The next day started again with yoga – only two of us this time. Then breakfast followed by a 4 hour tour with Sarah. She works at the hotel for the few months of busy tourist visits. She takes guided tours of organises her own tours.
She’s American but grew up in the area, the child of missionaries. So she has a very good understanding of the life and people of the area of Chettinad.
Our first stop was a tile making business. It’s amazing to see how they make tiles in a rather primitive way. A technique from Italy. We had a demonstration. It involves putting a glass square in a frame then dropping in colour, making the pattern then putting sand and concrete over the top compressing it then turning it out. I was given a go at creating a design! Such fun.
This area was a big trading centre many years ago 1850-1950. Men left Chettinad for a few years to set up trading. They were traders and money lenders. This was how to make money in those days. When they returned they came with teak from Burma, enamel from Indonesia, woven mats and many other goods you see in the houses of the area.
As they returned rich they built mansions. The front door was used by the men for business. The back door women, children, the produce. There are around 4-5 courtyards in each house. When banks opened it changed Indian society. Rich money lenders lost a source of money making.
Most houses are now derelict. The owners – the men and the families are living overseas and only return for weddings and family occasions. A few have been turned into boutique hotels. The Bangala Hotel was first used as a men’s club.
We visited several of the mansion homes of the area.
Read about the area here: https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/www.cntraveller.in/story/looking-grand-mansions-chettinad/amp/
The first was Lakshmi House. We met one of the owners a men sitting at the house entrance. It was preparing for a wedding.
The people looking after the house were old and quietly dignified.
When we visit historic houses in other countries we see the furnishings as well here the mansions are empty. The people don’t have beds , tables and chairs.
Then the Kanadukathan Palace.
This sits in a small village which was obviously a centre for rich traders as there are a number of empty mansions. It has a large water reserve which is fenced to stop people and animals using it and it is the towns water source. People come with their water containers and fill them for home use.
We couldn’t go into the Palace but visited Mrs Meyappans fathers house. Once beautiful it was now neglected.
Last stop was a mansion which like the Bangala has been turned into a hotel. It’s lovely but we were pleased we were staying at the Bangala.
Back through the dry countryside to our hotel for coffee and fruit by the pool. No real lunch as we wanted to enjoy our 3 course dinner.
Another walk through the bustling village to the antique markets. They were in a particularly dusty street that was all dug up and hard to walk.
The antique traders weren’t interested in bargaining much. We tried hard to get better prices. But they stubbornly wouldn’t move much on price. Considering there were so many shops and so much for sale it was surprising.
Before dinner we enjoyed an aperitif on our verandah before our Indian fusion meal. Mrs Meyyappan the owner designs all the menus and the food is great. https://www.cntraveller.in/story/restaurant-bangala-karaikudi-chennai-28-top-restaurant-awards-2018-list/#s-cust0
Tonight we enjoyed Spinach & Broccoli soup, crab cake with spiced chutney and tangy cucumber salad , chicken stew with coconut rice and an egg hopper ( a delicious rice pancake like shape with an egg in the bottom – found also in Sri Lanka). Ending with bread pudding dressed with marmalade served with homemade vanilla ice cream. A delicious dinner for the equivalent of $A19 !
We’ll be sad to leave this gracious hotel and Mrs Meyappan who at 83 still has such presence. She is there every day with her diamond earrings twinkling as brightly as her smile – having a chat to all the guests.
Tomorrow Madurai and a visit to the Ghandi museum.