An ideal getaway for a weekend, week, or month. Bir offers a bucolic setting that engulfs you with its jaw-dropping sunsets, verdant grasslands, a blanket of star-laden night skies, and the mighty Dhauladhar backdrop.
You can set your gaze at the flying humans spread across azure skies, cozy up for a scrumptious meal at Avva’s, sign up for a soulful program at Deer Park Institute, hike up to Garh Mandir for a panoramic view of the valley or just bask in the sun at the landing site. Bir allures you with its comfortable set-up within hours of your arrival and gives you an, ‘Ah, I wish I could’ve stayed longer’ farewell hug.
You’re guaranteed a wholesome stay no matter how long you intend to stay in the Paragliding capital of the country. Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway or a longer stay, here is a budget travel guide that will come in handy.
How To Get Here?
Bir has great connectivity via all major forms of travel.
I. By Road
There are multiple bus services from Delhi to Bir (all via Chandigarh). HRTC Volvo or any other private service like Ram Dalal, Laxmi Travel, etc. cost about ₹1500.
Ordinary buses do ply, but you’ll get one till Baijnath (about 12 km before Bir). Manu travels and Anurag Travels have multiple buses operating in the Kangra region, so getting a bus from Baijnath to Bir won’t be a problem. You can use the same bus services for local travel to Joginder Nagar, Palampur, Barot, etc.
Bus fare from Chandigarh to Baijnath - ₹512. From Baijnath to Bir - ₹30.
Another alternative I’ve tried recently is Blablacar. You can share a ride for roughly ₹1000 from Chandigarh or ₹1500 from Delhi.
II. By Rail
The closest railway station is Pathankot. From here you can take the toy train ride. It might take a bit longer than usual but is going to be worth your time.
Dhauladhar Ex. Spl. starts at 11:15 pm from Delhi and reaches Pathankot at 8 am.
Fare: ₹295 (Sleeper Class), ₹790 (3A).
From Pathankot, you can take the toy train or take any bus going to Mandi, Manali, etc.
Pathankot and Mandi are connected via NH154 so getting a bus till Bir from here isn’t going to be much of an issue. Bir road, where the bus will drop you, is merely 2.7 km from the Tibetan colony.
III. By Air
The nearest airport is in Gaggal, about 70 km from Bir. Air India operates a daily flight from Chandigarh to Dharmshala which can cost you anywhere between ₹1400-2200 (plan judiciously!)
Strategically placed right on the highway, you can easily get a bus to and fro the Airport (buses coming from Pathankot or Jammu and proceeding to Mandi, Joginder Nagar, Manali, etc.) to Bir (any bus going to Pathankot or Jammu).
Pro Tip: The last ATM is right on the Bir road-turn. Make sure you withdraw your cash here. Although most of the places in Bir accept online payments, there’s a shop on Gandhi Chowk (Tibetan Colony) which serves as a make-shift ATM.
Things To Do
I’ll jump right into the Things to do since Bir offers a truck-load of them.
I. Learn To Fly
Bir offers one of the best paragliding experiences in the country.
Adventure seekers looking to learn the basic art of flying can do so within a week (P1+P2 costs about ₹20-25k and usually includes accommodation) or become a certified independent pilot within 10 to 14 days (P1+P2+P3 for about ₹40k, includes accommodation).
Schools to look for:
For those looking to just scratch the flying experience from the top, tandem flights are offered by nearly every other guy roaming around the landing site. Persistent haggling can guarantee you a 20-25 mins flight for as low as ₹1800-2000 (includes the cab which takes you to the take-off site - Billing).
Pro Tip: Look for the pilots themselves and not operators. Anyone packing a glider on the landing site should be able to get you a cheaper deal. Sunset flights are breathtaking!
II. Garh Mandir Hike
Mata Maheshwari Temple colloquially known as Garh Mandir is a short 25-30 mins hike from Ahju through a dense pine tree forest. The antenna shooting up from the roof of the temple makes it very easy to be spotted from anywhere in Bir. Green lights of the temple adorn the southwestern night sky. One can get a ₹200 cab to the base of the hike or rather walk downwards from the landing towards Ahju (40-45 mins).
Pro Tip: Ask for the way to the roof and witness the entire Bir-Billing valley painted in front of you. Prefer going in the early morning or during sunset.
III. Rajgundha Valley Trek
Connecting Barot with Bir, Rajgundha is a rather easy beginners trek for anyone looking to gain altitude and get closer to the snow-capped ginormous Dhauladhar peaks.
The trek starts from the upper take off at Billing and serves as a base for other treks like Thamsar Pass. It is roughly 14km, 5-6 hrs long though can be negotiated from the Barot side as well (6.5km from Barot Side). If seafood excites you, add Barot to your itinerary and relish fresh Trout from the Uhl river.
You can spend the night at Zostel, look for cheaper homestays (room for ₹500-600), or pitch/rent your own tent.
The next morning you can hike down to the Uhl river (10 mins) or make your way to Chota Manali (Ask the locals about it).
Don’t forget to spot the Elephant tree on your way up here!
Pro Tip: There’s no need for a guide as such. The trial is pretty much laid out and available on OSM maps too.
One can easily complete this within a day if you start early and rent a scooty/bike.
P.S: expect a bumpy ride on a very narrow road!
IV. Tatwani (Tatapani) Natural Hot Spring Trek
Tatwani is an off-beat day trip nestled in the quaint Kangra hills about 28km (Road) + 2.5km (trek, 2 hours) from Bir. Not known to many, it offers a complete package for a hiker to ramble about amongst lush greenery and mellifluous sounds.
The hike is not very picturesque as such but the hot spring overcompensates for the lost beauty.
Rent a scooter from Bir and drive down to Hydel Power Project (₹700 scooter + ₹200 fuel).
You can find the Strava log here. The trail is well marked on google maps too!
Pro Tip: Ask your stay owners if they can lend you their bike. The water’s too hot near the source of the spring. Tread down a little (near the bathing rooms) and you’ll find a spot where the water temperature is just perfect.
V. Bangoru Waterfall
Hidden in the Gunehar region, roughly 4-5 km away from the Tibetan colony on the way to Billing - Bangoru waterfall is a must-visit for all craving a little adventure. One needs to get in knee-deep water, climb over rocks through a maze-like trail and negotiate shaky ladders to arrive at this veiled marvel. Avoid going on the weekend and you can be lucky enough to have the entire waterfall to yourself.
Don’t be misled by the Gunehar waterfall which you cross on the way to Bangoru.
Pro Tip: Ask the Paragliding taxis going to Billing to drop you off at the turn for Gunehar (₹50-100/person). An exclusive cab will cost you ₹300.
Carry spare clothes and slippers.
VI. Miscellaneous Activities
I believe in delving into the vicinity without following a point-to-point guide. There are multiple monasteries to explore - Chokling Monastery, Tsering Jo Monastery, Nyingyang Monastery, and Palpung Sherabling Monastery. There’s lots of street food to try - Yellow Laphing over momos any day!
You can rent a cycle (₹100/ hr) and explore the tea plantations around Bir, take the toy train ride from Ahju to Joginder Nagar (hardly ₹50), and back or even hike (Strava link) up till Billing.
Where To Stay?
There are a dozen places to choose from when deciding where to stay in Bir. Though a quick google search can easily yield a myriad of options, the list here is restricted to a few which offer a cheap yet comfortable stay.
I. Manoj Home Stay
If you’re looking for an affordable location, with high-speed fiber internet and a lovely host - Manoj’s Home Stay is the place to be. At a very accessible location with a grocery shop to fuel all your needs, Manoj Home Stay is one of the best stays close to the landing site. You can bargain your way down to ₹500 a night if you plan to stay for a longer duration.
Pro Tip: Ask for the room with a kitchen. The stay is usually sold out so reserve a room well in advance.
II. Hotel Sky Diver
It’s a two minute walk from the Landing site, yet still very much isolated from the hustle-bustle of the Tibetan colony, Sky Diver is an ideal budget-friendly option for anyone seeking a decent stay. Rooms for as low as ₹700 a night with wi-fi and an in-house kitchen that serves good food are the key highlights here.
Pro Tip: Travelling in a group of 3-4 people? Opt-in for the double bedded room for merely ₹250/person.
III. Deer Park Institute
Amassing over 6000 students annually with a rich profusion of courses in philosophy, arts & culture, meditation, filmmaking, etc. Deer Park Institute can serve as your home in Bir with rooms for as low as ₹150-200 (provided you enroll in any of the courses and intent to stay for a fortnight or more).
A welcoming ambience, travelers with wise anecdotes, an organic garden and a petite room to get comfortable in - Deer Park is by far the best stay option in Bir.
For courses click here.
IV. Vivek Home Stay, Chaugan
Looking for a pocket-friendly work-from-home location in Bir? A ten minute walk from the Tibetan Colony lies your perfect countryside lodging. With a superfast internet connection (80-100 MBPS), 24x7 power-backup, a dedicated workstation, a warm host family, and healthy in-house meals cooked by Gagan’s mom; Vivek Home Stay is by far the best budget option.
Rooms are available for as low as ₹800/night. You can negotiate the price if you intend to stay for a longer duration.
Gagan: 9871901858 (You could always slide in my name for some extra discount)
Pro Tip: Take the mountain-view room and be blessed with views of clouds dancing around Billing or get lucky enough to spot a double rainbow! Utilize the common kitchen to give your cooking skills a shot.
Where And What To Eat?
With a plethora of cuisines and eateries to try out while you’re there, Bir has an alternative for every craving you’ll ever have. As was the case with the stay options, this list shall be restricted to eateries that are pocket-friendly and offer a succulent meal.
I. Landing Shack
Located right at the landing site and run by a very humble family, this small shack serves as the go-to place for all paragliding pilots. An authentic Indian meal for just ₹60 leaves your tummy full to the brim. Try out the lemon soda while you’re here!
II. Momos At Ram Bahadur Cafe
Facing the Surya Classic Hotel is this small eatery offering the best mutton momos and red chutney in all of Bir. Extremely light on the sac, you can satiate your appetite in under ₹100/person.
III. Vada Pav At Bombay Local
Craving some authentic Maharashtrian street food? Jump into this small beanery and relish some Vada Pav for just ₹40.
IV. Tandoori At Shere-e-Punjab
Gorge yourself on the chicken or dal served with the widest smile by Kucku bhaiya for under ₹140/person. Shere-e-Punjab serves as the go-to spot for all Punjabi Tandoori yearnings.
V. Kuckie’s Cafe
Head over to Kuckie Aunty whenever you’re longing Ghar ka khaana. The simple, cozy vibe of the place will make you want to come back over and over. A meal here might cost you ₹100-150. You can sign up for volunteering too!
VI. Breakfast At Silver Linings
Head over to this tiny mud-house cafe which offers the perfect place for you to work from, hang out, or simply take a nap in the garden. Get a cup of tea for ₹20 and relax in this cutesy setting. Arrive early to not miss out on a slice of their Banoffee Pie. The only bummer? They close by 7:30pm.
VII. Nyingma’s Cafe For Everything Tibetan
Frequented by locals and serving the best Devil Momos and Thukpa in the town, Nyingma’s Cafe is the hidden gem of Bir. Devour some exquisite Tibetan delicacies while enjoying the sunset from their aesthetic garden. Do try the Tingmo!
VIII. Street Food
I cannot recall the name of these two places but directions to these might do the trick here.
On your way to the landing, next to Ilaka Cafe, blasting some 10s pop music, is this small eatery offering the cheapest savouries. Try out the BBQ chicken and Yellow Laphing here.
There is another, somewhere around here, is this tiny shop offering the best Tibetan street food. It is the reason for the Laphing > Momos remark made earlier. A must-try place for all looking for a spice-filled fiery kick.
IX. Other mentions:
These cafes are a must-try, albeit a bit pricey:
Siddu at Northern Cafe
Sandwiches at Garden Cafe
Dessert from June 16
Pizza at Glider’s Pizzeria
And, my favourtie - Avva’s for the amazing South Indian!
Vasudev Vashisht is a working professional and travelling enthusiast. He likes to code, fly, hike and travel– unearthing life one adventure at a time. His various travels to Bir have even resulted in a paragliding certification. You can follow his many travel journeys here.
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