Last weekend I was casually going through my bucket list. I felt bad as I could not carry through any of that this year. I decided to do at least one item in the list before the year goes the way of the dinosaurs. I picked ‘making a solo trip’. Even in ‘solo trip’, I have a long list of places I would love to explore. The first is Karaikudi in Chettinad. Karaikudi is one of my favorite destinations because of my love for antiques. Antiques are my greatest weakness; so I have been waiting to explore the place for long.

After doing a set of ‘what if’ analyses in my mind, I shared this thought with my husband and children. They all welcomed the idea at once! I decided to check the availability of a train ticket for the following weekend itself. But the result was discouraging. No tickets were available for the whole month in almost all the trains. Yet, I managed to get a side lower berth in the two-tier compartment in the ‘Premium Tatkal’ category.

On the D-day, my husband and son were busy, so they suggested that the solo trip can start from home itself! I reached the railway station using an ‘Ola’ cab. My train journey started on a Sunday night at 7:15 pm. I went to sleep after setting the wake-up alarm on my phone for 4:20 am as the scheduled time of arrival at Karaikudi was 4:45 am.

When I opened my eyes the time was 4:35 am! I am not sure why, but I hadn’t heard the alarm! I jumped out of my berth. All the others in my compartment were fast asleep, maybe because they were going to Rameswaram. I saw an old man in his seventies near the door. I rushed to him and asked about the next station. He said Karaikudi was next and we would reach there in five minutes. It was a close shave, and I thanked my lucky stars! After waiting in the railway station till sunrise, I decided to catch an autorickshaw.

I checked into the hotel by 6:30 am which I had booked online based on user reviews. It’s just 2 km from the railway station and has an attached pure vegetarian restaurant. The great thing was it is located in a decent, calm, residential area and not in the midst of a busy commercial area. While having breakfast which was complimentary, the waiter tuned the TV to a channel with melodious Tamil film songs from my college days. He had judged my age correctly! 😉

I went out around 9 am to explore the ‘antique’ streets in Karaikudi and was at it till 2 pm. I can spend hours and even days in antique shops. Chettinadu furniture is something to die for!

Though I am highly allergic to dust, I did not sneeze even once while scouring the dusty shelves of those antique stores!

I felt as if the Belgian glass lamp shades, ceramic vessels, carved doors, and wooden pillars were all trying to tell stories from a bygone era. I wished I could take them all home. But I had to satisfy my antique-loving soul by buying a few ceramic knobs and Tanjore paintings.

After having a simple, vegetarian lunch from a nearby restaurant, I came back to my room by 3 pm to chalk out the next day’s plan. Next day morning by 8:30, I reached the ancient rock-cut Karpaka Vinayaka Temple by bus. The history of the temple dates back to more than 2500 years. After darshan, I had a coffee from a small stall nearby, full of Sabarimala Ayyappa pilgrims. The coffee was far better than what you get from any Starbucks shop!

I headed towards the bus stand to visit the famous Chettinad palace at Kanadukathan. The palatial building is a symbol of the colonial-era architectural heritage. The fine carvings on the doors, teak pillars from Burma, marble tiles from Italy and ceiling tiles from Spain were a real feast to my eyes and soul.

The next item in my itinerary was a visit to Mahalakshmi Handloom Weaving Centre. Women were weaving colourful sarees in traditional weaving machines there. I realised the dedication and hard work that goes into the making of handloom sarees. I bought a few beautiful cotton sarees.

By then it was 5 pm and my hotel was 16 km away. My plan was to reach the hotel before 6 pm. So I had to cancel my visit to the Athangudi village which is famous for its “Athangudi floor tiles”.

If you want to really feel the pulse of any village, rely on their local transportation system. Don’t bother about the sun and sunscreen. Try to be one among the locals. Many a time I didn’t take out my camera fearing that I would be considered a tourist. For capturing moments and places I used my phone. And last but not least, prior to a solo trip don’t colour your hair to hide the greys. Grey hair attracts more respect from others. 🙂

With a mind full of colourful memories of the Chettinad mansion, I started my return train journey at 9:15 pm.

I reached home the next day morning at 6 am with a completely changed perspective. But at home everything was the same; even the plates and glasses on the dining table were left untouched! The plants in my verandah looked tired as they weren’t watered for 2 days. Still, I didn’t lose my temper. My mind was still wandering around the ‘antique’ streets in Karaikudi.

Of course, trips with family and friends are full of fun and laughter. But being responsible for yourself on a solo trip makes you discover the real you. It really boosted my confidence level. Believe me, we are less likely to feel stressed out on a solo trip. It is indeed refreshing!

Wherever you go, be yourself and always be alert. Leave nothing but your footprints! Travelling alone can be a life-changing experience. Try it at least once. So add it to your bucket list today itself and plan it soon before you run out of time!

Happy New Year & happy empty nesting! 🙂

Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world. ~ Gustav Flaubert

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