Vellore (pronounced Way-loor) is a mid-size town in the north of Tamilnadu. With a population of almost 400,000 it is the 9th largest City/UA of the state. Situated on the banks of Palar, on the rail and road route between Chennai (140kms) and Bangalore (220 Kms), it looks like yet another dusty highway town but hides more history and commerce within its small area.
As a city, it may not have the history of a Madurai or Trichy, but has had its importance during the muslim rule and more so during British times. The Vellore Mutiny in 1806 was a precursor to the sepoy mutiny of 1857 (or the first war of Indian independence). The city's pride of historic place goes to the 16th centruy Vijayanagar era fort. Well maintained by ASI, this is the largest city fort in existence in Tamilnadu. Highly visible, as it is on the main highway (alas will be bypassed by the Golden Quadrilateral), sorrounded by a moat that doesn't run dry (touchwood), they have even started a boating service, this is the primary if not only tourist spot in town. The fort compound uniquely has a temple, church and mosque within its walls. Another claim to history and fame in Vellore is the jail. Many a freedom fighter and political leader as well as famous criminals have been incarcerated in Vellore. In fact, 'coming from Vellore' has as much negative connotation (in a making fun sort of way) as 'coming from Kilpauk' (which houses Institute of Mental health).
More than history or geography, what has made this small town famous across India and to some extent internationally is the CMC hospital. Started by an American missionary Dr. Ira Scudder, it is one of the largest and most reputed medical college hospital in India. Accommodation, restauarants and even movie theatres have sprung to service the patients and their family coming from rest of India. Add some international students and doctors visiting CMC for volunteer or exchange work, providing a more cosmopolitan feel to the town. Much of Vellore's economy is tied to this institution and though in recent times other activities have come up, CMC still retains its primacy in the life of Vellore.
The town is notorious for its very hot summer with the temperature hovering in mid 40s Celsius. Although sorrounded by eastern Ghats, the tree-less hills do very little to alleviate the suffering. Of late a reforestration program has helped a little in greening the hills but not enough to keep the temperatures down. The Palar river that runs through the city, is all dry but still is the main drinking water source.
Economically, Vellore is a commercial town with not much industrial activity. Ranipet, just 20 kms away has a large industrial complex including the BHEL boiler auxilliary plant, Greaves, Thirumalai chemicals etc., Once expected to rival Hosur, Ranipet has fallen far behind and is just maintaining the status quo. Vellore district is a major leather exporting centre, accounting for a third of India's leather exports. This is however an activity concentrated more in and around Ambur with a only few factories near Vellore. There is TEL, a state run industrial explosives unit but has become a sick unit (am not sure if it still operating). As a district headquarters, Vellore gets its share of government offices and employment opportunity. CMC is of course another major employer.
Where Vellore has scored well is in education. One institution which has helped this is Vellore Institue of Technology (VIT). Started by a former politician, this private engineering college (a deemed university now) has grown to become one of the biggest and highly reputed college in South India in a less than a decade, with a coverage even in Washington Post. The government has recently started a medical college and Thiruvalluvar University, which have greatly enhanced the educational profile of the place.
Katpadi Junction on the outskirts of Vellore, is well connected with rest of India by train services. With a dozen+ trains to Chennai, 2 hours by rail, Vellore is the farthest commuting station (Season ticket stop) for Chennai. The National Highway NH 46, a part of the Mumbai-Bangalore-Chennai Golden Quadrilateral route, provides the highway link. Vellore depends on Chennai for air transport.
Tourism is Vellore is centred around the fort. The fort deserves to be more than just a local attraction it is today and get Chennai - Bangalore people out for a weekend. This is possible once the GQ is ready and people start driving around. There is also an effort to promote tourism and trekking in the hills around vellore but it is still in early stages. It is a short day trip from Vellore to nearby tourist centres like Yelagiri hills, Thiruvannamalai and Kanchipuram.
Vellore along with nearby Arcot/Ranipet/Wallajah forms a bigger urban centre of more than half a million people. With Kanchi less than 30 Kms away, there is a possibility of increasing urbanisation in this belt. As of now, however, Vellore remains a Tier 3 town of Tamilnadu but with potential.