The sleepy town of Karaikudi is a little gem in Tamil Nadu not known to many. The region boasts of homes built by the Chettiyars - Aristocrats who ventured out to unknown countries by sea, pre-independence. The grand mansions are a portal to stories rooted in Indian history. Not to mention, the Chettinad Chicken and Chicken 65 that we’ve all learnt to sweat through and love for its spicy heat and divine flavours!
In a spontaneous instant, I decided to head-off to this lovely destination that’s been on my list for awhile. This rural part of Tamil Nadu transports you to the 1920s when the rich Chettinad palaces were built to house joint-families of hundreds. As I passed by a broken down National Highway Authorities of India stop, I realised this getaway is just the thing I need - slow, relaxed and beautiful.
Staying at a lavish mansion is the main reason you’d want to visit Karaikudi. I opted for the Chettinad Mansion. Right from when I booked my stay, the property was in touch with me. The hosts patiently answered my questions while guiding me with local insights that made my trip more convenient and safe.
The manager of the Chettinad Mansion promptly picked me up from my bus stop. As I arrived, I was requested to share the relevant information required as per Covid-protocols. Distracted by the large, white pillars that drew me in from the drive-way, I was escorted to my room past the enormous hall which immediately reflected the art deco interiors I’d been wanting to see for myself.
I made my way to the cooler interior of the mansion where the beautiful Kalyanam (marriage) Courtyard lined by the mesmerizing blue, iron pillars invited me in. The courtyard is a typical feature of Chettiyar architecture where homes are demarcated by four courtyards, one each for guests, marriages, women of the household and finally for the kitchen. Filled with natural light and ventilation, the temperature already felt lower here.
I made my way up wooden stairs that were lined by green walls decorated with intricate, floral motifs. I stopped to take in the beautiful iron pillars that were the very things that made me book the Chettinad Mansion for my stay. The view was even more spectacular from the first floor where my room was.
My room carried warm hues of yellow wallpaper and burmese teak furniture. I dropped my backpack on the floor to explore the dressing chambers and stairs that opened to my bathroom. It was large and airy with windows lined with stained glass with a view of my very own balcony! While the menacing monkeys may keep you away from peacefully enjoying the balcony, it provides privacy from the street thanks to the enormous mango and frangipani trees.
After showering and catching a nap to make up for my early morning, I decided to explore the lovely mansion further. I couldn’t get enough of the blue pillars that were imported from Birmingham by the family over a century ago. The cool Italian marble floors were refreshing as the soles of my feet took me to the quiet corners of this heritage bungalow. I made my way past black, shiny pillars of marble from Spain as they led me to a museum the family houses within this 100-room home.
The museum features trinkets that showcase the history of Chettinad through the British era. Family photographs in black and white that give you a glimpse of the sarees and ornate jewellery that adorned the women of the Chettinad household. Kitchen utensils, record players and even beautiful crochet work by one of the ladies of the house created a tapestry on the walls that whispered stories of trade over unknown waters by the Chettiyars.
The Chettinad Mansion is the perfect place to while away time reading or just watching the rain from the eloquent verandah with some hot coffee for company. The slow, calming pace is accentuated with the chirping of birds from the many trees surrounding the property.
Fight the heat by taking a dip in the pool exclusive to the Chettinad Mansion or with an evening walk in the quiet neighbourhood. The area is laid out in neat grids of mansions that each extend to the length of an entire road.
If you fancy a chat, you can return to the decadent home where the friendly owners of this lovely residence will share delectable facts about the region. Or you may even bump into talented guests who dance Bharatnatyam or play the guitar as you move from dawn to dusk in the mansion that’s lit up by oil lamps and warm lights.
Staying at a house like the Chettinad Mansion is an experience in itself. The homes here are still thriving and only open to guests. So if you’ve been craving a romantic getaway to the art deco corridors of Europe, why not check-in to Karaikudi instead? The sleepy town with its incredible mansions and good-natured residents won’t disappoint.
How to book: While you can book through a partner website, it’s best to book directly via the website. The family also owns a backpacker’s hostel and a medium-range property which you can choose as per your budget.
When to visit: October to January to avoid falling prey to the soaring temperatures.
How to reach: Best by car as sightseeing would be easier. Alternatively by train - Head to Madurai and then book a taxi to Karaiudi. By bus - direct buses ply from most major locations.
Meals at the Mansion: Since Karaikudi isn’t well developed, you’ll need to let the staff know about which meals you’d like to have during your stay. There are no restaurants which you can visit in the neighbourhood.
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