Grand-yet-crumbling mansions line the villages of Chettinad, architectural ghosts of the once-prosperous Chettiar reign. This community dates back to the Chola Empire, when they built fortunes as merchants and gem dealers, striking lucrative trade deals with other Asian nations. The Chettiars displayed their riches in the 19th century by building opulent temples and mansions resplendent with palatial columns, carved doors and fountain-filled courtyards. However, with the 1920s depression and decolonisation of South-East Asia, the Chettiars’ wealth plummeted and many abandoned their lavish houses. Some return now only to hold weddings or festival celebrations and occasionally, they rent them out as glitzy Bollywood movie sets.
Today, you can tour these grand relics, which are spread over 72 villages in the rural Chettinad region. Many are painted vibrant shades of blue, green or violet and filled with expensive materials, from Italian marble to Burmese teak. Crystal chandeliers trail from the ceilings and statues of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, guard entrance doors – you can even spot eerie family photos on the walls. Chettinad Palace in Kanadukathan Village is one of the best examples of the period, with its colourful tiling, stained glass windows and Gothic arches. Stay in a Chettinad mansion that’s found new life as a chic heritage hotel, offering courtyard pools and sweeping balconies.
Uncover Chettinad’s historical treasures with help from our India team, who can line-up mansion tours with in-the-know local guides.
Your journey will start with one of our UK team – someone like Malcolm, who's travelled extensively in India. They’ll shape your ideas into the trip of a lifetime. But they won't do it alone. They'll draw on the expertise of our contacts on the ground, connecting you to the people who'll make your holiday one you'll always remember.
Freephone an expert 01306 744 656