- a house built with love. K.V.AL.M. Ramanathan Chettiar had
this house built for his eldest daughter Visalakshi. (This is very
unusual because houses in Chettinad were never built for daughters, only
for sons; a woman considers her husband's house as her own.) It worried
him that his daughter had no family home.
When his daughter married, her husband’s ancestral home was not with the
family, it was much later around 1963 that the family was able to buy it
Just 90 kms from Trichy and 105 kms from Madurai, Visalam sits on
National Highway 210, in one of the major villages, two stops before
stepping into the very famous town of Karaikudi. The contractor for this
house was Narayanan and the carpenters were from Thirunelvelli. The
house was built during the war, a period when procuring steel and cement
was extremely difficult. The cost as per our books is Rs. 5 lakhs. This
house may not have been lived in on a daily basis, but this is where my
parents were married in 1960. It was used as the bridegroom’s house. I
was the one who got my grandmother’s name and though I have never seen
her, nor her me, I have this unexplainable attachment to her. My mother,
Valli Muthiah, inherited this home, being the only child of Visalakshi.
This house was used to display my dowry and also that of my two sisters,
Sharadha and Meenakshi, and this is where it remained stored too.
My parents made me an offer sometime in the 90s to live in Visalam. The
heart said “Yes, yes, go on, take it”, but my mind looked at the offer
differently. I would need a lot to maintain this big home and I was
married into a family at Rayavaram, so how was I going to fit in here.
Here was my head overruling my heart and I’m glad it did.
Ever since I had this deep-rooted desire to see Visalam bustling with
activity and that is where the idea to have it run as resort was born. I
could not have chosen better people than CGH Earth. My father, Sr. RM.
Muthiah, had great respect for all of the Dominic family and up until
the time of his passing away, often patted me on my back about making a
Visalam has played host to the ex-Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu M.G.
Ramachandran while he was at Chettinad for a wedding and to Dr. T. H.
Somervell, an eminent British surgeon, who was here as a guest of K.V.AL.
M. Ramanathan Chettiar. Dr. Somervell was part of the team of Irvin and
Mallory who climbed Mount Everest 30 years before Tensing.
Chettinad as it is
Situated between Pudukottai in the north and Sivagangai in the south,
the 74 villages of Chettinad stretch over 600 sq. kms. of mostly arid
land with a splash of green at irregular intervals. Chettinad, the land
of palatial houses, enormous temples and excellent cuisine can convey
volumes to the newcomer. From the days of trading diamonds, gems and
salt under the Cholas, these townsfolk have made great progress. The
weather is warm and life in Chettinad is slow-moving and comfortable.
The Chettiars spend their lives circumscribed by traditions and
responsibilities handed down by the previous generations. It is only now
that we have a new generation which is able to think about themselves as
Chettinad's colourful mix
As a visitor, when you ramble through the narrow streets, you will
stumble, literally on stones and worn out roads, and figuratively in
stupefaction that there is so much untouched by tourism. Today, there is
a curious mix of old stately mansions, English-styled bungalows,
partially ruined homes, wedding halls, shops and schools. Somewhere in
between will be the temple, with its gopurams in colours varying from
washed-out to recently painted tomato red, cobalt blue, parrot green and
sunflower yellow. The main streets hum with activity in some villages
and others only glimpse an occasional bus off-loading or picking up a
couple of village folk. There is so much here for everyone to see, but
nothing beats the local cuisine. Today, Chettinad is known for many
things besides its homes. There is the basket weaving industry and the
flourishing, local Authangudi tile making industry, the stone carvers,
silver smiths, wood carvers, the diamond merchants and many more like
them. As many people have found out, believe me, visit once and the
community's charms and the warmth of the hosts will lure you back again,
and again. The writer is the great-granddaughter of K.V.AL.M. Ramanathan
Chettiar, who built Visalam. Visalam, CGH Earth's newest property, is
scheduled to open its doors to guests in March.
Jan - Mar: These months are cool (well, 28-34 C) and dry.
Apr - May: Peak summer.
June - Aug: These are the Monsoon (rainy) months. In ayurveda, this is
considered a specially good time for healing.
Sept - Dec: A pleasant and dry period, usually the main tourist season.
Close to the temple towns
of Madurai & Tanjore, in Karaikudi, Tamilnadu.
By Road - 2 hours
from Madurai & Trichy, 2 1/2 hours from Tanjore
By Rail - Direct
train connections to Karaikudi from Trichy
By Air - Nearest
Airports are at Madurai (105 Kms) & Trichy (90 Kms).
15 rooms of quiet elegance
All rooms air-conditioned
& 400 to 500 sq. ft in area
Facilities include a
swimming pool & a well-stocked library
Culinary Experience :
cuisine prepared by expert chefs.
Interactive kitchen that
allows visitors to try their hand at cooking.
Three dining areas - one
each for breakfast, lunch & Dinner.
to do :
the Chettiar lifestyle. Excursions around the historic town with its
temples and artisans' workshops.