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.