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The Quaint Township Of Bir

Ritusmita Biswas

Himachal Pradesh popularly known as Dev Bhoomi provides a number of majestic travel options for the wanderlust. Apart from the known – there are many such unknown destinations which are slowly finding a place on a travel map. The quaint townships of Bir and Billing that dot the eastern end of the Kangra Valley are one of them. Two reasons that support the cause – one it is one of the most friendly places housing a huge Khampa community (from Tibet) and second it is the perfect destination for growth of ecotourism. Home to several educational institutions, monasteries, and nonprofit organizations (NGOs), Bir is a must visit.

But wait! I have not yet shared with you the reason that makes Bir famous – it is one of the hottest spots across the globe for para gliding and in fact it is the second best site in the world for paragliding (after Lake Como in Italy). Naturally being the outdoor enthusiast that we are we could not give it a miss. So we took a detour from Dharamshala and headed towards the township of Bir.

Reaching Bir - Bir falls in the Tehsil of Baijnath and is located in the district of Kangra in Himachal Pradesh, India. I came to know that Bir is accessible from Dharamshala by road. It takes three hours from there and the route lies on the way to the Thamsar Pass leading to Bara Bhangal.

I did my research and found that from a geographical point of view, Bir is located in the Joginder Nagar Valley, Dhauladhar Range of the foothills of Indian Himalayas. Another way to access Bir by road is from the Bir Road sign off on National Highway 154 and this is approximately midway between Baijnath and Jogindernagar. We took the second option and approximately after 3 hours of drive reached Bir. It was around 6 pm in the evening and a cool night – the quaint town had almost shut down and we looked forward to an adventurous and eventful next day. But first we needed a warm dinner and a comfortable bed – we had started from Amritsar the morning before and had a whole day drive with a break in Dharamshala and so all of us were dog tired. Colonel’s Resort in Bir which was pre-booked by us provided a wonderful repose. Run by an ex-army couple this resort provides you with not only aesthetic rooms but A Table d’hôte menu where most meals are prepared with vegetables picked fresh from their kitchen garden. This was exactly what we needed that day and we were glad that our friend Gaurav Schimar had recommended the same to us.

Photo Credits: Sherab Ling Monastery: Basunti-Yoga-India.co.uk
Photo Credits: Travel Notes

The Day After − we woke up next morning to a dark and overcast sky − this was no day for paragliding and so to make the best of the visit we decided to do some local sightseeing. The first stop was the famous Sherab Ling Monastery. It was around 6 am in the morning – a continuous light drizzle further had made the natural settings mesmerizing. The peace and the calm helped us to connect deep within us making us realize travel is basically a journey to discover ones inner self.

From there we proceeded to the other places of interest in the area. Upper Bir is also called as Bir Proper and is the historical center of Bir. This is the place that we visited next and then we went ahead to the Bir Tibetan colony, which is often simply called as Colony by the locals. It is located at the west end of the village of Chowgan below Upper Bir. The primary occupation of the people of Bir is agriculture. I came across a large community of Tibetan refugees in the Bir Tibetan colony and also saw some foreigners who were international expatriates as well as some tourists and visitors like me. It was time for breakfast and delicious momos awaited us – after all when traveling in the hills how can you do without momos!

Other places of interest that we could not visit due to a tight schedule were Dharmalaya Institute, Ekant Homestay, a Sikh retreat center and the beautiful village of Ghornala which is located midway between Bir and Sansaal. Here are a few details about them for any tourists who would like to visit

The Deer Park Institute

This institute was established by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche in 2006 under patronage of the holy Dalai Lama. This is a center for the study of classical Indian wisdom traditions. Many guest lectures and workshops are conducted here that are delivered by reputed scholars and meditation teachers. A must visit for those who are in the travel mode for soul searching.

The Dharmalaya Institute

Dharmalaya is a non-governmental organization or a charitable institution that is dedicated to education, service and compassionate living. This is an eco-campus for service-learning and contemplative practice and the emphasis is on sustainable village development, contemplative service learning and immersive eco-tourism.

Paragliding in Bir

Though owing to weather conditions we had to miss paragliding in Bir yet as I had done my homework I would like to share a few details about paragliding in Bir. The best season to fly is from September to October; however if the weather is clear and it isn’t much foggy November too can be deemed ideal for this activity. Many international paragliding competitions and events are hosted in this village. The meadow of Billing houses the paragliding launch site that is 14 km north of Bir at an elevation of 2540 meters. On the other hand, the landing site and a majority of the tourist accommodations are in the village of Chowgan that is located on the Southern Edge of Bir.

…And Finally

Bir is the perfect place for the people who love adventure. This is mainly because of the fact that the paragliding sports provide ample scope for people to test their nerve. Nevertheless, it is also worthy of a visit by people who love meditation and spirituality. Hence, make sure that you visit this wonderful place and enjoy yourself to the fullest.

Photo CreditsBanner Left: Central Tibetan Administration; Banner Center: Himachal Tour Guide; Banner Right: The Deer Park Institute