Bir is a tiny village located at the foothills of the Himalayas in the Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh (India) – known worldwide as a destination for ecotourism, meditation and spiritual studies and yes, PARAGLIDING! Scenic, panoramic and an adventurer’s piece of heaven, Bir, shall not disappoint you or your daredevil spirit. Depending on which route you take, Bir is around 532.7 km (via NH44) or 615.9 km (via NH9) from New Delhi. You may choose to drive, book a cab, take a bus or even book a flight to the nearest airport in Dharamshala. (Read here for more information) It takes around 11-13 hours to reach Bir and the drive gets better by the hour! (PS – The fun fanatics may travel to Bir by the Kangra Valley Railways – Toy Train – for the added hullabaloo!)
Since it was a 2 girls trip for us (and also because we were/are dangerous drivers), we chose to book a cab to Bir. Undoubtedly, the journey was effortless and gave us enough window to work on our beauty sleep and be predisposed for the forthcoming adventures and excitement.
Fact – Referred to as “Paragliding Capital of India”, Bir ranks at No.1 in India as a paragliding destination. (Feather in the cap – Hosted the Paragliding World Cup in 2015).
Upon reaching Bir, my friend Mandy and I checked into Zostel – a perfect, colorful lodging space, with more than a splendid view. Rated as 9.1 for a two person trip, it was an exclusive choice. Free Wi-Fi, private parking, round the clock help-desk, laundry service and super friendly staff – we couldn’t have asked for more! Depending upon your budget and backpacking antics you may choose from any of the varied accommodation options available here. (Superior 6 Bed Mixed Dorm, Private Room, 6 Bed Female Dorm and a Deluxe Private Room). They also help out with bicycle rentals, near-by treks and tandem paragliding sessions, making it easier for you to plan your day out.
Highlight – Wicked wall graffiti and a well-done “roof-top shack” – augments the perfect bag-packing experience!
A good warm “value for money” dinner, guitar session by one of the co-bag-packers at the roof-top-shack and a game of Jenga – we were all set for an adventurous tomorrow.
Paragliding – Finally, the day was here! The one and the only reason that we girls decided to go to Bir (braving all the “nay sayers” and budgetary constraints), was to unleash our inner wildness and to “fly like a bird!” (and boy, did we!) Paragliding at Bir can be the most exhilarating and overpowering of your experiences EVER! The adrenaline-rush, apprehensions of jumping off a cliff , anticipation, relentlessness, titillation – the emotions were umpteen. The “jump” journey starts with a short trip to Billing (which is the take off site, 14 km uphill from Bir). It is 2400 meters (7874 feet) above the sea level and apparently considered as the best take off point for para-gliders in the world.
Post some safety tips and gear instructions by the coaches, you are all set to take the plunge! No doubt, the first few minutes, from when you strap on the parachute and the safety belt, till the time, when you run off the cliff (and eventually fly!) – there are a million “enzymatic” thoughts in your head. Your brain is a crazy mess. (Though taking “safe” selfies works as a perfect distraction at this time.) A small run down-hill and you are reared up by the strong gush of wind, up, up so high! The sight is a splendid-panoramic view of Dhauladhar mountain range of Himalayas and the beautiful Kangra valley. ENTHRALLING! Equipped with our Go-Pros (aka Zopros by Mandy, when she is high on adrenaline!) and safely strapped to out pilots – we were actually flying! They say, what you see is how you feel – Well, I saw beauty and it felt wonderful. (As if, nothing else mattered!)
After a 30-35 minutes of venturesome flight (costing INR 2500), which includes a free gossip-session with you pilot ranging from discussing local politics to movies and climate control, an amazing video on Go-Pro and a few hair-raising acrobatic stunts (if you are one of the extra-brave ones!) you make the landing at Bir (the landing zone). Task “Extreme Adventure” – completed!
Travel Tip – There are many paragliding associations at Bir, offering varied options and prices. Considering that your safety is of prime concern to you, please chose the one with ample positive reviews and good customer satisfaction history. (You can check out more here) Also, eat light before the jump (You know why!)
Note – Although the town is brimming with tourists all year round, the best time for paragliding is between the months of October and November.
Where To Eat – Considering it is a small town, there are not many eateries and cafes in Bir. Though with cuisine ranging from Fusion, International, Tibetan, Mediterranean to local food and ample vegan options – you’ll have enough to choose from. Garden Cafe, The 4tables Cafe & Gallery, Silver Linings, Norgay Kitchen – are a few of the best places to eat here. You may also WANT to get your hands on the local specialty snacks in Bir. (Momos and Thupkas! Yum!)
Other Things To Do –
1. Trekking And Camping – There is a variety of trekking choices available in the valley, ranging from the real easy ones to those lasting 2-3 days, which include camping as well. Tatta Pani Trek (Hot water spring), Hanuman Garh Trek, Camp Oak View Trek, Sunset Point Trek, Tea Garden Walk – are a few of the many trekking options available in Bir Billing. (Know more here).
2. Visit to Monasteries – Since Bir is also home to Tibetan Refugee settlement, there are many monasteries and Stupas here. Palpung Sherabling Monastery, locally called Bhattu Monastery (located at a distance of 6 km from the landing site at Bir), Dzongsar Shedra (located in Chauntra, which is 4 km from Bir) are a few of the main monasteries that you would want to visit. Colorful, artistic yet harmonious – these monasteries should be a “must-visit” in your Bir travel itinerary. (Know more here).
Note – There are no ATMs in Bir. So carry enough cash for your all needs. (Worst case scenario – You can walk to Chauntra (about one hour walk from Chowgan Chowk in Lower Bir) where Punjab National Bank manages an ATM.)
We ended our trip (of 2 days and 2 nights) with a promise to ourselves that we shall be back again for another “jump” and also, with heaps of shopping from the Local Tibetan Market. Prayer flags, incense sticks, hand-crafted pen-stands, silk scarves and the trademark Tibetan “dragon-embossed-gold-plated” tea cups – there is something for everyone here!
Full of fun, adventure and euphoria, this trip to Bir Billing was a perfect escapade for us. Undoubtedly, one of my most memorable trip, where I experienced the joy of flying high in the sky with magnificent mountains beneath my feet! From 2 friends seeking an adventure for a lifetime to gutsier, spunkier dare-devils – Bir, sure did change us!
Here’s to travelling, discovering new places and scaling new heights! Cheers!
Have an “adventurous” story to tell? I am all ears.