Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Yercaud - Queen of Salem

Yercaud Lake

Salem

This journey was waiting in the queue for a long time. Yearcaud is a hill station located close to Salem in Tamil Nadu. We passed through Salem very often; could have took a detour during any one of those journies. However, life don't work the way we expect it to work! That detour never happened…. Yet!!! 

Salem City



Recently Divya's cousin's - Athira's - husband (Jithesh) was transferred to Salem from Bangalore. He works in a public sector oil company and get transfers once in every three years. In a way its good; as one can see different parts of India and her vibrant culture. Three years is enough to get to know the place and see all her beauties. At the same time, for family its too difficult. One just reached a city; found some home to settle; learn the local language; built friend circle; kids were admitted to a good school; and bhoom!!! Company send you transfer order. Now pack up and go to another place; by the time one become comfortable there company send another transfer order. Life become a series of pack-up, unpack and then pack-up again. By the time this series ends, one may reach close to their retirement age.

Agriculture market, Salem. A view from top


However for us, this created an ideal situation. We could split our journey to Kerala to two and take a break at Salem to visit them. On a Friday night we started the journey; usually there won't be any work meetings scheduled for Friday afternoon, evening or night. In fact many people I know keep Friday afternoons free of meetings. Leaving Bangalore city limits - except at midnight - is always a problem. Hence we left Bangalore in the late night and cruised towards Salem.

From Bangalore, Salem is just 4 hours away. For me the roads are very familiar. In the past whenever it was difficult to get a train ticket, I used to hop on a SETC bus going to Salem. Salem is a major junction in Tamilnadu, from here one can get buses to a lot of places in the state. From Salem, I hopen on to a nonstop bus going to Coimbatore. By the way, if you reach Coimbatore too early, then you may end up waiting a long time to get a bus to Palakkad. If you reach Coimbatore's Ukkadam bus stand close to sunrise, then its easy to catch a bus to Palakkad. When SETC started 3.33 service from Bangalore to Salem; I switched my Salem journey to 3.33. In case you didn’t see the bus, then you may be wondering what is 3.33. It's the time they promise the bus will take to reach Salem from Electronic City (last stop in Bangalore) - three hours and 33 minutes.

After leaving the busy bees behind Athibelle, we swam through a web of lorries. Those huge vehicles moves very slowly and often spread across the lanes. Rules like slow moving vehicles keep left are not applicable here!!! Hosur, Shoolgiri, Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri, Thoppur, Omalur and Salem. In between we stopped only once, at 12:00 sharp to cut the cake for my Birthday. Unfortunately it was a place where there was hardly much light; but whatever was there was enough to cut blueberry cake precisely and to eat that as well !!! As Bhima told Arjuna in MT's 'Randamoozham', hand always know where the mouth is and how to reach there! I read that book long back - a wonderful book by the way; hence my translation may not be exact. I hope you got the idea!!!

It was not difficult to find out Ahira's apartment. There were more food waiting for us and mid-night didn’t bother me from taking a dip on that as well. Anyway, time to sleep.

Yercaud



We woke up very early in the next morning. Well, I might be a little exaggerating about the word 'early'!!! After breakfast, Athira was very eager to show us the city from the top of her apartment complex. So we went up and looked around; it was a nice view. Athira told that, Salem city is surrounded by hills. I looked around and then checked the map. Indeed it is!!! City has Nagaramalai on north, Jarugumalai on southern side, Kanjamalai on the western side, Godumalai at the east and Shevaroy Hills at northeast. South-west was guarded by Kariyaperumal Hills. Our destination - Yearcuad - is in Shevaroy hills.

Soon we said good bye to Athira, Jitesh (Athira's husband) and started our journey towards Yercaud. Mostly, we went through rurban (rural + urban) areas and reached the foot hills. From here the ascent starts. Fortunately, this time we never ended up behind any big lorries. I always liked to drive slowly in hill stations without much vehicles either in the front or back. There are around twenty plus hairpins on the way to top. Each hairpin is named after a famous Tamil personality - Sangam era kings, literary icons and freedom fighters. Unfortunately all names are written in Tamil only. Here is the list of hairpin names which I grabbed from another article,

1. Kavichakravarthy Kamban
2. Avvaiyar
3. Thiruvalluvar 
4. Ilango Adigal
5. Kabilar 
6. Paranar 
7. Mahakavi Bharathiar (Subramania Bharati)
8. Ramalinga Adigalar
9. Cheran Senguttuvan 
10. Karikala Cholan
11. Vallal Paari
12. Pandiya Nedunchezhian
13. Dheeran Chinnamalai
14. Cheran Senguttuvan 
15. Velu Nachiyar
16. Veerapandia Kattabomman
17. Thagadoor Adhiyaman 
18. Vanchinathan 
19. V.O. Chidambaram Pillai
20. Tirupur Kumaran 
21. Subramania Siva

After crossing the hairpins one after the other, we finally reached the top. In between we stopped at one place which provided a magnificent view zig-zag road we came so far.
 
Our plan was to visit all major view points and do some boating in the lake. We thought of going to Lady's seat first and then visit the rest. However, we missed some turns here and there and ended up far from Lady's seat. To make the situation better, we changed the plan and decided to visit Pagoda point first. Well, we didn’t like the place much; may be it was because of the fog which blocked the view. Next stop was at rose garden; that also was very different from what I imagined. However, it offered a place to sit for some time and do nothing. Sometimes that is what we really needed!!! Time moved slowly…

Lady's seat was near by and we covered that distance on foot. The view was good, but place was full of monkey's and eateries. We hardly spend fifteen minutes there and left. Genetic heritage garden and Gent's seat was nearby but there was hardly any excitement left. We skipped both and went straight to hotel. After lunch it was boating time. Lake was crowded but we got a pedal boat quickly. In front of us there was a couple and it looked like they never wanted the boating to end and they took the longest possible route. We just circled the lake; escaping the shock waves from motor boats and went back to the jetty. Boating along with hot tea at jetty was nice but over all the trip so far was less than satisfactory.



Still hours of sunlight left on that day and rest of the plan didn’t look interesting. What to do next? We started going through the blogs of people who visited the place earlier; re-read many and read some new one as well. Not that interesting. However, I came across an article where someone mentioned their experiences about staying at an estate. It was not about Yercaud, but Yercaud is also a hill station and there should be some coffee estates. Does any of them offer safari? I started searching again and found one estate - Tipperary. To try the luck we went there.

Sun was slowly moving towards western horizon and there were some dark clouds. Ignoring those we went to the estate premises and enquired about trips. They told, they can arrange one but we need to pay for the entire vehicle. They charge per vehicle. Ah, no one waiting in the queue for sharing and even if we wait no one was going to join. This problem I encountered very often in the past. In solo trips, in many places, where they charge per vehicle I had to wait till it gets filled up. In Jabalpur, I went along with a very big Bengali extended family. In Kanha, the operator told me to go along with small Bengali family and not to tell the driver that I am not with them. Driver didn’t ask and I didn’t tell either. Later, I always thought why that guy who arranged the gypsy told me like that? Probably the family might have paid for the full jeep and I also for myself (single separately) and he may not want to split the additional profit with driver. I don’t know, just guessing.



Anyway here we told yes and waited for the vehicle to came. Meanwhile they offered us Tipperary's complementary special coffee and told us about its special taste. I didn’t find anything different with that coffee. May be because, I like tea much more than coffee. I like black coffee a bit but not a big fan of coffee as a whole. During this time we strolled through the place, there was an old colonial bungalow. As per Tipperary's website that colonial bungalow was built around 1900 by the family of Charles Dickens. 


Old banglow at Tipperary



After a while the vehicle came- it was a 4 X 4 Toyota Hilux. Soon we left the colonial banglow and moved forward. After a while the vehicle left the blacktop and took left; it was a rough road and even Toyota struggled to move forward in the steep angle. After taking some sharp turns there the vehicle was stopped on top of a hillock. From here one can see the entire place very clearly - it was indeed a wonderful view. Probably the best one in the entire journey. After spending some time here we returned and hit the blacktop again. Road was narrow but devoid of any potholes. After a while we took another turn to a muddy road. This time to Tipperary's coffee plantation. In Toyota driver sat in the front and we selected the large open back to stand. This vantage point offered a very good 360 degree view. The experience of chilly wind mixed with smell of coffee plant hitting the face was really a good experience. Toyota jumped up and down in that uneven muddy road; after couple of turns we reached next view point. From here one can see all the way down and numerous groups of small concrete buildings faraway.


Driver (cum guide) told us about the plants and how big entire estate really is. He also showed us some coffee verities and told that, most coffee beans of very high quality are marked for export. This sentence, I heard numerous times in the past. Good quality is always paired with the word export. Does it mean, we in India always get second class? Well you know the answer. India is one of the most price sensitive markets and majority are not willing to spend extra for high quality coffee (high quality of anything for that matter). Anyway, that is topic for another day.

After taking one more look at that arabica coffee plant we jumped back in to the Toyota. By the time we reached next view point, there was hardly much light left. However, it was enough to locate a bison group roaming freely at a distance. Guide told that, bisons were frequently located at that view point as well. In forest, bison is probably one of the most overlooked animals as most people often search for deers, tigers and elephants. If one take a careful look, bisons too look majestic with lot of row power stored in those big muscles. Indian male bisons weigh between one to one and half tonnes; females weigh around 700kg to a tonne.


Night wiped out last traces of the day and we started our return journey to colonial Banglow. Tipperary offers some more activities like trekking(with guide) etc. However, our plan was to levae Yercaud next day morning. Hence we left that place to have some hot snacks in the lake side. From there to hotel. While sleeping, I tried to build a mental picture about the stories our Tipperary guide told us - Norton's banglow, bear caves etc. How the place might have looked like in the beginning of the last century.

Next day(Sunday) early morning we went to Sunrise point. There was hardly any vehicle on the road; fog was thick and visibility was very low. After some time we reached the entrance of a large ground called sunrise point. There was a guy standing at the gate to collect parking fee. I wonder why they collect parking fee, its just and open ground with a circular road! 


Near to the entrance there was a small observation tower; nothing fancy. Further down there was a temple (yet to open for the day), then a view point. We continued walking; there was old transmission antennas and a small building in the middle of that ground. Finally reached a place which don’t have any hinderence to view sunrise; slowly sun was coming up and started showering us with light. Couple of four wheelers were parked here and there. Some bikes were parked at one end. In a remote end a group were playing songs in portable speaker. We continued walking; by this time sun teared down the last remaining traces of night and made the fog disappear. Slowly mercury started rising and we walked towards the exit and left the place.

Sajeev




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