The great melancholy of Chettinad
This post is also available in: French
When we hear about Chettinad in Bangalore, it’s always because of the great reputation of the food coming from this region. But, the main attractions in Chettinad are the magnificent palatial houses. At the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th, a community from this area (actually the total area is merely a dozen of villages) became rich thanks to banking and trading activities specially in Myanmar. In their native villages, the “Chettiars” (they all come from the same cast) built wonderful houses (which are more like palaces) to show-off their success. All the palaces are built on the same design (with some little variations) and can be from 2 types: traditional houses and Art Deco houses. Some are still furnished and the arrangement is magnificent: the best materials from all over Asia (Japan, China, Myanmar…) have been combined with local handicraft (specially the colored tiles) to build marvelous houses.
What is really astonishing is the concentration of these houses in 3-4 villages. There are everywhere! But all are not well maintained as most of the Chettiars went bankrupt during the 1929 crisis… Depending of the owners or the watchman, it’s possible to visit them to realize how fantastic these houses are. In some villages, the streets are almost empty and the city looks a little like the dusty american far west before a duel. We’re still looking for the bar saloon though (didn’t find any proper restaurant neither)!
Going to Chettinad is also a great way is to experience the indian rural life and culture. We loved wandering in the more or less bucolic villages, discovering the very particular temples from that place (people there cherish some specific gods who are linked to nature and horses) and just living at a slower and simpler pace.
To live the complete experience, we recommend to stay in a palace-restored hotel.
We naturally went to Saratha Vilas as we’ve heard about it by Constance from the Indian Project blog. This hotel is perfectly maintained by 2 French architects: not only the place is wonderful but above all Michel, who was there during our stay, is a trove of knowledge about the area and that’s what makes the whole experience so interesting! We were welcomed with a watchful eye, which was very pleasant. We felt more like hosts than customers.
Last tip, we’ve done the trip from Bangalore by car and it was a mistake (we’ll skip the car failure story on the way back which leaded to a 15 hours journey because even the normal one took us more than 9 hours…). Nearest airports are Tiruchirapalli and Madurai and we strongly recommend you to use them to visit the area! (it’s still a 1 hour and a half or two hours trip but that’s feasible).
Even more pics on our Flickr set if you want always more!