Very recently, I did one of the most fascinating things that one can try in the northern India – paragliding!
This weekend trip was absolutely surreal. We began our bus journey from Chandigarh at 11PM on Friday. Generally I travel by making my own bookings but this trip was curated by one of my friends who has started a new venture in travel. It is always good to travel when your friends have a start up because they share all the insights of their research, so I too have a better knowledge about the place.
Before I begin to talk about it, now is NOT the time to visit this place because paragliding shuts down from 15th June to 15th Sep every year at Bir-Billing owing to the rains. In case you are planning to go, plan sometime in September or check with the local agents and weather forecasts before you make your reservations.
Our bus was supposed to leave at 10PM, but it left at 11PM, and we reached Bir at about 8AM. Took longer than a cab ride, but I guess traveling cannot happen without adequate amount of patience. Our camp site was at Gharnala, which is 7kms from Bir, and the tents there were like shacks, which were very very cozy.
So our itinerary got a little hit because our bus reached late, and when we reached the camp site, the sky gods started to bless us with hailstorms. The result was very catastrophic for my fellow travelers since paragliding got canceled on Day 1 of our two day trip. Also, since we were quite far off from the Bir market and the weather was unpredictable, we couldn’t visit any monastery or other sites. So we talked to some local farmers and clicked endless pictures.
Despite all of the last minute cancellations somehow, it wasn’t catastrophic for me because all I wanted to do was gaze at the endless range of mountains for hours and hours.
And when the night would draw closer, the stars and the darkness would consume me. I feel mountains are the recycled version of us and many others. They have the void that comes in us when there is nobody to talk. They share the silence, the beauty, and the vastness of being.
For me, the silence and the vastness of mountains is what makes me more similar to them, more quiet and giving.. This is super philosophical my take on the entire Himachal, not just Bir, and some of my friends thus call me bookish!
Nevertheless, I was with people who are used to schedules and alarm clocks, and I respect them too, so I decided to do something in the evening. At about 5PM, we decided that we’d walk till the market and take a stroll. Just as we took the plunge of going, some heavenly ways opened for us to save us from a couple of hours of walk. 6 of us got in a cab and the poor driver after listening to our meaningless conversations dropped us at the market of Bir. Now, the Bir market has a very few shops, typically for groceries, and is not very exciting for food, so we decided to take another cab to the Tibetan market. We found a number of small eateries there, and had super inexpensive chicken momos and soup. We saw a lot of foreigners and monks on the streets that made us reinforce that our choice was right, and this place actually possessed a culture of Bir.
We met a native from Spain who had quit her job 8 months, and decided to travel the world. She was alone, happy and full of warmth. I was absolutely inspired by her since she broke the convention of a 9 to 5 job to do what she really wanted to do, i.e. travel!
We took another cab and reached the camp site by 9. By now the place had become more chilly and we wore jackets to keep ourselves warm. At the camp site was a brilliant DJ set up along with a bonfire. We sang, danced with so many new people warming our hearts and the bonfire warming our extremities while having some meaningful conversations about how infinite the world is, and how trivial we are.
The next morning my friend told that we would have to leave at 5.15AM so that we can do paragliding by 7AM. We got up at 4.30AM and got ready by 5AM. This was our last day here, and we didn’t want to leave without giving ourselves that shot of adrenaline.
The pilots came to pick us at 5.45AM, and we reached Billing, the take off site, in an hour. Okay, one more thing out here. Do NOT get threatened by how these people drive cars because they are rash. At times you’d feel as if you could take a flight in their cars instead of parachutes. It literally feels life threatening at first, but later when you realize that all these pilots are in the age bracket of 18-22 years, you sort of get the drift of where they are coming from, and the rush they get in driving fast on such a risky terrain. But nevertheless, the pilots are extremely sweet and very talented.
Now came the moment that we were waiting for, the paragliding! Although I was pretty scared to do it, it was a cakewalk! Yes, you read it right. It is simpler than you can ever imagine. Basically the pilot opens the chute on the hill side, makes you wear a harness, combines his belt with yours, and asks you to run down the mountain. Now running down the mountain seems very daunting in theory but in practice, the parachute is already flying before you take off and all you have to do is to give a direction and catch the pace of the chute.
Also, if you still think it’s difficult, my story will tell you that it is simpler than you think. When my pilot, Kush, asked me to run I actually fell down and couldn’t run. So that poor thing himself ran and I lifted my knees to prevent an injury. In about 5 seconds we were flying! I just couldn’t believe it. Mountains and houses all beneath your feet and you are in the air. If he weren’t scolding me for not running, I think I would have cried by gazing at the vastness. The beginning of sunrise at our back, snow clad mountains on my right, a majestic valley of mountains at the left and a vast green land with terraced farming in front, I was literally in awe of the existence.
I was peacefully enjoying this until Kush started taking out my camera and asked me to take pictures. To be scared for your life is one thing, and to be scared for your camera is another! And just after that he decided to pull of a stunt! I won’t say it was bad at all, because I think when one is scared he is the maximum alive. And I was alive. I could feel how fragile life was. But alas, the more stunts you have in your plate, the sooner your chute comes down. And we landed in another minute onto those vast plains. I thanked the guy for being so kind and took the video of the glide.
I got myself a cup of tea and 2 omelettes and then walked around.
The landing site is like Pahalgam of Kashmir or probably something like Switzerland, and is perfect for getting pictures cclicked.
We stayed there for a good 3 hours, and then took a cab again and got dropped off at the camp site. I was in love with the camp site because the view was amazing. So we took a bath, got dressed and did more mountain gazing.
Now going in a group of 50+ people is also fun because sometimes you get to have fun that you couldn’t have gauged while planning the trip. A few of my friends chose to take a nap, and some of us got invited to play House (Tambola) with others. We sat under a big tree and spent a couple of hours playing. It is a lot of fun to do things that you don’t want to at first because that makes you break your mindset, and that is always enriching. We had lunch and tea later, and then started to trek from Gharnala to Bir to catch our bus. the seats were of course at FCFS basis so we literally ran in slippers and our bags to reach the bus.
I am not taking immense pride in saying this but I did manage to reach in the 6th position and got great seats, and after keeping my bags went ahead to play with puppies!
We started at about 5PM from Bir, took a halt at Baijnath Temple in Baijnath.
This temple is magnificent! It is built from rock carvings and the place definitely exudes a great energy. The scenery too would pretty magnificent here. I also took the chickpea chat from outside and it was yummy as always.
Commuting in Bir Billing: Since we were hard pressed for time, we’d stop any empty taxi and ask him to drop us somewhere. It wasn’t too expensive because we were always in groups.
Trip Cost: INR 4000 (including paragliding with video) from Solo Wanderer Journey. Contact Founder – Anuj Gupta ? +91 76966 25288
Paragliding Standalone Cost: INR 2500 with video, INR 2000 without video (Negotiable!)
Tent Stay with 2-3 meals: INR800-INR1000
Inter city Cab Cost: Approximately INR40 per kilometer.
A day before my trip, I was a little anxious about the entire trip. Although I was super excited about paragliding, I was way more concerned with a non AC bus ride., so I decided to board the bus with some hair oil and sunscreen. Even though the bus journey was in the night, I applied sunscreen because some research states that it provides general environment protection as well. Since I didn’t want to get acne or any weird skin issue the next day, I decided to take a little bit of precautions.
In my bag:
- 3 pairs of lingerie
- A rain cover for my bag.
- Hand Sanitizer
- Toiletries: Soap, Moisturizer, Shampoo & Conditioner, Sunscreen, Mosquito repellent, toilet paper.
- Couple of green tea bags
- Mobile Charger
- Camera (fully charged)
- Apple Cider Vinegar (It is magic for a bloated stomach!)
- A jacket
- A sweater
- Cargo pants
- A couple of tee shirts
- A stole
- Kindle Book reader
- Ear phones
- My wallet with a government id proof
Things I didn’t do:
A lot of you have given me so any suggestions after I am back, so added them here. In case you have more suggestions, let me know. I’ll add them in here for others. 🙂
- Tibetan Food @ Norgay Kitchen Food.
- Cream Perfumes in local shops at Tibetan Market.
- Stay at Zostel: Yes it’s available and it’s perfect for solo travelers.
P. S. If you have any other recommendations for other travelers, do let me know so that I can put that here for everyone’s benefit!