Dharamsala: The quaint town of Dharamsala was best known for being the home of Dalai Lama until top-flight cricket arrived here with the construction of a world class stadium.
Now four years after hosting its maiden IPL game, the scenic HPCA Stadium has safely put hill station on the global map besides becoming a landmark for locals and tourists alike.
Even for a first-timer, finding his way to the highest ground in the world is as breezy as walking through the charming lanes of Dharamsala and the suburban McLeodGanj.
The ODI between India and the West Indies on Friday will be the stadium's first ODI game in almost two years but the tourists don't forget to flock the spectacular facility as part of their sightseeing list.
"International matches are far and few between. Considering that, the general stand is always open for the tourists free of cost. About 1000 to 1200 tourists come every day to see the stadium and get their pictures clicked," HPCA spokesperson Sanjay Sharma said before quickly adding that they have shut the 2100 capacity stand for sightseeing ahead of the ODI.
Besides raising the profile of the place, cricket does wonders for the otherwise stagnant local economy.
Interestingly, Dharamsala does more business during IPL than at the time of an international match.
"There are about 800 registered hotels in Dharamsala and McLeodganj and it is very hard to find place when IPL is happening. The whole of city comes alive. There have been instances when we had to convince people to go to nearby tourist spots as there was no room available here," said Arvind Sharma, a travel agent based in McLeodGanj.
IPL is a regular feature here since 2010, with the exception of last season when first leg of the tournament was held in the UAE. The league brings double the revenue in comparison to an international game.
"Thanks to IPL and international cricket, the tourism has increased manifold. To our estimates, the revenue generated in the city during an IPL leg is around Rs.200 crore and half of the amount during an ODI," claimed Manuj Sharma, operations manager at HPCA.
The stadium has done enough to promote Dharamsala as a cricket destination but a bunch of challenges remain. While teams get the best of what is available, lack of a five-star accommodation, rail network and commercial flights come in the way of tourism growth.
HPCA boss and BJP MP Anurag Thakur feels the state government must wake up to realise the potential of cricket tourism.
"Cricket has played a very important role in Dharamsala. When people see the beautiful stadium on television, they want to come here rather than go to a place like Shimla. We have brought international cricket despite the lack of infrastructure. The responsibility now lies with the state government to promote the place better," said Thakur.