*** Giving details of a recent trip to (Y)Elagiri below …. might prove useful for people planning a trip to the place in the future ***
Elagiri is a hill station located in Tamil Nadu and is a nice weekend getaway, especially for the Chennai junta.
- Weather is supposed to be good throughout the year
- Almost no place for “site-seeing” as such (you can just relax and enjoy the stay, away from the busy city life)
- Cell phone services (including Airtel) are not available in most areas. However there are STD/ISD shops from where you can make phone calls if you wish (you can disturb others if you want but no one can disturb you on your phone)
- Very very helpful locals; but you will find them helpful only if you know Tamil. Most of them can’t speak English, though boys in one of the villages did understand English as they study it at school. Wait ….. did I hear someone say Hindi? Hindi in such a place down South? Forget it. The people at the resorts can speak English.
- The best part is the drive from Chennai. The roads are simply amazing !!!!! You will just fall in love with them. They are as smooth as silk.
Route from Chennai:
Chennai – Poonamallee – Sriperumbudur – Walajapet – Melvisharam – Vellore – Pallikonda – Ambur – Vaniyambadi – Chinnaveppambattu – Mandalavadi – Elagiri
Take NH4 from Chennai. You will have to shift to NH46 some distance after Walajapet. For all practical purposes, it’s just one straight road. The route is punctuated with sign boards in English and it’s tough to go off-course. Cross Vaniyambadi and take the road to the left just before the start of the first elevated stretch on the post-Vaniyambadi NH46. This is where the party kind of ends and the roads start appearing more Indian, though they are still pretty good. You have to travel quite some distance on this road and take a left turn just before Ponneri. There is a HP gas station to the right of the road just before this turn. There are enough sign boards just at this turn welcoming you to Elagiri with Hotel Hills dominating most of them. The left turn leads you to the last stretch of the plains after which you start climbing up the hills on the Ghat road. This road has 14 hairpin bends named after different Tamil personalities (Paavendar, Bharathiyaar, Tiruvalluvar, Ilango, Kambar, Kapilar, Auvaiyaar, Paari, Kaari, Ori, Aay, Adhiyamaan, Nalli & Pagan?). The Ghat road with all these bends paints a great picture when viewed from the plains below. The line of hotels starts a short distance from the last bend.
The Ghat road isn’t all that wide. You can comfortably stop to enjoy the view and/or to take snaps if you are on a bike. It is difficult to stop without obstructing the traffic if you are in a car, though there are some spots where the road widens a bit allowing you to do so.
To give you an indication of the distance, the top of the hill where the line of hotels starts is about 220 kms from Kathipara in Chennai. It took us 4 hours (early morning start) to reach the place despite stopping on the way for food and for taking snaps.
There were three toll booths on the way. The first one was somewhere near Sriperumbudur, the second one was in Chennasamudram (just before Walajapet) and the third one was in Pallikonda (some distance from Vellore).
The road was a beauty. The weather was lovely. A.R. Rahman’s tracks were playing non-stop, totally immersing us in the music. We couldn’t have probably asked for a better road trip !!!!!
Where to stay?
There is no dearth of hotels but we zeroed in on two (from feedback found on the net) – Le Auroville and Taj Gardens. Taj Gardens is located immediately after the last hairpin bend to the right of the road. We however decided to give Le Auroville a try and had to drive quite a bit into the wilderness before we landed up there. For some strange reason, these hotels are called resorts 😉 To reach this resort, you have to take the first left turn after Taj Gardens and keep following the sign boards. You will spot the resort just when you think you have reached the end of the world. The roads leading to the resort were not in a good shape when we visited.
About the resort itself. The room allotted to us was just about manageable. The food we were served was very good. It was cooked in the resort itself and I especially liked the parathas. We were received with warmth and the hospitality provided to us was very good for most part of the day we stayed there. However typical problems began to surface as more customers started coming in the evening. Our dinner that was supposed arrive before 8PM actually came at about 10.30PM, that too after repeated reminders to most of the staff. The reason quoted was some internal mis-communication. Despite this, I would still recommend this place as most of the staff were very friendly and helpful and because I have read/heard much worser experiences about other places. For reservations, please contact Joan at 09486246616.
Places to see:
We just did two things in the name of site-seeing: Trekked up Swami malai and went to the Punganur Lake boating complex.
Swami malai is the name of the highest peak in the hills. To reach here, you have to continue on the road that leads you to the top of the hill till you reach a village called Mangalam. There is a spot in the village where you can park your vehicle. The locals will point this spot to you if you ask them directions for Swami malai. After we parked our vehicle, we spotted a local who was willing to take us to the top. The route to the top is quite easy to make out, but it may be better to take a someone along who can reassure you every time that the summit is quite near, encourage you not to give up and provide you the assurance that you are on the right path. You have to navigate through a few rows of houses from the place where you park your vehicle before the actual trek begins.
The trek wasn’t arduous but it did expose the kind of stamina we city dwellers had. The trek uphill took about an hour including some time for brief stops inbetween for taking snaps. The route mostly comprised steps cut out from rocks. There was also a small stretch without any steps.
Once you reach the top, there is a place which offers excellent view of the hills and the plains all around. There is also a small temple. There was some festival being celebrated in the temple the day we had gone and we saw some locals carrying utensils of all shapes and sizes trek past us to the top. Once we reached the top, we were amazed to see a few kids standing at the edge of a rock launch Diwali rockets by hand. The elders were busy cooking some food right near the temple.
The trek downhill took us about 30-45 minutes with some time again being spent for taking snaps.
If you are carrying backpacks, be sure to make them as light weight as possible. Don’t forget to take water along.
Punganur Lake is an artificial lake located quite close to the Le Auroville resort. The good part about this lake is that the water is quite clear, doesn’t smell bad and there is no garbage strewn around. The lake has a boating complex and one can hire paddle/rowing boats. A Murugan temple is supposed to be there near the boat complex but we couldn’t spot it.
The other places which can be visited are Jalagamparai waterfalls, a solar observatory, government fruit/herbal farms and a telescope house (on the Ghat road). We wanted to initially trek to the waterfalls but dropped the plan as we didn’t want to crowd up our day there with too many things and also because quite a few locals were skeptical about water being available there.
Things to buy:
The only two things that seemed to be famous and available in copious amounts were jackfruit and honey.
Things to note:
- There are no gas stations on the hills. The last one is a HP station just before you take a left turn for Elagiri before Ponneri. Fill your tank at least here if you are in a vehicle.
- No public transport is available. It’s better to make one’s own arrangement for commuting, especially if one is hell bent on visiting all the places that qualify for site-seeing as these places are all spread out over the hills and are quite far from each other.
- I couldn’t find any medicine shops. So it’s better to take from home whatever medicines you might need.
- Carry enough cash. Plastic doesn’t work.
- It would be advisable to stop for food any place before Ambur. Vellore would probably be ideal. We couldn’t find decent places to dine after Ambur.
Snaps (Courtesy Sriram):