On 3 December 2007, cricketer Aakash Chopra celebrated a double century against the backdrop of snow-covered peaks, mild sunshine breaking through the clouds and a chilly hill station wind blowing across his face.
Chopra didn’t have to leave the match, a Group A Ranji Trophy tie between Delhi and Himachal Pradesh, to savour the picture-postcard view—the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) ground in Dharamsala itself was the perfect vantage point for this idyllic vista.
A hit wicket: Dharamsala will host two matches on 16 and 18 April. Prakash Singh / AFP
“It’s the most picturesque ground in the world,” Chopra says. “It’s got outstanding atmosphere, great facilities, and it’s so much fun to play a match there.” He’s returned to the stadium a number of times, playing matches for India A and the Board President’s XI. “The track is good and it’s conducive for good cricket. You bowl well, you take wickets. You bat well, you score runs. The ground is a fantastic venue,” he says.
The stadium, sitting 4,000ft above sea level with the Dhauladhar hills in the background, will play host to two matches in the upcoming season of the Indian Premier League (IPL). It is being upgraded with new floodlights (at a cost of Rs6 crore) and an electronic scoreboard. “We’ve built 20 corporate boxes and a special media enclosure, and upgraded the capacity to seat around 20,000,” says Anurag Thakur, HPCA president. Thakur says the ground was selected to host IPL matches in the second season, before the event itself was shifted to South Africa. The ground, he feels, is “ready for international matches”. “We have a great indoor facility with five practice pitches, and a health centre. The ground and city have hosted under-19 teams from around the world, and numerous Ranji Trophy matches have already been played here.” A shortage of hotel rooms, he says, is “inevitable”, but the HPCA has made arrangements for around 1,500 additional rooms to meet the rush. “I personally believe it’s the best place for cricket—you can’t beat the combination of good sport and scenic beauty.”
“It’s one of the most stunning grounds in the world,” says national selector Kiran More. He visited the ground to oversee a Duleep Trophy match between North Zone and West Zone in February 2004, and was awed by its beauty. “In one day, while the cricket was on—we saw snow falling on the mountains nearby, the sun shining through the clouds, and a rainbow—all in one day!”
But apart from the weather and the views, it’s also the feel, says Chopra, that makes a match in Dharamsala memorable. He remembers the half-hour drive from the team hotels in McLeodganj to the stadium, and the players pointing excitedly at all the sights and sounds. “Everything feels so different there,” he says. “The cultures, the food, the bustle of the town—you remember it all clearly.”