after the first week of teaching photography, i went to yercaud hill station. (hill station is another term for mountain town.) i started from dharmapuri relatively late, so by the time i got to the base of the mountain, the sun was going down, but that was no worry; without pushing my little Ford Figo too much, it’d be a half hour to the top.
or so i thought.
as i went up around a few crazy curves, i was amazed to see how many motorcycles were coming down with their lights off, the rider (or riders) without helmets. there was still light in the sky, but when you’re whipping around blind corners on a two-wheeler, you’d think you’d want people to see the beam of your headlamp in advance. but in india, many motorcyclists believe that using headlights is bad for the battery, so they keep them switched off. this means that the non-motorcyclist driving on said roads with multiple blind corners have to be extra careful.
after reaching an elevation of 800 meters above sea level or so, and after having gone around a lot of blind corners, the hairpin curves began. it turns out, according to google maps, that the road to yercaud looks like this:
or, to be more precise, like this:
anyway, each turn is helpfully marked with its number: hairpin bend 1/20, hairpin bend 2/20, etc. so up i went, occasionally seeing other vehicles pass me and then catching up to them when they in turn got stuck behind a slow-moving bus. i was part of a convoy, then, when at bend 8/20 i saw the lightning flicker in the distance; and still in the convoy when, at bend 9/20, the wind started rushing through the trees; and still there again at 10/20, when the rain began coming down – gently at first, and then hard – and we started having to swerve to avoid the branches that had fallen into the road. some of the branches were big enough to do serious damage to the car, and there really was no telling when the next one would come down, so the trip was pretty exhilarating. there’s something thrilling about knowing that you going to make it to your destination in one piece, but you don’t know what condition that piece will be in by the time it arrives …
the next day was bright and sunny, so i did some exploring. the interior roads to the various tourist sites are wide enough to accommodate two automobiles passing one another with room to spare for a single playing card slipped in between them – when they weren’t under construction (for widening, granted) – and most drivers are not so good at yielding to oncoming traffic – driving on narrow roads in india is sometimes like playing chicken with the kid who was always caught smoking behind the high school during class. still, i made it where i needed to go.
the first stop was the shevaroyan temple, which was one of the most noted tourist attractions – there was even a photo from the hill on which it sits, from 1907, in my hotel. thus, when i arrived, i was disappointed to see that while, yes, the view from the hill was fine, the temple itself had only been built in 2006, and it looked like someone’s garage. there was an ancient wishing tree outside, but that was about it for visual interest. but as i was leaving, i figured, “i’ve come all this way, i might as well go into this concrete shed and see what everyone’s looking at.” it turns out the shed was just the entry to a tunnel into the hill to where the temple was. the tunnel was a little thing – maybe four feet high and wide, and 15 feet deep – that dead-ended with a stone ledge on which the idols sat in their finery, a priest standing by to bless the worshippers – but it was the last thing i’d expected to find, and i was happy i’d gone in.
|this is close as they would allow me to get with my camera. right: an image of the sri chakra, taken from wikipedia.|
i then followed a sign pointing the way to “the world’s biggest sri chakra maha meru temple.” with a come-on like that, who could pass up the opportunity? sri chakra is a mandala composed of 43 triangles representing shiva and devi (or shaktri), and thus the unison of the male and female divine. there’s a lot of other stuff going on in it that i haven’t made the time to research yet, but as i stood there, i could hear every jewish comedian who ever lived saying, “and if this is the world’s biggest sri chakra maha meru temple, i’d hate to be inside the world’s smallest one.”
on the way down the hill, i came across a drunk guy lying in the middle of my lane, so i stopped and yelled at him to move, and he rolled himself out of danger, but that pretty much made me decide to finish up for the day. i went to see one last tourist attraction, pagoda point, another scenic overlook. holy crap. the three photos that follow show, first, the parking situation i had to fight through to get in and out of the lot; the pagoda; and the view.