Friday, September 5, 2008

YERCAUD - The Hill Station

In Tamilnadu people talk only about Ooty and Kodaikanal as hill stations. No mention is ever made, even in passing, of Yercaud. Majority of the people even refuse to accept that Yercaud is also a hill station. Yercaud is, in a way, the poor man's Ooty, much like elandai pazham being the poor man's apple! If Ooty is the queen of hills, Yercaud is the princess! For the people in the Northern districts, suffering for centuries due to poverty, drought, famine, hunger and heat, the only silver lining is Yercaud.

Yercaud which is 1515 metres above sea level is 333 sq. km in extent. The maximum temperature is 29 celsius only. The population is 32,746 and most of the people are tribals. A number of buses ply from Salem to Yercaud and back. The only mode of travel from Salem to Yercaud is by bus. It takes an hour of negotiating 20 dangerous hair-pin bends to reach the peak.

One is gripped by fear as the bus negotiates the hair-pin bends: one breathes easy only after seeing the greenery on either side of the road signalling the end of travel! It is very scary if one looks down through the window! All along the route, monkeys playing pranks and violet flowers on trees makes one wonder where one is. There is greenery all round - this is a new experience, for the city bred. The forests make one energetic and enthusiastic, like a child.

Yercaud is yet another example of how the British appreciated our natural resources better than us. Yercaud is famous for coffee and pepper in much the same way Ooty and Kodai are famous for tea. The English used Yercaud as a summer retreat and their legacy is all over the place. Rows and rows of houses, much like ants moving in files, dot the entire hills. The number of places to be seen in Yercaud may not be many, but each one of them is really worth the visit.

One of the important places is the Pagoda point. The Pagoda Point, is so known because a number of pyramid-like structures abound here. The Anjaneya temple is believed, by the locals, to be very powerful. One can get a full view of Salem from here. You can go boating for Rs.20. The one kilometre lake is surrounded by trees all round. It is a pleasurable experience to go boating in this lake. Depending on one's budget one can take a two-seater or a six-seater boat. Right on top of the hill stands the Servarayan temple in which Lord Servarayan resides with his consort Kaveri. This deity, the local people believe, is the guardian angel for the 67 villages in and around Yercaud. This temple is inside a cave and one has to bend and go in. People go inside in batches of three.

The cave extends beyond the temple and the locals say it extends all the way to the Kaveri in Karnataka, a distance of 480 km. Very few have explored the full cave. One of the shopkeepers Mathaiyan said, "I have tried going inside this cave once. I could go only 3 km. I did this after a strict fasting for 41 days. After 3 km. it is pitch dark; no ventilation; snakes all over. it is believed some saints, in the days gone by, had travelled the full length. Tippu Sultan was supposed to have hidden in this cave during a war." To the south east of the temple is a very old well and it is a wishing well!

The locals believe if they are able to throw at least one stone, from three picked up from the temple, inside the well, with their backs to the well, they will succeed in whatever they plan to do. If one walks down from the Temple, one reaches Killiyur falls. Water, falls from a height of 300 m. During the rainy seasons, the locals say, these falls are very dangerous. Next to the Servarayan temple is the Raja Rajeswari Amman temple. There is also the Jothi Samadhi ashram. The massive Rajarajeswari idol is installed in a sitting posture, and 4.5 feet tall. One can buy prasad, gem stones and lucky stones. There is also a hall for meditation. One can get a full view of Namakkal and Salem from the "Ladies Seat". The Anna Park is a quiet place to relax.

The British legacy continues in the form of a boys' higher secondary school Montfort. This school is for the elite - the tuition is about a lakh of rupees per annum. The student who comes out of this school is an all rounder. The boys are trained in sports, politics, music, in addition to the curriculum. Some of the celebrity alumni of the school are ex-speaker of TN Assembly PTR Palanivel Rajan and the present hero Vikram.

"October and November are the best months here. Foreign tourists are more during the other months. Since Dassera holidays are in Oct., there a re a lot of tourists from Bangalore. In Nov. tourists from North India visit Yercaud, taking advantage of Diwali holidays. Yercaud is less expensive than other tourist destinations and is preferred by the middle class. By car, the expense is Rs.400 only, for a full tour of Yercaud. Travel guide charges are Rs.150 only - the entire family can tour Yercaud on a budget of about Rs.1000. Tamilnadu Hotel offers rooms at very economical rates," says a tourist guide, Prince.

The annual flower show is in May. Cardamom, pepper, orange are the main crops in Yercaud. Seasonal fruits are produced in plenty. The majority of the local population consists of daily wage-earners in the coffee estates. 30% of the houses were built during the British Raj. The British legacy is there to be seen and felt in a number of places. A number of hotels built to International standards are well ensconced among trees. To enjoy every bit of nature in this hill, the British paved roads and built dwelling units. If the early architects of this hill station were to see the roads today, they would be shocked! The roads are pathetic - full of craters, ill-maintained, uncared for. The only hope is, Yercaud gets its fair share of the Central Government's increased budget for tourism.

The English who returned to their native land, after our Independence, would certainly have felt a sense of anguish and a tinge of sadness at being forced to leave this wonderful place, surrounded by Nature!

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