Monday, April 5, 2010

Serene Yercaud

Yercaud is a small hill station in Tamilnadu. It is about 300 kms from Bangalore, near Salem. It seems somewhat challenged with respect to size, abundance of amenities and sophistication compared to a few other better known places. But this very fact has drawn me to Yercaud always. Apart from its natural beauty I like its serene and non-commercialized environment.

This trip was during a long weekend at the end of February. As usual we over estimated our abilities by planning to start by 5, but finally didn't do all that bad when we started off by 6 AM. The roads were newly laid and great to drive on, except the occasional toll gates that needed to be crossed. We had breakfast on the way near Krishnagiri. There's a decent place near Krishnagiri flyover if you turn towards Pondicherry from there. The place is mostly populated by some local guys and truck drivers. But food was not bad. (Or were we hungry?)

We reached Salem by 10 AM. Overall the drive till Salem was smooth and pleasant. The ghat road starts from near Salem and continues for another 40 kilometers till the town of Yercaud. This being beginning of summer, the hills looked dry and bereft of greenery. But I otherwise remember the ghat roads as lush green and lined with beautiful flowering trees. The monkeys on the road side were there as always, probably more in numbers this time because some more of their natural habitat would have been destroyed.

We had booked our stay at a place called the 'Grange Resorts'. Finding it took a little bit of effort as it is slightly away from the main marketplace of Yercaud. But being away from the crowd was what I like and this place was perfect for me. The staff understand and speak English well. They have small comfortable cottages on a patch of land from the estate, sprouting irregularly like wild mushrooms. The Grange estate adjoins the place where the cottages are. There are real old mansions in the estate built in the 18th century. A tourist attraction till some time back, they are now closed for tourists as the owners stay there themselves. A short walk from the cottages leads through a well laid path to a place where one could see the old mansions.

Day 1:

By the time we checked in and freshened up, we were hungry and starving. We rushed to "The Shevaroys", a hotel and restaurant that is most referred to in Yercaud. It is large, has two restaurants (one Chinese and another Indian) and a separate bar. There is a large convenience store and an ice cream parlor adjacent to it. The parking space is ample, but beware of occasional functions being held in it's facilities when it becomes full. After a filling meal, we came back to our cottage for some heavenly sleep.

The evening was spent in this place called "Lady's Seat". It is a spot at the edge of the cliff from where one can watch the splendid sunset and the valley below that is the city of Salem. There is a telescope point and ample fresh fried snacks to spend the evening. Monkeys are abundant and it is real fun to watch their antics. The young monkeys are extremely active and playful. The larger monkeys are deft , fearless and very protective about their group. Be careful with the monkeys if you have food or small children with you. They want the food and see the children as potential competitors for the food.

Little ahead from the Lady's Seat, further towards the peak, is another viewing platform called the "Gent's Seat". And a bit further from there, near an adjacent park is yet another spot called the "Children's Seat". So there is place for everyone, you see!

The Gent's seat is relatively flatter and provides a better view. But true to its name, it is also a bit desolated and the local guys come there in the evening to enjoy a drink or two. If you are a large group, you can probably hang around there long enough till dark to watch the beautiful twinkling lights of Salem, vehicles moving on the winding ghat roads, and the moon.

Yercaud town sleeps early, and it is prudent to have an early dinner. We drove back to the Shevaroys again for dinner before retiring to bed in our cottage.

Day 2:

We had a good breakfast at the resort. They provide both South Indian breakfast (like Dosas, Idlis, Vadas) and also bread, omlette, corn flakes with milk. We drove up to the Shevaroyan Temple. The Shevarayan Temple is a narrow cave atop a flat hill. We had to bend down and walk through the narrow cave to enter into a wider room with idols of Lord Shevarayan and Godess Kaveri. The panoramic view from the hill top was breathtaking.

Back at the town, we tried another smaller restaurant near the lake for lunch. The food was OK, but the ambiance was not to our liking. We then visited the Montfort School. The school is pretty old, established in 1917. The facility available for sports is amazing - vast play grounds for all kinds of sports - tennis, basketball, cricket, badminton and volley ball, a large swimming pool, a horse riding club, and a zoo. The campus is clean and well maintained.

The evening was again spent watching the Sun set behind the mountains at Gent's seat. The crimson hues are breathtaking. Find a quiet spot to sit and watch the setting sun. It has a very calming effect.

Day 3:

We got up early to watch the sun rise. Pagoda point was nearby, a couple of kilometers. The early morning walk from Grange Resorts to Pagoda Point is nice. It was a Monday and the place was totally deserted. We were the only people there. The sun rise was beautiful, and the calm surrounding was just the perfect combination. It felt nostalgic of the sun rise we had experienced atop Kumara Parvata few weeks ago.

Back at the resorts, we had a filling breakfast and started off to visit the orchidarium maintained by the Botanical Survey of India. It was a disappointment, poorly maintained and not well presented. A nice cool place to roam around and spend some time though.

The third day was our last day at Yercaud. We checked out just about at noon and headed back towards Salem. On the way back we caught sight of some of the places we had visited earlier - The Ladies Seat and Gent's Seat - from the ghat roads.

There was a very colorful Shiva temple on the way down. There was no priest around at that time, so we just sat there for some time before resuming the drive. We were at the Salem city by noon, where we had a nice Biriyani meal before heading back towards Bangalore.

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