Bir is an idyllic village in the Himalayas. What makes it a great holiday destination is that it is not very well known and hence is un-spoilt. The breathtaking beauty of its landscape across forest trails and Tea gardens is best seen paragliding from Billing to Bir. The Buddhist monasteries and Tibetan settlement add a spiritual air to Bir. You can make this holiday memorable by volunteering at Dharmalaya and maybe tutoring a Tibetan refugee child! Make a visit to this hidden treasure of Himachal before the crowds descend upon it.
The nearest Airport to Bir is in Dharamshala. Bir is 2 hours by taxi from the Gaggal-Kangra Airport. However the frequency of flights is limited and fares are expensive. Buses are also available from ISBT in Delhi; however the journey will take 12-13 hours! The most convenient alternative is to take the overnight train from Delhi to Pathankot or Chakki Bank. The taxi ride from here to Bir is 4 hours.
Colonel’s Resort is run by a retired Colonel and is in a picturesque setting of tea gardens and orchards. Contact no is +91 98055-34220. Chokling Guesthouse is near the Chokling Monastery and can be contacted at +918894232589. You can even stay in tents at Dharmalya Institute. The contact details are available at http://dharmalaya.in/contact/.
The best way to get around Bir is by foot! Nothing is too far away at Bir. The Tibetan colony is 20 minutes away from Bir. Chowgan chowk can be reached in 10 minutes from Tibetan Colony. Buses and Taxis are also available between key points in Bir.
Bir & Billing are a popular venue for Paragliding competitions. The main season for Paragliding is Sep-Nov when participants come from many parts of the world. Billing is 14 km north of Bir and at an elevation of 2400 meters serves as the launch pad for Paragliders. The landing site is in the village of Chowgan towards south of Bir. The specialty of Bir- Billing is that regular thermals and ridge lifts are seen here which increases the flight time to as much as 30 min. The Basic course is spread over 5 days, while the Intermediary course lasts an entire week.
Bir Tibetan Colony is a Tibetan refugee settlement in the village of Chowgan. It is worth a visit as you can have a look at Tibetan monasteries, handicraft center, a Tibetan Children's Village school, Tibetan Medical & Astrological Institute and the Deer Park Institute.
Chokling Gompa is the monastery of Neten Chokling Rinpoche, a reincarnate lama in the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. A figurine of Lord Buddha is in the Gompa. There are also two big drums covered in goatskin and painted on the rim. During the Losar festival which is the Tibetan New Year, Butter Sculptures are made at the Gompa. They are usually made in the form of flowers or other traditional symbols. Fine and detailed sand mandalas are also made at the Chokling Gompa.
Other monasteries worth having a look are Palyul Chökhorling Monastery, Bir Dirru Monastery and Drikung Dozin Theckcho Ling Monastery.
Deer Park Institute is a very interesting place to visit. It is a center for study of classical Indian wisdom traditions. It has been influenced by the historic Deer Park, the ‘Mriga Dava’ in Sarnath, where the Buddha first shared a spirit of bias-free enquiry into the nature of mind, existence and suffering. The Deer Park Institute attempts to re-create the spirit of Nalanda, the great university of ancient India in which all traditions of Buddhism were studied and practiced, alongside other schools of classical Indian philosophy, arts and sciences. Programs are conducted to engage the local community in ecology projects.
The institute office can be contacted at +91 - 1894 - 268 508. The office is open from Mon-Sat between 9am - 12pm & 2pm - 6pm.
Dharmalaya is an NGO based in Bir working for sustainable development especially in the Himalayas. They offer vocational education, service-learning and volunteering opportunities. The volunteering period can be over a short period like tutoring Tibetan refugees or stretching for a year working on environmental projects. Tents are available for stay subject to availability. Volunteers and students can bring their own tent and camp up! Pure vegetarian meals are served from the Canteen. Private rooms and meals are also available nearby at the Ghornala Resort, which is just down the hill from the Dharmalaya campus. Contact details are available at http://dharmalaya.in/contact/.
There is an option for virtual volunteering as well! Some of the things possible are Research on sustainability, writing educational, translating between English and Hindi, recruiting new members for Dharmalaya and fundraising for charitable activities.
The Bir Tea Factory is a must visit. You get to see the Tea production facility nestled in the mountains.
Tibetan Children's Villages or TCV is an integrated community in exile for the care and education of orphans, destitute and refugee children from Tibet. The curriculum comprises Tibetan language, Tibetan culture, science, arts, counseling and information technology. Contact no is +91 1892 221348.
The best thing to buy from Bir would be Tibetan handicrafts. A variety of fancy and utility items is made the Tibetan refuge community and is available for purchase.
For my travelogue on a Mini Switzerland of Himachal Pradesh, visit Khajjiar.