We woke up today morning and realized that we weren’t really in a mood to go on to Nalagarh, our next planned stop in the Solan-Sirmour region. We knew it would be warmer than Arki, with not as much to see or do. As we sat around mulling over what to do next, Madhu, who was surfing the net for ideas, suddenly found that an IPL (cricket) game was scheduled to be played between Mumbai (our favored team for obvious reasons) and Punjab at 8pm in Mohali, which is in the outskirts of Chandigarh. What was amazing was that tickets were still available for it online! Almost immediately we decided to purchase tickets, take a cab to Chandigarh, watch the game in the evening and then tour the city over the next 3 days until our flight to Mumbai on Apr 12th; it was a true ‘spur of the moment’ decision.
As with most online purchases, our purchase of tickets for the match was easy and took only a few minutes … but it also caused us some grief ! When I selected the tickets, the system told me that since they were being purchased less than a week before the event, they will need to be picked up from the ‘box office’. In most cases, box office refers to the ticket counter at the venue, so I assumed it to mean the same here and went ahead with the purchase. Within a few seconds, I received an email confirmation of it and then, to my horror, noticed that the ‘box office’ was actually an address in Chandigarh and not the stadium at Mohali! It stated that the tickets have to be picked up from this address no later than 2pm the same day! It was already 10:30am and we hadn’t even left Arki yet – Chandigarh was at least 3 hours away by road and getting there before 2pm would be really difficult. We were in real danger of not being able to pick our tickets on time! I couldn’t believe that the system hadn’t told me about this rule before purchasing the tickets !
With no other option but to rush to Chandigarh, Madhu and I quickly packed and checked out of the Arki hotel. We had pre-booked a cab for Nalagarh the previous night. When it showed up, we asked the driver if he can take us to Chandigarh instead. Since his car didn’t have an All-India permit, he couldn’t take us across the state borders, but he offered to drop us as far as possible and then help us get another cab from there to Chandigarh. We didn’t have time to look for other means of transport, so we accepted his offer, hopped on and crossed our fingers! The going was excruciatingly slow as the roads were not in a great condition and narrow at certain stretches as well. We reached Parwanoo, a town close to the border of Himachal around 1pm. There we were able to get another cab to Chandigarh almost immediately. This time the roads were better but traffic was bad, especially when we hit Chandigarh. The cab driver knew some parts of the city well but not the exact location of the address we needed to get to; he brought us close enough, though. Since it would be faster to look for it on foot, I walked about and finally managed to find it by when it was almost 2:30pm! I dreaded the worst, but was happy to find the ‘box office’ still open. It was a temporary stall setup to sell tickets for Team Punjab’s games. There were long queues for buying tickets as well as for picking them up after online purchases like mine. I joined the appropriate queue and waited patiently in the crowded, male-dominated, claustrophobic space; it was so darn tiring in that heat! But in the end it was all worth it when I finally had my tickets in hand at 3:30pm. What a crazy morning it had been!
We checked into our hotel, had a really late lunch and then rested for a couple of hours. Around 6pm, a good 2 hours before the game was to begin, we stepped out and flagged down an auto to take us to the stadium at Mohali, which is just about 10kms southwest. Surprisingly, there was hardly any traffic on the wide, leafy streets and we got close to the stadium in about 20minutes. However, the roads leading up to the entrance were cordoned off for security reasons, because of which we had to walk the last 500meters. On the way, there were plenty of cops directing the traffic and managing the crowds. Suddenly 2 large Volvo buses pulled up to the intersection we were at. The cops moved some barricades to make way for them and we knew instinctively that these buses were bringing the cricketers to the stadium. We stared hard and were absolutely overjoyed to see the Mumbai team in the 2nd bus. Right at the front, by the window, sat our cricketing hero and captain of the team, Sachin Tendulkar ! Madhu and I couldn’t peel our eyes away from him; we stood there completely star-struck till the bus passed us by.
I had read somewhere that bags, cameras and mobile phones with in-built cameras would not be allowed into the stadium, so we were appropriately bare-handed when we walked up to the stadium. We were frisked carefully and then allowed to enter. We had bought seats in the pavilion section, which is amongst the more expensive ones in the stadium. So I knew that we would have a good view of the playing field but when we walked up to our section, I was thrilled to see that the view of the pitch was much nicer than I had imagined it to be. No specific seats had been allotted to us and even though, we were more than an hour away from the start of the game, the stadium had started to fill up considerably! So we rushed forward and found a couple of seats on the 6th or 7th row from the front – it was perfect!
All my life, especially during my days in Mumbai, I’ve watched cricket on TV and wished I was amongst the crowds instead. My parents were never big on it, so there was no way they would take me to a game. None of my female friends were interested either. Only the young boys in the area would go for the games played in Mumbai, but my parents would never let me accompany them. So this opportunity to watch Sachin Tendulkar in person felt absolutely special! Of course, at the back our minds we were a little worried about supporting the wrong team when Team Punjab is playing on their home ground ! I was hoping the Punjabis would be tolerant of us and thankfully, they were! In fact, the crowd was more or less quite well-behaved and we were able to view the entire game quite peacefully. Moreover, it helped that no matter which team Indians back, Sachin Tendulkar is always cheered and applauded – it was fantastic to watch this!
Madhu and I are so attuned to the instant replays and expert commentary on television, that at the beginning of the game we found something amiss from the entire proceedings. But we soon got a hang of it and loved the energy in the stadium. We also enjoyed watching all the cricketers from close quarters, especially those that stood at the boundary rope near our section. The crowd kept chanting their names till they would turn around for a quick wave or smile. I felt a little sorry for them; it must be so hard to concentrate on the game in such conditions. I could only imagine how much courage they would need to continue standing there after a failed attempt to stop a boundary or after dropping a catch ! We also caught a glimpse of pretty Preity (Bollywood actress and co-owner of the home team) when she came out on the field to talk to the media.
Sadly for us, the home team won and we didn’t get much of a chance to test the home crowd’s patience. It had been a fantastic evening out!