We had joined Club Mahindra holidays and had to utilise our 7-day complimentary vacation during the off-season. Komal would not be able to accompany us as she had just started her articleship, and it was the busy season at her chartered accountant firm. We would have to leave her behind in Pune to fend for herself, and it would be just Geeta and me; on one more honeymoon.
So, where to go? It would have to be one of the ClubM destinations which Komal would not mind missing. It would also have to be easily accessible by train, as I did not want to drive in the rainy season. Finally we decided on Yercaud, which was a hill-station just 32 km from Salem, an important rail junction in Tamil Nadu.
We got reservation at Club Mahindra's 'Lake Forest' resort for the first week of September quite easily. Remember, it was off-season. I also managed to book 2-a/c sleeper berths on the Trivandrum Express, after checking the availibility on the net. The to-and-fro train fare was Rs.5775 by 2-a/c sleeper for both of us. We were ready to go.
I did some reading-up on Yercaud and it's surroundings, and thought it would be nice to spend one night at Salem, and visit the steel plant there. But I did not make any advance reservation at a hotel in Salem.
September 1, 2008. Monday.
We got a rickshaw from home at 2.45pm to catch the 1550hrs Trivandrum Express from Pune Station. Reached the platform within half an hour just as it started to rain. The train was coming from Mumbai and we had to cross over to PF # 4. We had lashed our luggage onto a trolley but it wasn't easy to pull it along the crowded overbridge.
The train departed at 4pm. For the first two hours we had the 2-tier a/c cabin to ourselves. Then a Malayali couple joined us. They were going all the way to Trivandrum and had boarded the train at Mumbai.
For dinner we had home-made alu bhaji and chapati, and were in our berths by 9.30pm swaying to the movements of the train and falling asleep. Geeta had exchanged her upper berth with Mr. Raju and so she was directly below me.
Around 8.30pm we passed Solapur, which was the last major station in Maharashtra.
September 2, 2008. Tuesday.
The train first crossed into Andhra Pradesh and we were in AP all through the night, I think. Around 11am we were in Karnataka state. The terrain here is very rocky with big boulders strewn about. There were some hills which looked as if God had piled up huge boulders to make a big mountain of loose stones, and they would all come tumbling down if you dislodged one of the boulders.
Around 12 noon we were approaching the outskirts of Bangalore, and we were halted for 1 hour outside Krishnarajapuram. I had brought along Sudha Murthy's book - 'The Old Man and his God', and started reading it near her home-town.
The train arrived at Salem around 4.15pm (15min late). It took me some time and enquiring to find out that there was a subway (and not an overbridge) to come out of the station. A drunken old man guided me to the subway.
We took an auto to Hotel Tamil Nadu only to find out that there were no rooms available. Mr. Vijay (my namesake) with whom I had spoken from Pune, and who had assured us of an A/c room had disappeared. So, after having idly-coffee at their restaurant, I phoned Hotel TN at Yercaud and told the lady on the line to keep a room for us there.
Auto from Station to Hotel TN (Salem) was Rs.80, and from the hotel to the New Bus-stand was Rs.30. Buses to Yercaud were available every half hour. We let the 5.30pm bus go as it was already full, and caught the 6pm bus. We had to pay only Rs.32 (Rs.11 per pass and Rs.10 for luggage), which was quite a saving we would have had to pay for a taxi from Salem to Yercaud.
HAIR-PIN BENDS LEAD YOU UP FROM SALEM TO YERCAUD
I met one Mr. Kailash in the bus. He works at Lake Forest and was surprised to learn that we were coming to his Hotel. He was quite friendly and helpful and told us where to get off at Yercaud near Hotel TN. After a twisty bus ride (lot of hair-pin bends) of an hour and a half we dismounted opposite Hotel Tamil Nadu (the state run chain of resorts in Tamil Nadu) and wheeled our baggage up to the reception in 5 minutes.
Two types of rooms were available; Cottage (Rs.770) next to the lake, and Double (Rs.315). The latter looked a lot cosier, and the cottage was not good enough to command such a premium, so we settled for the cosy one. Anyway it was just for one night.
We had dinner at the restaurant. Geeta had noodles, and I had spicy chicken masala with chapatti. The menu was very limited, but the rates were reasonable.
September 3, 2008. Wednesday
Geeta joined me for an early morning walk. We walked along the lake and past the Anna Park then turned left and walked along the fencing enclosing Lake Forest Resort on Pagoda Point road. For breakfast we went back to the Hotel TN restaurant. Geeta had toast-butter (Rs12) and I had ‘pongal’. Pongal is a kind of flavoured rice accompanied by sambar and chutney.
After breakfast we came back to Hotel Tamil Nadu for a relaxed morning followed by a hot shower.
There were cycles available for hire behind Hotel TN, besides the lake, and I decided to try out a mountain bike. The hire charges were Rs.50 for 1 hour, and Rs.30 for ½ hour. I careened down the Kiliyur Falls road, which was all steeply downhill. After 10 minutes of this I turned back, because the road was too steep. In spite of having a geared bike, I had to wheel the bike all the way back.
YERCAUD LAKE: CENTRAL ATTRACTION.
Boating charges were Rs.70 for pedal boat for half an hour, and 15 minutes for a row boat, but self rowing was not allowed.
After lunch it was time to move to Hotel Lake Forest. Since we had to move with our luggage I had earlier fixed up with an auto-man to report to Hotel TN at 2pm. We thus shifted our residence at Yercaud for Rs.25 only.
Moving from Hotel TN to Lake Forest was like climbing up the social ladder. Lake Forest is literally set in the midst of a forest, and coffee and spice plantations. It seems more like an estate in Kerala, rather than the Eastern Ghats of Tamil Nadu. There was a boulder jutting into our room, and a tree going through the tiles of the roof in the veranda. There were easy chairs and a set of recycled bus seats for sitting out in the veranda and enjoying Mother Nature. There were placards outside each room telling us to let the ‘creepy crawlies’ have the right of way.
OUR COTTAGE AT LAKE FOREST RESORT
LIVING ON A COFFEE PLANTATION
After an afternoon nap we went for a walk around the lake. Had a plate of fruit salad, consisting of papaya and pineapple, at a lakeside stall.
Back at Lake Forest there were huge mosquitoes getting ready for their night hunt. We could brave their stings, sitting in the quadrangle for only 15 minutes. I wondered how the group of Gujjus who had just arrived from Tirupati with their shaven heads, could tolerate the nasty mosquito stings.
We went down to the restaurant for dinner at 8.30pm, for which we had already placed the order an hour back. We had mutter paneer (Rs.60), dal tadka (Rs.60), alu paratha (Rs.50), three chapattis (Rs.60) and green salad (Rs.50). The food had a homely taste.
After dinner it started to rain, with lightening and thunder. We sat huddled in our room listening to the thunderstorm outside, and the clatter of big raindrops on the roof. The sound and light effects were like those of a National Geographic wildlife TV program of equatorial Africa, with the croaking frogs adding to the background music. By the time we had snuggled into bed it was a heavy downpour outside. At around 3am I took a peek outside to see the water pouring onto the dripping leaves, and could hear the croaking frogs trying to drown the gentle pitter-patter of the falling rain!
September 4, 2008, Thursday.
Awoke at 6.30am and crept out of the room. It had stopped raining and the sun was peeping out from behind the trees and everything had a freshly washed appearance. The frogs were still croaking and as I sat listening I heard one loud croak from behind a rock hardly a metre away. After peering around I saw a slight movement in one of the plant pots. It was a tiny frog, not bigger than a lemon. It had a bloated throat and every time it croaked it’s throat ballooned even more.
We left for a walk at 7am. We walked uphill, past Hotel Shevaroy’s, the Yercaud bus-stand, and up to the famous Montfort school. On the way back we stopped at Hotel Selvam for breakfast. Steaming hot idlis were served on a banana leaf (Rs.7 for a pair with delicious sambar and chutney). We had two teas, three plates of idlis, and two cups of coffee, all for only Rs.49!
After a bath we decided to do some sight-seeing. We fixed up with an auto-man, who took us to the Shevaroy temple which was about 6km away, at the highest point of Yercaud (5326ft). There is a small cave temple which you have to enter in a crouching position (I still bumped my head on a rock). The temple is dedicated to the local deity.
On the way to the Shevaroy temple, we stopped at the Botanical Garden and the Raja Rajeshwari temple. The botanical garden had a lot of orchids, and a specimen of the carnivorous pitcher plant. But the garden itself was not very well maintained and a bit overrun by weed like plants.
We had lunch at Hotel Malar, which we thought was attached to Hotel Shevaroy, being in the same compound. But the food was lousy. Peas masala and Chana masala were dunked in the same readymade masala mixture. We vowed never to come to ‘Malar’ again.
After lunch we casually walked into the campus of Shevaroy which is one of the prominent hotels in Yercaud. They had two restaurants. ‘Red Dragon’ is an exclusively Chinese restaurant, and ‘Silver Oak’ is a multi-cuisine restaurant. Besides there was a beauty parlour, a health and fitness centre, and a children’s entertainment enclosure called ‘Magic Mountain’.
We picked up some vegetable patties and buns from the Shevaroy bakery, walked back to our room and had tea, which Geeta made with the mini heater, accompanied by the patties and buns. We then went for an evening stroll in Anna Park, followed by fruit salad (papaya and pineapple) at the lakeside stall.
We decided to have dinner at the Lake Forest restaurant again. This time we ordered Chinese food – veg noodles, veg fried rice and stir fried vegetables. The last item turned out to be nothing but onion pakoras. Dinner bill damages were Rs.215 (inclusive of VAT which is only 2% in Tamil Nadu state.)
September 5, 2008; Friday.
This morning I walked along the Hospital road which is next to Hotel Shevaroy. There were nice bungalows and cottages along this road. The road emerges beyond the bus stand and Yercaud town.
After a breakfast of buns and patties, we walked down to the lake and hired a pedal boat (Rs.70 for ½ hour) and took a round of the lake in the water. It was around 11am and being cloudy it was quite pleasant. There were no other tourists on the lake at this hour, being off-season. Geeta then tried out a bicycle, but the roads in Yercaud are too undulating to go cycling too far. The only option is a round of the lake, which would hardly be more than 2km in circumference.
We went for lunch to the ‘Silver Oak’ restaurant at Hotel Shevaroy and ordered mushroom masala and yellow dal with three parathas for Rs.250. The food was reasonably tasty and the quantity was good, we had to stuff ourselves to finish it.
We were too full for dinner, so after my evening walk I went back to Shevaroy’s bakery and picked up some egg and vegetable patties, and bananas from the lakeside fruit vendor, and that’s what we had for dinner sitting cosily in our room.
September 6, 2008; Saturday.
This morning I went for a walk along Pagoda point road and came back along Hospital road, an hour long walk. On the way I passed ‘Green Fort Hotel’ and ‘Grange Resort’. These two hotels and ‘MM Holiday Inn’ are at some distance away from Yercaud town, and have a forest-cum-plantation setting.
We had breakfast at Hotel Selvam for the second time. It has a homely Tamil ambience and you get served on a fresh banana-leaf plate. You have to ask for the cutlery if you don’t want to eat with your bare hands. A breakfast of idlis and coffee cost us only Rs.34.
After a late bath, we started trekking to Lady’s Seat point which is about 2.5 km away from Lake Forest. It is the ‘must-see’ point of Yercaud. We reached the point at 1pm after trekking for an hour. From Lady’s seat point you get a bird’s eye-view of Salem town, the magnesite mines, and the surrounding areas. I paid Rs.5 to look through the telescope, but didn’t see anything spectacular as it wasn’t a very clear day. The telescope keeper pointed me in the direction of the Salem steel plant but all I could see was a haze. It could have been the fumes from furnaces or just a heat haze, I wasn’t too sure which.
To our right nestling along the cliff-side we saw the spectacularly built ‘Sterling Resort’. They had a fantastic setting; the green painted dwelling units seemed to be attached onto the cliff-side, with each room having the same view as from the Lady’s Seat point. It’s said that after nightfall the twinkling lights of Salem make it look like an enchanted fairyland! All the rooms are built to have this view, and some rooms have terraces for you to sit out on. The vertical distance from the lowest room to the highest must be about 100 metres. We couldn’t help walking into the resort for lunch.
BUILT ON THE CLIFFSIDE. STERLING RESORT AT YERCAUD.
They have a good restaurant serving both buffet (on weekends only, during the off-season) and a-la-carte meals. We had a very spicy ‘vegetable Chettinad’ with nan and roti and soft drink for Rs.150.
LUNCH AT STERLING'S RESTAURANT. EATING THE SPECTACULAR VIEW.
A little above Lady’s Seat and Sterling is the ‘Gent’s Seat’ point. It has the same view, but from here you can clearly see the water body which is the ‘Mettur’ dam in the far distance, on the Cauvery river.
We started our slow trek back feeling a bit tired and lethargic after lunch, skipping the Botanical and rose gardens on the way down (to see on another day), and were back in our rooms at 3.30pm for a long snooze followed by a quiet evening.
September 7, 2008; Sunday.
This morning I walked towards a village named Kommakadu, which is down a road turning right after the passing the Lake. There was a stream running alongside the road and it was a pleasant experience.
After breakfast we set out for the famous Montfort School. It is open to visitors only on Sundays. We walked along Hospital road and first went to the resort called ‘The Grange’. It is one of the oldest resorts in Yercaud, and is set in the middle of a huge plantation. The rooms are all laid back cottage style, surrounded by lush greenery on all sides. They even have a swimming pool, but it is operational only during the summer vacation.
We placed order for lunch, which we were informed would take one hour to prepare. That was perfectly fine with us because it gave us a chance to explore the beautiful estate. Our long walk had made us very thirsty, so after sharing a cold drink we set out to loiter around ‘The Grange’.
The cottage rooms were surrounded by thick greenery and had an almost jungle-like setting and a very peaceful and soothing atmosphere. The main structure at the estate is imposing castle-like building, built in the 1820’s by M. D. Cockburn, who was the district collector of Salem at that time.
Lunch was like a home cooked meal. We had pulao, dal and thick curd.
Montfort school has one of the best campuses for any school in India, with large play fields and imposing buildings. It would be a dream come true for any student to study here. The Hindi movie ‘Rockford’ is supposed to have been filmed here. I took a number of snaps of the campus with my old film camera.
It was a rainy evening so we stayed in the room and had dinner at Lake Forest. We had to pick from the buffet menu for our a-la-carte meal, so we had vegetable jalfrezi with phulkas and koshimbiri, followed by gulab jamun.
September 8, 2008; Monday
‘The Retreat’ is a Christian theosophical school situated further ahead from Montfort school, and I took a morning walk up to its gates. When I returned Prince, the Club Mahindra representative at Lake Forest, advised us to visit the church and precincts at the Retreat as it’s worth a visit.
After breakfast we first walked to the perfume shops located near the lake. They had all types of locally produced perfumed oils. Their citronella oil was particularly tempting. However the products were not really cheap so we didn’t buy anything.
Then we took a rickshaw to Pagoda Point after negotiating the to and fro fare down to Rs.120. This Point gives a bird’s eye view of the villages surrounding Yercaud.
We returned for lunch to Hotel Selvam. It was a traditional vegetarian meal eaten on a banana leaf. They served 3 vegetables recipes, rice, sambar and papad for Rs.35 per person.
In the evening I attempted walking to Hotel Grand Palace, which is located opposite TTDC, but it was a stiff climb and getting dark at around 6.30pm, because of the mist and drizzle, so I turned back before reaching the plateau on which the Hotel was located.
We had Chinese dinner at Lake Forest. Veg fry rice, veg noodles and veg Manchurian cost us Rs.215.
September 9, 2008; Tuesday
This morning I walked all the way to Lady’s Seat and back. After breakfast we took a rickshaw to Montfort and then walked to the ‘Retreat’. It has a beautiful campus with a huge lawn, at the end of which is a look-out point with a view as good as that from Lady’s Seat Point. On the right is a hillock which looks like an ‘elephant head’ where I took the last snap on the Canon AV1 film roll camera. After this I stared using the canon digicam for all snaps.
We entered the church which has a painting of Jesus and his eyes are looking at you in whichever part of the room you go to.
After visiting the ‘Retreat’ we walked to the Horticultural garden and the Rose garden near Lady’s seat. We had lunch at Sterling Resort for the second time, and were back to our room at 4pm.
For dinner we had ‘adraki alu gobi’ with chapattis.
I settled the Hotel bill before going to bed as we had to check out early next morning.
September 10, 2008; Wednesday
We checked out of our room at 7.30am. I had made arrangements with Mr. Vijay Auto yesterday and he arrived 10 minutes after calling him on his cell. He took us to the Yercaud Bus Stand (1.5 km uphill) for Rs.30, and we caught the 7.45am bus to Salem quite comfortably. From the New Bus Stand to Salem Junction station was Rs.50 by rickshaw.
We were waiting on the platform from 9.30am to 11.15am for the train to arrive. We ate some delicious idlis (Rs.2.50 each) and wadas (Rs.5 each) for breakfast while we waited for the train. It was one of the best ‘value for money’ breakfasts that we had on this trip! After breakfast we relaxed for an hour in the upper class waiting room.
On the platform I seemed to have lost my sense of direction, and couldn’t figure out from which side the train would arrive. Finally, after looking for the sun, asking the Station master, and looking at the incoming trains I got back to my senses and walked to where the 3rd bogie from the engine would halt.
After adjusting with a co-passenger we got two aisle berths and were quite cosy together. With the curtains drawn it was almost as if we had our own coupe. I think the aisle berths are more private than the main berths if just the couple is travelling.
The views from the window were quite scenic with overcast skies and lots of greenery along the way. The irrigation from the Mettur dam had made the countryside quite fertile. The rocky hills along the way broke the monotony of a flat country, and there were plenty of coconut and banana plantations interspersed with other crops.
Around 4pm we reached Bangalore city where the train reversed its direction of travel. From being in the third bogie we were now in the third last bogie. It took quite a while, about 2 hours, before we were completely out of the big city of Bangalore.
Our lunch and dinner on the train consisted of patties and buns which we had bought from the Shevaroys Bakery. We got tomato soup with crotons at around 1pm before lunch and enjoyed sipping the hot soup. We were hoping for the same before dinner, but waited for it in vain. We had our buns for dinner and snuggled into our bunks for a jerky night’s rest. The soup-wallah came the next morning at breakfast time!
September 11, 2008.
We arrived at Pune Junction at 10.30am.