“Did you go paragliding?”
A flood of DMs, all with the same four words, hit my Instagram inbox, minutes after I posted stories of myself in this lush green paradise in the mountains. Bir, after all, is the second best paragliding spot in the world (and the best one in Asia,) a runner-up to Lake Como in Italy.
But no, I didn’t paraglide, although I would have loved to test gravity and precariously dangle above this gorgeous place, soaking in its incredible beauty from above! Heights thrill me! Remember the CN Tower Edgewalk in Canada?
I couldn’t paraglide becasuse it was the month of July – and paragliding is non operational in the monsoons, from June until the 15th of September. I already knew this, of course, when I visited Bir, but I was thrilled to visit it nonetheless, as a stop on my 2-month long stay in Himachal Pradesh.
Bir is one of the most popular places to visit in Himachal Pradesh for adventure seekers. Stretches of green fields, now bearing crops in rainy season, otherwise act as a landing ground for adrenaline-junkies who take to the skies on an epic paragliding experience that begins at Billing, 14 kms away. From here, the mountains appear to be painted in watercolour – the closest one, a shade of indigo, and the farthest, pastel blue.
Alongside sports, an unlikely counterpart shares in the spotlight. Religion! Yes, Bir is also popular for a number of spellbinding monasteries that match every colour of the prayer flags decorating the streets and gardens of Bir. It’s not uncommon to see monks in their maroon robes sporting funky running shoes or enjoying a game of football as rainbow coloured paragliders soar above.
WHERE TO STAY IN BIR
Zostel is one of the most popular places to stay at in Bir. If you’re not one to live in a dorm room (like me), their Deluxe rooms are incredibly comfortable, squeaky clean and value-for-money. It was my first experience staying at Zostel, and I was pleasantly surprised at how colourful the place is, well-organized and up-scale for backpacker-category accommodation! Evergreen Guesthouse is a cheaper, yet equally clean and cosy place to stay for those who don’t plan on being in their rooms all day. The price range here is Rs. 600 per night, but you can negotiate if you are staying for long periods, like perhaps to attend a paragliding course or one of the courses at the monasteries.
THINGS TO DO IN BIR
Being the second highest paragliding spot in the world as well as a Buddhist colony, visitors to Bir can’t leave without experiencing the thrill of flight or entering a couple of Monasteries. There are about 5-6 Monasteries, and due to their complex names, they are often confused with one another. Nevertheless, try and visit as many as you can – the colourful walls, fine craftsmanship and tranquil vibes make them fascinating places to visit for architecture lovers, history buffs and even photography enthusiasts. Walking around Bir is a wonderful way to blend in, but there are plenty of options to rent bicycles, too.
Nyingma Monsatery – This was one of the first monasteries I visited in Bir. It was right on the main road and one inevitably has to pass it on every walk around the area. It looks smaller in comparison to some of the other monasteries, but the colours and the aura it exudes are no less serene. The monastery appeared to be closed for visitors when I walked in, but on my way out, I curiously peeped into a small shrine where an old monk was circling a spinning prayer wheel. After seeing me observe him for a while, he called me in to join him, and I tried to match the old man’s steps as he chanted and circled the wheel. Before long, the orange scriptures on the blue walls around me started to merge and I began to feel a little dizzy, even as the elderly monk was at it, uninterrupted, an hour later.
Chokling Monastery – The Chokling Monastery is the most famous one in Bir, and the most beautiful, too! 8 white pillars, ornately painted, sit upon red and blue rocks of all sizes, each with gold prayer chants illustrated on them, and from here itself, one can hear soulful prayers emanating from the inner chambers. On climbing up the stairs, I found myself standing in an expansive courtyard surrounded by the monk’s boarding set in a semi-circle, facing a massive monastery right in front of me. To the right, a solitary tree had beneath it a beautiful golden statue of Lord Buddha. I got to know later that the 1999 Hollywood movie called ‘The Cup’ was entirely shot right here – it was about 2 young football-obsessed monks who desperately try to obtain a TV to watch the World Cup Finals in the monastery.
Tsering Dzong Monastery – It’s hard to say what’s more beautiful – the gardens bursting with flowers or the statues, mini shrines and prayer rooms in this pretty-as-a-picture monastery! It was an overcast day, because of which I couldn’t capture the vibrancy of this place, but when I go back to Bir to paraglide, I’m definitely stopping by here again.
Sherabling Monastery – This one is 5 kms away from Bir, in the village of Bhattu, but is still the largest monastery in the area. A scenic route takes you past forests of pine trees until you enter its gates. Once inside, you can follow one of three roads, each one will take you to either the large Monastery, a smaller blue one (which was locked when I visited), or to a little Buddhist settlement. One can admire the large monastery from the outside, but lucky for me, just as I arrived, a monk was opening the door to the inside chamber and beckoned me to look in. There, rising before me, was the most magnificent, gleaming gold Buddha statue I’ve ever seen!
Deer Park Institute – Don’t expect to see any Deer here – this is a training institute which regularly organizes courses in philosophy, yoga, meditation and the healing arts. If you’d like to learn from the masters of Tibetan Buddhism, enroll yourself in one of the courses here – they’re free, but you will have to make a donation as a contribution for food and stay.
WHERE TO EAT IN BIR
Bir has a handful of cafes and restaurants, but sadly, I was unimpressed by the quality of food served in most of them, which verged on being inedible. Evergreen Café has a spacious indoor and outdoor set-up, but the food is, to be honest, pretty bad. With an omlete that was raw in the middle, sun-dried tomatoes that were fried with spices and cinnamon french toast that had a layer of actual layer of sugar and cinnamon on top, I didn’t dare order anything else. The same goes for Byron Bay – completely inedible pasta and a pizza that looked + tasted like something a 4-year old made ensured I went to bed hungry that night. A lot of tables around mine were complaining and cancelled their pending orders. too.
I had heard a lot about 4 Tables Café, but when I visited, I was told by a local that it was locked up, and she had no idea when it would open again. Since it is located a short drive away from main Bir, it was too far to give it another try. Yet another place, Cafe Cloud Door had nothing praise-worthy to speak of, and can be avoided if you don’t have much time to spend in these parts. Musafir Café in Bir has a good reputation but since I couldn’t visit, I can’t confirm this.
The saving grace was a darling little South Indian restaurant called Avva’s – located at the entrance of a field near the Paragliding landing zone. It’s ironic to think that South Indian food in Himachal Pradesh would be good, but the food here was outstanding and on finding this place, I had all my meals in Bir there, until the day I left. It is run by a South Indian couple who prepares homely tomato-rice, delicious dosas, crispy medu vadas and the best filter coffee ever! Silver Linings Café, located opposite Avva’s is yet another decent stop for juices and breakfasts.
Keep in mind that almost every restaurant in Bir closes by 8PM, except for Avva’s, that is open until 9:30 and the Zostel Bir Café that is open until 10 PM, serving a limited array for food such as momos and thukpa.
Bir has something for the thrill-seeker as well as those with a thirst for spirituality. Both exist in equal measure here – like yin and yang – the perfect example of balance.
Enjoyed reading this post? Does it help plan you travel to Bir? Drop me a line below and let me know; it’s always fun to hear from you!
You can also check out some of my previous posts – 5 things to do in Naggar and The White – a boho-chic resort in Agonda, Goa.