The Sweetness of Chettinad – Part 2

The Sweetness of Chettinad – Part 2

After a road trip across Rajasthan, my daughter Rashmi takes another shot at blogging. This time she talks about a trip in to Chettinad in the state of Tamilnadu. This road trip, beginning from chennai is spread over 2 Nights and 3 Days. The route traverses through Chengalpattu, Tindivanam, Villupuram and Trichy over a duration of 7 hours. There are a number of clean and hygenic breakfast & lunch joints with toilet facilities on the highway. Hiring a comfortable SUV with an experienced driver-guide is important. The highways are wide and multi-laned with short stretches which may turn narrow. Experienced driver-guides maintain a steady speed with safety as a top priority. Part 1 of this blog explored the journey from Chennai to Kanadukathan, explorations within Visalam and its Gastronomic delights. In the second and concluding part, she explores the rich sights and sounds of Chettinad replete with audio visuals. Here she goes….

Good Morning! What better than going for a swim to kick start your day. I got up by 7a.m, went for a nice swim, had some simple yet delicious breakfast, and gave a kick-start to my day!

As soon as we finished our breakfast, we headed towards the reception, where we would meet our guide, who would take us in and around Karaikudi. Infact, the hotel itself provided us with a guide, who is a member if their staff. So basically, the guide wasn’t outsourced from some other hotel or company.

We started off our sightseeing by visiting the RAJAS’S PALACE- A huge, traditional Chettinad Mansion in Kanadukathan district. We got a glimpse of that mansion from it’s exteriors itself as we didn’t want to spend too much of time on the history of that place because we had many other interesting things to see and know about. The mansion had beautiful exteriors. It had been recently painted and beautified. There were these splendid carvings on the walls of the mansion of Gods and Goddesses, which added more glitter to the beauty of the mansion. Anurag Mallick and Priya Ganapathy in their blog write, “The massive residence belonged to Chettinad’s most famous luminary Dr. S.Rm.M. Annamalai Chettiar, founder of the Indian Bank and Annamalai University. For his philanthropic efforts, he was made Diwan Bahadur, conferred with knighthood and given the hereditary title of Rajah of Chettinad by the King of England in 1929”.

The Raja's Palace front view
The Raja’s Palace in KanaduKathan, Chettinad

Next, we headed towards our guide’s house. The guide was pretty eager to show us his family’s house, so that we could get an idea of Chettinad architecture. It comprised of vintage Athangudi tiles, High Roofs, Vintage Clocks on the wall and, pillars connecting the ground of the house to the roof, and an open courtyard in the center , known as the “Mittam”, which is usally used for weddings and other family ceremonies.

A traditional Chettinad Home as it is. Pillars or "Thoons", Teak wood doors and Ceilings, Athangudi tiles and Heavy Doors
A traditional Chettinad Home as it is. Pillars or “Thoons”, Teak wood doors and Ceilings, Athangudi tiles and Heavy Doors

Once we thoroughly looked around the house and the guide, with complete interest, finished explaining the history to us, we headed towards a #Handloom and weaving centre where we we saw Cotton #sarees being made by manually made machines, with dyes and threads of various colours.

The Handloom Weaving center, Raw materials like colored threads, Hand weaving instruments like Charkha and loom and finished products
The Handloom Weaving center, Raw materials, Hand weaving instruments and finished products

We were told that it takes about one and a half to two days to complete one spree. Watch the accompanying video where the Weaver begins the process of weaving his magic

The process is quite long and tedious as it involves the shifting of threads, placement of the lever and other equipment, in order to get the right pattern on the spree. Watch in Part 2, the handloom process.

These sarees are sold to various cities in western India and North India, where there is a hughe crowd for all of these handmade stuff.

The next and most exciting place, which was the place where #Athangudi tiles are made.The preparation of Athangudi tiles is something that makes Chettinad famous.

Athangudi tile making workshop, Mud, coloring process, tile making and finished product
The Making of #Athangudi Tiles

Athangudi tiles are prepared in a unique process in which local soil, along with cement, baby jelly and synthetic oxides are used. The main colors that you shall find on these tiles are black, white, red, yellow, olive green and deep orange.

The tiles are cast from the locally available clay that is first burnt and then glazed. These tiles are special because they are sun-baked, which takes about a few days. But the whole process of getting the design on the tile and moulding it takes only about 3-5 minutes.

These tiles are used for flooring, wall cladding- in both interiors and exteriors. We were very happy to see the entire process of making a single Athangudi tile- from colour mixing to shaping and putting the glass. These tiles are exported to various countries, from where officials come and place orders.

Once we left from the Athangudi tile-making site, we headed toward a place where we got the real “sweetness” of Chettinad. We headed towards a house, where there was an “All Ladies” group preparing traditional Chettinad Sweets. such as “Adhirsam”, “Thenguzhal Murukku”, “Mahizhampoo Murukku”,”Mullu Murukku” and “Seepu Seedai”.

Women working the Bakshanam in a hot cauldron of coconut oil, finished Bakshanam
Ladies Self Help group in the business of making #Bakshanam. Time to sample Adhirsam, Thenguzhal, Mullu Murukku and Seepu Seedai

Made entirely of Rice Flour and using coconut oil, these snacks are prepared fresh everyday and are completely sold out by close.

Many of these groups also supply to stores across Tamilnadu where there is demand throughout the year. The best among all of them was the “Adhirsam”. I considered it as the ultimate sweet due to it’s taste, texture and flavor which included jaggrey, and coconut oil as well. So its pretty obvious that we can’t leave Chettinad whithout buying packets of these delicacies prepared by the lovely hand of these women, who do it passionately and carry on the family business with tons of confidence and courage.

Once we bought everything, we headed towards a vegetarian restaurant, where we quickly packed some lunch , which we would have once we headed back to the hotel. In between, we made a stop at a Saree Shop where we found a variety of cotton sarees, from simple and elegant to glittery and attractive. Since we all were starving, we quickly drove back to the hotel and reached by 2p.m and had some good lunch that we had packed on the way, and had a nap. The evening was quite free as we had completed most of the sightseeing during the day. So we decided that we would chill by the lawn in the evening, with a cup of tea and some of the snacks that we had bought earlier in the day. We didn’t really step out anywhere in the evening and had a light and simple dinner.

Phew! That was a long day… Good Night!

Getting there: Chennai is connected to all major cities across India and the world. From Chennai, chettinad is a 7 hour drive.

Experiencing Varanasi……Part 3

Experiencing Varanasi……Part 3

Varanasi continues to hold your attention. It just urges you to keep walking and looking. Our day time stop on the 3rd day was the famed Banaras Hindu University,  one of India’s oldest seat of learning established way back in the year 1916 by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, a lawyer, thinker, freedom fighter and one who emphasized the importance of education in National awakening. He was recently posthumously conferred India’s highest civilian honor – The Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India). The sprawling campus of 1300 acres welcomes you with an idol of Goddess Saraswati (Goddess of learning). The campus land was a donation from the Maharaja of Kashi Prabhu Narayan Singh. The campus architecture is semi-circular in nature with intersecting roads laid out in radii or arcs. Apart from Medical, Technical streams, the visual arts faculty is one of the most sought after ones by students. When we were there in December, there was a open air exhibition cum sale of art works done by students of the visual arts. There were live sketching sessions for a fee and wonderful paintings of various sights of varanasi were up for sale. Check out on the schedule of the exhibitions and invest in some good oil works, charcoal sketches and posters. It is interesting to note that when Malaviya established the university and started a series of lectures by eminent personalities, Gandhi delivered his first public lecture in India at the BHU. Spend time, walk around the campus, interact with the students and snack with some roasted peanuts and a hot cup of coffee….All campus favorites

IT BHU

Another place of significance for Buddhists is Sarnath which is about 8 miles (13 kms) from Varanasi. This is said to be the first stop of Buddha after attaining enlightenment at Bodh Gaya. It is at the Deer Park in Sarnath where Buddha is said to have first taught the Dharma. Sarnath along with Lumbini (Nepal, 190 miles from Varanasi), Bodh Gaya (155 miles from varanasi) and Kushinagar (144 miles from Varanasi) are holy to Buddha’s followers.  The Ashoka Pillar houses the Ashokan lion capital and became the National emblem of India and National symbol on the Indian flag. Though the pillar was broken during the Turk invasion, the base of the pillar remains where as the portion containing the emblem is housed in the Sarnath museum nearby. Groups from Thailand, Japan, Vietnam and buddhists from other countries assemble at Sarnath and practice buddhist chanting and meditation. The museum and park have an entrance fee while children under 12 are free. You can avail the services of a qualified guide right before the entrance. Charges range from 150 – 200 Rs and it is advisable to fix up before beginning the tour. A good 2 – 3 hours will set you up for a wonderful evening.

Sarnath Deer Park
Sarnath

Before hitting the food trail, pay respects to Lord Hanuman at the Sankat Mochan (reliever of troubles) Hanuman Mandir. It is said that Tulsidas (Author of Ramcharitmanas, an Awadhi version of the sanskrit epic Ramayana) had a vision of Lord Hanuman at the place where this temple stands currently. Walk on the carpeted pathway to the temple (helps you beat the heat and cold alike) and watch out for the monkeys. They jump around on the asbestos sheets lining the temple precinct and some of them may end up hassling you for food in case it is visible in your hands. There are hundreds of Hanuman Chalisa books (40 verses in praise of Lord Hanuman), prayer beads, prayer notes hung on the walls of the temple. The devout pick up a book, say their prayers, prostrate, place the book back and walk back after the day’s meditation and prayers. Spend time, speak to the priests, the flower sellers and others about the historical significance of the temple. It is important to note that the idol of Hanuman in the temple faces Lord Ram whom Hanuman dutifully serves.

The food scene in Varanasi is tantalizing. The restaurants in the hotel where you stay can offer you a few options but the streets offer you unlimited options Start with the Thandai on offer at Godowlia chowk; there are atlas 500 shops selling this concoction (several dry fruits, seasonal fruits, milk and essence) in Varanasi. Vendors beckon you to their small outlets and give you an array of options to choose from. For the adventurous few the shopkeeper ventures to ask you if he can add a small ball of Shivji ki Prashad (offerings to Lord Shiva) which you may know as Cannabis. Extremely popular during the day of Maha Shivratri (Lord Shiva’s night). A few metres from Godowlia chowk lies Kashi Chat Bhandar, a dinghy and crowded storefront selling mouth watering chaats (short spicy eats) and fresh sweets (usually Gulab Jamoon and Carrot Halwa). The chuda mutter (peas and flat rice), aloo chaat, papdi chat, Palak chat, mutter chaat and the Pani puri will ensure that you head directly to your room and not the restaurant in the hotel. Have a light lunch to ensure a heavy evening snack….Malaiyo is another morning delicacy which one must savor in the winter months. Once you are done at the Kashi Vishwanath temple walk back to your vehicle or meeting point via Kachori Gully and drop in at the first shop selling Malaiyo. What is this thing? It is milk that is frothed overnight in winter and is mixed with saffron, sugar and pistachios. Me and my daughter went mad eating this stuff….

Varanasi Food Trail
Varanasi Food Trail

The list never ends. Breakfast of Pooris with potato curry, kachoris and Jalebis are extremely popular in Varanasi. Walk in to Madhur Jalpan near Kodai Chowki to sample the above. Watch the preparation and dig in to a few plates. More popular haunts with familiar sounding names – BurgerKing; No, not the ones we are used to but a BurgerKing which is a vegetarian delight. Try the Sattu ke Parathe (Pancakes made from a protein rich gram flour) and a plate of kadhi pakodi with Rice (friend gram balls in a buttermilk gravy); Absolutely delicious. As said again, savor these small helpings and reserve yourself for more chaat haunts.

Deena Chaat Bhandar is located just about 250 meters from Godowlia chowk. The huge cast iron frying pans constantly simmer with delicious potato patties, chholey etc., The service is swift but finding a seat may take some time. Don’t miss the pani puri at Deena and nourish yourself with some hot gulab jamuns towards the end. Hygiene takes a backseat so carry your own water when in these restaurants.

Finally, as a tribute to the traditions of this city, The Taj Nadesar Palace (10 rooms only) serves the Satvik Thali, a thali which consists of dishes made without using Garlic or onions. Savor the food and enjoy the Taj Hospitality.

Varanasi Food Trail
Varanasi Food Trail

As we made our way back to the Babatpur airport, we feel like sparrows being pulled by gentle strings back to Varanasi. We promised ourselves to be back in varanasi.