ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY visit the erstwhile colonial outpost of Yercaud to discover scenic viewpoints, laid-back charm and plantations that predate the Nilgiris
As we negotiated the 20 hairpin bends from Salem, a mild drizzle broke the stillness of the large emerald lake ringed by dense trees. We were looking at the two most distinctive features of Yercaud that gave it its name – yeri (lake) and kaad (forest). The British cleared large tracts for coffee, pepper and orange estates and the Tamil name was spruced up to Yercaud. Perched at 4,500 ft in the Shevaroy Hills of the Eastern Ghats, Yercaud is often dismissed as Poor Man’s Ooty, but plantation life first took root here before spreading to the Nilgiris! Its unhurried pace is perfect to curl up with a book or do nothing, but the lemon-sized hill station can be squeezed for its share of fun – boating, hikes, quad biking, plantation trails, stunning view-points, gardens, parks and more…
Yercaud was ‘discovered’ as a hill station by Scottish planter and District Collector of Salem (1820-1829) MD Cockburn. He visited Yercaud in 1820 and introduced Arabica coffee procured from Africa. After building a small bungalow called The Grange, he completed the first full survey of the Shevaroy Hills by 1827. The earliest coffee plantations and fruit orchards can be found in Grange Estate and leisurely walks are a great way to explore this legacy.
Most sights are scattered around the lake in the heart of town. Just 2km south past Hotel Shevaroys and Sterling Resorts, is Lady Seat or Suicide Point. At sunset, the waters of Mettur Dam shimmer like glass in the distance. On higher ground are Gents Seat and Children’s Seat with a view of the lake and Yercaud town. Roughly 4km east of the lake is Pagoda Point, mispronounced by guides as Pakoda Point, and earlier called Pyramid Point after the stone cairns dotting the area. It’s a good place to catch the sunrise and the viewing tower overlooks a Rama temple and a tribal village in the valley. North of the lake past Anna Park, the road leads to Kiliyur waterfalls. Public transport is limited and the sights are scattered, so it’s best to hire a cab.
Unique museum hotel
Lake Forest, a colonial heritage hotel is built around the historic coffee estate East Lynn Farm that belonged to Ms. Henrietta Charlotte Rosario, a lady from Brazil. Her old bungalow Rosar Villa still stands amidst the 60-room hotel beautifully renovated by Indeco Hotels. Adding to its charm are wrought iron furniture, rare collectibles and a foyer adorned by unusual relics.
The site of The Grange bungalow was the first camping place of the British. As a precautionary measure during the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, it was fortified with ramparts, gun placements and cannons with enough food in an underground cellar to last a 6-month siege. Today, the castle-like structure is part of the privately run Grange Resorts. It is rumored that Robert Clive came here as a young recruit and Yercaud’s weather made him so homesick of England that he tried committing suicide, but the gun didn’t fire!
For a rush of adrenalin in a seemingly quiet retreat, head to 3-road junction (en-route to Pagoda Point) for quad biking and rides in All Terrain Vehicles at Grange Resort’s private course. Choose from short rides for kids under expert guidance to longer jaunts for adults on undulating terrain.
Enjoy gourmet cuisine with a view of the twinkling lights of Salem from the swanky restaurant and bar at GRT Nature Trails Sky Rocca. Located at the 20th hairpin bend and hugging the contour of a hill, the resort is a sprawling stone structure across multiple levels with stunning views all around.
Bell Rock at Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden (2.5 km north of the lake) houses the country’s third largest orchidarium. The 260m long Orchid Trail showcases 25,000 sets of plants and can take hours, depending on one’s interest. Apart from the Pitcher Plant and Kurinji flower, the prime attraction is the unusual Bell Rock, which emits a soft tinkle when struck. A short uphill climb leads to the unassuming rock atop boulders with telltale signs of stones hurled at it. Entry Rs.3, Camera Rs.10, Video Rs.300, Timings 10am-1pm, 2pm-4pm
The steep mountain road to the highest point in the hills offers a great vantage and a breathtaking 360-degree view. The tribal temple of Servarayan (5326 ft) nearby gives the hill range its name, anglicized to Shevaroy in due course. Outside the cave shrine is a tree festooned with offerings tied in cloth bundles.
For a longer drive, take the Loop Road past Rajarajeshwari temple to Bear’s Cave and Norton Bungalow in the middle of a private plantation. Continue to Kaveri Peak and return via the villages of Vellakadai, Manjakottai and Kommakad back to the lake.
Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 31 May 2012 in Conde Nast Traveller online.