memories of family outings.....


Lake in The Woods.

A four day engagement took us to "Steel City" Salem last week. Though barely 210 kms. from Bangalore, via NH 7, Salem was a Hotplate to Bangalore's Aircooler clime, thanks to a summer that had set in early and in right earnest too. Being three quarters surrounded by high mountains does not in any way cool down this bustling industrial town ( Salem is famous for Steel,Textiles, Sago , Bauxite, Silversmithy and Mangoes). The name Salem is derived from Shailam , meaning "Mountains".

As the prospect of spending 4 days there did not seem so inviting, we headed to the nearest hills, from where we could easily come down for the two functions that needed attending.

Located 1515 meters above sea-level in the Shevaroy Range of hills in the Eastern Ghats, Yercaud is a small wooded (" Kaadu") hillstation clustering around a Lake (" Yeri"), tagged as "Poor Man's Ooty ". Climate here is moderate throughout the year, neither unbearably cold in winters nor sultry in summer.
The Coffee, Cinnamon and Orange plantations created by the British in mid 19th Century were instrumental in creating the present township in the hills which had, until then, sheltered only nomadic tribes and seasonal pilgrims to the Cave Shrine at the summit. Today 66 mountainous villages come under the Yercaud Municipal Limits.

25 minutes out of Salem city limits, we were climbing up the dark green hill range. But the woods were dry, dusty and droopy, betraying an urgent need of a good shower. Having gained some height, we could get a panoramic view of the city on one side, melding into large flat tracts of brown and russet, dotted with bald offwhite hillocks . These little hills, apparently, are the debris excavated from mines - Magnesite, Bauxite,Limestone, Iron Ore . It was a bit disconcerting that not much of green could be seen anywhere upto the hazy horizon.
Two things made the short uphill journey , along 20 Hairpin Bends, interesting.
One : numerous, lively troops of monkeys . Always an exhilarating experience to watch their antics.
Two : the sign boards planted all along the road, in profusion. Boards cautioning against reckless driving and promoting eco-friendliness . Some were prosaic . Some waxed lyrical. Some were amusing. ( "Plastic is Drastic" !!!!) . At the 16th. Hairpin Bend, was a stunner : Red lettering that fairly barked like a stern headmistress : " You Are Given Enough Warning ". Wonder whose cheeky idea it was ! After that, the sign boards thinned out. I guess the Road Dept. just got fed up of planting cautionary notes. If anyone still wanted to drive rashly, he was welcome to commit suicide !
By the 18th. hairpin bend, the woods started looking a bit more glossy and cheerful, as the air became perceptibly nippy. Many wild shrubs were in bloom. Glorious splashes of red, orange and yellow.
This is the region where the plantation estates begin. Most still retain European names.

There are many fancy resorts and spas in Yercaud, with more coming up. We checked into "The Shevroys" , one of the older guest houses, with huge old gnarled trees surrounding the rooms and cottages. Interestingly, a school of Hotel Management also functions within the premises and on the second day of our stay, eager students, togged up in black suits and ties were lining up for a campus recruitment drive in the Conference Centre. Other than that, the only life we kept running into in the vast compound were the dozen geese, turkeys and cockerels lording it over the common area.

The centrally located BigLake has the mandatory boating facility,( with the inescapable swan shaped boats too !) but, no walkway around it. The lake could do with some dredging and weeding. Saw some huge machines parked at the farther end; perhaps work is in progress. In the adjoining "Deer Park", less than five deer ruminated distractedly on sparse meadows .
Having heard about the Orchidarium run by the Horticulture Dept, we asked around for directions to it. Strangely, no on seemed to know what it was. Not the cabmen, nor the shopwallahs nor the Concierge. Dropped that plan and drove up a dirt road looking for the much touted "Ladies Seat" view point. It was a disappointment - ill kept, filthy, with a non- working telescope . We had seen better "views" from the hill road itself ! After this, we dint dare venture in the direction of the other notified View Points -" Gents Seat", "Children's Seat", "Arthur's Seat" and "Pagoda Point".
The Rose Garden, near "Ladies Seat" had innumerable rose plants, but due to the dry weather, they all looked straggly and quite forlorn. Were we visiting in the wrong time of the year ? Wonder why they did not use sprinklers ?
At "Anna Park" , we were fooled by a huge notice board that announced close to 12 attractions including a butterfly park , musical cascade , rock garden and a Japanese Garden. No butterflies, no cascade , lots of un-gardenly rock and an abandoned project with stone lanterns, convex bridge and stubby shrubs that could have turned into a nice Japanese landscape if only the municipality had persevered. When questioned, the park keeper replied sheepishly that the park was yet to take shape, but the notice board was put up to beguile a passing politico ! And we paid Rs.10 per head to get fooled !
The best outing was to The Shervarayan Cave Shrine, at the highest summit. The road was great, the jungle was lush and the view from the top, just stunning. The shrine is a dark, cool, narrow cave which can only be entered by crouching low. (A modern stone and brick porch has been built at its entrance). A row of Nandis lining the left side of the cave wall made us expect a Lingam at the end . But the small stone idol of Shervarayan was Vishnu. Beside him was Goddess Kaveri. These two are the guardian deities of the whole mountain range. A pleasant surprise : A Priestess , not a Priest, did the Deepa- aarati.
Had there been time to spare, we would have visited some heritage buildings - a 19th.Century Collector Bungalow , Missionary Retreats and Planter's Lodges. A local even suggested we should visit the Montford School, because it has Star Value, having appeared in movies !
Saw some interesting looking plants and flowers, both wild and cultivated. Among them , one flower that looked exactly like a mottled brown duckling ! Most tall trees play host to pepper vines with bunches of green pepper hanging like ornaments.
Browsed around a tiny shop selling organic and ayurvedic cosmetics and liniments, all made locally from ingredients grown right there. Smelled sample after sample of essential oils till the nose started twitching with olfactory overload !
Home made chocolates, very similar to the ones sold in Kodaikanal and packed similarly too, are found in most shops.
Yercaud ( the spelling still smells of British Raj !, why not 'Yerkad' ?) is a fine place to relax, walk, read and commune with Nature , breathing clean, crisp air.
One regret was , missing the celebrated Kiliyur Falls. My companions were either unfit or just unenthusistic to undetake the cross country trek through the pebbly jungle path that leads to it. Next time, with some like minded company, hope to make it !


Photos courtsey : Subbu, Appu.


LG said...

You paid 10Rs to get fooled :(!! That is sad. Zeebra Lilly and Orchid photos look beautiful.

Team G Square said...

This is in my hit list for a long time , i Hope this year i can make it to here . Thanks for the wonderful description of the place .

Rajesh said...

Trip to Hilly region from Salem looks like wonderful experience. Drive through hair pin bends is exciting. The images of flowers are beautiful.

Kamini said...

This was a trip down memory lane for me - it's been decades since I last visited these parts.
It was interesting to read about how these names came about - I had no idea!

JC said...

Hi Yossee, Best Wishes for a Happy Mahashivaratri to you!

Of course, all lakes surrounded by mountains that provide drinking water to animals could be visualised as models of Kailash-Mansarovar Lake that's associated with Shiva & Parvati since time immemorial...
The description brought to my mind my first visit to Ninital in the Fifties...

ahmedabadonnet said...

liked it...