“ Location: Manali „
~Embrace the opportunity to visit rubbish attractions~
Every trip to India should include a few seriously poor tourist attractions and our day in Manali offered one of the lamest so-called attractions that we've yet experienced. We take a certain delight in going to really crap attractions and no visit is ever really wasted. So long as it doesn't take too much effort to get there, we'll go where we're told to just to see what's there. Sometimes you can only truly appreciate the good when you've dabbled with the dark side of tourism.
I didn't know that this place was on our itinerary but when our driver, Mr Singh, picked us up after we'd visited the Hadimba Temple and the nearby museum of Himachal art and culture, we just settled back in the car and let him take us wherever he wanted. He leaned back to look at us, said "Sir, Madam, Club House?" We nodded. The Club House was to be our next stop.
~Standards might be slipping~
On Tripadvisor, this is classified as the 14th best attraction out of 22 attractions in Manali. I was seriously wondering what the 15th to 22nd listings were and not at all surprised when I discovered that they were attractions that hadn't been reviewed at all. I'm also amazed to find that 22 out of 58 ratings are very good or excellent. I should say that I'm not someone who goes to grand, fancy amusement parks and I'm very definitely not an amusement park snob, but those 22 people probably need to get out a bit more.
Disappointingly there were few clues to the history of the Club House. Based on the interior looking deeply like every dusty old British sports clubhouse I've ever seen, I have few doubts that it dates back to the days of the Raj. But which sport it was for remains a mystery.
We paid 20 rupees each for an entrance ticket and I believe Mr Singh got stung for a parking ticket on top. The highlight of our visit was watching the lizards which were nesting in the wall of the Club House. The first lizard we spotted was sitting on a rock and was missing half his tail. All those stories about lizards losing bits of themselves and the bits growing back were debunked by this one little critter. We soon found a bunch of his whole-tailed buddies clinging to a vertical wall and sun-bathing. This was the only indication of the Club House being a joy for anyone. At least the lizards seemed happy. Most amusing was the little lizard poking his head out from behind a large poster for the Club House's 'dinosaur park'. Little lizard - big ideas.
Our visit was in the morning in November which is not a high-season time to go there. I can't rule out the possibility that this place gets a bit more exciting later in the day or earlier in the season. We wandered around, gazing in disbelief at the selection of 'delights' on offer. Not everything was available during our visit but I don't think we really minded. Pedalo boats were floating on a green pond with zillions of midges and mosquitoes buzzing around. A rope bride crossed the river and we saw signs for a zip wire across the same river but were unable to actually find it. Now that did sound like it might be quite fun but I didn't feel strongly enough to go and make a fuss about it. There were empty dodgem cars, a large hut marked 'Dinosaur House', a bouncy castle, electric cars for the children and a variety of small food outlets. Everything looked unloved and uncared for. We watched in amazement as the go-cart place found a wary customer and then failed to get their go cart to actually move. We asked for coffee and tea from the hot drink stand only to be told that all they had was "Tomatoes soup, madam, very good". It wasn't. A moth-eaten lion ride sat in front of some shops waiting for a child with very low expectations from life to come along. Shop keepers eyed us with disinterest, which was in itself quite interesting. I guess they'd worked out we weren't likely to be interested in what they had to offer.
We were trying to use up a bit more time so that Mr Singh wouldn't realise what a dud attraction this was so we went inside to have a look around. This is a very British, very koshkha and hubby thing to do. We would hate our driver - a man we're paying to do his job - to ever think that he wasn't showing us the most fabulous time of our lives. The interior of the Club House is probably the only thing worth seeing and it also offers the rare delights of a clean toilet. There are rooms that were clearly used as the bar and the restaurant and I suspect when business is better, they probably still are. Open fireplaces and comfy chairs brought to mind a Scottish hunting lodge more than an Indian venue. The restaurant looked like it probably served Brown Windsor Soup and 'cutlets'. We found a small government fixed-price craft shop but try as we might, there was nothing we could find to buy. Upstairs a clothing shop sells the kind of cheap, warm clothes that most Indians suddenly realise they need when they get to the Himalayas. Rooms hold table-tennis and snooker tables which can be rented by the hour.
For the British men and women (but mostly men) who would have found themselves posted to a remote place so far from home and a long way from the 'action' in the big cities, this probably felt like a little haven from the weirdness that surrounded them. I could imagine them gathering for a 'chota peg' of whisky, a bit of banter about the natives and the odd game of snooker whilst trying to make their lives a little bit more like those they'd left behind. The building itself is of passing interest but if you've only got limited time in Manali and you value both your safety and your sanity, you can easily give the Club House a miss.