Updated: Jul 23
In a sense, Chettinad is to south India what Shekhawati is to the north: a landscape of villages and small towns that the rest of the world has barely noticed for a very long time.
But there the similarity ends. Unlike its Rajasthani counterpart, this land is not semi arid but blessed in parts with good rainfall. The merchants and bankers of Chettinad created an architecture of spacious, urban mansions, some of which are veritable palaces. The Chettiars had been skilled traders for centuries before they experienced their cultural and economic heyday which began in the 19th century and lasted well beyond the middle of the 20th century. Then as more and more families started migrating the gracious houses began to crumble. It is only in recent times that the revival has taken place and Chettinad has become a much coveted stop on many tourist itineraries.
CGH Earth, a company that until recently built its eco friendly hotels and resorts almost exclusively in Kerala has set much high standards in the area. A few years ago the Dominic brothers selected one of the run down mansions in Kanadukathan, a small village 15kms from the city of Karaikudi.
The opulence begins at the gateposts holding the metal portal through which visitors enter the courtyard. It is a triumph of Art Deco. Its elegance is revealed in the mix of stark vertical lines, ornamental curves and ledges. A freshly painted Laxmi smiles down from the roof ridge, flanked by two elephants.
The architects have retained the basic structure of a traditional Chettinad mansion with an elongated reception and a main courtyard just behind it. The guest rooms and suites totalling 15 in number are on either side of this large colonnaded courtyard, each spacious, brightly lit with high ceilings. The rooms provide eye catching views of the garden and terrace.
One can enjoy mouthwatering Chettinad cuisine from the Chettinad kitchen. Theres a beautiful pool to laze around. There are numerous heritage mansions around to photograph which can be done in a traditional bullock cart ride or a beautiful morning walk. Also stop over Athangudi Palace and visit the famous tile factory where tiles are still hand painted.
Around 1940 a very wealthy businessman had a house built for his daughter. Her great grand daughter writes about how uncommon this was- houses were usually only built for sons. As a young woman she was very keen to leave Chettinad and move to a modern metropolis. But eventually she returned and learnt to cherish a life surrounded by her family.
Walking today through a home that is over 75 years old, bursting at the seams with stories of years gone by, stories of our culture and of our ancestors gives a whole new perspective. Today i am passionately in love with Chettinad.
Address: 11, A.R.Street, Kanadukathan, Tamil Nadu 630103
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