By Vishal Gulati| IANS| October 15, 2014| 9.30 pm IST
This north Indian hill town that has gained prominence for attracting a steady stream of Buddhist scholars, Dalai Lama followers, backpackers and even Hollywood stars like Richard Gere, will be teeming with cricket fans this week.
The reason: the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association's (HPCA) showpiece stadium here, one of the most beautiful grounds in the world, is the venue for the fourth One-day International (ODI) between India and the West Indies on Friday. Organisers believe the stadium's popularity will soar with the hosting of the second international match and are leaving no stone unturned to make the match an unforgettable affair.
With the excitement soaring high, members of the local hospitality industry see good business prospects. They say a two-day weekend playing along with the match will give an opportunity to cricket fans to extend their stay for at least a day.
HPCA press secretary Mohit Sood said that over 20,000 fans are expected to witness the day-night match.
"In the last IPL season we failed to get any match. That was a huge loss for the local tourism industry. Seeing the excitement among the cricket fans for the forthcoming match, it will certainly boost hotel business," Sood told IANS.
The HPCA stadium, about 250 km from state capital Shimla, also has world-class indoor practice facilities, a room for video analysis, a lounge, restaurant, bar and banquet hall. The town has 56 registered hotels and guest houses with a bed capacity of 1,100.
Similarly, McLeodganj, the uphill quaint town that is the abode of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, has around 91 registered hotels with a capacity to accommodate 1,000 people. But there is no five-star hotel in the vicinity of this town. Even the airport at Gaggal, near here, is not worthy for landing of bigger aircraft.
Pankaj Chadha, owner of the McLio restaurant in McLeodganj, said the hosting of the match after a long gap would certainly increase tourist footfalls.
"This time we expect the guests will extend their stay at least for a day after the match," Chadha told IANS.
The mighty Dhauladhar peaks in the stadium's backdrop, the nearby British era tea estates and the spiritual pull of globetrotting Buddhist monk the Dalai Lama are going to give cricket buffs a time to relax and introspect.
Cricket fans seem more enthusiastic.
"After watching the match, we are planning to spend a day in McLeodganj where we can get a chance to familiarise with Tibetan culture," Gagan Gill, a Chandigarh-based entrepreneur, told IANS.
Added Rahul Tandon, a Delhi-based senior executive with a multinational company: "We are planning to spend a day in nearby prominent shrines like Jwalaji and Brajeshwari Devi."
Both shrines are located within a 40-km radius.
The popularity of the venue soared after nine IPL matches were held here and the first ODI between India and England Jan 27 last year.
In the last IPL season, Dharamsala was not allotted a single match owing to the tussle between the Congress-led state government and the HPCA.
"It's a great honour for such a small state to host the second international match, that too, within a span less than two years. We are fully geared up to provide not only the players but also the spectators with world-class facilities," Anurag Thakur, the force behind the Rs.100 crore ($16 million) stadium and ultra-luxurious residential complex, told IANS.
The HPCA president said the players would stay in the Pavilion residential complex, which has 32 huts made of imported wood.
The Pavilion, overlooking the stadium, is some three kilometres from the stadium.
The stadium figured first on the international cricket map in 2005 when it hosted a warm-up tie between the touring Pakistan team and the Indian Board President's XI.