There’s a lot more to Bir than what meets the eye. If you’re here on a day trip, you’re most likely to walk around in the Tibetan colony, enjoy the picturesque cafes and of course, take a joy ride, paragliding from Billing to Bir. But as it is with every place, if you spend a little more time, the place starts revealing itself. There are several layers to Bir (Bir-Billing as it is popularly called)- the adventure enthusiast layer, the strong Tibetan Buddhism vibe, several Hindu temples, a thriving alternative culture with people from all over the globe and several parts of India making the place their home.
We’ve tried to categorise a list of places under 6 buckets, take your pick!
Thrill and adventure
If you’re the risk taker and like that adrenaline pumping, Bir has paragliding, cycling, and trekking for you! For paragliding, you’re on the perfect portal, head on to our homepage, select a flight, and get ready to take a safe flight from a mountain top!
If you’re into trekking, village Baadi is there for a short hike. This trek starts from Bir Khas (the larger Bir area comprises of several villages- Chougan is the Tibetan colony where all the cafes are, Bir Khas is the old Bir where most of the local Himachali population lives, Keori is where the landing site and beyond lies, Suja is further downhill from Keori, Gunehar is another village in the opposite direction of where the landing site lies). Walking around all these villages would be nice long walks in themselves! If you’re looking for something more hardcore, Rajgundha, Hanuman Garh, Palachak, Panyartu, and beyond are for you. All these treks start from Billing.
Bir is also a cycler’s paradise. You’ll see cyclists going up and down the Sherabling Monastery road, this is a beautiful gentle 8km stretch in the woods for cycling. There are cycles available for rent at almost every other shop! Hop on and ride away.
Monasteries and Temples
Upper Bir is known for a man who is said to be 145 years old! Yes, you read that right. Vishudhanand Ashram is just beside a beautiful stream as the last point of Upper Bir after which there is a Burning Ghat and then the woods till neverland! Babaji at the ashram is always in silence and before the pandemic, used to give darshan twice a day (11-12 pm and 3-4 pm). And everyone is fed with fruits and kheer as prasad which is said to never get over, no matter how many people arrive. Welcome to this beautiful land of mysticism.
This Hindu ashram does not always fall in the tourist circuit since the Buddhist monasteries grab the limelight. And why not! It is said that most of the thriving monasteries of Tibet of the 19th century are currently present in Bir. Let us take on a thought tour. If you’re entering Bir from the Chowgan Chowk (where the private bus stand is), there will be two monasteries first up. On the right will be the Nyingma Monastery opposite which is their guest house and restaurant. On walking a little further, on your left down the road would be the awe-inspiring Chokling Monastery. This monastery is the reason why Chougan-Bir is the way it is. Several lamas along with the Dalai Lama came to Dharamshala and close to it, Rewalsar was a known place of pilgrimage. It is said that the Lama who set up Chokling monastery was directed towards Bir when they congregated at Rewalsar.
We’ll walk back a little and a bit further away (roughly 4km) in village Chountra is Dzongsar Monastery. MASSIVE is the word. It is a shedra (school) and a humongous piece of art! You’ll probably need a taxi to visit this and once you’ve done that, come back to Chougan where the Sakya monastery is there. You’ll see tiny monks playing football and basketball here, it is an adorable sight. And to close the loop, you can either cycle or take a long walk to Palpung Sherabling Monastery which is said to be a modern-age monastery with advanced learning. There are several high lamas and rinpoches living here. The famous 3 years 3 months retreat is also conducted here and other monasteries. Yes, imagine meditating 3 years straight 🙂
We’ll swerve back to a Hindu temple for which you’d have to ride to Baijnath (you can club it while on your way to or back from Bir). There is a famous ancient Shiva Temple here which has a splendorous campus and an awesome backdrop of the mighty Dhauladhar Ranges.
Scene scenery and places of natural beauty
You’ll have to actually close your eyes to miss all the beautiful green around. There’s a huge trash problem though. We’d like to insert a caution here to please be mindful of all consumption (avoid single-use plastic, chips, takeaway food in aluminum foil, etc. a lot of this ends up in the streams!).
Bir is known for its sunsets. Be it from the landing site or any other high point, you’re likely to see a beautiful ball of fire going down the horizon every evening. There are several tea gardens as well which are pretty to look at especially when the picking season is on. There are larger tea gardens in Palampur but Bir has a large old Tea Factory in case you’re curious.
Another majestic visual are the waterfalls of Gunehar. The first one is around 100ft and is almost close to the road head, it’s a nice walk all the way if you’d like to. For the second one, you’d have to trek a little but the walk will be worth it. Try spending half a day around these falls, there’s a tea shop at the entrance.
There are the Tattapani hot water springs but it’s an effort to visit this if you’re in Bir. It is almost a day trip involving about an hour and half of a taxi ride one way, then an hour worth of trekking but if you’re really keen on a hot water spring, it’d be worth the effort. Another extremely adventurous way to the hot water springs would be to hike up to Rajgundha and then climb up a pass and then down, down, down to the hot water springs. Take a guide! And while we’re on this, Rajgundha is EXTREMELY scenic with the beautiful Uhl river flowing at the base of the valley on the other side of which is Barot.
Mind, Body & Soul
And now we’re at the spiritual side of Bir. Over the last couple of decades, several people from different walks of life have made Bir their home. One of the foremost institutions here is Deer Park (it was a monastery till 2003). Deer Park was set up by Khyentse Rinpoche as an institution for studies of classical Indian wisdom. It has several workshops and retreats exploring the Buddhist path, Vedic path, filmmaking workshops, calligraphy & writing retreats, and more.
While Deer Park is a giant in this category for Bir, there are several other smaller places trying out alternatives- Dharamalaya is a well-known name here which is into eco-construction and compassionate living workshops (highly recommended!). Then there is Shunya Farm which is a permaculture farm, AryaMarga is a Yoga Institute, Aashram Space is a small publication house and meditation center.
Then there is Men-Tsee-Khang which is a traditional Tibetan medicine center and there is a Panchkarma center up in upper Bir near Bhawani guest house.
Bir has a growing and thriving community of Indians from several parts of the country and people from other countries who have also made Bir their home. You’ll find a nice mix of people here! Are you next?
Arts & Culture
Again, Deer Park would intersect here. Apart from this, Frank Schlichtmann has conducted several art residencies and events in village Gunehar. Look up 4Tables, 4Rooms, and the likes.
Then there is thangka painting. We hear there are a couple of Thangka painters willing to teach if you’re polite and ask 🙂 Thangkas are beautiful, highly intricate paintings on fabric with natural colours.
And since we’re in Himachal, how can we miss out on the amazing Gaddi tribe? This is a nomadic shepherding Himachali tribe which is like the guardians of the majestic Dhauladhar range. Be it in Chamba or Dharamshala or Bir, you’d see their legacy. A dying art, there are still some weavers who make woolens like how they used to and you’d find some handloom shops. The Tibetans also do fabulous work with wool and Bir is known for a famous little carpet shop in the Tibetan colony. Go, explore!
If you’d have asked us a couple of years ago, we’d have been able to give you three or four names. But since 2018, there has been a flurry of cafes and we’re sure you’d have heard of some already. Garden Cafe is one of the oldest, of the newer lot- Avva is for South Indian in the Himalayas, June 16 for amazing coffee, bakes, and food, Silver Lining is a quaint little cafe with a large following, Musafir Cafe has made a name for itself, Bhoomi has great breads and apt to work from, Deer Park also has homely meals you need to book 2 hours in advance, Glyders Pizzeria, Joy Cafe, Olive Kitchen at Zostel 2.0, Paloma Kitchen, Cloud Door, Ara Cafe, Moonshine Madness, Bimla Dhaba, Vijay Dhaba, Delek Cafe, Adruk, Vairagi, Cho cho’s, Old Himalayan, the list goes on and on!