I don’t know if you know that I am mad about antique stuff. Antique rosewood tables, grandpa clocks and typewriters make me weak in the knees. Dressers and Almirahs make me dizzy. Brass vessels, high ceilings and cane armchairs make me babble in joy. This particular vacation had most of these elements, which is why I thought I had to share.
There is a small heritage bungalow just off Chidambaram called “Lakshmi Vilas Heritage hotel” that must have been some zamindar’s place long time ago. It has been beautifully converted into a heritage hotel complete with “Ammi kallu” (traditional grinding machine of Tamil Nadu) and Ural and Ulakku lining the corridors, the reception desk at the entrance set beside a large spacious thinnai, a wooden swing at the far end and a couple of employees stretched out beside it. The staff were all one family, really. The receptionist was a petite girl in her early twenties from the same locality. The security cum general helpers were her uncles and mamas. Just like those olden days, when entire families worked in one house, one farm.
A small air-condidtioned dining room is at the centre of the terrace with more seating space outside all around the terrace. We chose to sit inside. Summer – TamilNadu! We looked around while the girl (the receptionist) set up our table for lunch. The biryani was from their hotel in Chidambaram town. It was a wonderful setting. A large dining table surrounded by lovely wooden chairs with arm rests, tall ceilings with madras style terrace, glass panels above doors, vintage lamp shades and black and white photos here and there on the walls. I felt transported back in time to my Vitto Periamma’s dining room in Katpadi.
While in Chidambaram we visited the Nataraja temple, old, beautiful and un-touched by modern day flourishes. There aren’t numerous counters, long queues, barricades and crushing crowds. It is still an old world temple, run down in places, overgrown grass in the outer praharam with a few stray dogs lazing around, cool stone floors inside the temple and all the time in the world for you to gape at the beauty of it all. No hurry.
After the wedding in Chidambaram, we reluctantly checked out of Lakshmi Vilas and headed over to Tranquebar about 1.5 hours – 2 hours away. Tranquebar or Tharangambadi as it is locally called is a small town on the east coast of Tamil Nadu, an erstwhile Danish town. It is a small heritage town, quiet, quaint and laid-back. It is a very tiny version of Pondicherry but un-adultered and non-touristy. We stayed at the bungalow on the beach (part of Neemrana group of hotels) in Tranquebar. The Bungalow on the beach is.. well, on the beach. Sitting in the balcony in our white wicker chairs, we watched the waves crashing below. We’d remain seated that way for hours at a stretch. It was mesmerizing.
The hotel building was originally a Governor’s bungalow during the colonial period, a magnificent structure, which changed hands in more recent times to the Taj group of hotels and then to the present Neemrana group of hotels.
We returned to our room, changed and headed over to the beach for a walk. Just off the beach is the Danish fort that houses a small museum. There was a small crowd on the beach, kids hanging around sweet corn stalls, ice cream carts, a woman frying vadai, a lone camel being led by a tall wiry old man that took kids on rides. We had ice cream. We went back to the hotel for dinner.
If not for the food, this hotel would be my most favourite hotel ever. The food at the hotel was abysmal. It was undeniably poor. That is really a shame for a hotel that looks so beautiful.
The next morning, we woke up before dawn to watch the sun rise. Miracle right there! We heated up some water in the kettle and made ourselves some tea, earl grey tea for Jagan and ginger tea for me and took it out to the verandah. We were not taking a chance with room service. We sat there and watched a couple of DSLR enthusiasts with their tripods, waiting on the beach to capture the sunrise. A few fishing boats bobbed in the distance. We wondered how different the fisherman’s daily routine was. Their job was done by the time we were up.
We sipped tea and talked. We watched as the sky transformed from a grey to a violet-pink and then to a fiery orange. The kind of meditative quiet that makes you close your eyes, makes you feel un-tethered and free, that makes you reflect on life, change direction maybe, fall asleep. Beautiful!