The torrent that accosted us at the last leg of a narrow mountainous road, made me wonder if we would ever reach the cozy little resort, tucked away in the hills, a little farther away from town. By the time we pulled in the driveway of the resort cottage, it was already evening. With no electric supply, our weekend began in a rather romantic set-up with rain sliding down the huge glass facade of a candle-lit tiny cottage. I was at Yercaud, a teeny-tiny hill station hidden in the folds of Servarayan hills or Shevaroy hills, as the British called them; a part of the Eastern Ghats in Tamil Nadu.
And what lay hidden by the barrage of rain previous evening, the rising early morning sun flaunted unabashedly. The skies opened up to reveal verdant hills rising up in sequent rows spread well up to the horizon. While the small cave temple of Servarayan that sits at the highest altitude in Yercaud presented an unhindered panoramic view of hills that wore a blue sheen.
Blessed with abundant greenery, a large lake and pleasant weather, Yercaud, the British summer retreat hill town, sits at a height of 4970feet above sea level surrounded by shola forests and mountainous vistas. Originally called ‘Erikadu’ for ‘Eri’ or lake and ‘Kadu’ or forest in Tamil, it was rechristened Yercaud when British discovered it as an escape from the oppressive heat and humidity of Madras in the 1820s.
While the British filled up the tiny town with their usual set of structures, the Tipperary Estate said to be built by family of the author, Charles Dickens; the Sacred Heart and Holy Trinity churches; Montfort European High School and the Loop Road around the Big Lake – it was the plants that they brought that made Yercaud become what it is now. The British collector of Salem, Cockburn, besides introducing fruit trees like apples, pears, oranges and macadamia also brought coffee to Yercaud in 1825. With the weather, altitude and hilly slopes being most conducive for the cultivation of coffee, Yercaud now boasts of producing a good quality of Arabica coffee.
It was while negotiating the 20 hairpin bends on the way to Yercaud from Salem on the mountainous road along the valley that I noticed Cauvery Peak Estate’s sales counter for spices and coffee. Making a mental note for buying local produce I had proceeded to explore the little town.
Yercaud may lack the abundance of usual trappings of a popular hill station, but it more than makes up for it with salubrious weather and scenic views of the Shevaroy range. A botanical garden, Maha Meru temple, a couple of designated viewing points and boat ride in a big lake might sum up Yercaud. But I was at the hill station to relax and rejuvenate. There was no rush to visit all touristy spots of the town. I sat for hours at a nearby hill to watch the sun slowly fade away into a starlit night with the hills gradually turning various shades of blue.
A steaming cuppa of authentic filter coffee just outside the Rose garden reminded me of buying local produce and I headed to Cauvery Estate sales counter that had earlier caught my eye. The visit surprisingly turned into the best few hours of the weekend spent in Yercaud.
The estate owner, Vijayan Rajes, a third generation coffee producer, had recently thrown open his plantation and coffee processing set up for coffee tours to interested visitors and I happened to be at the right place at the right time. A small coffee museum in the estate with vintage coffee grinders, sieves and storage boxes gave glimpses into the history of coffee at Yercaud.
A tour through the plantation was a revelation. The Arabica coffee, usually planted around July, needs ample shade to grow and for the beans to develop a full body of flavour. Sauntering through the plantation I realized that the native tall shola trees not only create enough shade but regulate temperature and naturally fight pests and diseases. The bauxite rich soils of the slopes of Shevaroy at Yercaud allow proper drainage and are enriched by the decomposed fallen foliage from tall trees.
As I wandered deeper into the plantation, I could see few men climbing tall cedar trees with a large bag slung over their shoulders. These men were busy hand plucking pepper from the vines. The air at the plantation was charged with a mix of mild fragrances of spices like cloves, nutmeg, pepper and orange fruit trees that were inter-planted with coffee. That explained indeed why the coffee grown in this region had the sweet full body flavour with hints of cedar, citrusy and chocolate aromas.
At the processing unit, where hand harvested ripened coffee beans were pulped, washed and sun dried before being roasted and packaged, I had the most aromatic richly flavoured hot cuppa of ‘filter kaapi’ that left me yearning for more with its lingering taste. The tour was a peek into the tremendous efforts that goes in nurturing a coffee plant and the journey of coffee from beans to brew.
Yercaud received electricity in 1930 after Mettur Dam at River Cauvery came into existence and a motorable road in 1903 but the small town is still like an unpolished jewel bidding its time to be discovered.
Places to see:
• Shevaroy Temple
• Maha Meru temple
• Botanical and Rose garden
• Loop Road and Big Lake
• Karadiyoor view point
• Kiliyur Falls
• Lady’s Seat viewpoint
• Cauvery Estate Coffee Tour
Where to stay:
• The Brook Resort
• Sterling Yercaud
• Tipperary Estate
• Salem is 30kilometers from Yercaud and is the nearest rail head and airport.
• It takes about 1hr 10minutes from Salem to Yercaud