Getaway A Chettinad hotel that feels almost like home
The Bangala on the fringes of Karaikudi needs no introduction. After reaching Karaikudi, I realise that queries about The Bangala will lead you to the Government-owned Traveller’s Bungalow!
When I finally reach my destination, I am surprised by the lack of opulence. As I park my car, a staffer emerges with a smile and folded hands. He warmly ushers me into the front office where sits a gracefully greying Meenakshi Meyyappan, the owner.
The spacious, airy reception is fronted by a long verandah and roofed with sloping tiles bordered by dark green eaves. Like a celebrity, Meenakshi is busy signing the book Chettiar Heritage which she co-authored with her sister-in-law and brother.
The admirers queuing up for her autograph are all French tourists (they constitute 70 per cent of guests here). She takes care to spell their names correctly. Once done, she turns to me with an endearing smile, “Are you hungry?” She takes me around the sprawling 3.5 acres which house the 91-year-old property, belonging to the M.S.M. Meyyappan family.
Elegant and classic, this boutique hotel is an improbable mix of the rustic and the refined. Declared a heritage hotel, it is a perfect place to chill out. The architectural splendour is not much evident as in other mansions, but that does not diminish its glory. The house is a world in itself, complete with the mandatory ‘thinnais’, the ‘valavu’ and the surrounding corridors with rooms branching.
Meenakshi’s enthusiasm to keep Chettinad’s intangible tradition alive is visible in every step taken inside this heritage guesthouse, once the club house of her husband’s family. An easy option was to pull down the grand old structure due to water logging and seepage. But Meenakshi was keen to salvage it. Five months of renovation finally gave birth to The Bangala in 1999. Faithful to the original structure, the rooms have been modified with facilities such as modern baths, Internet connection and air conditioning.
From four to 13 rooms today, the Chettinad theme runs through them all with exquisite pieces of colonial furniture, Chettinad weave linen and cushion-covers, huge brass and copper vessels and sepia photographs, evoking an old-world charm. The furniture was once part of the house; the most marvellous of them all is a four-poster rosewood bed, inlaid with Italian tiles, coloured glass and intricate wood work. It has Belgian mirrors fixed on the front, back and the canopy. The regal bed finds place in the ‘honeymoon suite’.
However, eating out at The Bangala seems to be a serious business. The day I am at The Bangala, it is teeming with French tourists. Three groups of 60 each have stopped over to relish a traditional lunch served on banana leaves. Meenakshi keeps an eye on the minutest detail and decides the menu on a daily basis. “I know what good food tastes like. Our attempt is to give people real Chettinad food and bust the myth of hot and spicy Chettinad food that is served in restaurants elsewhere,” she says.SOMA BASU