|A View of the Dhauladhar Range From Bir At Sunset|
|Mountain View from Bir.|
|Jai Singh and our Trusty Steed|
|Views from the Highway|
|Road! What Road?|
The Hill section starts from Bilaspur, unfortunately, this stretch of the so called national highway was being widened, and in the best traditions of road works in India, comprised of a series of deep pot holes irregularly connected by the odd bits of tarmac, with large, loose coconut sized rocks strewn about randomly to add variety. Apart from jolting us till our teeth rattled and backs gave way, our speed was reduced to a crawl at about 20 km/ hr. This state of affairs continued for almost 75 kms, till Mandi and delayed our arrival at Bir by at least 2 hours. Jai Singh was probably the least affected as he was in front and had the steering wheel to hang on to! The poor car, however, acquired a few rattles and squeaks.
|The Resort at Bir|
It needs be said, that this highway, when in good repair, is picturesque, with pine forests on both sides and constantly changing panoramas. We, however, were not in the best frame of mind to enjoy the views. All the travails of the journey were forgotten when we reached Bir and drove in to the Colonel's Resort, a lovely family run place set in nice gardens, mature orchards and tea plantations.
A hot bath, a cup of tea and some bracing mountain air later, we were visibly relaxing and thinking about a sun downer or two or three.
Bir and Billing
Known as the ‘Paragliding capital of India', the village of Bir in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, is sheltered by the mountains and surrounded by tea gardens. Bir is located at an altitude of about 1700 mts. ASL. It is the gateway to the meadow at Billing, perched at 2400 mtr ASL,14 kms away by a steep road; which serves as the take off point for hang glider and para-sailing pilots. Billing's other claim to fame is the distinction of hosting the very first Paragliding competition according to the rules of Federation Aeronautique International (FAI), in 1984. The author was a part of the team that made local arrangements for the event.
|Para-Sail Pilot Landing at Bir|
|Landing Ground at Bir|
Bir and Billing are known internationally to aficionados of hang gliding and para-sailing for offering one of the best places in the world for these sports. The altitude, thermals and clear air, allied to lack of aircraft traffic, allow experts great latitude
to practice their trade in pristine surroundings. It is no wonder that many international hang gliding competitions are held here, with the 2014 world championships scheduled for October next year.
|The Dhauladhars from Billing|
The Dhauladhar's have an average altitude of 4000 meters, with the highest peak Hanuman Tibba at 5180 meters. The range rises abruptly from the plains with very few foothills and has the most easily accessible snow lines in the Himalayas.
|The 'Control Tower' at Billing!|
|Aerial View-Ridges for Updrafts and Thermals|
'Thermalling' is an essential skill for flying in Billing. Here, thermals are found regularly over a temple, which can be identified from the air by a red ribbon tied to a tree, halfway down the eastern spur running down to Bir. Pilots, partly in jest, refer to the deity in the temple as 'Thermal Devta', i.e. the God of Thermals.
|An Aerial View of Bir from the Para Glider.|
|Scared! - The Author|
|An Aerial View of the Tibetan Monastery.|
|Para-Sailors at Billing.|
|After Landing Safely, the Pack-Up.|
Those who do not want to indulge in such activities, rest easy. There is enough to do without risking life and limb. The approach to Billing, from Bir, is extremely pretty, passing through terraced fields initially; these give way to Oak forests and above 7000 ft the Rhododendrons come into their own. When we visited in May, the last of the blooms were visible on the trees.
|Mules Grazing at Billing.|
The meadow at Billing may not be the greatest in itself, as it is a series of hillocks with some level ground, covered by coarse grass, there are only a couple of huts and one tea shop, and the flyers share the meadow with grazing Angora Goats and Mules of the tribal Gaddis.
|The Mountains from Billing.|
There is no tree cover except for a lone Rhododendron tree, so please wear a hat and cover your arms as the sun is very strong. Carrying your own water is advised. What Billing lacks in creature comforts, it makes up in views. The panoramas on a clear day are stunning to say the least. On three sides you see the majestic snow covered Himalayas and on the other the plains of northern India with Bir being clearly visible.
|Harvesting by Hand.|
|Tractor Driven Community Thresher|
|Milking by Hand.|
|Carrying The Harvest To The Thresher.|
Ahju Temple & FortThe Devi temple and fort ruins are located on a long, flat-topped hill south of Bir, this spot offers great views of the surrounding area. The village of Ahju is an easy 45 minutes walk, with only the last stage being slightly steep.
|The Chokling Gompa.|
Other monasteries worth a visit are Palyul Chökhorling Monastery, Bir Dirru Monastery and Drikung Dozin Theckcho Ling Monastery.
|The Deer Park Institute.|
If you do not want to exert yourself in any way, just lounge away in the nice gardens of the resort or the verandahs of whichever place you stay; reading a book, or watching and listening to the profusion of colourful birds twittering away in the fruit trees. At Colonel's Resort, the resort dogs Frisky and Dash are a delight and the friendly White Mare Nayama has the run of the place.
Wherever you stay, stretch out, relax, sip on an ice cold beer or a tall cold drink, as fancy strikes you and feel your stress drain away.
A small town, at an altitude of 1,830 mt,40 km by road
|The Reservoir Headwaters Barot.|
|Male Monal Pheasant.|
Across the River Uhl is the Nargu Wildlife Sanctuary - home to the Ghoral (Mountain Goat), Himalayan Black Bear and a variety of Pheasants.
Kothi Kohar a market village about 12 kms from Barot, is a centre for education for the nearby tribes. The market is known for the sale of out of season exotic vegetables grown throughout the valley.
|On The Road To Barot.|
The road to Barot, from Joginder Nagar is through thick Deodar forests with lovely vistas of streams and ice covered mountains. It is steep and rough in parts, but worth the drive. Unfortunately, Barot does not have any decent hotels but there are 3 government rest houses which can be booked for an overnight stay. However, some locals offer home stays at nominal prices, an option for the hardy.
The dam and water reservoirs for Joginder Nagar power station in Barot are worth a visit. An electric trolley connects Joginder Nagar and Barot, but is currently not in use. It takes the visitor up a steep, rocky face of 2,500 meters-high mountain and drops sharply on the other side to Barot, where the reservoir is located. It shortens the journey to 12 kms as opposed to 40 kms by road. There are plans to augment this link to a cable car in order to promote tourism. As to when it will happen, your guess is as good as mine.
At about 15 kms from Bir on the main Pathankot highway stands Baijnath Temple, a revered shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva. Inscriptions on the walls show that Baijnath Temple was built by two merchants namely Ahuka and Manyuka, in 1204 A.D. Two other long inscriptions state that prior to the building of the present temple, there existed a shrine to Lord Shiva at the same spot.
|Idol in Alcove|
The temple was damaged in a earthquake and was repaired by king Sansar Chand in the early 19th century.
|View from Baijnath Temple Courtyard.|
This belief in curative power of the water here is the reason that, Baijnath Temple receives thousands of pilgrims every year.
We made a halt at the Baijnath Temple on our way back to Delhi, as my friend wanted to conduct a Pooja (special prayer). Prayers offered and blessings obtained we hit the road to Delhi.
Pathankot to Joginder Nagar Heritage Narrow Gauge Railway
The Kangra Valley Railway, planned in May 1926 and commissioned in 1929, covers a distance of 164 km (101.9 mi) from Pathankot , Punjab to Jogindernagar in Himachal Pradesh, India. It is one of two mountain railways that run in Himachal Pradesh, the other being Kalka-Shimla Railway, which has been designated as world heritage site by UNESCO.
The highest point on this line is at Ahju station, near Bir, at an elevation of 1,210 meters (3,970 ft). The terminus at Joginder Nagar is at an elevation of 1,189 meters (3,901 ft). The railway has been aligned by an engineer who obviously had an eye for beauty. It is set out with picture postcard perfection.
|Gentle Turns, Lovely Vistas.|
|Trains That Pass In The Day.|
Approaching Palampur, the vista of a 15,000 -16,000 feet high chain of snowy peaks, barely ten miles away, is breathtaking. From here to Joginder Nagar, the line runs parallel to the Dhauladhar range and much nearer to eternal snows than any other railway in India.
|View From The Train, Near Baijnath.|
Stay Options: There are a limited number of stay options in Bir.
The best place to stay, by far is the Colonel's Resort. It is ideal for a weekend getaway or a long stay. The rates are reasonable and there is a wide variety of rooms and tents to suit every budget.
|Cottage - Colonel's Resort, Bir.|
They go far and beyond mere 'Call of Duty'. Any wish expressed, is smilingly acceded to and all requests catered for. While Mrs. P. Singh supervises operations, Col. JP Singh is busy organizing, Paragliding, River-crossings, Horse Riding,Treks, Outings and any other action active activity that the guests desire.
|Col. J.P. and Mrs. P. Singh.|
The couple are truly gracious hosts, and, completely won over the Author, who as a Tourism Professional fully understands how difficult it is to provide this level of smiling service. They are fully knowledgeable about the area and offer excellent advise on points of interest and suggested pass-times and activities.
The staff taking their cue from the owners is always smiling and willing. That being said, it being difficult to get trained staff, there may sometimes be difficulties in them understanding the guests requirements, so a smile and some patience on the guests' part will go a long way.
The food in the resort is good, home-style cooking, the variety is very good. A lot of Organic Vegetables are grown in the Resort's own gardens and green houses. The Orthodox style Organic Tea from the Estate is very good, and you can buy it here.
This endorsement stems from the fact that the author, as a hospitality professional, feels that such places and people should be acknowledged. They welcome travelers but send back friends.
Rs. 1200 to 3600/Room. Ranging from tents to cottages. Tariffs normally include breakfast and dinner. Email id: firstname.lastname@example.org, Web:www.colonelsresort.com ☎ +91 98055-34220
Other Hotels, Guesthouses Accommodation in the Bir-Billing Area
Bhawani Guest House: A quiet place in Upper Bir, with a ‘homely environment’. Has nine comfortable rooms with attached bathrooms. Serves Indian meals on advance order.
Rs 300-700 for double rooms. Email: email@example.com ☎ + 91 (1894) 268025, 98574-60215, or 94180-15525
Chokling Guesthouse: Near Chokling Monastery. Sixteen rooms with attached bathrooms and solar-heated showers. Reasonably quiet setting facing the impressive Stupa of the monastery. Restaurant serves decent Tibetan food and veg sushi in a quieter setting than most eateries in the colony.
Rooms start at Rs 250. ☎ +91 88942-32589 or 88941-12325
|Threshed Wheat For Home Use.|
Singles Rs 200, Doubles Rs 250. ☎ +91 (1894) 251-787
Emaho Guesthouse: Has a few rooms with attached bath. ☎ +91 (1894) 268-197 or 98162-12678
Palden Guesthouse: Electrically heated showers. Nice hostess and husband. Very clean. Fast food outlet with Wi-Fi facility.
Rs 250 for double and Rs 200 for single bed room.
Bir Resort Hotel: An older place with 12 rooms, hot showers and a restaurant. Rooms for Rs 400. Web: www.birresorthotel.com; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ☎ +91 (1894) 268-367 or 98106-85753.
|Cattle And Tea Gardens.|
Shared tent accommodation is on a donation basis, with private tents priced on a sliding scale. Web: dharmalaya.in.
|Carrying The Harvest Home.|
Sherab Ling Monastery’s Guest House: Another option, though quite a bit further than Ghornala Resort, and probably too far for most people to walk to Bir every day, is the very comfortable guest house at Sherab Ling Monastery. The facilities at the Sherab Ling guest house are some of the best in the greater Bir area. It’s usually easy enough to arrange a taxi between Sherab Ling and Bir/Ghornala if the beautiful (long) walk through the forest does not appeal to you.
For details, see the web page of the Sherab Ling Monastery.
|Beautiful Mountain Vistas.|
The Long Road Home
The memories of the mountains stay in one's subconscious mind for a long time, and, these would have to suffice until the next visit to Himalayan kingdoms afar, a story for another day......!
|All Tales Of Hills And Dales,Of Valleys Green And Clear Streams.|