The Bangala – excitement of a surprise guest
As we moved in to enjoy our stay at The Bangala we could sense the pristine glory of this nice and spacious 90+ year old property. It has a pool with a lot of greenery and open space which gives it a colonial club type feel. When we checked in, we were in for a surprise as Dalquer Salman (Mammooty’s son) and his personal entourage (personal trainer, dietician, hair stylist, driver, bodyguard) were also camping there for a film shoot of King of Kota happening somewhere in the vicinity. Despite several attempts to create a chance meeting for a photo-op, we managed to chat up only with the personal trainer and the dietician and not being able to even catch a glimpse of Dalquer Salmaan.
Chettinad is a paradise for the antique hunters and those who would like to add some ethnic touch to their homes. As some of the decrepit mansions are pulled down, individual items consisting of heavy woodwork, Burma teak doors, pillars , tanjore paintings etc are neatly dismantled and made available at the antique shops on the Antique street. The shops also arrange for delivery back home. We managed to pick up a neat brass flask which accommodates a cup underneath the cap.
Besides the mansions, this region is also well known for the Athangudi handmade tiles and handloom sarees. The entire tile making process is a cottage industry run out of small sheds with the tiles being kept in water for 8-10 days for curing. (Click here for a video on the Athangudi tiles handmade process) For handloom you will need to check with locals to point you to some dealers. We came across Senthil Kumar Textiles who operates from his home and sends his stuff across the country except Madurai where as per him the payment never comes.
This part of the country has Ayyanar temples on the outskirts of almost every village. Ayyanar is known as the protector of the village. Locals donate terracotta horses to the god in a belief that is supposed to help God to ride around to protect the village. (To know more click here)
Chettinad is also known for its special spices which makes their food unique and finds a place in almost all restaurants’ menu serving a south Indian fare. So don’t forget to visit a local shop to either stock up your quota or even carry a few ready to handout gift packets. We did our bit of spices shopping and landed up with a plastic tub as a diwali gift for the amount we shopped! While Zomato has made deep inroads even at places like Karaikudi, to get a real flavour of the local food, we opted to visit a popular local place – Priya Mess. At Priya Mess, the base meal is for Rs 120 with a reasonable additional charge for adding a non-veg dish – be it fish, chicken, mutton or even a rabbit or Quil to your serving.
Madurai-Meenakshi temple and Jigarthanda
As we wound up our trip, we returned to Madurai to visit the Meenakshi Amman temple. The temple has been built in its current form between the 16th-17th century. The goddess Meenakshi (another name for Lord Shiva’s wife Parvati) is the principal deity of the temple, unlike most Shiva temples in south India where Shiva is the principal deity. Unfortunately no electronic devices including cellphones or cameras are allowed inside the temples at Rameshwar or Meenakshi. To bring alive and experience the magnificence of the temple and know more about the mythological stories around the temple, the multitude of sculptors inside the temple’s 1000 Mandapam Museum click here.
The entire town is built around the temple. As you step out of the temple, you walk into a thriving market with shops and huge multi-story outlets of popular jewellery brands like Joyalukas, Josalukas, Bhima, Malabar, Kalyan, Pothy’s (clothes) lined along the streets with thronging crowds leaving no place to walk other than to navigate your way through a sea of shoppers overflowing on the road. To overcome this, the traffic police have found a novel way to try to control traffic using loudspeakers with the traffic cop shooting into a microphone to guide traffic.
At Madurai we stepped out for lunch to get a taste of authentic south Indian Idli, Dosa. To our surprise, unlike in Mumbai where Idli, Dosa is a 24 X 7 item on the menu, in the south, it forms part of only the “tiffin” (breakfast menu) and is not available during “meals”. Also since we were put up near the Meenakshi Temple area, the restaurants serve strictly a veg fare. As per the locals, while at Madurai, one of the must taste things to have is Jigarthanda, a unique milk based local cold drink. It is tom-tomed to have medicinal and healing benefits.
Having ticked all the boxes on our itinerary, we returned to Madurai airport to catch our flight to Mumbai, thinking our exciting trip was coming to an end. But we were in for a surprise! The security at the cabin baggage screening refused to allow the spices we had packed in our carry-on handbagage. No amount of persuasion would do as even though the list of restricted items does not categorically mention about spices, apparently they have been recently added to the list of items prohibited in the carry ons. As we were in no mood to let go of the local spices, I made a last minute dash to the airline counters to add to our checked in luggage and was lucky to have them accommodate my request.
As I wind up, I must confess one thing, the authentic served along with the authentic Idli and Dosai tastes quite different from the bumbaiya version that is served at popular south Indian restaurants across Mumbai. In case you are yet to do this circuit, I would recommend you to take time to plan a trip to visit the Madurai-Rameshwaram-Chettinad and remember to engage a guide at Meenakshi Temple and at Chettinad to get to know more about the places you are visiting. Cheers !!
Acknowledgements- My Friends Ashish Parulekar and Sheetal Nagle for being a solid member of my blog support team.
P.S To read my other blogs on Cricketing / Corporate Tales; Start up stories; Covid Times; Friends, Family and Marriages, Off-beat travel go to the Home Page