Both of us have distinctive happy memories from our childhood summer holidays: The visit to the grandparent’s place. It was an event we’d cherish and look forward to as it was full of happy memories in Balmy weather.
Do you know the joys of vacationing in a little village where there were a lot of trees around, it would be an old house, grandma’s cooking, you’d find friends who’d teach you some traditional games and grandpa would make a big fuss about you and take you around.
Visalam in Karaikudi instills a similar feeling. A sense of familiarity and novelty. It’s like no other holiday we’ve been to.
Visalam is an eighty-year-old art deco style bungalow in the Kanadukathan village of Chettinad region in Tamil Nadu resorted by the amazing CGH Earth. CGH Earth is a chain of hotels in South of India. When you stay in a property by CGH earth, you can be assured it's not going to be a boring staycation but so much more than that! Full of experiences from the local region!
The mansion Visalam was a gift from Ramanathan Chettiar to his daughter Visalam when she got married. This house is a real example of the lavish life and times of the wealthy trading community of Chettiars. Every corner of the house is studded with understated yet authentic design. As we entered Visalam, the manager welcomed us with a traditional shawl for the men and glass bangles for women and a refreshing glass of nannari sarbhath, a juice made out of Indian sarsaparilla root. This juice is our favourite and we might have had at least 10 glasses during our stay there.
When they were checking us in, I walked around the ‘lobby’ or as they call ‘thinai’, and saw old pictures of the owner Ramanathan Chettiar, his daughter visalam, visalam’s daughter Valliakshi (who is currently 80 years old). It felt like I’ve opened a page of my history book and this time, I wanted to know more about. There is a big traditional courtyard open to the sky and on either side of the courtyard are rooms with antique wooden doors with intricate carvings. The walls of the corridor were constructed with egg shells and sparkling clean flooring with patterned Athangudi tiles. They were so soft to touch and apparently very easy to clean.
Our room was on the first floor and they were huge: High ceiling, adorned with period-style furniture crafted in Burmese teak, with a cosy dressing room and a little balcony facing the well-maintained lawn. Visalam exudes the feeling of the times it was built in.
You must have heard about the delicious Chettinad cuisine. A lot of hotels in Bangalore(/any other metro) serve Chettinad Potatoes or Chettinad Chicken. Don’t trust them. They are loaded with red chilly and no authentic spice. The real Chettinad food’s aroma is something else. There are traces of south-east Asian food because the chettiars brought the spices from their work trips to Burma/Malaka etc. On the weekend we went, Visalam was running on full occupancy. We had a bad experience with the food. We requested for Vegetarian, and when they served us the pakoda curry, we saw traces of non-vegetarian in it. The chef, manager and the whole team apologised for the same. Their head chef had a family emergency and had to leave town on a day they were a fully booked. But they fixed it before the next day’s breakfast and it was meal was fantastic. Their banana leaf meals are famous and supposed to be authentically Chettinad. We were apprehensive and did not try it. The team made up for it by being apologetic about the whole fiasco, and we were pleased by how the situation was handled. The team in Visalam works hard to make sure you have a great experience.
CGH earth has built a ton of experiences around Visalam which are authentic to the place. We started our morning with a cycle ride to an airstrip which was used during the world war two and later on, went to a couple of classical Chettinad houses to see their architecture, to take a little peep into their lifestyle. We went to an exciting lane studded with antique stores which gives you a bit more insight about their lavish lives. You can even bargain pickup some beautiful vessels, or antique door handles, or old camera or a compass from the lane. There is a whole shop dedicated to old iron vaults in the antique lane which was imported from Britain to store their valuables, We further visited a couple of famous temples around the area and one of our most favourite part of the trip, to Athangudi tiles factory. There are over one hundred small scale tile factories in Aathangudy village where the entire tile making process is handmade. They give you a demonstration, and you cannot leave the town without making a mental note that when you have your own home, it's going to have athangudi tiles. We even picked up a tile or two as memorabilia. Any ideas what we could do with it? :)
Visalam boasts a vast freshwater pool with an inbuilt jacuzzi. After a long day of sightseeing, we relaxed at the pool and watched the sky turn blazing red. We couldn’t have asked for a better way to end a day experiencing the beautiful Chettinad region.
CGH Earth Visalam also offers a bunch of other activities to their guests like a village walk, cooking classes by aachi (The Grandmother), a bullock cart ride through the meandering streets of Karaikudi, and cycle around the village. We couldn’t fit all of these in the two days we stayed there but would have loved to experience some of them for sure.
We ended our two days stay at visalam by taking a long walk to the nearby temple and the palace by night. The streets were empty and the stars were so clear. We went in search of Ice cream. Even though we didn’t get the ice cream, we loved the walk so much!
Go to Visalam for the grandeur, go for the luxury, go for the food, go for the experience. Go to wander through the town and as you do it, you’ll find yourself going back in time, through a heritage that is well preserved. Like we said before, CGH Earth Visalam is not just a staycation in a beautiful mansion but more like living and blending in a 100+-year-old story.
How to get to Visalam?
By Road: Visalam is 415 km from Bangalore, 405 km from Chennai.
Flight: It’s 85 km from Trichy Airport and 90 km from Madurai Airport.
By Train: The nearest train station is Karaikudi, which is 12 km from Visalam
Tips For When You Visit Visalam.
Talk to Mr Ramanathan, one of the staff in the mansion. His knowledge about the Chettinad region and their culture is immense.
The famous Pillayar Patti Temple is just 20 km away. Plan a visit there when you get time.
Have lunch/coffee at Chettinadu Narayana Vilas on of the days there. The food is lip-smacking.
Carry/pick up the alcohol from Trichy/Madurai if you are looking to drink. You can drink in your room, but it's not permitted in common areas.
Every shop in the village shuts by 9 pm. You won't get even ice cream if you crave for it after 9 pm.