Chennai to Yercaud: Beating the heat
Even a short reprieve from Chennai’s long and torrid summer can be rejuvenating. So my husband and I decided to recharge with a weekend trip to Yercaud.
An easy drive from Chennai, Yercaud, nestled in the Shevaroy Hills, is only 20 hairpin bends from the base city of Salem.
The neglected sibling of hill stations such as Ooty and Coonoor, Yercaud is the anglicized name for “Yeri Kadu”, Tamil for “forest lake”. It’s a small laid-back town with just a handful of attractions and a lake as a centrepiece.
After the searingly hot plains from Chennai to Salem, we made our way through a winding mountain road, where the air was cooler. The hills were filled with poinsettias, and silver oak trees entwined with pepper vines.
Yercaud was a remote tribal village till Scottish officer David Cockburn, the collector of Salem, established it as a hill station for the British. He visited Yercaud in 1820, introducing Arabica coffee procured from Africa and citrus fruits from South Africa. Christian missionaries set up the Sacred Heart Convent for girls and Montfort School for boys.
We immediately put the pleasant weather to use, strolling through the town, with its colonial-style bungalows, red-roofed cottages and Christian convents with immaculately maintained gardens. We visited the Holy Trinity Church, built by the British in 1834. With stained-glass windows, red oxide floors and a graveyard with tombs of prominent Britishers, it was nothing short of a history lesson.
The Grange bungalow was next on our list. During the 1857 Mutiny, this was fortified with ramparts and cannons, with an underground cellar, stocking enough food for a six-month siege.
Yercaud was also the summer resort for young British recruit Robert Clive. It is rumoured that the weather here made him so homesick that he tried killing himself—the gun, it is said, malfunctioned and didn’t fire.
In the afternoon, we walked around the local markets, munching on corn-on-cob, hot chilli bhajjis (green chilli fritters) and sweet figs with honey. I couldn’t resist buying the fresh mountain produce—mounds of green pepper and gnarled custard apples.
There was time enough to stroll around the lake, filled with swan-shaped peddle-boats. As evening approached, the mist swirled around us, almost obscuring the path ahead. It was time to retire for the day.
The next morning, we explored the local Botanical Gardens, home to hundreds of plants, including rarities like the pitcher plant and the Kurinji flower which blooms once every 12 years. Later, we walked through the muddy trails of a private coffee plantation that our hotel had access to. The owner took the trouble to explain the nuts and bolts of coffee, taking us on a nature trail within the estate, pointing out plants and flowers.
To get a bird’s-eye view of the town, we drove to Pagoda Point, which is at a height of 1,623m. With three neat stacks of stones placed roughly like a pagoda near a temple dedicated to Lord Ram, we enjoyed a panoramic view of tribal villages and hazy blue mountains in the distance.
That evening, we sat around a large bonfire, looking at the vast expanse of Salem, with its glittering sheet of lights twinkling like stars below. Our Yercaud sojourn had indeed been therapeutic—a perfect antidote to the urban jungle.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The author tweets from @KalpanaSunder.