BIR – A Sleepy Hamlet in Himachal Bestowing Indelible Memories
When in the mountains, I have discovered that the quintessential way of soaking in the ambiance and culture of a place is by sauntering through the town and hiking to the nearby hamlets, getting friendly with the local people. It also bestows you with indelible memories. As it did to us when we were in Bir.
Bir is a picturesque village located in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh in northern India. Popular as the paragliding capital of India it successfully hosts international competitions. The area also houses a Tibetan refugee settlement at Chowgan and is populated by tea gardens and monasteries.
The nature lover can lose himself in breathtaking vistas amongst the rolling hills, majestic mountains, quaint villages, meandering rivers, gurgling streams, emerald meadows, mysterious forests, enchanting fields covered in patches of green, yellow, red and brown, swirling clouds and the sky a riot of colours with the evening sun descending over the horizon.
An inspiration for the lesser Van Goghs!
Bir Main Street
Ambling through the main street we passed the Chokling and Ngagyur monasteries, an eclectic collection of shops (sports and trekking shoes, handicrafts, bikes on rent, paragliding operators), a mélange of eating joints where we tried the fare at Byron Bay Café, Silver Linings Café, Gliders Pizzeria and ended the stroll at the landing site watching the sun go down as the last of the paragliders descended.
Byron Bay Café
This pleasant terrace eatery is located next to the Zim Zim Guest House on the main street with the access being up an iron spiral staircase.
It has both outdoor and indoor seating and offers pizzas, pasta, cakes and beverages.
However, on recommendation, we tried their “Byron Bowl” a vegan salad with brown rice.
Interestingly, the cafe’ takes its name from Byron Bay – a coastal town in the southeastern Australian state of New South Wales.
It was the birth place of Tashi Steiner, the lady behind the inspiration for this establishment.
Silver Linings Café
Just ahead of the Bir landing site this is a quaint, serene, unassuming coffee shop where you can sit and just let the world pass you by.
We spent a perfect hour here at sundown over a steaming hot cappuccino accompanied with a filling vegetable wrap. The ideal recipe to glaze the chill in the air!
(Made me also add Jim Reeves song “I Let the World Pass Me By” to my playlist even though he had sung it in a different context.)
Paragliding from Billing to Bir
We still get an adrenaline rush, whenever we recollect the excitement of our morning paragliding stint, half an hour of a bucket-list experience.
This is Billing at 8500 feet, the take off location for gliders. It is 14 kms from Bir where we drove up through a rough jeep track. The transport is included in the paragliding package.
Billing is a stunning site with green meadows, the snow capped Dhauladhars visible over the horizon on clear days, ringed by undulating mountains and beautiful views of the forested valley down below.
While waiting for the proper thermal lifts we did not mind, or rather enjoyed, the tranquil albeit windy couple of hours we spent at the mountain top in the morning.
Briefing over, GoPros firmly clutched, brimming with confidence (in our trained, experienced and certified pilots!) we are here ready for take off on our tandem flights, valiant countenances on display, belying the slight underlying nervousness.
We had also ended up having a bread-omelette-chai breakfast at the dhaba up here while waiting for the air currents. This, inspite of contrarian advise, taking the risk of ending up with queasy stomachs while up in the air.
The 30-minute tandem flight was exhilarating and thrilling for Ranjana and me, both of us in separate gliders, soaring high in the air at 10000 feet asl.
Our pilots were expert enough to take us close to each other at times!
Drifting around in wide circles, 4000 feet above the valley like free birds, this was an adventure none should miss!
Bliss and Mystique – A Nature Trek to Sherabling
The next day we ventured on an easy and refreshing 5 kms trek, beyond the Bir landing site through Keori Village, fording the Sujja River and hiking through a pine forest to reach Palpung Sherabling Monastery.
We crossed a football field and a basket ball court before we reached the religious Tibetan Institution. It was heartening to learn that besides religious education and teachings the young monks are allowed to play sports. We came across children playing football and a younger group indulging in horseplay.
Kids are the same everywhere – happy, curious, lively and jestful.
The main shrine hall of the Sherabling Monastery has a beautiful statue of the Buddha (much like the one in Thiksey at Ladakh) and intricate thankas besides painted pillars, walls and ceilings.
However, our most enthralling trek was to the Gunehar Village and River with lunch at the 4 Tables Café and Gallery on our way back.
From our abode in Bir, it was 4 kms uphill to Gunehar through Chowgan and Kotli and then another km through the village and down to the river in the midst of stunning wilderness.
The water was clear, cascading down various levels, and was shallow enough to splash around.
We were enveloped by extreme peace sitting on a rock by the river, the meditative flow of the rippling water with a slight breeze ruffling our hair, making the milieu supremely pristine. Looking up to the east, over the treeline we spotted colourful gliders in the sky moving around like eagles on a canvas of white clouds and a blue sky.
The village walk was delightful. It started at the bus-stand which also had a couple of home stays and general provision shops – the walls, amazingly, depicting rural street art.
Further on, we glimpsed the scenes of a typical Indian village with the narrow street winding through stone houses with slate roofs, coming across the odd villager on his daily chores and corn cobs and hay drying on roof tops with the mountains forming the backdrop.
A TV dish announcing that the village was blessed with electricity and technology and a car and a new house suggesting that the village was looming ahead with contemporary overtones albeit maintaining much of its picturesque quality. An interesting juxtaposition of the new and the old.
Our unvocal chance encounter with this Gunehar denizen, who looked an octogenrian but was perhaps merely sixty, his furrowed brow hiding many a story and a benign smile spreading through his stubble to his cheeks and travelling upto his sunken eyes harmonized us into an elusive consciousness of having discovered satisfaction in simplicity.
A feeling to remember and cherish!