Keep aside a weekend from your Indian holiday for the lesser-known town of Yercaud. This South Indian hill retreat offers scenic drives, with pretty pitstops along the way. By Mary Ann Issac
Picture a weekend spent traversing winding roads through rolling hills and lush green valleys. Imagine de-stressing amidst nature to the symphony of chirping birds and buzzing insects, taking early morning walks through coffee plantations and practising yoga in the wilderness. Now imagine waking up to the aroma of freshly-ground coffee, feasting your eyes on views of a night sky dotted with a million stars, and the glittering lights of the city mirroring them on Earth.
When you are perched 4,970 feet above sea level, amidst the plantations of Yercaud in the Shevaroy Hills of Tamil Nadu, this is a reality. Located just an hour away from Salem, Yercaud makes for a quick break from city life. It’s known to have pleasant weather all year round, owing to its high altitude, but a visit here during monsoon is especially beautiful, when the surrounding hills are wrapped in a thick blanket of mist all day long.
Yercaud is reached via an exciting drive through the 20 hairpin bends of Loop Road, during which beautiful vistas of lush green hills whoosh past you, and red flowers bloom in every nook and cranny as if to break the monotony. Welcoming you into their home-turf, with curious eyes and seemingly smiling faces, are troops of monkeys that await the arrival of tourists by the side of the hilly roads. It is a heartwarming sight to see the infants clinging onto the mothers, as they languorously people-watch or jump from tree to tree.
Most of the hills have been converted into coffee plantations, with some spice farms and fruit orchards in the mix. As you ascend, the vegetation changes from centuries-old wild trees to fruit trees swaddled in pepper vines and bushes of coffee plants. The drive to Cauvery Peak—one of the highest peaks in Yercaud, through narrow roads flanked by coffee plantations and towering trees leaves you wanting more.
The Cauvery Peak Estate, a popular coffee plantation in Yercaud was assigned to a European planter named E Joachim, by the British in 1867. He gave the estate its name because of the view of River Kaveri (or River Cauvery) meandering below. The estate is now with the Rajes Family who took over in 1957. The tour of the plantation and factory helps visitors understand the seed-to-bean process. The tour can be done in your vehicle or on foot, and costs around INR 400/USD 6 per person. It pays to keep an eye on the trees, for the plantation is home to many rare species of birds, but it is also smart to watch your step, as reptiles hide in plain sight here.
Another drive that shouldn’t be missed is through the forest and plantation roads of Shevaroy Hills, which takes you to the Shevaroy Temple, the highest point in Yercaud (5,326 ft). A picturesque drive along the 20 hairpin bends of loop road leads you Yercaud.
The temple offers panoramic views of the rolling hills and the city below. This 2,000-year-old cave temple has two presiding deities—Servaraya Perumal, considered God by the 67 villages of the Shevaroy Hills, and Goddess Kaveri, the divine incarnation of the River Kaveri. Legend has it that this cave extends over 400 kilometre, till Talakaveri in the neighbouring state of Karnataka— the supposed origin of the River Kaveri.
The facade of the temple is no architectural marvel, unlike most temples in Tamil Nadu, and has a low roof that requires you to bend down whilst entering. However, it’s a functioning temple that is of great significance to the locals. Visitors may not be allowed inside if the temple is crowded with devotees. The temple festival here in the month of May is colourful and celebrated with gusto by devotees arriving from near and far, and can be a great initiation into the temple culture.
The Big Lake, the beating heart of Yercaud, is serene during the early hours of morning. But as the day wears on, it becomes the epicentre of activity. Pedal boats and motor boats dot the lake. Along the shore, the smell of fresh corn on the cob, omelettes, and instant noodles prepared by local vendors draw in the crowds waiting for their turn on the boats. Typical of any hill station in Tamil Nadu, horserides are also available around the lake. A beautiful mare obliges eager tourists with photo op on their way out of the boathouse. A collection of naturally-formed rocks— named Lady’s Seat, Children’s Seat, and Gent’s Seat—shaped like seats, line the Yercaud Hills, and are popular viewpoints that afford expansive views of the city of Salem and Ghat Road. The Lady’s Seat owes its name to an English woman who lived in Yercaud during the time of British rule, and spent her evenings on the rocks, admiring the stunning view.
Karadiyur Viewpoint, about 12 kilometre away, is another spot that offers a panoramic view, albeit quite different from others in Yercaud. It is definitely worth the drive, followed by the kilometre-long hike. The hike is easy, through flat but rocky terrain and an unpaved forest road. It’s made all the more beautiful by the many fruit-bearing trees that line the road on either side, while hundreds of colourful butterflies flutter along, guiding you to a splendid view. Karadiyur (karadi means bear) was named after the many sloth bears that once inhabited the mountains around the viewpoint. Unfortunately, they are rarely seen here today. Sunset is the most beautiful time to visit, when the sky is alight with fiery colours and the green hills are awash in a golden hue. The watchtower at the viewpoint is a comfortable spot to relax, take in the view, or catch your breath before heading back.
The Kiliyur Falls is another must-visit site; fed by the surplus waters of Yercaud Lake, it falls 300 feet into the Kiliyur Valley. The ideal time to visit the falls is during or immediately after the monsoons. But keep in mind that the hike to the falls is not easy, with steep slippery stairways and rocks, but the sight at the end makes it worthwhile.
A rather offbeat stop in Yercaud is the century-old Sacred Heart Church. The drive to the church is through residential settlements, away from the usual tourist routes. The church overlooks the town of Yercaud, and most interestingly, a primary school right below it. In the quiet of the church, it’s comforting to watch children play without a care in the world, and people go on about their everyday lives. The church standing tall against the backdrop of rolling hills, makes for a striking sight. The structure is stately in comparison to other buildings and places of worship in Yercaud. During the daily mass, the atmosphere is steeped in spirituality and the enchanting sound of choir.
No holiday is complete without gorging on local delicacies, and Yercaud too is no stranger to such native delights. You could start the day with idli (steamed rice cakes) or dosa (savoury pancake), served with sambar (a lentil soup with vegetables), and a selection of chutneys—typically made of plain coconut, coconut with coriander, and tomato. Lunch usually consists of rice with an array of vegetarian dishes. Other local delicacies are attur nethili meen kuzhambu (a traditional fish curry preparation) served with vadicha sadam (steamed rice), navallur nattu kozhi masala (a country chicken curry cooked in a combination of spices) served with surul parotta (flaky flatbread), omalur kozhi muttai paniyaram (a spicy chicken keema and egg preparation) served with chutney, and vada chatti soru (a rice preparation served with either chicken or mutton). A food coma awaits the hungry traveller in Yercaud, and the exciting flavours of the dishes are worth the calories!
Adventure seekers, too, can have their fill in Yercaud with a choice of activities such as zip lining, kayaking, trekking, driving an ATV, off-roading in a four-wheel drive, and more, courtesy of the steadily growing number of tourism providers. The drive down the hill back to real life is an adventure in itself—one that will be spent reminiscing the magical getaway that is Yercaud.
Coimbatore airport is 185 km from Yercaud and is well-connected to major Indian cities. The closest airport is Salem, which is 47 km from Yercaud. TruJet operates direct flights from Chennai to Salem.
Great Trails Yercaud by GRT Hotels offers luxury stays amidst vast stretches of coffee plantations (starts from INR 5,000/ USD 70). Sterling Yercaud is perched on a rocky ledge atop the mighty Shevaroy Hills (starts from INR 3,000/USD 42)
October to June.
Families and couples who are on the lookout for a relaxing getaway.
Locally-grown spices, high-quality coffee, picturesque treks, and abundant wildlife—Yercaud is full of discoveries.