An international cricket match after a long time in the picturesque hill destination of Dharamsala on Sunday has set the hospitality industry's cash register ringing.
Members of the industry expect arrival of over 20,000 cricket buffs, mainly from the plains of north India, to visit Dharamsala that has been luring a stream of Westerners and Buddhist scholars since Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has settled here.
India will take on South Africa in the opening game of the three-match T20I series at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association's (HPCA) showpiece stadium on September 15. The HPCA is advising the visitors to get their accommodation booked before descending here as the town has just 56 registered hotels and guesthouses with a bed capacity of over 1,000.
Likewise, McLeodganj, the uphill quaint town that is the abode of the Dalai Lama, has around 91 registered hotels with a capacity to accommodate 1,000 people. There is no five-star hotel in the vicinity of this town.
"Almost all our hotels are booked well in advance from Thursday onwards to Sunday. The cricket craze is always a hit for the tourism industry," Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) Assistant General Manager Ashwani Soni told IANS.
He said even the nearby tourist destinations like McLeodganj, Palampur, Jwalaji and Chintpurni are packed to capacity.
Usually, during this season, the occupancy in Dharamsala on an average ranges between 40 and 50 per cent.
Match organisers said the HPCA stadium's popularity soared with the success of IPL and international matches in the past.
The last international match played here was held in March 2017 in which India defeated Australia by eight wickets in the deciding fourth Test.
"There is a great enthusiasm for the T20 match happening after two years. As it is a weekend, lot of people from neighbouring states are expected to come and enjoy the game," HPCA media-in charge Mohit Sood told IANS.
"It's a great boost for tourism and its allied activities. Opportunities galore for the locals to promote their cuisine and extend warm hospitality for which Himachal is famous among the travelers. We are expecting a full house and a great game of cricket," an excited Sood said.
The HPCA said most of tickets with a price tag from Rs 750 to Rs 1,200 have been sold out.
Divyang Nayyar and his wife Roopali, a couple from Chandigarh, said it's more than cricket for them this weekend. "Before witnessing the match in the evening, we plan to spend a day in nearby tea estates," Roopali said.
Others who want to mix cricket with spiritualism can visit Kangra, Baijnath and Jwalaji, known for prominent Hindu shrines. Most of these towns are within a 40 km radius of the stadium.
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 enough of time to relax and introspect.
McLeodganj is known globally for its rich Tibetan artefacts and traditional recipes like Tibetan dumplings.
"Seeing the response to sale of cricket tickets, we expect a record footfall of tourists this weekend after a long gap," said Pankaj Chadha, owner of the McLio restaurant in McLeodganj.
He said cricket here is always an added attraction for the tourists.
The HPCA stadium, one of the newest venues in the country, is situated nearly 4,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by majestic Dhauladhar ranges that make it one of the most beautiful grounds across the globe.
For the players, the HPCA is providing accommodation in the Pavilion 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.