Bir-Billing is supposed to be the World’s second highest paragliding site, and since I was there for a workshop this March, I decided it was the perfect place and time for me to try paragliding. After river rafting at 11,000 ft in Ladakh (blog coming soon) and scuba diving at 12m underwater in the Arabian Sea in the last one year, paragliding at 8000 ft felt like the obvious next thing to do 😛
My hostel manager connected me to a local agency that picked me up around 10 AM the day I was to paraglide, made me sign an indemnity letter (the only time I thought twice about whether I really wanted to go ahead with this), and took me to the take-off point in Billing (approx. 15-20 km away from Bir) along with my fellow gliders. Even the ride up was so beautiful (albeit a little bumpy) that I couldn’t help feel excited and nervous at the same time!
Once we reached the take-off point atop the mountain, we geared up. My instructor told me that all I had to do was keep calm and simply run off the cliff. Sounds easy, I thought, especially after how much more technical and complex scuba diving was. When the airflow was ideal, he told me to start moving forward. I took two steps, confused between a walk and a jog, and then froze. My legs refused to budge. Did I really think I could simply walk off the cliff? I reminded myself of my first scuba diving experience, and how my biggest learning from it was that all I had to do was keep calm- the rest would follow.
Adamant on not succumbing to my fear, I took a deep breath and started moving forward. Sensing my nervousness (and the fact that I was incredibly slow), two other instructors from the agency stepped forward and helped me move faster to the edge, finally telling me to step into the air at the end. By now it was all a blur, but before I knew it, there was no ground under my feet, and I could only see mountains under me! My instructor told me to sit down as if on a chair, adjusted the straps and confirmed if I was doing fine. I nodded and mumbled a yes, though I suspect that not a sound came out of my mouth. I was quite overwhelmed, to say the least!
After a few seconds, and once my mind calmed down a bit, I let it all sink in. I gathered the courage to look around. On my left was the cliff we took off from, and I could see my fellow gliders looking up at us while preparing for their own take-off. On my right, I could see the snow clad Dhauladhar range, shining in the sun. Below me were endless mountains layered with rhododendron trees- spots of red interspersed with dark green. It was breathtaking! I felt like a drone. I felt like a bird. I felt free. This is what birds experience every day! I tried to take in everything around me, not wanting to blink, not wanting to miss a single millisecond of the sights around me! Letting the silence around me sink in.
Fifteen minutes into the glide, my instructor asked me if I’d like to do some stunts. I wasn’t sure what to say; I wanted to say yes, but I was nervous about how risky it would be. I asked him if it was safe, and going by my half-hearted tone, he took that as a yes, and started preparing to twirl in the air. Before I knew it, we were bending to the left and then to the right. Suddenly, we did a zig-zag, stooped low, and then rose up. We went round and round, up and down! I started feeling dizzy, but it was also the best feeling in the world! I didn’t want it to end! A smile was plastered on my face, and I can’t remember the last time I felt this happy and content. I was so grateful for my instructor (and the blind trust I had on his skills) to be able to enjoy this ride! To experience flight.
After the stunts, we started descending, and I could see step farms, monasteries and robed monks walking in the distance more clearly. My instructor told me to lift up my feet as we landed. I was expecting a thud or jerk upon touching the ground, but we had a fairly soft landing, a wide smile still plastered on my face.
It took me a few seconds to register that I was back on land. I stood up and walked around the landing site, watching other gliders fly above me, and eventually land, one after the other. I didn’t want to leave yet. I couldn’t wait to do this again!
All I can say is that if you get a chance to experience paragliding in Bir, don’t pass! Feeling like a bird for 20 minutes is most certainly one of the best feelings in the world!
There are more paragliding agencies and operators in Bir than I can count! I don’t remember the name of the agency I went to (it was recommended to me by the manager at The Hosteller) but you can look up online (plenty of blogs on this) or ask at your hostel/hotel for reliable ones.
In order to paraglide without an instructor, you need to be trained and certified. Several agencies/schools in Bir offer paragliding courses as well.
Don’t carry too many things with you, or else leave your bag at the agency’s office. Mobile and wallet can be given to the instructor to keep in his bag.
Duration & Cost
The entire trip (ride to the take-off point until landing) takes approx. 1.5 hours. The best time to paraglide if you’re a beginner is actually in the morning (although check weather conditions for that day with your agency/instructor).
A 20-25 minute glide costs INR 2000. Additional charges for GoPro videos and landing photographs.
October to June is the season for paragliding. October-November and March-June are the best time for long flights.
There are plenty of hostels and homestays in Bir- including Zostel Bir, The Hosteller (earlier called Mavro Bir), goStops Bir, and Mohinder and Mohindra (homestay). The Deer Park Institute is also a lovely place to stay (though it’s only open for people attending a course at the institute).
Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) buses from Delhi (ISBT) to Bir ply through the week. The overnight journey takes approx. 11 hours. You can book tickets online (try to book at least a week in advance if traveling during peak season or weekends). Remember to get off at Chaugan if you’re staying in the Tibetan Colony (which is where most of the hostels, homestays, and monasteries are). The A/C Himsuta Volvo buses are comfortable and usually on time.
Private carriers offer sleeper buses and are often cheaper. A friend of mine swears by Laxmi Travels, though private buses leave from Majnu Ka Tila Bus Stop in Delhi (and not ISBT).
The nearest railway station is Pathankot, which is approx. 4 hours by car from Bir.
The nearest airport is Gaggal, Dharamshala, which is approx. 90 minutes by car from Bir.
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