Any tourist to Yercaud will try to cover at least some of the many sites that are part of a general tourist trail. I visited a few of them and these are my brief thoughts on them:
- Lady’s Seat – A dirty spot crowded with men and monkeys. The view of the hills is spectacular but it is difficult to enjoy the view.
- Gent’s Seat – A much quieter place that Lady’s Seat with a wider view and just as spectacular.
- Children’s Seat – On the same hill as Lady’s Seat and Gent’s Seat with an equally spectacular view. The bus station on the hill the other side of the valley is visible. In all these views, it is notable that many slopes are tree plantations. We can only imagine this place before the days of the British Raj, when original tropical forests would have covered in thickness the hills of Yercaud. Yercaud has its share of coffee estates but these are not as extensive as in Coorg.
- Rose Garden – Arranged on a slope with plants set within neatly trimmed green hedges. Not many roses were in bloom.
- The Lake – A busy place in general and at the heart of the town’s tourism. Vendors line it with their wares and services. Visitors can hire boats (2 or 4 seaters) which they can pedal in leisure across the lake. The lake is clean by Indian standards but I still managed to see a couple of locals washing their clothes at the far end of the lake.
- The Parks – Many parks surround the lake. When I wanted to enter one of the parks, I was asked for an entry fee of Rs 2. They didn’t have change for Rs 10. I thought I will back later when I had that change but I never did. These parks are generally fun for kids and those who come in groups but nothing to occupy a solo visitor that I was. I was bored. The fact is that all these parks are ornamental and rigid. They lack true beauty. There is no art in their making. There are made by gardeners who follow certain rules by the book, gardeners who lack creativity, gardeners who are not artists.
- Pagoda Point – This can be reached in an hour by a brisk early morning walk before the sun is out. The view from here is spectacular. A village of about 20 houses is nestled in the valley below. The village is surrounded by hills. The view continues to farther valleys and hills beyond the limits of Yercaud.
- Kiliyur Falls – This can be reached in under an hour on foot by road. From the road you have to descend by a flight of rocks. They are just starting to build a proper flight of steps. I didn’t actually go down to the falls since I could see only a meagre flow all along the walk. The walk is relaxing and the views are good but don’t go looking for the falls.
- Viewpoint from the bus station – You can barely see the lake and Children’s Seat from here. At the lake you the tourist face of Yercaud. From here you see real Yercaud. It is a place of poor folks who live without clean water or proper sanitation. After sunset, when the lights of town glow through the darkness and the town seems to quieten in the departure of day tourists, it is a place to relax for a while.
This time of the year Yercaud was pretty dry and hot. After sunset it cools quickly and it can get quite cold in the early hours before sunrise. It is said by locals that the town is not as cool as it used to be.
Yercaud represents one of the classic cases where capitalism has failed. Quarrying is done on these hills. Many hills are being cleared to make way for resorts, hotels and theme parks. Tourism is growing in Yercaud at the cost of environment, the exact reason why people like to get away from the cities. While Yercaud develops in this manner, the basic needs of locals get left out. While many do benefit from tourism, the fact is that civic amenities are lacking. There is no public toilet to be found. It is doubtful if there is a system of garbage collection and disposal. Open sewers run in every street. This part of town is not visited by tourists. At best, tourists pass quickly in their cars to high vantage points without exploring the real backward village of Yercaud.
On my walk to Kiliyur Falls, I met Dhanarajan, a 72-year old villager who grows daisies on his farm on these slopes. His village is a few miles beyond Kiliyur Falls. I met him by chance yesterday evening. I could not visit his farm because it would be too late for me to return to town. Dhanarajan employs a few people on his farm. He goes to Salem everyday to sell his daisies. On average he makes Rs 500 everyday, fairly good money for an average Indian villager. On days of good demand, such as weddings and festivals, he can make Rs 1000. His sons and daughters, all married, live in Salem. Even his wife lives in Salem. They have embraced modern ways of living while Dhanarajan prefers his quiet village air, Yercaud’s cool climate and his daisy farm. He lives alone and this is the lifestyle he likes. When he was a boy, he left school at ninth standard to join a film studio in Salem. There he worked for 23 years. Needing a change of lifestyle, he bought 6 acres in these hills, quit his studio job, moved to Yercaud and since then he has not looked back. He told me a little more about what’s happening to Yercaud.
A group of five “parties” have purchased about 10 acres of land in these hills. They have started a project worth Rs 60 crores. The land is being converted into a theme park with bars, restaurants, swimming pools, parks, chalets, paved paths and woods. The unspoilt wonder of Yercaud is slowly being lost. The only good thing is local employment. I saw other slopes being burnt to the ground. The land has gone into the hands of a new owner. They say that the new owner is likely to start a plantation but no one is sure. Dhanarajan regretted that many estates are derelict. They used to be owned by Britishers who abandoned them after 1947. Many trees in such estates have been lost to logging.
An important fiasco is to be observed right at Pagoda Point. A group of 67 2-storey houses have been built by Tamil Nadu Housing Board as part of “Small and Medium Towns Project”. These were built about ten years ago and today all of them are abandoned, overgrown with weeds and in total dereliction. I entered one of these houses. The construction is good and so is the design. There is style and appealing elevation. Ground floor has a porch, a living room, a bedroom and a kitchen. First floor has another bedroom with an attached bath and a wide balcony. All rooms are well-lit by natural light. The main reason, perhaps the only reason, why these are abandoned is that there is no water. These houses are on a slope that climbs to Pagoda Point. Even bore wells may not yield much unless they are deeper than usual. I was informed by one man that each house is on the market for Rs 10 lakhs.
Before leaving Yercaud, I visited Kottachedu, a village an hour from here by bus. I went there just to see young teak forests that have been planted on the slopes. Teak trees are impressive the way they reach for the sky. Their ambitions are bold, straight and tall. I took the same bus back from Kottachedu to Salem via Yercaud.
A strange thing happens as the bus leaves the village of Kottachedu. The bus stops. A temple priest enters the bus with a brass plate. Camphor is burning on it on a bed of red sindur. He does an arati of a garlanded portrait of a goddess. Passengers don’t even leave their seats to be blessed. The blessings of god are not sought but given. God comes to men even without asking.
From Salem there are frequent buses to Yercaud, arriving there in just about 90 minutes. You can get off at the lake or get off about a mile later at the bus stand on top of the hill. These two are the main centers of Yercaud.
Basic accommodation is available near the bus station. Resorts are generally further away from the town center. I tried to get a dorm bed at Hotel TamilNadu but it was fully booked. I then get a room at Hotel Select for Rs 300. Not worth the money but I had no choice on this busy May Day weekend.
Two places are highly recommended – the restaurant at Hotel TamilNadu which offer excellent buffet lunch for Rs 51; Malar Restaurant which on the way to the bus station from the lake. At Malar Restaurant I had excellent rotis with vegetable kurma.
Plenty of walks are available to known tourist spots. These are generally 2-3 hours long if one follows the road. It’s shorter to get to Pagoda Point from the town center than from the lake. Longer walks on dirt tracks are likely to need a guide or an adventurous spirit with preparation.