I need to say upfront that the photo on the left of the famous (men only) bar of the High Range Club in Munnar was not taken by me but plucked from the interweb. Read on to find out why.
I’ve been dying to visit this famous bastion of tea planters as a lot of action in my book takes place in my version of it, so you can imagine how I felt when I was told by the uniformed guard that I could not enter the hallowed portals as it was members only. I put on a charm offensive and told him I’d come all the way from London and was writing a book and that got me inside (through the tradesmen’s entrance) and as far as the oak reception desk. The gentleman in charge there gave me short shrift. He was unmoved by my literary aspirations. Again members only. I offered to have a cup of tea or lunch but was told it non-member dining was residents only and to be a guest requires thirty days notice.
I kept on, unwilling to take a dozen no’s for an answer and bingo!, I was ushered along a corridor to the membership secretary’s office. He was a very scary chap and for a few minutes I thought he was going to prove resistant to my dubious charms. He had a young couple at the desk – presumably being grilled to see if they were made of the right stuff to gain membership (you have to wait seven years and then it’s a vote). He was doing a bit of grandstanding to make clear to them that the club didn’t let riffraff like me in under any circumstances. My very nice shy guide had come in with me and eventually the official relented and said – “you can have a quick tour, no photographs and he has to wait outside” pointing at Nihkil. So much for Kerala being communist – egalitarianism does not cross the threshold of the club and it’s probably harder to get into now than it was under the British.
Anyway I’m truly grateful to the club secretary that I was given the opportunity for a look around (although feeling terribly guilty that poor Nikhil was banished – that’s him in the photo). The chap from reception proved an excellent guide and even let me enter the Men’s Bar and have then have a pee in the Ladies Room! They still have the hats (mostly solar topees) on the wall of the bar – you had to be a member for 30 years to get your hat up there (with your dates painted on) – and they go back to to the 19th Century with one fellow managing 37 years. Nowadays the bar is dry (Kerala is a dry state) so apart from a couple of hours on a Saturday night when wine is available from the Ladies Bar, there is unlikely to be any of the wild carousing that the British used to get up to.
The place is truly a time warp – with all the original furniture, an elegant lounge, a card room – 2 billiard rooms – one exclusively for senior members who have proven victorious on the lesser table! (and obviously men only), and a skittle alley that is now a library. There are several small lounges (one now a cinema) and a dining room with a large rostrum – presumably once for putting on all those Am-Dram productions and now used for family film nights and dinner dances. The club is surrounded by grounds with facilities for tennis, cricket, golf, squash etc.
So if you want to relive the days of the Raj, you can stay at the Club as long as you book in advance. But if you want to join, you’ll need to be a planter and probably of the right caste – and then be prepared to wait seven years and even then you could be blackballed!