If ever an anti climax can be beautiful, then Bir trip was very successful at that. Although my expectation from the place that is, paragliding in Bir did not come true, I enjoyed every moment of my stay there. The drive from Dharamkot took more than three hours and the journey was as beautiful as the destination. It rained the entire way and from blinding downpour to soft misty sprays, my sturdy little taxi braved it all. Clouds were my constant companion during the drive and the snowy peaks played hide and seek with them. The rain washed beauty of interior Himachal was breathtakingly beautiful and little hilly towns were full of life. Most of them consisted of a hundred houses or more, a few shops, one or two garages, a couple of roadside eateries and all of them had a beauty salon, temple, and a school. Rice fields, fruit orchards, and vegetable gardens started immediately after the last settlement of the town and life seemed uncomplicated there.
A journey as beautiful as the destination
Kangra district, which contained Bir in the midst of its green bosom started after crossing a few miles of wet tea gardens and immediately the scenery seemed to look much softer. Traffic decreased to merely nothing and the rain slicked empty road disappeared into wooly clouds at bends. The rain, which accompanied me all the way from Dharamkot got reduced to a fine drizzle and Kangra’s greenery looked good enough to eat. The early spring month of mid-March made the palash and rhododendrons froth with blossoms and the valleys below resembled patchwork quilts of green, brown, red and pink. Kangra’s rice terraces which swirled like waves around small Himachali huts were sprouting young shoots of tenderest green at that time and pine clumps grouped together in mysterious blackish emerald. The landscape was a visual treat and the snow fed spring beds which usually lay dry during the winter months were carpeted with innumerable wild daisies. With so much of jaw dropping natural beauty around me, the plan of paragliding in Bir slipped in importance. All I wanted was to hike and explore the region to the fullest and in retrospect, this change of mind helped me avoid a major disappointment.
You may also like: Slow traveling in Dharamkot
My first impressions of Bir
My first sight of Bir was marred by heavy rain and its listless wet after effects. Strings of wet Tibetan peace flags drooped on rolling tea gardens and low lying grey clouds blurred the visibility to quite an extent. I could only make out brown slush of the road, as my taxi drove through the town center and only faint sounds of the residents’ activities reached inside the closed car. Even, that was drowned by a loud drumming of the rain drops and paragliding in Bir seemed totally out of the question. Thankfully, my friend‘s flying school the Blue Umbrella arrived soon and Gurpreet welcomed me to his guest house with a warm hug. I liked the Blue Umbrella the moment I stepped in and its bright, spacious interiors immediately made me feel at home. With comfy seating cushions, handwritten meal menus and warm, clean rooms, it was a cheerful place and I spent my first Bir day chatting with Gurpreet over steaming mugs of tea.
Suggested Read: Wet apple flowers and spring of Kokkernag
The local Bir
With rain and thunder wrecking havoc outside, it was a good day to be spent indoors. I listened attentively as Gurpreet introduced the beautiful area and the hype of paragliding in Bir to me. Although originally from Punjab, Gurpreet has lived in Bir long enough to call it home and he spoke at length about its beauty, seasons and the thrill of paragliding there. Situated in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas in the Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh, Bir is blessed with the photogenic backdrop of the Dhauladhar Range and tea gardens, forests and mountains surround it. It is divided into two parts and the greater Bir area includes Billing, the Tibetan Colony in Chowgan, Ghornala, and Sherab Ling in Bhattu. This densely populated area is home to a diverse community of over a thousand Indian villagers and a hefty Tibetan refugee settlement. Most restaurants, shops and the post office are located there and Bir also has a small but burgeoning international expat population. They are mostly students of meditation and philosophy, volunteers, and paragliders. Local life due to the international attention was expensive there and the villagers felt pushed into deeper recesses of the region.
More from the mountains: Enchanting Daksum, the lesser known jewel of Kashmir
Beyond paragliding in Bir
Bir’s plentiful attractions make it difficult to avoid the tourist attention and it is India‘s best-known spot for paragliding. Thus the little Himachali town, along with the neighbouring Billing is extremely popular among the aviators and its famous launch point is located at 7874 feet on a meadow on the top of a ridge at Billing. The landing area is among the fields of the Tibetan Colony in Chowgan and during my stay at the Blue Umbrella, I explored them all on foot. While heavy winds ruined all my prospects of paragliding in Bir with Gurpreet, clear days allowed us lovely walks and we undertook long hikes into the neighbouring areas. Bir and its surroundings were simply idyllic and shepherds, sighing pines, and colourful monasteries dotted the hills. Flowers bloomed riotously all around us and the blue hills looked beautiful against neon green rice terraces. Once again, the weather lulled me into slow traveling and I fell into the habit of following a daily pattern of activities. While rainy days meant lots of naps and reading, clear days guaranteed gorgeous hikes and my evenings were always predictably the same. Come hell or high weather, Gurpreet and I used to go to a local Tibetan eatery every evening where a small group of travelers met over steaming hot Tibetan meals. Accompanied by chilled beer, stars or lightning, those gossip sessions covered many places and experiences across the planet and often used to extend deep into the cold mountain nights. Those were days well spent being kind to my body, soul, and mind and easing into a more relaxing routine with each passing day. In retrospect, it often strikes me funny how in an adrenaline rushed place, I got numbed into almost doing nothing and actually loved every moment of it. Needless to say, I have not been able to replicate that state of slow travel again until now and those memories of beyond paragliding in Bir have become an achievement for me.
Have you achieved slow travel yet?
Bir is the second place, that I have come closest to calling home and for many years I had seriously considered shifting there. Though that did not happen until now, the little Himachali town still holds the key to my heart and I can go back there at the drop of a hat. Some places have that magical charm; that warm, cozy feeling which bewitches even the most jaded of travelers, gently eases off their protective layers of experiences and makes them slow down to start living again. They ease us out of the mindless rush to achieve something, and we become those fresh vulnerable souls, who are no longer seeking anything. We find happiness instead in most mundane of things and routines and that is why perhaps some of the world’s most interesting and experienced humans can be found in places like in a monastery in Tibet, a village in Ecuador or living on a boat on some African river. It reminded me of a couple whom I knew quite well and every summer they would go to their lake side cabin for their annual ritual of basic living. Their log cabin was a rustic, handmade one tucked away in a remote area by the lake and they had installed no electricity, modern plumbing or heating. They ate whatever grew in their vegetable garden and the husband used to chop logs for the wood fire. The woman used to draw water from the well or the lake, take care of the fire and they did this for a whole month. Once I got invited to spend a week with them and after a day, I struggled not to get back to modern life. Without the internet or any kind of modern communication system, I felt tediously empty, until time eventually slowed down by itself. By the end of my week, slow travel had completely taken over me and I missed the lake side‘s pure silence back home. While my stay in Bir was neither as remote or basic as that, it taught me once again how much of an achievement slowing down is. It is quite a task, which once attained is as good as finding gold. So have you achieved slow travel yet?
Dharamshala airport offers closest air access to Bir and from there you can make the onward journey by bus or taxi. While taxi can be quite expensive, it is the best way to enjoy the breathtaking scenery en route and buses are the cheapest option available. Bir is about 12-14 hours from Delhi by bus and they are available from the Interstate Bus Terminal (ISBT). There are two overnight buses from Delhi to Baijnath and a direct infrequent one to Bir. Local buses to Bir are easily available from Baijnath and there are frequent connections from Dharamshala and Pathankot as well. Pathankot is the nearest railhead and it is around seven – eight hours away from Bir.
There are many places to stay in and around Bir and the greater Bir area offers a range of accommodation options, including some of the best eco-tourism stays in Himachal Pradesh. I stayed at the Blue Umbrella, but for more options check out Places to stay in Bir. Most people visit Bir for paragliding and many good schools are based out of there. Other activities include hiking, trekking, camping, fishing, volunteering, meditation courses etc. Bir is perfect for nature lovers and a great place to unwind and rejuvenate. The weather at Bir is mostly mild and light/heavy woolens are required according to the season. Rains call for sturdy waterproof boots and it is sensible to carry rain jackets and umbrellas. For more detailed information on Bir, check out http://birhp.com/
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE