We are greatly enamoured with the small region known as Chettinad or Chettinadu. As the locals like to say, Tamil Nadu is the land of the Tamil people, Chettinadu is the land of the Chettiars. There are few places in south India where a subculture with so many distinctive features has developed and thrived. While Chettinad is still very much a part of Tamil Nadu, several things peculiar to this region make it well worthy of investigation.
What makes this area of note is the existence of a very select group of heritage hotels- 2 in the village of Kanadukathan, one in the district headquarters at Karaikudi- which allow the visitor to stay in the great comfort while ‘living’ in the heart of a Tamil village. This type of experience can be found in many places in other parts of India- Rajasthan springs immediately to mind- but in the south, it is not so prevalent and this is one of the reasons we recommend Chettinad so strongly.
The “Karaikudi” experience
Explore the lively streets of the “City of mansions”, Karaikudi
The main town of the region is Karaikudi where you can enjoy a relaxing walk around the central water supply tank, along narrow streets hiding sumptuous dwellings at every turn and gorgeous mansions before eventually ending up in a street dedicated to antique shops.
These shops specialise in selling materials- doorframes, windows, mantelpieces and more from the old homes in this area which are slowly being dismantled. In addition to the larger parts of the homes there are gaudily painted safes, small wooden statues and a vast array of paintings.
The “Imperial” Chettinad Palace
Admire the grandeur of the stunning Chettinad Palace
Of all the homes in Chettinad, the biggest and grandest of all is the fabled Chettinad Palace at Kanadukathan- a vast place well over 4000 square metres in floor area. The palace represents the culmination of Chettiar construction and style and houses a significant collection of memorabilia.
It is also possible to have your astrology ‘told’ by a parrot in Kanadukathan! This is a Tamil tradition with its roots in antiquity and involves a trained parrot selecting a card from a deck shuffled by its ‘trainer’, who then interprets the pictures on the card while consulting a book of wisdom.
Tile factory visit
Witness the art of tile-making at a local tile factory
Nearby, about 20 minutes’ drive away, is the area famous for the local industry of tile-making. This is a genuine cottage industry with most of the ‘factories’ being situated in a garden behind people’s homes and the work taking place in a shed or thatched hut.
The origins of this region as a centre for ceramic tile making are not hard to ascertain- all the materials required were traditionally sourced, and the hot, dry climate allows tiles to be dried in the sun in a matter of days. The skill of the tile makers is spellbinding- like any great craftsmen they make what they are doing look so simple yet not possible to copy.
The “Chettinad Cuisine”
The mere aroma of the Chettinad Chicken curry would leave you drooling. Guaranteed!
Chettinad cuisine is further testimony to the myriad influences from across Asia which played a part in the development of life in the region. The use of spices is quite unlike that in the food of the rest of Tamil Nadu, and the careful blending of these flavourings gives a ‘layered’ effect to the taste of the food.
Many places around south India offer Chettinad style dishes but few prepare it as well as the real locals in Chettinad itself. The Chettinad Chicken Biriyani and the Chettinad Chicken curry are two Chettinad favourites not to be missed at any cost.