Modern Salem, an important commercial centre of Tamil Nadu, is known for its mango orchards, cassava processing, spinning mills and steel plant. But being on the crossroads of commerce is nothing new for the town. According to records, the Chera dynasty who ruled here had trade links with the Roman Empire before the Common Era (CE). Ruled by various dynasties until passing into the hands of the British, the town has little to showcase its glorious past. The Thirumanimuthar River splits the modern town into two, with the Fort area considered the older part of the town.
There are several temples in and around the old town. The Kottai Mariamman Temple in the Fort area is said to have been built during the Chera period. Sri Suguvaneshwara Temple, located near the old Salem bus stand, is known for its sculptures.
Built in 1934, the 1700 metre long Mettur Dam (formerly Stanley’s Dam) on the Cauvery (Kaveri) river, is about 50km from Salem. There is a landscaped park near the dam with special play areas for children.
Little known beyond the state’s borders, the hill station of Yercaud is about 30km from Salem by road. Around 1820, the British Collector of Salem, FD Cockburn, is said to have discovered this pretty corner tucked inside the Shevaroy Hills. Gradually, the place grew into a hill station, in line with other popular hill stations in the region, Ooty and Kodaikanal.
Surrounded by woods and landscaped gardens, the Lake is a good place for a stroll in the early morning. You can go boating in the lake. The Lady’s Seat offers a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, including the serpentine ghat roads. The hill-top Gent’s Seat is best visited during sunset. About five km from the lake is the Pyramid Point which gets its name from a stone structure built by the local people.
Located on the Servarayan Hill is a small cave temple dedicated to Lord Shervaroyan and Goddess Kaveri. In May (though it can be rather hot), tribal people gather here to hold their annual pilgrimage.
The balmy climate has encouraged gardens in and around Yercaud. The government horticultural department manages a botanical garden here. The Anna Park contains a fair collection of plants that grows in the Shevaroy Hills and holds a Flower Show in summer. The Killiyur Falls, about three km from the Lake, springs to life fed by the monsoon rains.
From Salem, you can continue towards the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border to Dharmapuri town, gateway to the famous Hogennakal waterfalls. About 50km away from Dharmapuri, the Cauvery River, travelling across the Melagiri Hills, branches into several cascades at Hogenakkal. The river flows over a large area across the rock; sometimes following the rocky ledges, sometimes jumping down a sheer cliff. In some places, the water gushes down with such ferocity that water droplets diffuse into a smoky spray.
One of the most popular activities here is a ride in a ‘parisal’ (coracle). Initially used by the local people to go fishing in the river, the round basket-like boats are propelled with the help of a paddle. Usually, the boatman take the passengers across the river to a small island where everyone alights. The boat is carried overland to the other end. Passengers get into the boat and enjoy a long cruise down the river, passing by the many cascades, sometime even going beneath one or two for an impromptu drenching.
According to local belief, the river passes over many medicinal plants on the way and hence a bath here can have therapeutic effect. Therefore, hordes of people visit this waterfalls, especially in December and January, with bathers crowding out the genuine traveller. Many of the bathers also avail the herbal oil massage but neither the products nor their efficacy have ever been tested. Experienced travellers advise arriving early to beat the crowd and the queues for boats.
As Hogenakkal is situated near the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border, you can continue to Bengaluru for the homeward journey.
Getting there: Trichy (135km) and Coimbatore (150km) are the nearest airports to Salem. From here, you can visit Yercaud. Dharmapuri is about 60km from Salem. Hogenakkal is about 50km from Dharmapur town. Bengaluru is about 130km from Hogenakkal. Winter is the best time to visit here. Although monsoon is the best time to see the waterfalls in the region, boat rides are not possible. It is only during winter that boat rides are possible.