A Test of spirit in the foothills of the Himalayas

Test match Dharamshala

We lost. Comprehensively. We lost in just over three days. “You went to India and back to watch three days of cricket. You spent you’re hard-earned money doing that? What a waste. You should have stayed at home and watched it on TV.”

Let me tell you the story behind the story. The background story. The reason I do something that to others might seem wanton. I’ll tell you about watching cricket in India and then notch it up to tell you about the match that was completed last week in Dharamsala, northern India, in the foothills of the Himalayas in the state of Himachal Pradesh. It might seem random but it remains the essence of why I travel. It’s part of my purpose. My DNA. Marry my love of both cricket and India and you have a perfect mix.

To get a feel for what I have to say, I suggest you Google HPCA and see a picture of the stadium in its setting. With the snow-capped Himalayas as a backdrop, this has to be the most beautiful setting for a Test cricket arena in the world. Many grounds — especially Adelaide Oval, Lords in London, Newlands in Cape Town — have their own beauty. Dharamsala has beauty and majesty. Sitting in the stadium and facing north is like having a landscape painting forever in your sight. Take your eyes off the game and there it is.

A test in the Himalayas

This was my fourth trip to India in the past ten years and it never fails to get my heart racing. Just to step off the plane is to take you into a whirl of emotion. It’s the crowds, it’s the noise, it’s the clamour, it’s the sacred cows on the roads, it’s the seemingly clapped out monstrous thundering trucks, it’s the Hindus and the Sikhs, it’s the poverty and the wealth. Life bubbles and almost erupts. You can feel India in the air. A mixture of incense, dust, excrement, fumes, cooking. It’s non-stop. It’s happy!

Any excuse to go to India must be taken up. Having never been to the Indian Himalayas and discovering a Test cricket match scheduled between India and Australia in Dharamsala was too tempting. It was the first Test ever for Dharamsala, the city better known for being the home of the Tibetans who were pushed from their spiritual home in the 50s when the Chinese claimed what they believe was theirs. The people moved to Dharamsala. And if history is of little interest, Dharmsala is also the home of the Dalai Lama.

Travelling as a group of five mates we booked our accomodation in advance. On arrival, we discovered we were staying 10 kilometres from the ground. Normally thats acceptable but this wasn’t a normal 10 kilometres. A choked up, winding road literally going straight uphill. This was going to be interesting. Imagine doing this grind everyday?

A test in the Himalayas

It was when the first day of the Test dawned that we realised how different a cricket experience this would me. I threw open the curtains and welcomed a glorious dawn. A sign on the door to the balcony said it all. “Dear Guest, Please do not leave your balcony doors open. Monkeys tend to cross over from the rooftop early morning. Don’t be alarmed with the thumping sound!” Cant quite imagine that at Crown as your getting ready to go to the ‘G.

Then came the ride down to the ground. The grind uphill had become a joy going downhill. Surrounded by pines, cedars and spruces, it was a classic contest of man versus man or vehicle versus vehicle in a typical Indian manner. All in a magnificent setting with the ground down in the valley, everyone becomes a winner. At least it seemed that way. For those who see it everyday, they are possibly not inspired. But for newcomers, this was a dream come true.

The ground itself is not old but in typical Indian manner it’s become old. It was built in 2003 but annual snow falls have made it look older than it really is. Faded pinks and oranges need a good freshening-up but as with most buildings in India, this may not happen for a long time. What’s the rush? The playing field and the pitch looked perfect when we arrived at the ground on that first morning. If the word “special” was ever going to be used in relation to sport, this was that moment, Bruce.

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Towards the end of play on the third day, the match had swung dramatically away from Australia and what had previously been seen as winnable was quickly slipping through our fingers. I concentrated more than ever on the panoramic picture that I was possibly seeing for the last time. I wrote this piece down at the times.

“The Himalayas late Day Three. Cloud cover in the north with the rest of the sky bathed in sunshine. The foothills have lost their pine-greenness and a sprinkle of grey has taken over. The snow is dirty-white similar to its appearance on any city street. The creases and folds of the hills have become more defined as if a dark pencil has been used for the very purpose. The mystery of the foothills of the Himalayas in Dharamshala, the earthly lair of the Dalai Lama. The cricket ground in front of me is a rich green, surrounded by colourful stands with the usual splash of advertising hoardings. A mishmash as so much is in this part of the world. The old pavilions at either end stand as sentinels in their ageing pinks and oranges. A bit of the Raj still lingers.”

There’s a snapshot. The cricket story of the fourth Test and the series win by India can be read anywhere. But the experience of being a witness at the affair is only something I can make an attempt at doing. It wasn’t all about Dharamsala. We went to Amritsar and Shimla as well. These stories are to be told at a later date. The story of a Test in Himachal Pradesh may remain a one-off long after I am gone from this earth. I had to be there and I was.

Have you travelled this far to watch your favourite sport? Let us know in the comments section below. 

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