Top 5 Things to do at Bir-Billing, Himachal Pradesh
Bir is a tiny town in the Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh that we explored during the Gandhi Jayanti long weekend. As we drove there, we crossed several ‘popular’ hill stations on our way including Palampur and Kangra Valley. I wasn’t expecting Bir to be the way we found it. Honestly, I am glad we visited and spent 3 days there.
At first reaching there one might wonder if the place has anything at all to offer since it is hardly commercialised. Here are top 5 things to do if you are visiting Bir-Billing in Himachal Pradesh:
Bir-Billing is considered the 2nd best place in the world for paragliding. (I Googled for the 1st, there seem to be a conflict between places in France and New Zealand) The 2015 paragliding world cup was held in Bir-Billing, yet the place remains unknown to larger sections of the Indian population.
This, perhaps, is the biggest reason why one would want to visit this hilly town. Register with one of the adventure companies in Bir or talk to your hotel manager to arrange it. You would be taken from Bir to Billing, a distance of about 15 kms, in about 45 minutes in a jeep. On reaching Billing, you would paraglide to reach the landing site in Bir anywhere between 10 to 25 minutes depending on wind conditions and your willingness to stay in air.
Do note that paragliding is a heavily weather-dependant activity. Our flight was delayed by two days because of cloud cover and the huge demand during the long weekend. Try and secure a spot in the first batch of fliers early in the morning (6.30 AM!) and avoid long weekends if you can. We were told there were just 80 licensed pilots and over 400 people in the waiting list that weekend.
Mid-October to Mid-November is the best time for paragliding although it is open all through the year except the monsoons (July-September)
Cost: Rs.2500 for the flight, Rs.500 for the video, Rs.200 for candid DSLR pictures. Bargain!
2. Take a leisurely walk
The best part about Bir is that it is yet to get commercialized. There are a few cafes opening up to cater to the growing tourist numbers but still it is going to be at least a few years before the place gets jampacked like Darjeeling or even Dharamshala. Prices in restaurants are nominal and hotels charge nothing exorbitant.
Take a walk through the streets of the hilly town. Discover Upper Bir (the Indian village) and Lower Bir (the Tibetan area), walk through the tea gardens, head to the landing site and watch the numerous and colourful paragliders flying in the air, visit the Tibetan monastery and temple, sit by the stream, and most of all, breathe the fresh mountain air.
You won’t be jostling with hundreds of tourists for a quiet walk or to find a seat at your favourite café.
3. Try the many cafes and the food
Any place that starts as a backpackers paradise has its share of quiet and quaint cafes. Walk into one of the many cafes lined up on both sides of the main road. We particularly liked the food at Vairagi Café, we loved the momos made by the Himachali aunty at a tiny roadside shop that you could easily miss. The ambience at Musafir- travel café- was brilliant and if you have a day to chill visit this place to meet some like-minded travelers and to chat with Gaurav, the engineer-turned-traveller owner for his interesting story.
4. Head out on a day trip
Baijnath, a place popular for its ancient Shiv Temple, is just 11 kms from Bir. Palampur is about 25 kms from Bir. If you have a free day, drive down to these hill stations, find a quiet spot for yourself and marvel at the beauty of nature. You could also take a ride on the Pathankot-Joginder Nagar toy train- the nearest station is Ahju, just 2 kms from Bir. (Check the train schedule)
5. Camping at Billing hilltop
There are several adventure companies that offer camping on the hilltop of Billing. These are the Quechua tents and so you actually have camping experience on a hilltop instead of spending lot of money for the luxury Swiss tents elsewhere. You can perhaps carry your own tent and pitch it where you like, but be careful of the winds- they tend to get very harsh at times on the hills and if the tent isn’t pitched right, you might get a free flight in your sleep.
When our paragliding got delayed by two days we were wondering what to do since there really isn’t anything else to do in the place. We discovered these things and managed to spend the time well.
Do plan a trip to Bir Billing soon before the place gets commercially taken over and the long weekends start seeing thousands of people converging here and snarls of vehicles stuck in traffic jams.
How to reach:
There are overnight Volvo buses running from Delhi to Bir daily which take close to 12 hours to cover the distance. You can also drive down to the hilly town. It is a 540 km distance and the roads are very good. The hilly stretch is about 150 kms. It could take anywhere between 10-12 hours to reach.
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