Gliding atop the Dhauladhar Mountains in the Himalayan Range pumps your adrenaline. That being said, the joy of camping at this lush green hill station in Kangra Valley, Bir Billing is the ultimate tranquil experience
One of the obscure dots in the Dhauladhar Mountains (part of the outer Himalayan chain) is the town of Bir and after a 14 km-long drive through steep-mountain slopes and going past craggy rock faces, you arrive at the mesmerising sight of Billing. While this little known destination may be hidden from the masses in this country, camping enthusiasts and paragliders find this place to be a haven.
Every year, in the month of May and again in October, the streets of Bir are bustling with people and their huge backpacks, mostly looking for a shared cab ride to get to the take-off point in Billing while others are scouting for a suitable location to set up camps. While there are some hotels, resorts and guests houses, both in Bir and on the way to Billing, living in a camp is an experience in itself.
It is hard to fathom that while being listed FACTS among the top 5 world’s best paragliding destinations, the twin towns of Bir and Billing (collectively called Bir Billing), are not yet on the radar for the country’s hill station loving population. In hindsight, that fact makes this destination to remain quaint and serene. Considered only second to paragliding destinations like Interlaken in Swiss Alps and Lake Como in Italy, Billing hosted the Paragliding World Cup in 2015. Following which, paragliding and hand-gliding enthusiasts from across the globe visit Bir Billing every season. “During the months of May and October we get over 700-800 foreign nationals, who come to paraglide. Even a lot of Indians come to enjoy the sport,” Vijay Thakur, a shopkeeper and a professional glider said.
Flight Of Fantasy
At the take-off point in Billing, the view is just divine. The valley of Bir below, and the snowpeaked mountains behind are captivating. Moreover, there are small cafes at the top which play live music and help visitors unwind after a strenuous trek. Unless you are a trained professional with years of experience, you’ll have to glide with an instructor, but the experience is no less enthralling. In fact, gliding with an instructor works better as you also get to know some historical and geographical facts about both the sport and the destination. The walk back from the landing site is enchanting as one goes through the tea gardens of the Tibetan colony in Chaugan, just outside Bir.
While there are camping resorts and private properties set up less than a kilometer away from the take-off point at Billing, a lot of camping enthusiasts seek sites to set up their own. And it is not an easy task as the road from Bir to Billing is steep with barely any valley around to camp on. However, there are a few suitable locations and one of them is next to the Forest Rest House, approximately 10 km from the landing site at Bir.
The twin towns have some of the best trekking excursions in all of Himachal Pradesh. Bir has many trails going through highlands, forest and snow passes. Some of the more prominent ones are Bara Bhangal, Ghornala and Zanskar valley. In addition to these, there are other trails that lead to Hanumangarh, Chamba Valley, Barot Valley and to the village of Raj Gunda. However, according to locals, the best trek is a 6 km long trail to the Tatani Valley. It starts at the Bir Hydro Project and takes you to the hot water springs of the Tatani Valley.
The Bir road is a lot like Colaba causeway in Mumbai. Traditional attires and ethnic food joints are sold at local stalls set up on the road and everything is cost efficient. There is another market place in the eastern region of Bir called Chauntra. It is popular for its artificial jewellery and also traditional kitchenware and homeware items.
The Buddhist Circuit
There’s a strong influence of Buddhism in the twin-towns. While these days we associate Dalai Lama with the Himachali town of Dharamshala, it is a little known fact that Bir has a huge Tibetan resettlement colony near the Chougan Tea Garden village. There are also several monasteries in Bir, such as, Drikung Dozin Theckcho Ling Monastery, Palyul Chökhorling Monastery, Palpung Sherabling Monastery and Drukpa Kagyu Monastery.
This beautiful and serene hill station is one of the better weekend getaways that one should head to next time when planning an adventurous retreat to the hills.
Written by : Shibaji Roychoudhury