Tuesday, September 27, 2005

King of the hill

Yercaud is the pretty little “hill-station”, a stone’s throw away from Salem. Salem is surrounded by some hills (outer reaches of the Western Ghats), and atop the tallest hill visible from Salem lies Yercaud. Just like in all South Indian hill towns in India (Yercaud is at an altitude of about 5000 ft), you can check the usual suspects off the list. There are scenic vistas (alluringly named “Lady’s seat” or “Gents seat”), an ancient tribal temple (Shevaroyan), a couple of typical Hindu temples, some churches and convents, a nice old convent school (Montford), coffee estates, and the all-important lake at the town center. In fact, the name Yercaud comes from two Tamil words, “Yeri” (lake) and “Kadu” (forest). As you enjoy a cup of filter-coffee or an ice-cream by the lake, one billboard is bound to catch your eye. If not here, then somewhere else in the town, a similar board will proclaim the legend

“Bhavani Singh’s Perfumes”

With such an irresistible name, it becomes essential to pay the perfumery a visit. You drive up a hill, and see a store by the street, with the famous name. You stop, and the salesgirls greet you and display a whole assortment of spices and oils; nutmeg, clove, raisins, cardamom, black pepper…..and you are mesmerized. They point out the way to the “factory”, just a hundred yards behind. It looks like a large house converted for producing these spices and oils.

We walked up to the door, and on the porch an imposing figure greeted us.

“I’m Hari Singh, proprietor of Bhavani Singh perfumes”, said the smiling face.

Hari Singh, s/o Bhavani Singh, appears to be in his early forties, slightly portly, and with a perfectly groomed mustache, and a baseball cap on his head. He welcomes us to his store/factory, and starts telling us the tale of Bhavani Singh’s perfumes as he walks us through his large herb garden. He stops here exclaiming ”basil”, or ”rosemary”. He pulls out a leaf there, and crushes it, and asks us to smell it. We do, and are at once filled with the heady aroma of temple sanctums. ”Camphor”, he knowledgeably declares, and then pulls out another plant, ”wild mint”. We are under a spell.

We go inside the factory, and sit down. With us are another couple, and a family from Chennai. Hari Singh goes on to tell his tale. He has pictures of his family all over the place. We learn that they are part of the small Rajput community in Tamil Nadu. Hari Singh is equally fluent in English, Hindi or Tamil (spoken perfectly). His father, Bhavani Singh, participated in the freedom struggle against the British (fighting in Tamil Nadu). After independence he settled in Yercaud, and started the factory. Hari Singh, the inheritor of this legend’s legacy, was born and brought up here. Bhavani Singh established the perfumery, as he discovered the large variety of herbs that grew wonderfully in the salubrious climate of the hills here. But Hari Singh took the effort to new levels.

As he spoke, he handed out some of his products to try out. “Black Panther oil”, a guaranteed remedy against colds, clogged sinuses and migraines. Pills for aiding diabetics. Pills that help weight loss. A box of a gel was opened, and we were asked to try it. I suspiciously dabbed some on to my face, and was surprised by the cool, gentle feel it had. ”Aloe vera gel”, he declared, and proceeded to explain why their formulation was superior to any others. ”We only use the finest natural herbs, grown in our own estate here”, he said, ”and extract the gel, and dilute it to the perfect percentage for human use”. Another bottle was pulled out, a sure shot cure to aid hair growth. Amidst the other family, which was also here, was an elderly gentleman, quite understandably bald. He asked if this would help him regain his lost glory.

”Athu kashtam, anal irukartha kaapathum!” (That would be difficult, but it will save what’s left), came the spontaneous reply from Hari Singh.

Admiring letters from old customers (who had written back for more products) were immaculately preserved in plastic folders, and were shown to us. By now, we were practically eating out of his hands.

We walked out with two bags (but lighter by a few hundred rupees), filled with “Black Panther oil”, and aloe vera gel, and saplings of mint, camphor and rosemary, to take back with us. The lure was irresistible, and the sales pith perfect. As we walked away, we turned back for one last look at Hari Singh, s/o. Bhavani Singh, master of spices, and king of the hill.

******

Post script: The Black Panther oil does work wonderfully well to help unclog sinuses and relieve mild headaches. However, I have no idea about the miracle hair-cure or diet pills.

*******
For more travel nuggets from South India, see here and here.

19 comments:

Sairam said...

Yercaud was for a long time the only "Hill station" i'd visited. Always been kinda bummed abt the fact tht every other soul i knew had been to ooty , kodai n the more hip places. Only later did i understand the salubriousness, if thats the word im looking for (or is it salubreity ..), of the place. I dont know how it is today , but those days it did have the charm of the small-town-hill-station .
..Also goes to show , there is no perfect solution for hair loss , i guess there is no point losing hair over it!!!

Nicole said...

Sounds like a fragrant tour. Interesting post. I'm also enjoying your recent science post.

Kaps said...

I have visited Yercaud. It is not too high and hence it may not be as cold as the other hill stations. However Ooty and Kodai are too commercialized and hence Yercaud is the best bet if you are looking for a silent getaway.

Sujatha said...

Some people just have the gift of the gab. I remember one time we came home with two bags of all sorts of stuff to clean and polish cars. Of course, we've never used any of it even once. We just take the car to the car wash!

kamlas said...

Nice, evocative piece.

Sunil said...

Sairam....Yercaud is still very nice, and is a small-town-hill-station. Not too much has changed there.

Nicole, Kamlas, thanks!

Kaps....I'll agree with you. Its a lot less commercialized than ooty or kodai or even Munnar or Mudumalai or Coorg, so is a really good bet for a peaceful getaway. Except now a lot of college students (from Salem etc) come over on weekends, so it gets a little busy on weekends.

Sujatha....totally. Sometimes, they talk, and you buy. And go home with stuff you'll never use. We tried hard to resist temptation, so at leat that oil we actually use..:-)

Karthik said...

I did my undegrad in Salem, and Yercaud was our favorite getaway - to hangout with friends, or to hangout with the friend. Like the other commenters say, the small-town, easy going nature of Yercaud was refreshingly different from Ooty and Kodaikanal. Food was cheap (and good - there were many houses converted to restaurants), and so were the other hill-station type activities (boating etc.). It is my favorite resort town - for more reasons than one.

I liked the post for another reason - Bhavani Singh is such an unpretentious, Indian name that conjures up images of a trustworthy, simple business when you hear it. One of the things that always got me about the other hill stations in India was how the businesses were named - every one of the tea estates in Ooty has an English sounding name, and they all hang on to the name proudly. For some reason, the idea of a freedom fighter run establishment is very appealing.

Karthik said...

The first line didn't come out right, should've read:

I did my undegrad in Salem, and Yercaud was our favorite getaway - to hangout with friends, or to hangout with the friend.

Ravi said...

Haven't been to Yercaud, but the story brought to memory all the mom-and-pop chocolate shops in Ooty
damn nice writing style btw !

Sunil said...

Karthik.......yes indeed.......the idea of a freedom fighter run establishment was very appealing (especially the way he puts it across :-)). And it is a very charming town, without the hustle and bustle of Ooty or Kodai. And certainly, it must have been nice to hangout with the friend :-)

Ravi....thanks.

Karthik said...

Sunil, I wish it was I that spent time with special friends in Yercaud :).

Patrix said...

That was an interesting visit. I never would have thought a visit to a perfume factory would be on the cards during a vacation. It almost reminds of the mandatory visit to the jam and jelly factory in Mahableshwar, Maharashtra.

Sunil said...

karthik.....my condolences....:-)

Patrix....you should....it's good fun actually, especially if the owner is a character like Mr. Singh..

Sakshi said...

hmmmm...Black Panther oil. I guess i can try to convice my brother for buying the oil to give out as freebies..since our brand of sportswear is 'Black Panther'.

Reading your post..makes me wanna go on a HOLIDAY.

Sunil said...

go on the holiday! the weather must be nice now, in most of India anyway...

sushilsingh said...

Hi,Friend

Kodaikanal is one of the most famous hill stations in India.Kodaikanal is a hill station

on the southern tip of the upper Palani Hills. Kodai is also a tourist attraction, and

many of the locals make their living through tourist services. Kodaikanal is sometimes

referred to as "Princess of Hill stations." Tucked away among the Palani Hills in

Tamilnadu, in South India, and jealously guarded like a prized jewel by the dark

forests, is Kodaikanal. In fact, the name itself means ?gift of the forest? in Tamil.

http://desidirectory.com/india-travel-guide/

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