‘Bir’, we said. “Beed?’ they asked. We were at the bus stand in the holy town of Baijnath marvelling at the ancient carvings in the Baidyanath Temple and the tranquil town of Bir was only thirty minutes away, we were told. We hopped into the already full bus and the uphill climb began.
How to reach Bir :
By train : Till Pathankot and then by cab or bus to Bir.
By road : Bir is 530 kms from Delhi. Delhi to Baijnath buses are frequent and there are volvo services too. Bir is hardly 15 kms from Baijnath. Buses every 30 minutes.
At hardly 1500m above sea level, the weather in Bir is comfortable and temperatures are meant for peaceful living. The paragliding world cup that was held in 2015 has resulted in beautifully laid out roads and pavements. With maroon robed Tibetan monks roaming, I had first thought it was a walk-only street and vehicles were banned on the road!
Food, staying and places to see are the things we all search for when going to a new destination. Bir is about setting yourself free and enjoying the many walks in the midst of tea gardens and nature. I outline some possibilities from the experiences of four days spent there in January 2016.
Where to stay in Bir
Bir is divided into various areas like lower Bir, Chowgan, upper Bir apart from the Tibetan Colony and has many kinds of accommodation options ranging from homestays and guesthouses. Bir also has a choice of hotels to stay in.
Lower Bir : On the main road just before the bifurcation of Chowgan and Tibetan Colony is a plush place Paul’s Manor. The rooms are huge in white interiors with wooden flooring and overlook the tea gardens. Price asked : 1000 Rupees
Upper Bir : This is as far as the bus will go. There is a lovely waterfall on top of the village and an old temple. Just before reaching Upper Bir, the road branches to the take off point for paragliding known as Billing. Staying options are few in Upper Bir and the best I saw was Bhavani Guest House, under renovation when I visited. The comfortable rooms there were quoted at 500-600 Rupees. The locals say that the food at Bhavani Guest House is the best. The Forest Rest House is located closeby and may be a worthwhile place to try and stay in.
Tibetan Colony : There are numerous options to stay in the Tibetan Colony and many of them lie on the main road. My personal recommendation would be to go into the small lanes and take your pick. Nyingma Guest House and Chokling Guest House would be my top choices to stay in the Tibetan Colony of Bir. Rooms cost 400 Rupees.
Elsewhere, the top accommodation options would be Colonel’s Resort located just off the main road near Chowgan and Four Rooms Hotel lying in tranquil Gunehr.
Dharmalaya Institute in Upper Bir is an excellent choice for long stays and for people who are interested in yoga, meditation and organic vegetarian food.
Billing at 2600m is just the take-off point for paragliding. There is no accommodation option on top and just has one tea shop. Maybe with some prior permission you can pitch a tent on top and enjoy breathtaking valley views.
Must see places in Bir Billing
The Tibetan colony is one of the earliest Tibetan refugee settlements in India and was established in 1962 by those fleeing the Chinese invasion of Tibet. The three monasteries in the Tibetan Colony are all recently constructed and a great place to begin the day by attending the morning prayers. The huge chorten inside Chokling monastery is much revered by the locals. There are eight chortens that the old Tibetans do a ‘kora’ of. This is spiritually the most important place in the Tibetan Colony of Bir.
Dharmalaya Institute was closed when I went but the locals say it is involved in many activities and is a must visit.
Deer Park institute : Deer Park Institute is a centre for study of classical Indian wisdom traditions. The building is a beautiful yellow and lies in amazing greenery. It is a recommended place to visit for the various activities that are conducted from time to time.
Palpung Sherab Ling Monastery : The most famous monastery in Bir is located in Bhattu Forest area and is approx. 6 kms away from the Tibetan Colony. The huge Buddha statue is beautiful in this monastery spread in an area of 30 acres.
Feel on top of the world in Billing : Around 14 kilometres on a winding road, this is the highlight of a visit to Bir for sights of endless landscapes and seeing the paragliders float in the air. Prayer flags flutter on top of the hill and the valley views are mesmerising.
Restaurants & Cafés in Bir
Most of the eating options are spread out in the Tibetan Colony.
Garden Café : Although it is on the main road in the Tibetan Colony, the ambiance is nice and peaceful. The herbal teas are awesome and so are the salads. The owner is from Ladakh and also runs a little shop with lots of treasures, ancient and new.
4Tables Café : The only place in Bir to have a fine dine experience with food to match and the owner – Frank’s shenanigans are an added charm. Wood fire pizzas await beneath the starry skies.
Nyingma Tibetan Restaurant : The local favourite to go and eat momos in Bir.
Chokling Café : My choice for freshly made Tibetan food in lovely surroundings with a huge Chorten for company.
Bakery & coffee shop on the main road : Owned by a jolly gentleman with a ponytail, this is Bir’s best place to come for a coffee. There are also freshly baked cakes everyday.
Indian food is available at the dhabas on the main road in the Tibetan Colony. Himalaya Café & Amdo Café are an excellent place to try authentic Tibetan dishes like the transparent rice noodles.
Paragliding in Bir-Billing
Thirty minute joy rides start at Rs. 2000. I recommended the guys who have been involved in paragliding in Bir since the inception. The guy’s nickname is Bablu and he operates Surjeet Adventures. I saw him giving lessons and tips to new paragliding instructors.
The Bir Co-operative Tea Factory in Upper Bir is a reliable choice to buy some fine quality tea leaves.
Wifi is available at most places for free and the speed is reliable.
Bir is away from the highway, yet very close to it. It could be a new Manali or Shimla in ten years time. Go soon, Go NOW!