Yercaud is my place to go in the hills when I need to get away. A cozy hill town, it is nestled in the Shevaroy hills amidst coffee plantations and forest and overlooks my hometown, Salem.
Every season in Yercaud is unique- colors of spring, mists and thunderstorms of summer, winter’s clear star-studded skies and always, the cool, pure mountain air. Over the years and over innumerable visits the charm of Yercaud never wanes and a couple of hours in the hills are all I need to feel refreshed.
The Government Museum housed in Stone House, Ooty is a small museum and one of two state-run museums in Ooty. It has a delightful collection of stuffed animals and birds, mounted hunting trophies along with regular exhibits of ancient coins, metalware, rock samples, wood carvings, to name a few. It also showcases artefacts of the tribal communities of the Nilgiris, the Todas, Badagas,Kurumba and Irula tribes with separate sections devoted to each tribe.
The models of Toda hut and temple are interesting with diagrams of the architecture used in building them. This museum has to be seen at a leisurely pace to fully appreciate the exhibits on display. There are some rare and unusual exhibits like bamboo manuscripts which are manuscripts made on bamboo strips, and colorful puppets made from leather and used in traditional shadow play(Bommalaatam, Nizhalaatam).
There is a copper embossed plate with intricate details depicting Sethu Bandanam, an important occurance described in detail by Sage Valmiki in the Ramayana involving the building of a bridge across the sea by the Vanara Sena to reach Lanka and rescue Sita.
Considering the fact that the Ramayana is a documentation by Sage Valmiki on events that happened a million years ago and the Sethu Bhandanam event described in it has been corroborated by NASA’s satellite picture of the bridge beneath the sea, the importance of artefacts such as this copper plate is momentous. The exact period of the copper plate is not known. Parts of it are damaged but the sheer beauty of the embossed plate and the etching of myriad details is fascinating. These are details described by Sage Valmiki in the Yudha Kaanda of the Ramayana.
Sethu bandhanam in epics 2.1. Valmiki10 describes the construction of ‘Sethu’, which was built in a record time of 5 days under the leadership of Nala, the son of Viswakarma, in his Ramayana in 25 verses. Rama asks Nala to construct a dam on the sea to Srilanka, as advised by Samudraraja. Nala agrees and Vanaras who looked like high mountains went in all directions and brought mountain like rocks and stones. They brought trees, either cut or uprooted. The vanara sena uprooted rocks which resembled huge elephants, using machines and brought them to the seashore with the help of carrier vehicles. “The dam constructed by Nala who was as skilled and talented as his illustrious father, looked like milky way” says Valmiki. The joyous roar raised by the vanaras on completion of the dam silenced even the deadliest noise of the mighty ocean.11 92
While the museum, though small is very interesting, Stone House itself is filled with history. Its history is intrinsically connected with the history of Ooty. It was the home that John Sullivan built for himself and his family in 1822, the first European dwelling to be built in Ooty.
John Sullivan, the Collector of Coimbatore set out to explore the Nilgiris in 1819 after obtaining an order charging him to investigate the “origin of the fabulous tales that are circulated concerning the Blue Mountains to verify their authenticity and to send a report to the authorities”.
He first reached Kotagiri where a small British settlement was established. Ooty was still ‘undiscovered’. In April 1822 Sullivan arrived in Ootakamund, bought land from the Todas at ‘roughly a rupee an acre’ and started work on his Stone House so called because it was built entirely of stone, which he completed the following year. It was called Kal Bangala by the tribals, kal being the tamil word for stone.
In a letter he wrote to Thomas Munro,the Governor of Madras, he says, ….this is the finest country ever…it resembles I suppose Switzerland more than any other part of Europe…the hills beautifully wooded and fine strong spring with running water in every valley.
Sullivan established the hill station of Ootacamund, the first hill station of India. Convalescent British soldiers were sent here to recuperate and it became a home away from home of the British community residing in India.He also created Ooty lake by damming a stream to meet the water requirements of the new town.
Most important is the fact that John Sullivan was a progressive and liberal person who insisted that the Todas be given freedom to manage their own affairs. He was called ‘a friend of the natives’.
Sullivan was instrumental in cultivation of fruits, vegetables, barley and tea in the hills. The Ooty we see today is a legacy of this enterprising Englishman.
Stone House with its small rooms and bay windows has stood the test of time, a beautiful legacy of British architecture and British colonial India.
Kolli Hills is a beautiful mountain range located in Namakkal district of Tamil Nadu in South India. Its altitude ranges from 1000 to 1300 meters above mean sea level and enjoys a pleasant, healthful climate round the year. The hills are spread over an area of 440 sq. kilometers. When viewed from National Highway 44 on the Rasipuram-Namakkal stretch, it appears as a flat-topped mountain range.
Remote, untouched by commercialization and retaining its historical charm Kolli Malai as it is called locally seems frozen in time.
Kolli Malai is said to be the exquisite Madhuvanam (the forest of honey) zealously maintained by vaanara king Sugreeva that is mentioned in the Sundara kandam of the Ramayana. The Madhuvanam was a protected grove where there was plenty of honey. Even today, this is a land of tropical fruits, honey and medicinal herbs just as it would have been in the Ramayana period.
It was a land favoured by siddars, the ancient medicine men of Tamil Nadu.
Kolli hills in the songs of the bards
In a distant past dating more than 2000 years ago, there lived wandering bards who travelled across ancient Tamil Nadu and were much respected by kings. They had the freedom to visit any kingdom and write songs on all they saw and observed. Tamil Sangam literature hence comes across as a treatise of gross truth told in a style that is at once blunt and poetical. The Kolli hills have been eulogized and glorified by many of these poets. It has a rich history as the kingdom of Mazhavar and Chera kings, It was a coveted kingdom and wars were fought and kings died trying to defend the kingdom.
Kolli hills are mentioned in these books of sangam literature:
Named after Kolli Paavai, the maiden goddess who guards these hills, Kolli hills still casts its spell on visitors. Much of the area is relatively unexplored and inaccessible, Myths abound and stories are told that are bizarre and spooky. Yes, it is true that a Kolli hills has a reputation. It is the favored destination of astrologers and practitioners of witchcraft and tantric practices. Scattered over the hills are small shrines where the priests will promise to remove all obstacles in your life and solve all your problems for a fee!
But there is much in the Kolli hills that is sacred and beautiful. The people who live here are tribals and are called as Malayalees – people of the mountains. They are a hard-working self- sufficient community with a unique culture that is their own. Aadi Padhinettu in July is the most important festival in the Kolli hills when people from the 16 naadus and from other places come together for week long celebrations.
A Holiday in Kolli Hills
Kolli hills is the place to go for a quiet peaceful holiday sans crowds of tourists.
On visiting the hills you realize that you have just stepped into an amazing world and first visits are always memorable. This is hill country like no other. Thick forests are interspersed with pastoral landscapes, and cosy mountain villages. The altitude and the rivers Aiyaru and Varattaru flowing across the hills, massive jackfruit trees everywhere you go, terraced fields, yes, Kolli hills is beautiful.
How to reach
Kolli hills is accessible from Salem (64 kms) and from Namakkal(24 kms) both major cities on National Highway 44(NH44). Buses ply from Salem, Namakkal and Rasipuram to important villages in the Kolli hills. It is a better idea to rent a car because many of the places to visit in the hills are not on the regular bus routes.
The drive to the hills is lovely, the roads are good. If you are travelling from Salem it is a 11/2 hour drive through a very scenic route.
Route from Salem
Take the NH 44 from Salem. Near Rasipuram, turn left onto the Rasipuram bye-pass which will take you to State Highway SH 95. Turn right on to SH 95 and drive through beautiful farming villages along the Kolli range. Turn left once more at Kaalappa-naickenpatti to go to the kolli foothills village of Karavalli. The 28 kms Ghat Road begins at Karavalli. and the most amazing drive up the mountains with stunning views and 70 sharp hair-pin bends, a real challenge for drivers and biking enthusiasts. Enjoy the paintings of the Sendhamangalam Highways department along the way depicting stories of famous kings of ancient Tamil Nadu.
Solakadu is your first stop and also one of the highest points in the hills. Stop for a steaming cup of the locally grown Arapalli coffee. The tribal shandy is right by the roadside and is a must visit place for buying exotic fruits and spices and other mountain produce. Just opposite the shandy, within the premises of the Highways Bungalow is a viewpoint with breathtaking views.
At Solakadu you can choose the places you want to visit from the prominently placed signpost. There are a lot of places to visit in the Kolli hills.
A word of caution – Once you exit Solakadu, there are very few signposts along the way so ask the locals for directions when in doubt to avoid going around in circles! Many roads seem the same on the hills and can get quite confusing.
Where to stay
There are very few resorts in the Kolli hills. The oldest is the Nallathambi resort. You can book cottages of the Kolli malai Panchayat in advance. These are located in Semmedu. Another place to stay is the youth hostel near the Arapaleeswarar temple.Alternately, you can stay in Salem or Namakkal and visit the hills.
Bring packed meals and snacks when you come because there are very few good hotels or eateries. If you plan to stay longer than a day the best thing would be to ask the locals to prepare food for you.
Which Tamil Nadu hill-station gets its name from the lake at the centre of town? Yercaud, of course! This little hill town was called Eri-Kadu because of the forests around the lake. Eri-lake and kadu-forest. We locals still say Yerkadu when we speak of this laid- back hill town near Salem.
The lake is the first sight that greets you once you have negotiated 20 hair-pin bends on the lovely drive on the oh-so-beautiful hill roads and enter the hill town.
Once you have arrived in Yercaud, the lakeside is a good place to spend time.
Go boating on the lake, relax on the lawns by the lakeside, enjoy the cool breeze and the beautiful scenery, and try out the tasty street food in the many eateries near the boat-house.
TTDC run boat-house opens at nine in the morning and closes at five- thirty in the evening. It is the most popular place for tourists coming to Yercaud and can be quite crowded in summer.
You have a choice of pedal-boats, motor- boats and row-boats.
Yercaud lake is the only natural lake where you can go boating among all the lakes found in hill-stations in Tamil Nadu.
Gently down the lake!
A word of caution- the lake is really deep, so just sit back in your boat and enjoy yourself (let life pass by, literally)!
The row- boats come with the mandatory boatman which is good from the safety perspective. Personally I prefer the row- boat even if there is some waiting for the allotted boat. There is something very therapeutic about the splash of oars striking water, trailing your hand in the cool lake , taking in the panoramic views as the boat moves down the lake and a chat with a friendly boatman!
Late in the evening, when the boat-house has closed and the crowds have left, take a walk on the road by the lake. It’s very peaceful and across the lake, big stars hang low in the black sky over the dark silhouette of a hill. See the stars reflected in the mirror-like water. Feel the cool pure mountain-air, breathe deeply and watch your cares fall away.
The healing beauty of nature is part of the magic that is Yercaud.
A colonial outpost of the British in India, Yercaud was ‘discovered’in 1820 by David Cockburn, (M D Cockburn) the Scottish Collector of Salem District between 1820 to 1829.He is remembered as the Father of Yercaud as he initiated the development of these hills. In 1820 he visited Yercaud and introduced the cultivation of Arabica coffee procured from Africa along with fruit trees like pears and apples.
Plantation life first started in Yercaud before it was taken up in the Nilgiris.
A chronological series of remarkable events in Yercaud in the British era.
1820 – David Cockburn, the Scottish collector of Salem known as the Father of Yercaud introduced coffee, pears and apples.
1827 – First survey of the Shervaroyan hills was completed.
1836 – Mr.G.F. Fisher, a German purchased the Salem Zamin. He was the first and only Zamindar in Madras Presidency. The area of his zamin was 1, 25, 000 acres.
1866 – David Arbuthnot, collector of Salem granted land for coffee cultivation to a large number of Englishmen.
1872 – Ghat road (from Salem) work was started.
1903 – Ghat road (from Salem) work was completed.
1917 – Montfort school was established.
1918 – First motorcycle to reach the Shevaroys. It was owned by Fr. Capell.
1920 – Ghat road became motorable and the first (steam engine) bus service was operated by NS.
1925 – The first commercial transportation was the Sydney Dyer Lorry Service introduced in 1925. The fare was Rs. 6 per adult uphill, Rs. 5 downhill and Rs. 3 for children.
1926 – The first gramophone and 35 mm hand driven magneto projector to reach Yercaud.
1928 – The first wireless radio imported by Bro.Octavian on December 17th 1928
1928 – The first wind and aero pump was installed in Montfort school.Similar wind driven pumps also worked at the Ornamental Lake and Emerald Lake.
1930 – Electricity became available after the completion of the Stanley Reservoir at Mettur in 1929.The first electricity connection in Yercaud was subscribed by the Montfort school.
1930 – A cinema hall called the White and Green Palace started functioning behind Western Stores
1931 – The first motor car in Yercaud was owned by Mr. C.D.Rile and reportedly burnt down by angry locals at Grassy Banks Bungalow, Yercaud.
The second car was owned by Mr. Medra and the third by Mr. Sydney Dyer.
The photos show the periphery map of the Shevaroys and a map of Yercaud. They can be seen outside the Anna Park near the Big Lake.
Bougainvillacovered much of these tall trees and shone in the evening sun.I could’nt resist taking these pictures.Perhaps they would have looked different without the sun on them.Hope you like them.
Summer has come early to the southern states in the Indian Sub – continent and it is time to think of cooler climes.
Yercaud Journal is a record of my visits to Yercaud, one of the most beautiful hill stations in Tamil Nadu, India. Flip through its pages and be enthralled by the magic of the hills. Yercaud is called The Jewel ofthe South and it is one of my favourite and beloved places, one which I never tire of visiting.
A beautiful little hill town in the hills of the Shevaroy ranges of the Eastern Ghats in South India, Yercaud is in the state of Tamil Nadu, at a height of 4970 feet above mean sea level, (1515 metres).
It can be easily reached from Salem by a hill road that has twenty hair-pin bends and is one of the most scenic roads in Tamil Nadu.
The distance from Salem is 27 kms, roughly an hour’s drive,IFyou do not give in totemptationto stop along the way to admire the scenes, the clouds, the mist, the beauty that Mother Nature has chosen to bestow on the many hills you pass on the way up!
The Nearest Railway Station is Salem
The Nearest Airports are at Trichy and Coimbatore.
It is true that the hills are alive!
As the road takes you higher and higher up from the plains of Salem, as the warm air changes to a cool breeze, you will feel your spirits uplifted, you will find yourself leaving all your cares behind, at peace with the world and yet with the thrill that comes of knowing that in the following hours or days you are going to enjoy yourself. By the time you reach Yercaud, you are once more a child –