The tranquil rural area known as Chettinadu occupies a swathe of land about equidistant from Madurai to the southwest and Trichy and Thanjavur to the north. It is the traditional home of the Chettiars, also known as the Nagarathas, a merchant community who date back to the Chola empire and came to prominence in the nineteenth century, when they played an important role in the British trade routes to countries on the Subcontinent and Southeast Asia. The great wealth accumulated during this period allowed them to build lavish mansions and notable temples in their 96 villages, of which 72 remain, plus the larger towns of Karaikudi and Pudukottai. These urban areas grew from villages and provide the gateway to the area, especially the former.
It would take days if not weeks to explore the area thoroughly, so it is best to base yourself at one of the most picturesque villages, such as Kanadukathan, 15km north of Karaikudi, en route to Pudukottai. Many of the mansions here and in other villages fell into disrepair when their owners emigrated but have recently been beautifully refurbished as heritage hotels, often by returning Chettiars themselves. Chettinadu is also renowned for its cuisine, with examples of it often to be found on Indian menus worldwide.