Yelagiri promises a date soaked in honey, or adrenaline, depending on what your idea of a holiday is.
Yelagiri, a hill station in Tamil Nadu, is a classic underdog among travel destinations. Located in between two beautiful cities, Chennai and Bangalore, it does not promise any of the luxurious offerings of popular hill stations like Ooty and Kodaikanal. No chocolates, no luxury hotels, no glamorous and accessible viewpoints. Yelagiri is a stripped-down hill station, bereft of frills. What it does offer, however, are energy-sapping treks, succulent jackfruits, honey as golden as heaven’s embers, a primordial spiritual experience, unabashed escapades and soul nourishment for the open-minded. And if that is not enough, come August and this quaint little hill station transforms into an adventure sports paradise.
The four hills which constitute Yelagiri have three primary villages and about ten other smaller hamlets which dot the area. The most prolific of the treks in the vicinity is the trek to the Jalagamparai Falls. From the village of Athanavur, the trek dives into the hillside and passes through the omnipresent virgin shrub forests of Yelagiri. The trail then crisscrosses through a stream which eventually flows into the waterfall. Shallow waters might make the going significantly easier. However it would be wise to pray to the rain gods before visiting the area. The trek itself might become considerably more precarious, but the Jalagamparai Falls in all their glory is quite a sight to behold. On the return journey, as you head to the heritage tribal village of ‘Nilavoor’, you will pass several remarkably clean hamlets with very friendly villagers who are quite chatty. Indulging them in conversation might also reveal other hidden trekking spots in the vicinity.
The Swamimalai hills are another popular trek in Yelagiri. The view from the top of the hills is quite breathtaking and the small temple shaped like a shiva lingam which sits atop the hill is considered to have considerable significance as a religious site. It is one of only six shrines of Lord Subramanya, and the story of its origins is a captivating tale involving the saint Bhrugu, Brahma and Lord Shiva.
Yelagiri is also home to the Velavan temple, which apart from being a Murugan temple of some importance, is also one of the few ancient temples with a beautiful statue of the mythical character Ghatotkach. Located atop Yelagiri hill, the temple is a great vantage point to view the forested valleys around the area.
Hidden away from the town centre, some of the nearby hamlets also have their own little treasures for the few who choose to explore. The tribals of the Nilavoor village for example, are quite welcoming to outsiders. They share strong connections with their ancestors, something which is reflected in the ancient customs they still adhere to. During full moon nights, this attachment is manifested in the form of several colourful tribal dances and performances which continue right through the night. Another little cache of beauty lies concealed within the village of Mangalam, including a beautiful lotus pond with water which never dries up and beautiful coffee plantations, sholas and undiscovered springs surrounding it, making it one such place where getting lost would be a blessing.
Another indulgence of tourists visiting Yelagiri is shopping at the Friday shandy—a place where local farmers and artisans display their produce and wares for visitors. If you have a penchant for jackfruits or honey, be prepared for a feast, because once you start, relenting would be quiet the ordeal. The Yelagiri region, due to its geographic and climactic position, is ideal for the cultivation of jackfruits, custard apples and sapotas, and the shandy helps the local farming population market their perishable produce without the travails imposed by a supply chain.
There is a silk farm run by the state government which is popular for mulberry plantations. It is located at Mangalam, which is at a distance of around 5 km from Yelagiri.
However, the one attraction that has now placed Yelagiri on the tourist map is the Paragliding Festival which is organised here every year around August-September. Paragliders and adventurers from around the world congregate at Yelagiri to celebrate this ‘festival for daredevils’ amidst the cardamom hills. Apart from paragliding, the festival also features other adventure sports such as biking, rock climbing and trekking. The sports are organised and conducted by the Yelagiri Adventure Sports Association (YASA) in conjunction with the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC). The event also provides an opportunity for YASA to solicit other sports enthusiasts as members of their society to promote adventure sports in Yelagiri.