The Mansion We Stayed In

The main courtyard of Saratha Vilas (with sunbeams)

The Chettinad mansion in Kothamangalam that we stayed in for three nights was restored by a pair of French architects who had been able to cut a long-term lease deal with the sole owner. The architects had fallen in love with the style and found themselves inspired to bring one of the mansions back to life. The result is Saratha Vilas, a boutique hotel with comfortable rooms and a fantastic kitchen (there being no other places to eat in the village.)

Living like a princess

I look back with pleasure on this stop on our tour for several reasons. This was the first completely relaxing place we arrived at after time in the loud and busy cities of Mumbai and Chennai and a couple of internal flights. Saratha has a green, tranquil garden where I often heard Hindu temple music coming over a loudspeaker. The video below was taken in the garden:

This was the only village we stayed in, so we got to see a bit of village life. The bathroom window of my room looked out on the main street. In the middle of the night a couple of cows would be lying in front of the store across the street: now I know that Indian cows have owners and their own place to stay at night even it if isn’t a barn or stable. Then, around 5 am the road was busy with people coming into town by foot or motorcycle to work.

Path to the Ayyanar shrine at Kothamangalam, Tamil Nadu

When we walked down the main road much later in the morning, we would see a crowd of men at the open-air chai shop next door drinking chai out of tin cups and gossiping like crazy. The town also had its own Ayyanar shrine (see Village Shrine) which we walked to one morning. On the way back through a middle-class neighborhood we met some school girls and their mothers outside of their homes: these girls went to good schools so we spoke with them in English, with both sides expressing delight and curiosity at the meeting.

 

Our visit also coincided with the weekly market. While some of the village markets around the world that I’ve seen sell livestock, clothing, pots and pans, etc., this one was pretty much a food market. There were all kinds of vegetables, herbs and spices that I didn’t recognize. Markets like this rotate weekly from village to village: this is people’s chance to do the shopping for the week without having to drive or take the bus someplace. I’ve always wondered about the merchants’ lives: they have to show up at the crack of dawn to set up, then in the afternoon pack and put everything away for the next village and the next day. In the meantime at home they’re picking and packing their own harvest or receiving goods from other suppliers. While people now use trucks and vans to bring their produce to market, once upon a time these markets were served by farmers coming in with animal-driven carts.

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