Yercaud. It is a small tourist area set amidst the misty mountains, rocky terrain and picturesque valley. The place is like a breath of fresh air from the chaotic city life. You will never see another human being if you do not wish to. There are no sounds except for chirping of birds and rustling leaves.
That is all you will ever see if you stick to the villa you had rented and after a day, you begin to crave for the outside world, that noise you are so familiar with, running engine and chaos. So to kill the boredom and in a desire to see another face, you hire a cab and let the native take you around the town.
The rundown maroon Qualis that traversed the rough plains with ease and the driver who knows the path like the back of his hand were a great company indeed. He took us to the same tourist spots that he was used to taking other tourists. Servarayan cave temple, Lady’s seat, a place to buy souvenirs and finally boating near the deer park before we could wind up. These places of course were not interesting but what was were the tidbits about Yercaud he shared.
Yercaud has a population of 1.2 lakh people, mostly tribes, in 75 small villages. Majority of them work in coffee and yelakai plantations, owned by rich here. Some like himself work as tour guides during season times. Coffee is one of the major crop in Yercaud. A look at history will tell you that coffee was first cultivated on the “Grange Estate” in 1820, when coffee plants were brought from Africa to Yercaud by MD Cockburn. Other crops that grown are jack-fruit, oranges, guava and spices like black pepper and cardamom. You will see sandalwood and silver oak trees in plenty as you drive around the hilly area.
When you are travelling it is hard to miss small cave temples that dot the pathway. Our first stop was the Servarayan temple. Given that Yercaud is a hill, concept of cave temples is not foreign. We went to one, the famous Servarayan temple. The temple, situated in Shevaroy hills at a height of 4800 feet, houses Lord Servarayan and Goddess Kaveri and is the tallest peak in Yercaud. The temple was simple and modest as we expected it to be. We had to bend down quite a bit to reach the karyagraha. Lamps were the only source of light in the temple. Beyond the statues was a tiny but dark pathway. The temple priest, a man in his late forties, explained that it was a secret pathway that leads to talakaveri (source of the river Cauvery) in Karnataka. “It was created during the period of King Krishnadevaraya, who like any other king made the secret passage for the time of emergency,” the priest added. The cave is not in use now. One has to literally crawl for some distance before the cave widens. The priest said, “Since there is not room for ventilation, it is difficult to survive inside the cave.”
After the visit to temple, it was a long drive through the scenic town of Yercaud. I loved the slow pace of the town, the lethargy and lively town centre. Tiny houses perched on hills, narrow lanes and doll-like small shops selling candies to clothes to souvenirs near them fascinated me. It was hard to miss the missionary hospitals, houses and convents, with French name on them. I wondered if there were any connection with the French in Pondicherry. I could not find any literature on them, so I let it go.
There were flower shops and plenty of perfumeries too. The driver, lets name him Saravanan, said it is because of the plethora of herbal plants in Yercaud. When we visited one of the perfume factory outlet, Bhavani Singh Perfume factory, we saw first hand the range of perfumes made in Yercaud. There was musk, jasmine, rose, lily and eucalyptus. Eucalyptus was apparently tourists’ favourite though I liked musk better. In fact Bhavani Singh was a freedom fighter, who started the perfume factory in 1931 here and going by the current administration it is still being run by the family. Apart from perfumes, the shop sells coffee and home-made chocolates.