Yercaud No poor man's hill station

For reasons unknown, Yercaud, one of the three hill stations in Tamilnadu – the other two being Ooty and Kodaikanal - is known as the poor man’s hill station. How this place got the sobriquet is perplexing.

Yer meaning lake and caud meaning forest in Tamil, the place got its name from the lake situated amidst the forest in the eastern ghats of Shevroy range of Salem district.

After a 11-kilometre-long drive through the city of Salem begins the ascent towards this beautiful hill station as the city recedes into background. A scenic view of the city unfolds as we ascend  higher. A view from the height of the plains below reveals vast patches of dug-out land in the outskirts of the Salem city. Mining is done in a big way here. Salem steel is well known throughout the country for its fine quality of utensils, mangoes and handlooms being the other things Salem is known for.

Twenty hairpin bends over a stretch of 21 kms on the ascent route and we arrive in Yercaud where we feel the chilly weather coming as a relief from the hot summer of the plains.

Perched at a height of 2133 metres above mean sea level, Yercaud is home to a population of nearly 50,000 denizens who largely thrive on tourism industry. Hotels dot the town while taxis and autorickshaws rule the roads.

Having checked into one of the several hotels, I hire a taxi – a Tata Sumo – after some haggling with the affable driver Madeshwaran, a local. I enjoy the advantage of talking to the locals in Tamil and bargaining becomes easy.

Our first stop is the Raja Rajeswari temple, founded by Sri Gnanananda Giri Swamigal’s Parampara in 1983. The idol of Goddess Raja Rajeswari flanked by those of Sri Lakshmi and Sri Saraswati is seated on a throne whose four legs are Vishnu, Brahma, Rudra and Eswara. On the left of the entrance to this temple is a shop that sells herbal oils, perfumes, powders and spices, which I am told are pure and indigenous and will add aroma and taste to biryani. 

Our next destination is the Shervaroyan Temple located at the highest peak of the Shervaroyan hill. Also known as Kaveri Amman Temple, the devotees have to bend low to enter into a dark cave to pay obeisance to the diety of the tribals of the region. I am told that the temple attracts large number of devotees in the last week of May every year.

This year the festival was scheduled from June 2. In preparation for the festive occasion, merry-go-round and other fun games were being moved in to the huge ground close to the temple. From this peak, one could get a good aerial view of Yercaud town at a distance. My driver who doubles up as a guide, informs me that at the time of festival the road gets choked due to heavy vehicular traffic and massive police bandobast.

On our way to the next destination, we briefly halt at the National Orchidarium Experimental Garden of the Botanical Survey of India. Known to be the third largest orchidarium in the country, entry  is by tickets of Rs 10. Pay more for camera. Varieties of plants and a nursery are the main attraction, though it is the Kurinji flowers, known to bloom once in 12 years, that draw the tourists. Three Kurinji plants placed in flower pots at the entrance is enough to satiate the curiosity of those who come looking for the Kurinji flowers. The men at the gate inform me that the flowers will bloom next year.

Return to the town to proceed to pagoda point. It is so known for the four pagodas that adorn the corners of the ridge. A shrine in the centre of the open space draws some devotees while most visitors have a grand view of Salem from the observation post. A good picnic spot as evidenced from the number of families enjoying lunch and eatables under the shaded trees.

On way back to the town, I express my desire to visit the Grange Bungalow as I had read that the place was first occupied by the Britons when they first landed here. It is a fortress-like building with guns and canons positioned at vantage points. At the estate I am told that entry to the Bungalow is barred. During the First War of Independence in 1857, the Grange Bungalow served as a safe haven for the British troops. Since the place is of historic importance, the Tamil Nadu Tourism Department could consider getting a portion of it opened for public viewing.

At a distance of about two-and-a-half kilometres from the main taxi stand are the Lady’s seat, the Gent’s seat and the Children’s seat from where one can get a panoramic view of Salem town. The Lady’s seat point I am told is a favoured spot for boys and girls to commit suicide by taking a plunge from a cliff jutting out. Usually the story is of failed love among the youngsters.

The Holy Trinity Church built in 1853, the Sacred Heart Church and the Retreat Church too draw a good number of tourists for their magnificent stained glass windows.

No trip to Yercaud is complete without a visit to the Emerald Lake. Motor boats, foot pedal boats and even rowing boats dot the lake with tourists enjoying the rides.

Adjacent to the lake is the Tamil Nadu Hotel of Tamil Nadu Tourism Corporation which offers rooms at reasonable rates.

Though I had initially planned to visit the Killiyur Falls, I decide against it as I was told by my guide that the steep 300-steps would sap me of the energy while ascending to the top. However, youngsters are encouraged to visit the 90-foot high waterfalls, particularly if they have not had the privilege to see a waterfall in the past.

The Anna Park right opposite the taxi stand is a well maintained garden particularly of delight to children with adequate provision for games. It is maintained by the Horticulture department. Small kiosks near the garden draw tourists to relish the local chilli bhajji and pakoras.

Having enjoyed the cool clime of Yercaud, a hill station founded by the then British Collector of Salem, David Cockburn in 1820, revered as the Father of Yercaud, I return to my sojourn in the northern parts to put up with the rising temperature, envying the denizens of Yercaud who enjoy the cool weather while others in the plains sweat it out.

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