On the Chettinad trail

On a three-day road trip, we explore Karaikudi that is known for its Chettinad mansions, antique shopping and local cuisine

Published: 08th February 2018 11:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 09th February 2018 07:23 AM   |  A+A-

The Chettinad Palace

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It’s 5.30 am on a Thursday morning and we are on NH-44 (the longest highway that connects Northern India with the South), staring into the darkness that’s lined with lamp posts. Just a few minutes earlier, we boarded an Ola Outstation cab, heading towards our destination, Karaikudi in Tamil Nadu.

Giving the usual suspects like hill stations and beaches a miss, we opted for the culturally rich Karaikudi — the town of antiques, Chettinad palaces and exquisite food. But another reason we embarked on this trip was the excitement of going on an eight-and-a-half-hour drive through one of the most picturesque routes — the Namakkal-Trichy Road. Tall coconut trees sway on either sides of the stretch, which is home to some of the most lush green paddy fields — a visual treat indeed.

It was these stunning views that accompanied us through the journey, apart from some great music, courtesy the Ola Play tab.  We reach our destination, Kanadukathan, a town panchayat, in Karaikudi, a little after lunchtime. What greets us takes us back in time. Visalam - CGH Earth Hotel, a 70-year-old Chettinad mansion is a heritage home built by a father for his eldest daughter. The home was never lived in, we are told, as the daughter passed much before she could move in.

Today, it is restored in true Chettinad fashion, with all the trappings that will transport you to a different era. The CGH Earth Hotels are known for respon- sible tourism and fit perfectly with the theme #GhoomoResponsibly, that is promoted by Ola. Not a single piece of plastic is used on the property that is run on renewable energy. They also practise rainwater harvesting during the monsoons. The hotel is run by locals who have been groomed to interact with

Indian and foreign visitors with courteousness and efficiency. Our room, on the first floor of the property, reminds us of the quintessential grandma’s home with wooden furniture — dressing and study tables and large windows. We unpack and after a quick swim in the pool, head out  for the village
walk exploring the world famous Chettinad mansions.

Retracing history

Kanadukathan is the central village of the region. After walking just a few metres away from the hotel it seems like we are transported to a town from an earlier century. The Chettinad Mansion, popularly called the Chettinad Palace, owned by the Chettinad Cement family stands tall, bang in the middle of the town. The 150-year-old palace houses 84 rooms. The interiors are done with stained glass panels from Venice, pillars from Belgium, teak from Burma and floor tiles from Holland.

A few steps away from this awe-inspiring structure, are other huge mansions that add to the glory of Kadanu-kathan. The entrance to every house is defined by beautifully carved doorways made  of teak. Inside the houses, there are intricately designed wooden pillars and ceilings that are crafted to endure  the test of time. It is these signature elements of Chettinad architecture that attracts visitors from all over the world.

Vintage discoveries

After the village walk, we head to Karaikudi town, about 13 kms from Kanadukathan, to have a look and possibly buy some antiques on the famed Muneeswaran Temple lane. The rustic and rusty old shops stock articles imported by the rich Chettiar families of the region. The loot on offer includes kitchen ware, lampshades and  vases given as dowries to daughters.

Day two is spent exploring the Thirumayam Fort that houses a Siva Temple, a Vishnu Temple and Sundareswara Temple. A climb to the top of the fort means you get an aerial view of Kanadukathan. What impresses us further is the fact that the fort is clean with no garbage in sight. Later in the day, we drive to  the Athangudi Palace Tiles factory. Every tile here is handmade by a team of women. The Athangudi tiles are pieces of art in earthy tones.

We return to Kanadukathan by early evening and visit Sri Mahalakshmi Handloom Weaving Centre. It’s a visual delight to watch the women weavers meticulously create the famous chequered pattern.
With such beautiful memories created over two days, we wake up to early morning sunshine pouring through the windows. Our discovery of the ancient town that is not usually on the tourist map has come to an end. But even as we wrap  up our expedition, we are ready to hit the road, for the long haul back to Bengaluru, in our Ola Outstation cab, excited to retrace the verdurous country roads, once again!

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