Sunday, 17 February 2013

Chettinadu - the gourmand's land


The name rings the bell for a gourmand! Chettinadu cuisine is primarily for carnivores (fish, chicken) and different from the staple diet of idli-dosa-sambar-chutney which is ubiquitous in Tamil Nadu. Chettinadu region near Karaikudi is a village with many Chettiar mansions which were decorated with imported articles during their opulence of trading. Most of them have left the village and sold their old mansions to resort chains that restored these mansions tastefully to run boutique hotels. This region has no lodges to stay and the mansion-hotels are not suitable for backpackers’ budget. The best option would be to stay at Karaikudi (15min) or Pudukkottai (30min) and visit the Chettinadu villages by hop-on/off local buses. We took a bus from Rameswaram to Karaikudi (Rs 88, 3hrs) which diverts to ECR (East Coast Road) at Ramanathapuram. The green buses with PP Express written, has fewer stops and costs a lot if you are not travelling long distance. The private buses are much cheaper but has very frequent stops. A local bus from Karaikudi to Pudukkottai goes through Kanadukathan village which is 1km from the main road- a mansion run by a hotel chain and another one managed by Chettiar family are here.

Kadiyapatti is another authentic Chettinadu village, 6km from Thirumayam Fort. Ride a bus to Pudukkottai and hop off at Thirumayam Fort stop. Climbing up this ASI restored fort gives you an aerial view of the green and serene villages cooling your eyes from the scorching heat. You can either wait for a bus to Kadiyapatti or ride an auto for a round trip Rs 100; call friendly young driver Madhavan (T 9786506009). You can talk to the family at any Chettiar mansion expressing your interest of appreciating their house, they will welcome you. Chettinadu will be probably the only place where an herbivore has to search for a vegetarian restaurant. Hotel Mahalaxmi at Thirumayam offers good vegetarian meals.


There are a string of cheap lodges around Pudukkottai bus station, Hotel AKGN (T 04322-224462, dbl Rs 450) with clean toilets and spacious rooms are one of them. Carrying a mosquito net or spraying with repellents is the most ideal solution for a peaceful sleep at any lodge in Tamil Nadu. Pudukkottai Museum is 10min by bus housing a vast collection of artefacts, paintings, sculptures, coins, stuffed animals and almost anything you can expect in a museum. The nearby Hotel Madura offers excellent home-cooked meals in their low ceiling house on a banana leaf, don’t forget to say No before the loving hosts serve more rice and curries onto your leaf.
Take a bus (No. 10/23, 30min) to Annavasal which turns left after the Museum stop to get to Sittanavasal – an upcoming park built by State Government. 15 km from Pudukkottai, this interior quiet village is known for the Jain temple dating back to 2nd century A.D. Jainism flourished here from 2nd to 10th century A.D. Feast upon the frescoes painted by vegetable colours on the ceiling and spend a few minutes deep solitude and meditation inside the rock-cut cave temple. It proclaimss the Samavasarana faith of Jainism.


Narthamalai is 16km from Puthukottai on the way to Trichy, get down at the Narthamalai bus stop on the main road and either walk 3km into the village or rent a bicycle for Rs 10/hour. There are a few buses (No. 2/26/30) into the village, but not frequent. Vijayalaya Cholisvaram is a 10th century temple on top of a rocky hill with two tiny ponds on its premises. This soothing ASI site provides an insight into 10th century sculptures. A Muslim tomb is inside a cave near the temple and there is more than one cave to be explored. Indecipherable scriptures are visible on the rocks in ancient Tamil. One of the ponds is believed to have a small temple inside, but water never dries up as per the locals.

Tamil Nadu has not tapped the potential of tourism yet. There are excellent locations, especially on the beaches, for low budget home stays (family run guest houses). Hope the youth realize the potential and come up with new accommodations in a sustainable model, boosting the local economy and protecting the ecology. Bicycle tours could be another business, flat areas and good roads make it ideal for cycling. Rappelling and cave exploration – options for the intrepid on the rocky hills all around the state.

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