We took Friday off and had three days and two nights (1st July to 3rd July). As I started planning the drive and googled the directions, it was encouraging to see distances.
Bangalore – Karaikkudi = 472 KMs
Routing done, the next problem was to finalise stay options. There weren’t good stay options in Karaikkudi till few years back. I knew that there was a heritage hotel named THE BANGALA in Karaikkudi and Casino group of Kochi had also started a heritage hotel named VISALAM. Checking out more details and researching on these two hotels, we finalised THE BANGALA which was to be value for money than VISALAM and the food was supposed to die for. This being the lean season in Chettinad – naturally as it is hot and dry – we could get accommodation easily in The BANGALA.
Day 1 – Lovely drive, Delicious lunch and Magnificent mansions!
When we sat in the Scorpio, my watch was ticking at 5.10 AM. Sooner we hit the NICE road – helps staying closer – and NH7 at electronic city. Thanks to the new flyovers at Hebbagodi and Attibele, we were zipping past Hosur even as the sun was trying to come out of cloudy sky peeping through Shoolagiri hills. NH 7 like other GQ roads – NH 4 and 5 – is a class act.
|The canopy of tamarind trees|
|Two huge tusks of Burmese elephants on display|
|Entrance to Mrs Meyyappan's house|
|Intricate design on door in Mrs Meyappan's house|
|A collage of clourful Attangudi tiles|
Our next stop was the village of Attangudi famous for its beautiful handmade cement tiles. There are more than 20 factories manufacturing these tiles in this village which is a cottage industry. The local sand available suit tile making.
It started raining when we left Attangudi. One of the reasons for us to come to Karaikkudi was antiques. If you are planning a house with a ethnic design using wooden pillars etc, you have to come to Karaikkudi to see and select. The antique lane is full of these stores which stores from wooden pillars to betel nut scissors used by chettiars in 18th century. Of course, you need to have a fat wallet and eye for finding the hidden gems in these stores. We took the two pieces - A traditional and carved Coconut grinding and cutter used in South Indian Kitchen (known as "Turiyuva Mane " in Kannada) and a antique key holder with carved birds!
The rain was a welcome relief from the afternoon heat and we retired to our room. Ramu, the main chef said that there is a special for us in the dinner and would call us at 9. Dinner was a feast. Seven course meal of Vattal Kolumbu, Vendakkai, Chettinad Alu fry etc. As promised, Ramu had topped it all with a special chettinad sweet "Kavuni Arisi" made out of "red rice" which was yummy!
|The grand corridor|
|Unspoiled Dhanushkodi beach|
We left Rameswaram around 11.45 AM and headed straight to Visalam in Kanadukathan for lunch. Visalam is again a heritage hotel restored by Casino group of hotels – the same group which run Coconut lagoon in Kumarakkom. An elegant Chettinad mansion, this has beautiful wooden columns and doors. We arrived at 2.30 and the Chettinad vegetarian thali was ready!
|Carved wodden pillars in Visalam|
|The door way in Visalam|
Ramu, the manager of Visalam who is a local agreed to come with us for a tour of Kanadukathan. This village - at a distance of 15 KMs from Karaikkudi - is just awesome and has to be called as “Heritage village” for the sheer number of Chettinad mansions it has - more 50 Chettinad mansions. Some in good condition and some not so. The village is built around a central pond and is geometrical in shape.
|A road in Kanadukathan flanked by mansions|
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!! 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.
|Entrance to palace|
|A beautiful mansion opposite palace|
|Entrance facade of palace|
At dinner, Achi introduced us to two French architects – Bernard and Michele – who have passionately restored a Chettinad mansion into a beautiful heritage hotel called SARATHA VILAS. www.sarathavilas.com This place looks awesome! Unfortunately, we had not heard of this lest we could have visited the place when we were in Kanadukathan.
Day 3 – Drive back to Bangalore
We got up lazily. Ramu was ready with trademark coffee of BANGALA. Packed up, we were treated to a spread of south Indian breakfast of Idli, Vada and Pongal which was delicious. Bidding good bye, we were back for another nice drive on NH 7.
I am always fascinated by the landscape around our roads. Be it green fields or small hills or rivers or mountains, it is always mesmerizing. NH 7 has its beautiful spots too. We noticed the stretch between Namakkal and Salem when you are flanked by hills on either side. I am not sure of the name of these ranges but looks really beautiful. It is beautiful again between Toppur and Krishna Giri. The landscape looks so beautiful especially on the spots when the road gets elevated.
When we reached, Bangalore at 4.30 in the afternoon, it was break worth remembering for. Karaikkudi is a place worth returning again – if only to stay in SARATHA VILAS and experience the life of Chettiars
Road - The roads are excellent and you can comfortably drive to reach Karaikkudi by lunch if you leave bangalore by 6 AM. Alterantely, there are many overnight buses to Madurai or Trichy from where you can catch a bus to Karaikkudi
Train - Catch a train to either Trichy or Madurai and from there go by bus to Karaikkudi. There are direct trains now from Bangalore to these two cities.
Chettinad has now good options to stay.
VISALAM by CGH Group - High end hotel. We visited the hotel but was not impressed. Looked characterless. Food was OK, nothing great
The BANGALA - Our pick. Excellent hotel in a heritage and beautifully restored building. Immaculate eye for details and aesthetically great. Filter coffee and Chettinad cuisine to die for! http://www.thebangala.com/
Chettinad Mansion - We did not go there.
Saratha Vilas - Outstanding restoration by french architects. Just started first season. We could not go there. Must become a land mark in future. http://www.sarathavilas.com/
Chidambara vilas - Another restored mansion in Pudukottai district. Looks fabulous!! http://www.chidambaravilas.com/
a) Tamil nadu summers are long, hot and dry. The best season is winter from October till January. Rates gets hiked up during this time peaking during Christmas till Pongal.
b) Winter is also best season for enjoying the landsacpe which will be green!!
c) If you love antiques, Karaikkudi is the right place to pick some.
d) Eat Chettinad cuisine when you are in Chettinad. Dont ask for roti and dal!!
e) One can make Karaikkudi as base to visit Madurai, Rameswaram and Trichy.
Some more Information
On Chettiar/Nagarthars http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nagarathar
On Chettinad http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chettinad