I first found out about Bir in 2012. Despite being familiar with the state of Himachal Pradesh, I only learnt about its existence while looking up the Deer Park Institute online. And how did I hear about Deer Park? I read a mind-blowing book called ‘What Makes You Not A Buddhist’ by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, followed by watching a lovely movie called ‘The Cup’ which was directed by the same person, who also happens to be the Founder of the Deer Park Institute. As soon as I saw the institute’s website, I knew I had to go there someday!
After multiple failed attempts at visiting Bir over the years, 2019 happened to be the year that I finally got to experience this beautiful place, tucked away in the heart of Himachal Pradesh.
Apart from the fact that it is a quaint village in the Joginder Nagar Valley of Himachal, home to a Tibetan Refugee Settlement, and not very far from popular tourist hubs like Dharamshala, Baijnath and Palampur, here are 5 reasons why you should head to Bir-Billing this summer…
The essence of Buddhist teachings starts with learning how to observe one’s natural breath, and the Bir provides the perfect space to meditate, introspect and engage.
Being a Tibetan settlement colony, there are plenty of monasteries and institutions in the region. The Chokling Monastery is the main monastery in Bir, with 8 stupas at the entrance, colourful walls, and windows inside, a lovely central courtyard, and a big statue of Padmasambhava inside the monastery.
The Palpung Sherabling Monastery is also located in the outskirts of Bir (a 1.5-2 hour trek through a forest; 20 minutes away by car) and is supposed to be stunning (the monastery as well as the route leading there).
Further, Bir is a great place to learn more about Tibetan Buddhism, away from the crowd and hustle-bustle of Mcleodganj. The Deer Park Institute offers a range of workshops on Tibetan Buddhism (as well as other activities, such as writing, filmmaking, yoga, etc.) throughout the year, most of which are open to all (but require prior registration, and some charge a nominal fee). Dharmalaya Institute for Compassionate Living is also located in Bir and offers equally interesting workshops.
Bir-Billing is supposed to be the World’s second highest paragliding site, and experiencing flight definitely ought to be on your bucket list! The view from above of the green mountains, snow peaks, rice fields, and tiny settlements is priceless, and you’re sure to be jealous of birds for getting to experience this every day!
There are numerous operators that offer paragliding in Bir. More about my first paragliding experience here!
Bir has a number of amazing cafes that offer great food, lovely ambiance, friendly managers, and at affordable prices! Sounds too good to be true?!
Head to Silver Linings Cafe for breakfast (it’s also a great place to work out of – digital nomads take note), followed by Avva’s for some yummy South Indian lunch (it is located right opposite Silver Lining’s cafe and Aunty’s special dosa is the best dosa I have ever had in the North!). Catch the sunset at The Northern Cafe (this cafe offers the most beautiful view of the paragliding landing site – I could sit there all day watching paragliders gradually land!), grab some momos from one of the local stalls later, and finally proceed to Glider’s Pizzeria for some scrumptious dinner (they serve delicious wood-fired pizza). The above list would make for the perfect gastronomic day in Bir, and I haven’t even gotten to Musafir Cafe, June 16 Cafe, and Garden Cafe yet!
There’s a lot to see and explore in Bir, be it visiting the various monasteries and Buddhist institutes, or walking through the village. Almost every place is reachable by foot, and one can lose all sense of time here. The paragliding landing site itself is pretty wide, and different sides of it offer different (yet equally stunning) views.
There are also a number of trails that one can embark on, some leading to monasteries, others to waterfalls or a great viewing point.
Walk your way through this beautiful place and forget about the need for vehicles in our lives for just a little while…
Despite being developed enough to cater to tourists’ needs (such as numerous hostels and cafes), Bir still retains its small-town vibe. While the main road through the Tibetan colony can get a bit crowded over weekends and peak season, a short detour can land you amidst paddy fields with not a sound to be heard!
While Bir is big enough to keep you occupied even over a week-long trip (or more), it’s small enough for people to recognize you on the streets. In fact, a kind old Tibetan man I met at the Chokling Monastery one day recognized and greeted me in the marketplace four days later!
I noticed that I could easily wake up by 5 AM every day (without an alarm) just by hearing the chirping of birds at sunrise! I could also smell the sweetness of the flowers sitting at Silver Linings Cafe, and I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time my nostrils felt this alive (for something other than food).
Living in the city, we often lose track of our basic senses- we don’t see, hear, smell, feel mindfully and wholeheartedly. We get lost in the ‘noise’, overwhelmed by all that is happening around us.
Head to Bir to ‘switch off’ the noise for a bit, and ‘switch on’ your primary senses. To just ‘be’. The place surely won’t disappoint.
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.
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).
Have you been to Bir? How was your experience?
Tell me in the comments section below!