Flights of fancy

Published : Oct 10, 2008 00:00 IST

Tourists at the Yelagiri paragliding festival held from September 5 to 7.-S.S. KUMAR

Tourists at the Yelagiri paragliding festival held from September 5 to 7.-S.S. KUMAR

Yelagiri offers everything from high-flying adventure to a walk into history.

ANITA DESHPANDE did it with aplomb. She caught the wind, ran backwards a few steps down the slope of the hill, made a sharp turn, tugged at the strings in the chute, and was airborne effortlessly. As she bobbed in the wind, she got a commanding view of the Vellore fort, the Jalakantesvara temple inside, the Javadi hills and more.

This is a beautiful place, Anita had cooed an hour earlier, referring to the flying height at the Yelagiri hills from which she had launched herself in a paraglider. It has three different flying heights. I am happy that Tamil Nadu officials have taken such steps to popularise a beautiful sport like this [paragliding]. We plan to come here more often. Her husband, Avi Malik, who retired from the Indian Air Force as a MiG fighter pilot, is an accomplished paraglider too. Milling around the place were scores of tourists and locals.

The colourful advertisements on the paragliding festival at the Yelagiri hills from September 5 to 7 fascinated advocate S. Jayaprakash and his friend R. Nagaraj, who travelled from Chennai to watch the paragliders catch thermals, float several hundred metres high in the air and do a spot-landing.

If officials of the Tamil Nadu Tourism Department, led by its Secretary V. Irai Anbu, Commissioner of Tourism M. Rajaram, and the dynamic Vellore District Collector Dharmendra Pratap Yadav, had decided that conducting a paragliding festival on the Yelagiri hills was one of the best ways to popularise this little-known hill station, it paid off handsomely. Several tourists visited the hills from September 5 to 7, curious to know what this sport was about.

The Yelagiri Adventure Sports Association (YASA) and the Yelagiri Paragliding Club (YPC) have taken their job seriously. A centre will be set up at Yelagiri to train people in paragliding. YASA will soon promote trekking, rock climbing, and so on.

Yelagiri, or the poor mans Ooty, as it is popularly called, provides an ideal destination for people living in Chennai and Bangalore or nearby towns such as Vellore, Tiruvannamalai, Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri. It is situated about 220 km from Chennai and 150 km from Bangalore. The hilltop can be reached by a 14-km-long ghat road from Ponneri junction on the Vaniyambadi-Tirupattur road, passing 14 hairpin bends. Some of the viewing points offer breathtaking vistas of the valley, the Javadi hills on one side and the sun setting over the hills of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh on the other.

Yelagiri is not very cold in winter and has a pleasant, nippy air in summer. It has not lost its innocence, and commerce has not yet settled here. Athanavur is the main village. Its main road is just a few hundred metres long and has shanties selling balls of palm jaggery, passion fruit and other local fruits.

There are about 6,000 tribal people in the 12 villages on the Yelagiri hills. Their main occupation is agriculture, especially the cultivation of jackfruit and guava. These people depend on tourists to market their produce. Ever since Yelagiri came within the ken of the Tamil Nadu Tourism Department, the TTDC and the district administration as a lesser-known tourist centre, it has been receiving top attention. The road up the hill has been made motorable, thanks to Collector D.P . Yadavs efforts.

Close to Athanavur are a well-laid childrens park and an artificial lake, where tourists can enjoy rowing or pedalling boats. There is a Telescope House on the ghat road and a government-run fruit and herbal farm on the hills. The Jalagamparai Waterfalls on the Attaru river and a beautifully laid-out Natures Park with a musical fountain are the other attractions. Six kilometres away, at Nilavur, is another park and a lake with boating facilities.

In the plains below, in Vellore town, 100 km away, is a massive fort. According to the records of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the Vellore fort is one of the perfect specimens of military architecture found in South India. The fort was under the control of Hindu, Muslim and British rulers at different points of time and has within it a temple, a mosque and a church. It was built in the 1560s during the reign of Velluri Bommi Nripathi, a Nayaka chieftain from Bhadrachalam in Andhra Pradesh. The Sepoy Mutiny of 1806 took place in this fort.

The number of tourists visiting the fort has risen after the golden temple called Sri Lakshmi Narayani temple was established at Sripuram, Tirumalaikkodi, 5 km from Vellore. In 2007-08, the Tamil Nadu Tourism Department allotted Rs.90 lakh for landscaping the fort, setting up a park, and establishing a childrens play area and a skating rink.

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