Misnamed the Poor Man's Ooty
The coffee is not an indigenous plant. Where did it came from?
Coffee was introduced into Yercaud from Arabia in the 1920s by Mr. M. D. Cockburn, then Collector of Salem. Yercaud is a small hill station perched on the Shevaroy Hills in Salem District of Tamil Nadu.
Surrounded on all sides by hot plains, the Shevaroys are a range of hills on the Eastern Ghats which rise steeply to 1624 metres (5,410 feet). The entire range, encompassing 67 tribal villages, covers an area of 384 sq. km. The total population (according to 1991 census) is 36,863.
The original inhabitants of the Shevaroy Hills are the tribals living in the 67 tribal villages. They are known as “Malayalis”, which in Tamil means “Hill Tribes”. Very little is known about the history of the “Malayalis” - from where they came, why and when.
One popular legend is that in the late 1700s, led by one Shevarayan, a group of farmers, from the banks of the Cauvery River in the Krishnagiri-Dharmapuri area, fled to these hills to escape the ravages of Tipu Sultan's invading armies and settled down on the Shevaroys. Thereafter, these hills came to be known as the Shevarayan Malai (“Malai” means Hill in Tamil). Later, Shevarayan Malai was anglicized to “Shevaroy Hills”.
So far the present Yercaud is concerned, it was discovered by Mr. M. D. Cockburn, then Collector of Salem. Cockburn visited Yercaud in 1820 A.D. and put up a small hut which is now known as Grange Estate.
During the revolt of 1857, the building was fortified into a castle like building and is an important landmark today.
The Ghat road to Yercaud was sanctioned and work started in the 1850s. But work was stopped in 1857 due to the Indian Mutiny. Work on the present Ghat road from Salem to Yercaud was started in 1900 and the road was opened for motor vehicles in 1903.
However, the first motor car was brought up much earlier in a packing crate, assembled and driven around the Loop Road. After completion of the Mettur Dam on the Cauvery River in 1929, electricity came to Yercaud in 1930 and supply was extended to other Tribal Villages after 1970.
During 1820 to 1829, Mr. M. D. Cockburn, introduced coffee from Arabia and apples and other fruits from South Africa. From here, coffee spread to all over the Nilgiris.
Coffee grows well on slopes at altitudes between 900 metres (3,000 feet) and 1,500 metres (5,000 feet). The mild temperature between 13C (56 F) and 29 C (84F), moderate rainfall between 1,270 mm (50") and 1,524 mm (60") distributed evenly between the Southwest and Northeast Monsoons and the high elevation on the Shevaroy hills combine to provide ideal climatic conditions for the production of high grade Coffee.
We visited a small coffee estate adjoining Yercaud. The red coffee berries were beautiful to look at, but had no taste. One has to peel off the thick skin to get to the coffee beans. But the fresh beans are slimy. They have to be washed with water to get rid of the slime. I tasted the raw beans. They had no taste. They have to be dried and roasted to turn them into the coffee seeds we use for making coffee.
The centre of attraction is the lake. Surrounded by gardens and trees, the lake has a lovely fountain, installed by Madras Aluminium Company Limited, throwing up spurts of water. But the unimaginative advertisement on the fountain really hurts the eyes. Why Madras Aluminium Company Limited could not put a more subtle, more befitting advertisement, I really do not understand!
You can do boating in 4-seater row boats, peddle boats, or in the newer swan shaped peddle boats.
This is a lovely garden near the Lake.
Governent Orchidarium (2 kilometres)
If you are fond of plants or nature, you should visit the Orchidarium.
The Loop Road
The 34 kms. long Loop Road was traced by an Englishman Mr. Surgeon in 1824. It starts and ends at the Lake, covering several tribal villages including Yercaud, Nagalur, Semmanatham, Vellakadi, and Manjakuttai. A drive on the Loop Road is most enjoyable.
Shevarayan Temple (7 kilometres)
The Shevarayan Perumal Temple is perched high up near the summit of the highest peak of the Shevaroys at 1,624 metres (5,410 feet). The view from outside the Temple is panoramic and all four sides of the Shevaroys Range are clearly visible
The Shevarayan Perumal Temple is located inside a natural stone cave. The presiding deity of the temple is Ramar (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu) with his consort Cauvery Amman.
On the Southern most edge of the North-South ridge is Cauvery Peak from where on a clear day, you get a magnificent view of the Mettur Dam and the Cauvery River, located some 50 km. away.
A Temple Festival is held in May every year. It is a very colourful event with the "Malayalis" from all the 67 villages of Shevaroys attending it.
Lady's Seat (1.5 kilometres)
This point overlooks the winding Ghat road and provides a breathtaking view of the plains and the town of Salem. The view is spectacular at night with the twinking lights of Salem. You can have a panoramic view of the plains below through the telescope mounted at the Lady's seat.
Gent's Seat (1.5 kilometres)
This is another point just above Lady’s Seat overlooking the winding Ghat road.
Pagoda Point (5 kilometres)
Pagoda Point is another vantage view point.
Kiliyur Falls (7 kilometres)
This 1,000 metre (3,000 feet) high water fall is situated amidst picturesque surroundings, but you have to walk a few kilometres to reach it.
The Retreat (1.5 kilometres)
This institution was started in 1945 by the brothers of Don Bosco and serves as a Novitiate House where students of the religious order stay and study.
Educational Institutions (1 and 1.5 kilometres)
The Montfort School and the Sacred Heart Convent are the two famous educational institutions at Yercaud imparting education mainly to boys and girls respectively.
Montfort Anglo-Indian Higher Secondary School was founded in 1917 by Rev. Bro. Eugene of the Montfort Brothers of St. Gabriel congregation founded by Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort of Brittany, France. Louis Marie Grignikon de Montfort was canonized a Saint in 1947.
Originally started for the sons of Europeans in the military, civil, plantation and other services, the first Indian students were admitted in 1928.
Montfort has grown into a premier boarding school in the country with 850 students studying from Standard III to Standard XII and has the most state-of-the-art facilities in academics, sports and other extra -curricular activities. Girls are admitted to Standards XI and XII.
Sacred Heart Convent, Yercaud (SHY) was founded in 1894 by Sister Valdebert Kelly and Sister Gertrude Banz of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Cluny founded by Sister Anne Marie Javouhey in France in 1812. Sister Anne Marie Javouhey was beatified in 1950.
In 1894, several residents of Yercaud were given lessons in English, French, Music, Painting, Singing and Embroidery. Soon an English-Medium School was opened and initially both boys and girls were admitted. Now, the school has grown to over 400 Girls from Standard I to Standard X and has become an exclusive girls school renowned for its academic excellence, all round development, extra and co-curricular activities. SHY celebrated its centenary in September 1994.
Accomodation is available from the Star class to affordable budget class.
The climate is uniformly cool and pleasant throughtout the year. The temperatures range from a maximum of 30 degrees Celcius to a minimum of 13 degrees Celcius.
Light cottons with a pullover or some other light woollen in winter.
The nearest airport is Tiruchirapalli 180 km. away.
Other airports are Coimbatore 195 km. and Bangalore 265 km. away.
The nearest railway station is Salem Junction - 38 km. away.
There are a number of trains passing through. Among the most convenient trains to and from Chennai are the overnight Yercaud Express and the daytime Kovai Express. There are also a number of trains from Cochin, Trivandrum, Mangalore and Bangalore.
Salem 36 km. Chennai 355 km. Bangalore 265 km. Hogenakkal 145 km.
There are frequent buses from Salem. Bus services are available from Chennai and several other important points.
For no rhyme or reason, Yercaud is often called the poor man’s Ooty (Ooty or Ootachamand is the most popular hill station of Tamil Nadu). But it is as enchanting and picturesque as the other two hill stations of Tamil Nadu.
It is easily accessable - just a one our drive from Salem. And certainly is the cheapest hill station. But things are changing. More and more tourists are pouring in. Estate prices are rising.
On the Ghat road to Yercaud, you will see numerous Rhesus monkeys sitting on the roadsides waiting for tit bits. There are Coffee estates and plantations growing pepper, citrus fruits - mainly oranges, bananas, pears and jackfruit. There are plenty of Silver Oak and other trees. Once upon a time, there were Sandalwood trees, too.
Trekking, bird watching and sheer lazying around could be some of the most pleasurable ways to spend a vacation. You will come across numerous types of plants and flowers.
For a one day excursion, Hogennakkal (100 km. from Salem) is the place. Here, you can do boating in saucer shaped country boats and row right into waterfalls. But Hogennakal should be visited either on the way to Yercaud, or on the way back.
(1600 words) Binoy Gupta