Harsha Bhogle is a household name in the cricketing world. He left Hyderabad more than 30 years ago, but the city still remains his home, where he catches up with family and old friends. Cricket took him around India and beyond its borders—repeatedly so to England and Australia. Over multiple visits to both the countries, he discovered his love for taking long walks, tasted his maiden sip of Aussie wine and realised that Australia might just be his lucky charm. Ahead of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup, the 58-year-old tells National Geographic Traveller India why he likes to travel like a tourist.
You travelled extensively when you hosted the TV show, Travel India, in 2008. Are there any places that stood out to you?
It’s funny because when I meet my friends, in Australia for instance, they tell me that I’ve seen more places than they have because I go around the country like a tourist. That’s what happened when I was doing that show too. I went to the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram and the Karni Mata Temple (the rat temple) in Bikaner. I was the only one who was feeling squeamish about the rats. I’ll tell you what was good about that programme though. A travel show should never be, “Here I am as a guide telling you to watch the Taj Mahal built by Shah Jahan in so and so year as a monument of love.” I would approach a place like a tourist would. I would talk and react like one.
Which places would you recommend to a sports fan?
When you’re on a cricket tour, very often you’re on this triangle shuttling between the airport, hotel, and the ground. You don’t always get a lot of time. When you travel abroad, there are four days between games. That’s how I’ve been able to see a lot of Australia. In India we come back home straight away.
I’d definitely recommend Australia. If you go there during the cricket season, days are long with light till about 9.30 p.m., even more so as you go south. I love going to Adelaide for instance. It’s a smallish, friendly place and a lovely walking city. You can go on a stroll for an hour and a half. There’s a walking track too. An hour’s drive northeast is Barossa and a short drive southeast is the Kangaroo Island. Different rivers such as River Torrens and Port Adelaide River wind their way through the city. Melbourne and Sydney are mega cities that everyone goes to. One great thing about going to the Gold Coast is that an hour and a half from there is the Gondwana Rainforests, a subtropical forest. And it’s beautiful.
Besides Australia, I go to England the most. Again, good thing about both these places are that they have long days, have ample space to walk around and are vegetarian-friendly (Bhogle is a vegetarian). I struggled a bit (with food) in South Africa and West Indies.
Which three stadiums would you recommend to catch a live game in?
My favourite is the Sydney Cricket Ground because I like the meshing of modernity and tradition. It’s a lovely old-fashioned stadium with modern stands. Melbourne Cricket Ground in Yarra Park with a capacity of more than 1,00,000 seats is intimidating. Every time I go to a stadium, I stand in the middle of the cricket ground and look around. You feel like an ant. The Adelaide Oval is so pretty with River Torrens just outside. The Gabba or the Brisbane Cricket ground is not bad. The Western Australian Cricket Association in Perth is also one of my favourites.
Within India, I like the newer stadiums. The Greenfield International Stadium in Thiruvananthapuram, Dr. Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy ACA–VDCA Cricket Stadium in Visakhapatnam, Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Pune, JSCA International Stadium Complex in Ranchi are well built. Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium is also really good.
What’s your approach to exploring a city while you’re on a tour?
I’m lazy. So I walk a lot. I like cities where you can just get out and walk freely. And the reason I like long evenings is because I like to walk late into the evenings. You don’t have to worry about coming back since it’s getting dark. I love eating by the kerb. I’ve seen that a lot in Adelaide. As it gets closer to dusk, people put their tables outside the restaurant. And you grab a seat while people walk by. I love the informality of that.
In England, I like that you don’t have to take flights while travelling internally as opposed to Australia. If you’re going between July and August, it’s warm and still green. You can just keep driving around.
Has work shaped the way you travel?
Yes, sadly. And even happily. Because cricket has taken me to places that I’d otherwise have never gone to. But because I’m so immersed in cricket, I haven’t given myself the opportunity to go to a lot of non-cricketing places.
Has travel changed your perception about a place?
It does to everyone. Because every time you travel you must give yourself some time to meet people. When you do that, you get a better idea of other countries. That is what I enjoy the most. Say in England and Australia, the places that I’ve travelled to the most, I’ve clicked with the people there. If you’re going on a travel tour, it’s almost set up for you. Take a walk or sit in a pub somewhere and start chatting with people. The reason I suggested a pub, despite not being a big drinker myself, is because that’s where people talk freely. And Aussie wines are great.
Where would you suggest going wine-tasting in Australia?
I got introduced to wine in Australia and there are some great wineries there. There’s Barossa Valley not too far from Adelaide and Yarra Valley near Melbourne. There’s also Mornington Peninsula just outside of Melbourne. It’s a lovely seaside town.
How do you narrow in on a holiday destination?
I don’t holiday a lot. It’s on my list of things to do. But Europe is beautiful. Recently, my wife and I went to visit our friends in Switzerland and they took us around Zurich. That was good fun. Sometimes, we (my wife and I) go to places as part of the corporate talks that we do. One of the best corporate talks destination we’d been to is Vienna. It was stunning. We stayed on for a couple more days. There’s the Danube that runs through the centre of the city. One side is the Old Vienna with its cathedrals and Opera House. It’s very grand and 19th-century like. Cross the Danube and it’s a swanky modern city.
Three things you always pack in your suitcase?
I’m T-shirts, jeans, and sneakers person at heart. I don’t understand fashion well. And caps too. We (Indians) tend to be arrogant about our ability to stand heat. The heat in Australia is quite different.
Pooja Naik is Senior Sub-Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She likes to take long leisurely walks with both hands in her pocket; channeling her inner Gil Pender at Marine Drive since Paris is a continent away.