The urge to get away at least for a day is as irresistible as an itch and you have to scratch it, the sooner the better. And if an occasion presents itself to justify it, it becomes all the more tempting to make the best out of it. Thus happened my trip to Yercaud. I had earlier booked hotel accommodation for a Saturday night, but I had compelling reasons to stay at home, so I postponed the trip by two days, which was good in a way as I learned later.
With the ever-increasing amount of information available on the internet and other sources, it becomes more and more confusing to choose the right way to go in almost anything that you want to do. Road or train? Day or night? With the family or just the two of us? We decided to play the Narasimharao game (wait and watch) and take what comes on the day of departure, and ended up in just the two of us (me and wife Vasanthi) proceeding, no night time travel, and by our car – the reason being a warning put up by a kind soul in his travelogue that day trains are crowded and people tend to sit together near their relatives irrespective of their reserved accommodation being scattered all over the coach, unmindful of cramping the other passengers rightfully present in their allotted seats.
So we started from Ambattur exactly at 7:27:42, give or take a few milliseconds. Oops! One of the infectious ‘exactly at’ rants from reading too many blogs at a time to know about a place. Sorry, I will switch to my own language and flow.
I had decided to take the Vellore-Vaniambadi-Thirupathur-Uthangarai-Kuppanur route for the onward trip. The road was pretty bad before and after Thirupathur for about 15 km, but after that it was quite good and we had a very smooth, pleasant drive along a scenic route. The good roads, as our CM had mentioned some time back, leads drivers to race fast and cause accidents. It happened to me too, swerving extreme left to avoid two vehicles coming fast on a curve and my little Santro lost control and swayed a little farther away than I had intended to steer her. We hit a big boulder, bent the curve-markers and screeched to a halt. I couldn’t move the car. A few good Samaritans driving the opposite way quickly gathered and came to our rescue and found that the car had jumped over the boulder and the boulder had stuck between the front and rear wheels. Two or three of them just lifted the car on one side and cleared the boulder. Another driver took the vehicle back to the road, test-drove a short distance and certified its road-worthiness. A little dent on the bonnet and some scratches on the undercarriage was all that the Santro suffered. I was completely rattled, but quickly gained composure and confidence, consoled Vasanthi who was terrified and proceeded on our way. Naturally, we were moving at a much slower speed now. Despite that, we missed the junction at Kuppanur where we ought have taken a right turn and had gone an extra km or two before enquiring and turning back to the correct route. From that point, the road uphill was much narrow and winding like a snake. Vasanthi was jittery all the way, nudging me to honk at every bend and to reduce speed the moment I touched 25. We crawled and crawled and reached Yercaud town around 2:15 pm. As we were hungry by then, we decided to have lunch at Shevroys on the way and then proceeded to our hotel, GRT Nature Trails.
The hotel was fabulous. Excellent location, very comfortable, nice people and very, very quiet. Just what we wanted for a break. We took a brief rest and set out around 4 pm for a short sight-seeing around Yercaud.
My heart stopped for a while when I found my camera not functioning. It must have suffered a severe jolt when the car hit the rock. However, I tried switching it on and off a few times, and put gravity to work – extending the lens while keeping the camera face down and retracting the lens while keeping it face up. My intuition (and the camera) clicked in a short while and Vasanthi could see the first smile on my face roughly three hours after the car incident.
I had gleaned from blogs and Google maps that Yercaud is quite a small area with the lake at the centre and all tourist spots within a few km from there, so I had no difficulty going around the place. If I was ever in doubt, the local people were only too willing to guide us. Going there on a week day was also a big plus point, as I was told that the entire Salem neighborhood ascends on Yercaud (note the pun) during weekends and you would find it difficult to find parking space. So, refer to the opening paragraph, postponing the trip was indeed favorable for us and we moved around the town with much ease.
We found that Yercaud closes quite early in the evening. The tourist spots close by 5 pm and the few shops that are there, by 7 or 7.30 at the latest. Thereafter, you are stuck to your hotel. There is no visible nightlife there. Not that I am after such things as night life -- I am a home bird, early-to-bed and very-early-to-rise type; my worms are the morning mist, dew drops, morning twilight, blooming flowers and chirping birds; I savor these wherever I go -- but it was telling to see the town go to sleep at 8! I could hear a number of birds chirping and calling from nearby trees, however, not one offered itself to pose for me. Probably, after the rains, the woods were thick with foliage and they had ample cover. It was a disappointment for me not to get any bird on my camera, but the flowers more than compensated for it – I had real plenty of them for my camera to feast on.
With nothing much to do or see around, we just spent time going around the little supermarket in Shevroys, had some light food at the restaurant there and went back to our hotel for the most comfortable night stay I have ever had outside my home in several years.
After breakfast, we set out again to cover the remaining areas. We had some fun watching a film-shoot presumably for a television serial. We had seen the same group at another location the previous evening, and they had not changed clothes, probably keeping continuity in mind. We visited the popular Bhavani Singh perfumery. Vasanthi was buying a bottle of oil or perfume for every flower that I clicked there, until I had just enough money left in my purse for lunch.
We checked out a little after 2 pm and took the 20-hair-pin-bends route to Salem on our way to Namakkal. In Tamilnadu, most temples usually close by 12 noon and open by 4 pm, so I had estimated we would reach the Anjaneyar temple by about 4.15. My sense of timing was perfect, but only on reaching the temple did we learn that the opening time at the temple is 4.30 pm, and the priest usually comes a little after that, keeping Indian punctuality alive. Unwilling to wait there, we ambled to the Narasimhar temple nearby, and learned from the information posted on a board there that the right procedure to worship is to visit Namagiri Thayaar (goddess) first, Narasimhar next, Anjaneyar after that and finally Lord Ranganathar on the opposite site of the hillock. The Narasimhar and Ranganathar figures are carved on the hillock rock itself, so you cannot circumambulate them as is the practice in Hindu temples.
It took up to 6 pm for us to leave Namakkal. On the return trip, I stuck to the four-lane highway to Chennai via Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri. Nearing Salem from Namakkal, I was confused by the sign-board at the fly-over pointing to Chennai and went the wrong way on the Uthangarai road for up to 2-3 km, but realized the mistake and joined back the highway, wasting about 20-30 minutes in the process. A small remark showing that this route to Chennai is via Uthangarai and Thirupathur would be very helpful to tourists. But for this minor mess, the return trip was fast and smooth and we reached home safely shortly after midnight on day 2.
Places we visited, and recommend you to visit, in Yercaud:
Pagoda point: A view point about 4 km from the lake. Clear directions marked all the way, you would not go astray. Three piles of stones arranged by local tribes in the past to remotely resemble a pagoda, and hence the name. Going by the bold and blatant mistake in spelling on the sign-boards, don’t think the snack ‘pakoda’ would be available there. A viewing tower is also built there. You get a good view of the valley and dwellings down below, added to splendid sunsets if you are lucky.
Seats – Ladies’, Gents’ and Children’s: View points, again, what else do you find in elevated places? (I wouldn’t call Yercaud a hill station – even in end-October, there is no semblance here of the chillness associated with hill stations). As the night falls, you can see the twinkle of Salem lights getting brighter and brighter, which is quite nice to watch.
Rose garden: A sprawling area of plant cultivation, mostly roses as the name suggests, but includes a few other flowers also. We bumped on a budding photo-seller, who, using his Nikon D3000 and an Epson portable color printer, gives instant (under 40 seconds guaranteed) photo taken and neatly inserted into a ready-made frame, for Rs.70/- (or just the photo for Rs.30). Quite interesting how people find ways to earn a living the honest way.
Servarayan temple: The local legend holds Servarayan (Perumal or Vishnu) as the protector of the place, and they say the goddess brought water from Talacauvery and hence named Kaveri Amman, though I see no connection between Perumal and Kaveri. The idols are kept at the beginning of a cave-like formation, and people believe the cave extends all the way up to Talacauvery, which is near Coorg (now Madikeri) in Karnataka! Whether you believe these or not, this place, again, is an elevated one and you get good views of the folding mountains around.
Rajarajeswari temple and the newly constructed Mahameru Yantram, both on the road to Servarayan temple, are two attractions for those interested in visiting temples. Incidentally, I saw one of the biggest spiders and widest webs in my life at the Mahameru temple. The spider measured at least 10 inches from toe to toe and the web was easily six to seven feet across, firmly tied to two trees that much (seven feet) across, at about 12-15 feet above the ground.
Orchidarium: On the way to Servarayan temple is the National Orchidarium maintained by the Botanical Research Institute. The best time to visit this place is end March to May, when orchids are in bloom. Otherwise, there are a few varieties of flowers and many varieties of plants that will be of interest to botany students.
The places we did not/could not visit, but recommend you to visit, are:
The Montfort School: The popular spot here, known for its vast complex and architecture. Permission is granted to visit only on holidays. As we visited Yercaud on a weekday, we could not get to see the place.
The Grange and the Bear Cave: A very old building and a natural cave, I heard, are worth visiting. Due to our short stay, we did not have the time to cover these.
The places we visited, but do not recommend you to visit, are:
Kiliyur falls: My remark on this is conditional, depending on the season, and your inclination for adventure. After the designated car park, a private road leads about half a km down to a place from where only a rough foot-path exists to get to see the falls, when water flows. So, if you love waterfalls, and if you like a little trekking (which they say takes about half an hour down and about two hours up), you will certainly like this place. If you are not inclined, better skip this place, as there is nothing else to see even en route.
The lake: My remark on this too is conditional. If you have seen the lakes at Ooty, Kodaikanal and other places, you may not like this. The scenery you get from the middle of the lake on a boat is available aplenty at other places in Yercaud. However, if you have never seen a lake or if you particularly like to be on a boat wherever it is, you may like this place. What I mean is, the Yercaud lake is just a small lake adding beauty to the town but not a place of visit in itself.
The gardens around the lake: I found the rose garden near Children’s seat much better and bigger than the gardens here. However, if you are pressed for time, nothing wrong in going around these parks. I do not know why they charge a fee for these parks.
These and other photos of my Yercaud trip are available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/raghu_ambattur/sets/72157625205359978/.
The occasion that presented itself, if you remember the opening paragraph, was our wedding anniversary, and a silver one at that.