Karaikuri is the heart of Chettinad – a small town of about a hundred thousand people. The single one-way road goes around the town – along which the local market thrives. Off this road are the narrow lanes, typical of these small towns. We stayed at the Bangala, a boutique hotel in the middle of town. Its a beautifully done up place, well located and has friendly and helpful staff. The first evening we were there, we were given a map for a walk around the town – unusual for most of our tourist places. Probably a reflection of the large number of foreign tourists the town receives.
So we took the suggested stroll around the town, one which is typical of the small towns of the region, I would presume. The main attraction of the town and the region are the large number of traditional Chettiar houses. This community of traders, have been a wealthy community for the last 3-4 centuries and invested in constructing large gracious mansions. The highlight of these mansions are the marble and teak embellishments and the European influence on the decor. Most of these are lying in various stages of decay and decline, the owners having moved to the more attractive city environs of Madurai and Chennai.
Although, it was possible to make the walk without any serious mishap, there are no side walks and hence you are in competition with the vehicular traffic. The latter is not heavy, and the 2-wheeler population I felt was far less than in the North. So, we did not feel as threatened. But walking in our cities and towns are a long way from being a good experience.
Going through the small lanes, it was evident that open drains prevail; but, the sense of crowding and general squalor and dumps of garbage seen in many other parts of the country was missing. We were two women strolling through a relatively deserted lane, at dusk, and felt totally secure.
The temple forms the central point of this town, as of so many in this region. Across from the temple, is an elegant, but totally neglected clock tower – which must have been positioned at the center of a square or something in earlier days – but is now standing like a neglected old lady, squashed by the new structures around.
We finished the circuit and as we headed back to the Bangala, dusk was falling. I wondered as to why we care so little for our surroundings – and tried to imagine how this town may have looked a few decades ago. While it is not realistic to expect things to stay frozen in time, temples do survive unchanged for centuries. Why can’t other identified landmarks, buildings of grace, historical significance, receive some attention? Especially in a town that is the home to the Chettiars, a community known for its wealth and for their fine taste in their homes in the past. Is it for the Government to always step in – what about the local community? If we, the people don’t step in, all towns will become the same congested, cluttered, concrete horrors all across the country. Here is hoping some one will listen!