Monday, December 8, 2008

Yelagiri - an abrupt trip

250 km from Chennai and approximately 125 km from Bangalore, in Vellore district of Tamil Nadu lies Yelagiri, a quiet hill station. One reason for choosing the place was because it could be covered in one day and the prime reason, being in Chennai, I was craving to experience a winter. at 930 pm on Saturday night, I left from Chennai to Thirupathur, a town near to Yelagiri. I reached Thirupathur at 230 am Sunday morning.

As I got off the bus, I saw bonfires, a rare sight in Tamil Nadu and there was a slight chill in the air and that too, before even getting ont to the hill. The first bus to yelagiri would be at 530 am. Now I had to spend 3 hours, so I broke into a conversation with two young urdu speaking localites. It might be hard to find Urdu speaking people in Tamil Nadu, but a large percentage of the muslims people speak Urdu, similar to the Hyderabadi dialect. They even said that some of their women do not know Tamil! They told me that the place was pleasant even during summers. The weather never gets as bad as Chennai, they said giving me a cup of tea. They also told me about the Jalagamparai falls which was a bit far from Thirupathur. They shortly left. The next two hours were spent reading the never ending “Atlas Shrugged”. The night was getting colder as time moved on.

530, I get onto the bus to Yelagiri. As the bus moves towards the hills, the dawn is breaking, taking its own sweet time. Once the bus gets onto the hill, we have to go through fourteen hairpin bends before we reach Yelagiri. Sitting next to the driver, I had a good view of the hills and the sunrise. At every bend, the driver was turning the steering wheel four times the circumference clockwise and then anticlockwise or vice versa. Even though the turns were sharp, it wasn’t as scary as many other hills where you get to see a steep pit to your side. The road had a two foot high wall on the side opposite to the hill.

After around 6 to 7 hairpin bends, there were groups of monkeys jumping around from one place to another. It was quite a welcoming sight. The monkeys however are not found at the top the hill. After another few hairpin bends, I get to see many hotels, guest houses and restaurants. I also came across a point known as the Telescope point, a place where a telescope is instilled and from where you can view down the hill using it. Shortly I reach Yelagiri. Stepping out of the bus, I feel a good winter chill. Finally, I had to take out my denim shirt, my t-shirt wouldn’t suffice.

I get off the bus and start walking asking directions. First of all I head to a murugan temple. It’s believed that wherever there’s a hill in Tamil Nadu, you would find a murugan temple. The temple was still not open at 730. It would take half an hour. I didn’t wait for so long. I headed down to where I got off the bus. Tackling my way through barking dogs, I made it to a local shop where I had breakfast. After that I was just strolling down the road when a board caught my attention. The board would be a new change in my tour. It read “Cameras for rent.” What a great idea? Was wondering why people living in other tourist spots never think of such an idea.

So I go inside the studio. He gives me two options, one autofocus camera for hundred and an SLR camera (professional camera where focus, aperture etc are set manually, in case you don’t know) for two hundred rupees. For a long time, I had been contemplating a camera purchase. Off late I had even been thinking of buying a professional camera over a usual digital one. The only problem being I had never used an SLR . I took this as an opportunity to check if I could use one. So now the trip changed to a photography assignment.

With the heavy camera and a heavy bag, I walked into a place called “Nature park”. What a waste of Rs.15 that was! Good it was only 15. It was just like any other garden or park with nothing to see. There was a nursery of rosesand even that was locked. The rest of the park just had lawns. The name sounded as though it would be a sactuary. I still take out my camera and click a few pictures. The SLR was a bit of a problem. Many times when I half clicked to check the light exposure, I happened to click pictures. Juggling aperture and focus was another menace.

From there, I moved to a boathouse on Punganur Lake, a manmade lake specially as a tourist attraction. It was a good scene of a lake with mountains and clouds as a backdrop. I clicked a couple of pictures and came back. Boating was to begin in half an hour. So I went out and took a handful of random pictures before I returned to the boathouse. After reaching there I came to know that we weren’t allowed to row. We could only sit on the boat. Else we could ride pedal boats, which I otherwise also never interested me.

So I left the place and moved on. Now I ask a few localites about places I have to see. It’s 11 am and I finally made my mind to go to the Jagdamparai falls a bit far down hill and a place called Mangalam which was uphill, supposed to be a place with a wonderful view. I had to wait for two hours in order to go to Mangalam. So I resolved to take a Thirupathur bus and then go to Jalagamparai falls from there. I get on to a bus when a colleague calls me. My art director Jerry asks me where I am. I laugh and tell him Yelagiri. He laughs louder and says me too. Another turning point in the trip.

Jerry, along with another senior, Madan were accompanying a professional photographer Sudarshan on a photo shoot. It was a routine photo shoot they had to do as Tamil Nadu Tourism happens to be our client. Continuing the phone conversation, Jerry tells me that they were coming uphill and stopping from point to point clicking pictures. So I decide to get off the bus at telescope point after which I would be joining Madan and Jerry. The telescope point was a good idea, though not executed at the best possible place, at least in my opinion.

I later join Jerry and Madan and we go exploring places to get the best of angles for taking pictures. Touring is very different when you go for taking pictures professionally; quite a time taking procedure. We later have lunch together and go exploring places. by the time we explored two places and exhausted my reel, it was already four and sleep had started taking its toll over me. I succumbed to a half hour power nap and soon left for home.

By 430, I return the camera and leave for Chennai, leaving Mangalam and Jalagamparai for some other time. My incomplete trip comes to an abrupt end. I came back by train from Jolarpet, a prominent junction and another close town. Through just a three hour journey, it was horrible with no place to sit. Lack of sleep added to the horror. Nevertheless, it was another great experience.

Now I’ve developed the reel and attached the pictures on this post. Jerry and Madan have come back to office after going to a few more places. They’re saying Jalagamparai is really beautiful. I’ve taken their word for it. The pictures confirm the fact.

Yelagiri, to be said in brief is not amongst the greatest tourist spots. You don’t miss much if you miss it. But if you stay at Chennai or Bangalore, it sure would be a pleasant getaway; peaceful, pollution-free, many routes for trekking and ample initiatives taken by the department of tourism.