Dharamsala: For once, cricket might take a back seat. The snow-capped mountains, the tea gardens nearby and the spiritual pull of this picturesque capital of the Tibetan government in exile could well divert spectators from Sunday`s one-day international between India and England.
An extended weekend - Friday (Milad un-Nabi), Saturday (Republic Day) and Sunday of course - should see thousands of visitors coming to watch the match at the cricket grounds here, the newly developed showpiece venue at an altitude of 4,000 feet. Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) officials however admitted that interest amongst fans had dimmed since India has already won the five-match series.
Cricket fans, even the more enthusiastic ones, agreed.
"Since the series has been won, we will now focus on searching Tibetan culture and spiritual sustenance," said Ramandeep Bajwa, a Chandigarh-based freelance journalist.
After the match, he and his friends would like to spend time in nearby McLeodganj.
Added Rajat Malik, a Chandigarh-based senior executive with a multinational company: "We have booked tickets well in advance. Now that we have got the series, we will prefer to spend time in those destinations from where we can enjoy the view of snow-laden hills."
HPCA is expecting more than 8,000 spectators to arrive for the match from outside the hill state. Representatives of the hospitality industry say most of the spectators have been enquiring about the nearby destinations from where they can see the mountains.
"Besides the match, some of our guests have now shown interest in nearby destinations. We are advising them to visit places like Palampur, Kangra and Baijnath," Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) general manager Yogesh Behl told IANS.
He said some of them have shown interest in tea estates of Palampur. Others, who want to mix leisure with spiritualism, are keen to visit Kangra, Baijnath and Jwalaji, known for prominent Hindu shrines.
Most of these towns are within a 40 km radius of the stadium.
McLeodganj, the uphill quaint town, has already gained prominence for attracting a steady stream of Tibet enthusiasts, Buddhist scholars, back-packers and even Hollywood stars like Richard Gere.
Also known as Little Lhasa, located just kilometres from here, McLeodganj is known for its Tibetan artefacts and traditional recipes like Tibetan dumplings.
"This weekend we are expecting a good rush of tourists," said Pankaj Chadha, owner of the McLio restaurant in McLeodganj.
The HPCA stadium is surrounded by the majestic Dhauladhar ranges of the Himalayas that make it one of the most beautiful grounds in the world. HPCA is sparing no effort to make the ODI a warm and welcoming affair.
"We have completed all our preparations for the success of the match," Anurag Thakur, HPCA president and Lok Sabha MP, told reporters.
The stadium, 250 km from state capital Shimla, has a capacity of 21,600, besides being a world-class indoor stadium comprising video analysis facilities for both bowlers and players, a club lounge, restaurant, bar and banquet hall.