying.
Tiles are made from free hand design too. Colours are poured onto the glass
The tile is now cured for four days and dried in sun
The end product – Amazing array of Colourful tiles!!
Here is a beautiful video of how these tiles are made.
We drive to Kanadukathan. The broad roads are flanked by huge mansions of Chettiars. The whole village seems to have been lost in time and you will be transported to 19th century as you don’t see any modern houses here!!
What impress you most when you enter this village are numerous mansions of Chettiars. Some of them well maintained and some in decaying condition. The village tank in the middle adds to the charm of the place.
This is the place where the famous Chettinad Palace is located. What a mansion! Unfortunately, it was being renovated and getting ready for 80th birthday celebration of MAM Ramaswamy and no visitors were allowed. We had to be satisfied by taking pictures from outside.
Another view of palace
Entrance of Palace. Notice the intricate work on the Canopy!
Another beautiful mansion opposite palace
Broad roads flanked by mansions
A beautiful old mansion in village
We come to Visalam for Lunch. Visalam is a Chettinad mansion which has been restored by CGH Good Earth group and is run as boutique hotel. It is simple and not flashy like other mansions. We could see the intricate workmanship of Chettinad artisans in this place.
The Living Room. Notice the wooden roof made of Burma teak
After Lunch, Ramu, the hotel manager offers us to take to to his ancestral house in the village. A palatial mansion built in 19th century, it has gone on bad days. Take a look at these pictures below.
We return back to Bangala. In the evening we walk around the streets of Karakkudi exploring antiques. We pick some excellent pieces.
Next day, we depart after another round of yummy breakfast at Bangala. The drive to Bangalore is comfortable and we stop over in Salem for lunch.
VISALAM by CGH Earth Group – High end hotel. Food was OK, not great. http://cghearth.com/visalam