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The High Range Club in Munnar is a remnant of British colonialism. Quintisentially English, from the wooden panels proudly listing sporting achievements to the sign on the door saying "men only" - and the crass willy humour in the gents. A polished wood panelled bar adorned with hunting trophies and leather chairs defines the age when the British claimed this area as their own. You can almost taste the cigar-filled air as moth-bitten Tigers, Bison and Niligri Tahr stare down at you with an eternal look of surprise locked on their faces. Cabinets glint with silver, and guns boastfully shine above a collection of old hunting hats. The photos on the wall could just as easily be from the set of 'Carry on up the Khyber'. It's like discovering a piece of Britain perched atop a mountain in the middle of India, and it rains here almost continuously for 5 months of the year! You can see why the British loved it.
Once a lush forest teeming with elephants and tigers the founders of the High Range Club started the craze for replacing this crucial habitat with mile upon mile of tea plantations. Perfectly manicured, and like a giant green jigsaw the tea bushes are tightly interlocked to use up every possible inch of space leaving no room for wildlife. To me it conjurs up an image of a huge scaley reptile cutting through the landscape.
The tigers and elephants are now all but gone but one prized hunting trophy hangs on, clinging to survival on the rocky precipices and grasslands that lie just a few hundred metres higher in the mountains above Munnar. The Nilgiri Tahr.
A close encounter with a dominant male really made my day. Standing high and proud on a rock, looking like Mufasa from the 'Lion King' as he watched over his entourage of females grazing around me. He seemed pretty content and saw this strange looking European biped as no challenge to his masculinity. Non-the-less he came close to check me out. His large prominant horns making it clear that this was one sheep I wasn't going to mess with!
The High Range Association still exists but it now focusses it's attention on conservation, and the Nilgiri Thar remain safe and protected in Evikulam National Park.