There is something about Madurai that is deeply rewarding for your senses — that’s how I feel when I set foot on this ancient Tamil land famed for its Meenakshi Temple, unique Jigarthanda and piping hot idlis dished out by the roadside, with chutneys of varied colours.
But the biggest surprise came in the form of the Kadambavanam Resorts, a 30-minute drive from the Temple. Nestled in a sprawling 22 acre land, amidst a bed of greenery that includes mango, coconut and cashew plants and surrounded by hills on all sides, the resort extends an idyllic retreat that guarantees to rejuvenate body and soul. “A temple of
traditions that lets you enjoy a cross section of everything Tamil,” says Chitra Ganapathy, Managing Director of the resort and member of RC Madurai West, D 3000.
The 30 air-conditioned cottages are built in native style, but have all modern amenities. Each one faces the hills, and is dedicated and themed after a Tamil great, the interiors featuring Tamil art work.
Perched at the very top, it offers much more than just dining, giving a sweeping view of the rich landscape. The
culinary delights include soups made from horse gram, snake guard or drumstick; and typical village food such as finger millet porridge, curry leaves rice etc., besides the regular pan Indian cuisine. Most foreign guests are game to try out offbeat varieties while the locals prefer rotis and naans, says restaurant captain Veera. “We want to break away from standard cuisine and offer bygone village-food in five-star ambience,” explains Chitra. With the present generation leaning towards the West and celebrating anything Western as trendy, “it is our responsibility to introduce them to our healthy food varieties, which are tasty as well. Why not serve thattai, murukku and karumbu (sugarcane) juice rather than Nachos, popcorn and coke in our theatres?” she laments.
Almost all the staff (66) here hail from nearby hamlets. “We feel proud to walk through our streets clad in our uniform sari and when we hear people speak among themselves that we work at Kadambavanam,” says a smiling Rajathi who works at the restaurant. “The resort has brought a huge financial relief for all of us. I helped my family with funds for my sister’s marriage, through my earnings here,” says Saraswathi.
The resort works on a “social entrepreneurship model involving local villagers to run the show. They were illiterate, and did not know how to handle guests. We trained them, taught them to dress neatly, speak politely and serve food with a smile,” says Chitra.
The massive Cultural Centre adorned with brightly hued Le Pakshi style of paintings depicting folk tales and mythology has been a venue for some unique weddings. One was between an Aruppukottai (a nearby village) groom and a Swiss bride and there was a Sri Lankan wedding too. Other activities include drama workshops, educative movie sessions for school children and other ticketed cultural shows. “We have had renowned theatre personalities such as Seema Biswas perform here,” adds Chitra.
The Conference halls offer space for corporate guests to organise seminars, lecture-demos and training sessions. The well maintained lawn, pavilions and terraces are used for college reunions, family get-togethers and weddings.
A 6,500 sq ft open air swimming pool is a perfect setting to relax against the abounding hills. While the herbarium enriches the botanical knowledge, the gods of the Hindu pantheon installed in simple open structures invoke the spiritual senses. “Daily pujas are performed here and we enumerate upon our religious practices and mythological tales to foreigners,” says Chitra.
Guests at the resort are treated to activities such as hill trekking, village walk and cultural shows. During festive seasons, the atmosphere is vibrant with the specialties of each festival. Local artists are engaged to perform folk art such as karagaatam, oyilaatam, poi kaal kudhirai and bharatanatyam. Value camps are conducted for student groups.
Future plans include setting up pet farms, health club, games court, a museum that captures various facets of Tamil evolution and a management school based on Tamil principles. The resort promotes endogenous tourism that encompasses cultural, spiritual, heritage, culinary, health, eco and rural facets, all wrapped in one.
Chitra’s passion for Tamil and its culture comes from her father, Dr Nambi Arooran, grandson of Tamil scholar Maraimalai Adigal and mother, Dr Sarada Nambi Arooran, a renowned Tamil orator. Her husband, M Ganapathy is an architect and interior designer who conceived and executed this unique tourism project, and together with their sons Vasanth and Indirajith, also architects, the family has bigger plans for the future.