World Cup Cricket: just a great excuse to tour India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh

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The ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 (starts 19 February) is coming and there’s never been a better time to visit India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Not for nothing was the World Cup names as one of Lonely Planet's top ten things to do in 2011.

The next few months offer a unique opportunity: to visit the Indian Subcontinent at a peak of hysteria, gripped by a feverish excitement that doesn’t border on obsession, it bowls off-spin until obsession begins the long walk back to the pavilion.

This current World Cup offers much for travelling supporters to relish. Held during the cooler winter months, it still gives fans of northern hemisphere teams (England, Canada, Ireland, Netherlands) a blast of winter sun.  Followers of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies have no such need for blasts of Vitamin D, but the chance to tour India and neighbouring nations with such a big show as a backdrop is an almost unique opportunity. For south Asian host nation supporters there’s surely no better road trip than one with a cricket match in the middle.

The Indian cities hosting World Cup matches offer the possibility for a tantalising tour of the country. Chennai hosts the first match on Indian soil and is the gateway for exploring Tamil Nadu state including the beaches of the fast-developing Coromandel Coast. As you might expect, New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata (Calcutta) are hosting plenty of matches and make excellent bases if you prefer the cricket to come to you. Kolkata is home to iconic Eden Gardens stadium, the spiritual home of cricket on the subcontinent. If you’re keen to catch a match at this 82,000-capacity temple to the game, the Group B clash between minnows Ireland and the Netherlands on 18 March looks a good bet.

Experienced visitors to India, however, will relish having the excuse to visit somewhere new. And Nagpur, a convenient stop on the way to some of the densest remaining forest India has, is new to most. Those who come here are looking for the Bengal Tiger which inhabits nearby reserves. If they don’t find the magnificent stripy cat then they do return with tales of fabulous wildlife-spotting trips.

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Bengaluru (Bangalore) and the most northerly host city of Mohali are better known as business rather than tourist destinations meaning they’re probably of interest mostly to fanatical followers of the teams playing here. Mohali’s 35,000 capacity Punjab Cricket Association Stadium will be bursting at the seams if, as expected, it hosts a semi-final between an unlucky opposition and India.

Lastly, Ahmedabad may be the hidden jewel in the crown, a chaotic, bustling modern city with an ancient heart well off the tourist trail. The final takes place at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium on 2 April.

This Cricket World Cup is, of course, not just about India. The tournament has come at the perfect time for Sri Lanka, a country fast winning back old friends and making new ones since the end of its decades-long civil war. While cricket fans will not get a chance to visit the beautifully situated international stadium in Galle, but Colombo, Hambantota and especially Kandy frame a tour of south and central Sri Lanka perfectly.

Colombo is linked to India by increasingly competitive air services and can easily be added on. However, if you leave India you may wish to be sure that this is your final stop before home: multi-entry visas to India now stipulate that you must be outside India for two months before returning. Travellers on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree have been discussing the ramifications of this: stay tuned for more updates and possible ways around this.

Bangladesh is the third host nation and is rolling out the red carpet as World Cup host for the first time. Dhaka and Chittagong, both hosting matches, are the largest cities in this little-visited country. We voted Bangladesh the best value country to visit in the whole world this year in our annual Best in Travel guide. It doesn’t disappoint: whether you want to hang out with locals cheering on team captain Shakib Al Hasan and the boys or head to the watery wonderland that is the Sundarbans to spot tigers, flying foxes and pangolins you’ll find this friendly country easy on the wallet and big on great experiences.

There are few logistical barriers to getting around a few cities during the tournament. Tickets, so often the bugbear of travelling fans, are priced so locals and visitors alike can attend games.  Flights to and around India are good value and the tournament falls within a relatively low season for travel. There will be extra pressure on higher-end hotels, but while smaller hosts like Mohali may get busier while matches are taking place, booking one or two days ahead should be sufficient.

Lastly, if you can’t stand cricket, don’t worry. India is huge and it won’t be hard to get away from the action. Goa’s beaches and Kerala’s backwaters will be as blissfully peaceful as anywhere. In Sri Lanka and Bangladesh it’ll be just as easy to leave the crowds behind. You won’t be able to avoid cricket-crazy boys playing scratch games in the street, but then that’s the subcontinent. And this is its time in the sporting spotlight. Lucky you if you’re going.

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