Cricket among the lamas
BBC[Saturday, March 05, 2005 04:29]
By Ayanjit Sen

The match has generated a lot of excitement
The match has generated a lot of excitement
Against the backdrop of the snow-capped Himalayas, the Tibetan enclave of Dharamsala in northern India is an unlikely venue for international cricket.

Known as the headquarters of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile, it is now hosting an international cricket match between the visiting Pakistani team and an Indian Board President's XI.

Although cricket is not the favourite sport in this mountain town, local Tibetans are slowly embracing the sound of leather on willow.

Dharamsala, which commands majestic views of the mighty Dhauladhar ranges above and the Kangra valley below, is divided into two main parts.

Lower Dharamsala is inhabited mainly by Indians, while upper Dharamsala, also called McLeodganj, is home to the exiled Tibetans.

Pine trees and Himalayan oak surrounds McLeodganj which is also an ideal jogging track - so much so that Indian national cricketer Mohammed Kaif says he loves running on the winding roads.

Growing interest

Cricket is primarily played in these parts by Indians and is thus more popular in lower Dharamsala but it is slowly inching its way upwards.

The cricket hype has touched Tibetans too
The cricket hype has touched Tibetans too
The Pakistani and the Indian teams were greeted with loud cheers by nearly 100 people who had gathered to watch practice sessions.

The Tibetans, who took shelter in India in 1959 after fleeing their own country, are more interested in football and adventure sports.

Monks, wrapped in maroon cloaks and bearing shaven heads, say they see the game once in a while and enjoy it.

"They have shown an interest in the past few years. Now, it seems the cricket-hype all over India has touched them too," says Narendra, a school teacher.

Panden, a shopkeeper in McLeodganj, says: "There is a growing interest among people. I got to learn cricket by watching television.

"Sometimes, I feel I learnt cricket from the television commentators rather than by watching the players play."


Winding roads

Not surprisingly, India's star cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar, is also the local favourite.

Panden has learnt the game by watching television
Panden has learnt the game by watching television
"I love playing the game. I want to bat like Tendulkar," says Kelsang, a young Tibetan.

"But I can never play for India as I am not a citizen of the country. Maybe, one day I can," he adds with a smile.

The local cricket authorities say they are trying to popularise the game.

"Holding international cricket matches is a way of increasing the interest among the locals. I am sure one day there will be a Tendulkar or Sehwag among them," says one state cricket official.

Occasionally the narrow winding roads in Dharamsala are also used by the local children to play cricket.

But sometimes cars race down the middle of the road and bring an abrupt end to their friendly matches.

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