I've been watching Peter's "Chennai Trekkers" for a while now. Having missed the Kodai - Munnar, Venkatagiri and Tada treks, I was keen to join at least this one. But, alas ... the trek to Yercaud was meant to be a four day and I was not sure if I could take days off from office. Luckily, everything worked out in the last minute, I was headed to the satellite bus station in Mysore / Mysuru road on the eve of a long weekend and hopped on to a Salem bound bus.
Yercaud is a hill station about 32kms off Salem and accessible via a ghat road with 20 hairpin bends. The place is at an altitude of about 1500m above MSL. I had been there before on a pleasure trip (see Yercaud Trip page), but this was meant to be different. The rest of the gang was to reach Salem form Chennai @ about 6am. The bus I boarded, was a 3+2 (means, I had to fight throughout the night for shoulder space) and had a DVD player (means, I could not sleep till 2'O clock and had to watch a Vijay / Sneha starrer which I later found out to be 'Vaseegara'). I did catch up a li'l sleep after the movie and before the bus reached Salem @ abt 4'O clock.
At Salem bus stand, my task was cut out - locating the Yercaud terminal took me a while, since the first person I asked pointed me to one corner of the bus stand and the second one pointed me to the other corner. Finally, after visiting all the four corners, I located the Yercaud terminal :) In the process I had also memorized the Tamil script for 'Yercaud' (ஏற்காடு) and was ready to spot buses heading there. Now, I had to wait till 6'O clock for the rest of the gang. At about 6, I called Peter, only to realize that their bus is delayed and I had to wait for more time :( It was abt 8.30 by the time, the bus from Chennai arrived and I cud meet the legendary Peter and gang (Amal, Divya, Nayantara, Ravi, Shyam, Srikanth and Vivek for this trek).
After, the introductory rounds we headed for breakfast and for taking the return tickets to Chennai. The restaurants were already @ full capacity and the travel office was closed, to make sure that we were delayed further. Finally, seven of us took a crowded bus to Yercaud with Peter and Shyam slated to follow us after obtaining the tickets.
At Yercaud we managed to get two rooms in "Hotel Select", next to the bus stand and started to get ready. Peter and Shyam joined us soon and we were out in the streets of Yercaud by abt 1.30. After a delicious lunch at a local restaurant we headed along the main road towards the Yercaud lake and took the road to Kaveri Peak @ the lake junction. Peter's plan was to trek along a road meandering around Yercaud and finally reach back @ the same junction on Sunday after covering a few villages and view points on foot.
After this, we did have a taste of rural Tamilnadu and met a lot of people, en route to our next village, Vellakkadai, where we had lunch @ Hotel 'Madhubala'. The person running the hotel told us that drinking water is available from a well abt a km along the main road and a there is a pond further away for taking bath! With the villagers, helping us with their buckets and rope, filling our water bottles went well. I particularly enjoyed the break with a small field next to this place, infested with butterflies :)
A couple of kms down, we found the pond too, but with a few people around threatening us of dire consequences if we got in to the pond :( But, Peter ignored the warnings and got in, followed by myself and then Amal. In this summer heat, it was bliss to take a dip and soak ourselves! Only a li'l later we realized that the pond is a drinking water source for the people around and came out quickly not to create any further problems for them. The rest of the people were left desperate to get to water :)
By abt 3'O clock we were @ Kaveri Peak and realized that this is just the name of a place :), almost midway of the road surrounding Yercaud and from here on, the milestones started showing the distances to Yercaud, which was abt 24kms. A li'l ahead we reached an estate, with a beautiful pond and all of us - desperate to get into the water - rushed towards it. The place, in the middle of a workers quarters, with a post office nearby, was obviously a private property, but we pretended that we didnt know!
The water looked a li'l green and Shyam tried to measure the depth by droping a small stone. The stone promptly disappeared, resulting in a few bubbles a minute later - this may wel be pretty deep! In spite of it all, we wanted to take a dip and thats when a few people along with a watchman rushed into the scene and ordered us to come to the office. He sounded a li'l too bully and offended all of us and most of us refused to go inside. It went a li'l dirty when the watchman threatened to confiscate our items including the cameras.
While, the rest of us were arguing with the watchman, Shyam and Srikanth went to their office and spoke to the people there. The person in the office appeared to be more suave in dealing with people and just warned us not to get into the water (as there are crocodiles and barbwires in the water!!!!) and advised us to not camp in the surrounding areas (as there are wild bisons around!!!!), but head to a village few kms away! We anyways decided to follow whatever was told and headed to the next village, a couple of kms away. It was hard toil with a couple of kms taking more than an hr and surely abt 4kms!
With sun starting to go down, we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere and looking for ways to get lost. This is when an old lady came to our rescue and guided us to a village called 'Sengalathupatti' and more people, who took us along a dusty road to Sengalathupatti. En route, we had a beautiful sighting of sun going down among the trees.
@ Sengalathupatti, we were shown the way to a temple complex for spending the night. The temple looked pretty with a compound wall around it, a nice lawn and a nice Frangipani tree with flowers all around it :) The best part was kids who were too happy to have us around. They wer glad to get us water and give flowers to the girls :) Shyam provided them with good entertainment, talking to them and questioning them abt various things. But, by abt 8.30, he showed how strict a father he can be and shoed them all away to their homes!
Now, we were left with the cup noodles, vegetable soup and some of the MTR ready made packets :) Soon, we had a game of 'Uno' and a session wondering abt wild buffaloes and dogs. On further discussions it all appeared 'spooky' to Nayantara. The lady coming out of nowhere and leading us to the village, the kids hanging around us for long. I fueled her imagination with the observation that the kids didnt eat anything. We sat and concluded that the whole place was haunted and this is gonna be our last day on earth ;-) Soon after we switched off the lights and settled down, it started to drizzle and we had to move to another room, which had a chariot in it. Ofcourse, we all agreed next day that our lives were saved coz we were inside the chariot room and the ghosts cudnt enter there!!!
Btw ... Srikanth accused me of snoring loudly in the night and yeah ... Peter had refused to sleep next to me too! Since, I'd got too many complaints already regarding this, I didnt bother to refute any of these accusations :)
As expected, it was pretty dark inside the caves and infested with bats, but we were armed with our torches and head lights :) After crossing the first hurdle itself, I realized that the 400mm lens I was carrying was a big mistake and carefully parked it in one of the corners inside the cave. By then Peter found another way to take us to the next level. We all took that way only to find a dead end ahead. After looking around for some time we gave up and settled down for a few group pics. All this while, bats continued to whoosh past our faces and even got into couple of the pics.
Just when we were abt to return, Amal found another hole wide enough for people to get in! After considerable effort, Peter squeezed in, followed by me trying to crawl in and Amal waiting for his turn. The path was going down and Peter finally found a foot hold and enough space to stay, only to end up saying: "Am seeing an Aquafina bottle here and thats ours ... I guess we reached the entrance!" In a few minutes I heard Peter's voice from behind and knew it was all over! Vivek, Amal and myself still decided to wriggle thro' this way and garnered a few cool photographs too while doing so :)
After a few more photo sessions @ the entrance of the caves, we headed back to the main road. Since, the 4kms along the main road to Yercaud may not have been much interesting, we decided to take a bus. But, waiting for abt 15 mins were proven useless, when a crowded bus came and didnt stop there :( So, we started walking towards Yercaud. A li'l ahead, Peter stopped at a Bajji stall and we were served with hot Chilli Bajjis! It was almost 11 by then and with abt 4kms to go, it was getting a li'l late for me, since I didnt have any return tickets and wanted to catch an afternoon bus to Bengaluru / Bangalore. Nayantara also wanted to come to Bengaluru and both of us started pushing everybody for a quick return and lead the way ourselves. In abt half an hr we reached the Yercaud lake side and soon near the Shevaroyan hotel, where we had lunch.
By abt 2'O clock, me and Nayantara were in a bus headed towards Salem to reach the Salem bus stand by 3.15 and boarded a Bengaluru headed bus, watching couple of movies (one of them being 'Nan Avan Illai'). The bus was comfortable and non-stop and we reached the city by abt 8 and after crawling thr' the traffic I was home by 9.30. Yercaud trek was long and leisurely :) May be I wud've enjoyed the trek more if it wasnt the peak of summer with all water spots going dry and if we had taken more off tar road. Still, at the end of 4 days it was an enjoyable experience, especially with highlights like meeting Peter and gang, making new friends, staying off the city life and so many photographs! I hope its the first of many more treks to come with the Chennai Trekkers.
Story written by Sandeep Unnimadhavan. Story copied from Sandeep's blog with his permission.
Sevaroy Hills topo map
Trail in Google Earth