“…and I, I took the one less travelled by!”

“…and I, I took the one less travelled by!”

With the crack of dawn, the sun peeped through the contours of the majestic Himalayan range highlighting its silhouette. As the fuzzy chitter-chatter in our Himachal Tourism Bus persisted, I went back to the day when we had gathered in Jamyang’s room to plan a trip and how this place had piqued our interest and how we couldn’t stop obsessing over it since the past four months! Mahima, Harsha, Saumya, Anjali, Jamyang and yours truly- six friends and a trip for a lifetime awaited! The journey from Ranchi to Delhi and then from Anand Vihar Metro Station to Kashmeree Gate Bus Terminal was one heck of an adventure but that’d make up another exciting story for some other day. Almost having lost all hope, we were finally able to make it to the last bus for Palampur- the village nearest to our destination.

I found myself withdrawn from the unconstrained motion of the bus. While still in a quest to return to my senses, I had already lost myself in the trance of the Himachali music that the bus driver had been playing, though I couldn’t decipher its lyrics. We got down at the Palampur bus station for a bus change and got ourselves rooted in the cabin of a local Himachali Bus for another hour’s ride. As we constantly badgered as to how far we were, we could see the landscape metamorphose the bluest skies and the sweetest winds. The curves in the road flaunted the arrival of the mountain breeze we had longed for since a long, long time! And the bus journey finally concluded.

It was surprising how this angelic hamlet hid itself amidst the mountains and wasn’t a very well known tourist destination. Maybe, that was the most beautiful part about this little village- it was spectacular, yet mysterious! And when we finally came down to our destination, it was more stunning than what we had imagined. No less than our little own wonderland- Bir!

Few steps into the street and we could already feel the perfect harmony of Himachali and Tibetan culture.

We queued up like school kids and headed into the Tibetan Colony. Few steps into the street and we could already feel the perfect harmony of Himachali and Tibetan culture. A resplendent monastery stood near the very entrance of the colony. We stopped to click a few pictures and decided to drop by later. As we moved forward, the absolute tranquility was broken by the thudding of our trolley bags on the road. We walked past the Tibetan hotels and homes, colourful houses with slanting roofs, green fields with snow-clad mountains in the backdrop, faith flags, Tibetan texts, endearing graffitis, the fluffiest dogs and the most greeting smiles! We felt at home, already! Our stay was at the highest point towards the dead-end of a branched lane so we could already locate some of the places we had planned to visit on the way. Go-Stops was one truly welcoming backpacker’s hostel and we were received with utmost warmth there. The entrance porch was my love at first sight. Huge framed windows gifted us with transfixing views of the sprawling farms and the hills behind. We dropped our luggage in our dorm, freshened up and moved out.

The entrance porch was my love at first sight.

It was already past noon and our tummies were growling with hunger. So we decided to first grab a bite at the Vairagi Café we had read about and had already spotted on our way to the hostel. Now, Vaiargi Café and Vairagi wale bhaiya hold a special place in our hearts and in our entire stay at Bir. Let alone the amazing french toast, hot chocolate or the choco lava cake, the way he received us and helped us like little babies made us fall in love with this place. We found various posters on the wall outside the café and we knew it would be our go-to place in Bir in face of any need.

The readers must know that Bir happens to be India’s best paragliding location and the second-best in the world.  Hence, this adventure sport was a sure-shot in our to-do list. We talked to Vairagi wale bhaiya who made a few calls and made complete arrangements for the next day at a discounted price.  It was as if things were falling into place way better than how we had thought it’d be. We couldn’t really contain our excitement as we could already spot paragliders up in the sky. There were last few moments of sunlight outside so we decided to visit the Choklang Monastery nearby before it’d get dark.

Choklang Monastery

This monastery was in a cul de sac down the road and adjacent to it, had a vast chunk of barren land meeting somewhere with the jagged white peaks. The entrance was through a narrow staircase and it opened up into a beautiful Stupa. Through the aroma of marigold and roses, we were directed to the inner courtyard. The prayer hall was austere but lavish. There were garishly painted columns and ornamentation that could satisfy one’s sense of exoticism. There were monks and children clad in orange and perfectly complementing the sublime architecture, was the serenity wrapping the air. We spent some time appreciating the beauty and the peace and decided to move since it was already dark.

We came up to the main street and decided to have an early dinner since we had to wake up early for the next day. Good food always only catalyses the success of a trip and Bir had exactly the perfect balance. We had thukpa and momos for dinner at this famous café called ‘Adruk Café’. Here, Jamyang taught us how to use chopsticks. What used to look like some giant task was actually just a little bit of physics- the correct usage of thumb and fingers and we were done!

Good food always only catalyses the success of a trip and Bir had exactly the perfect balance.

While on our way back to the hostel, it suddenly became stormy and began to rain heavily and to add just a little bit more to the drama, the lights went out. The shops in Bir close early and hence, there were no people around. It was pitch dark with heavy rain and no umbrella and we were a group of six girls darting like crazy to our hostel. We somehow made it to our hostel and took a sigh of relief. We dried up ourselves, came down to the common lobby and played some games. This is the best part about backpacker’s hostel- the little time you get to relax and meet new people. After a while, we went back to make preparations for the big day!

Paragliding happens to be quite the fickle sport wherein it all really depends on what Mother Nature feels like on the given day. The sudden change in weather did not look like a piece of very good news to us. We tried to shed this fear of our sport being called off and went to sleep.

I couldn’t gather much as I saw Saumya jumping around, with half-opened eyes. “The skies are clear”, she exclaimed with joy and I suddenly woke up and rushed to our balcony. The sun had risen and the mountains stood against the clear sapphire sky- everything about Bir was so beautiful!

We got ready and hurried to Vairagi Café where a mini truck had been waiting to tote us to Billing- the flight point. As we rally car’ed up the mountain at the back of our truck, we yelled at the top of our voices and prayed for our lives because this ride, as a matter of fact, was more venturesome than our entire paragliding experience!

The adrenaline rush, the bliss, the wonderment, the freedom, the peace- there’s not one word that describes what the experience was like.

Having reached the top, we sprang out of the truck and were taken to the staging area. With barely any time to process it all, they began suiting us up. We were allotted our own pilots who were certified and skilled.  Like some luck in the draw, I was picked to go first. Shaking out the massive wedgies I had, my instructor checked the buckles for a last time. There was a moment of pause and I just felt blank. My mind still processing what was going on, I was tugged forward again and I only did exactly what I was told to do which was to “run”! The turf gave way to nothing and I soon found myself doing some sort of an airwalk- I was floating with my feet dangling and the go pro recording it all! We surged and spun further and further and saw the countryside zoom beneath us. The valley and the sky looked gorgeous. The adrenaline rush, the bliss, the wonderment, the freedom, the peace- there’s not one word that describes what the experience was like. I could fly forever! But as they say- ‘forever’s a myth’; after about 20 minutes, my instructor manoeuvred down and I could spot the landing zone approaching. And before I could realize, I hit the ground with a thump. I buckled off and met the other five, all excited, enchanted yet speechless about the experience. But we were glad we did it because, by then, we knew there was nothing like it.

We still had half of the day and paragliding was more refreshing than it was tiring. We hired a cab to visit the Gunehar art village. Turned out, the one exciting spot in the otherwise mundane village was the Four Tables Café. The café got its name from the fact that it only had four tables when it first opened. A place of magnificent views, spectacular artworks and culinary delight, it was another tick off our list. We thanked the host for his heart-warming reception and left to witness sunset at the landing zone.

We didn’t lose much because the range of hues in the sky looked ethereal.

It was already dusk by the time we reached the site and the sun was down. However, we didn’t lose much because the range of hues in the sky looked ethereal. Nestling on the ground, we were amazed how the mist had begun to wrap the mountain against the night sky on one side, while on the other, the sky had the just bid a farewell to the sun, the oranges were fading in and the purple was far away. Nature truly does wonders!

The day had had a lot in it to contain and we knew we’d need some rest as the next day would be the hike and camp day. After a short round of shopping at the Tibetan market, we grabbed momos and noodles from the famous ‘Ram Bahadur Café’ and got it packed for the night. Back at our hostel, of the other things, we had a merry time playing Jenga and Carrom; the other things better be kept off the records!

The next morning, we witnessed the dazzling sunrise through the mountains and got ready to move on. We checked out of Go Stops and walked towards ‘The Garden Café’. The place undoubtedly serves the best pancakes and French toast in the entire Bir and also has a home store of Tibetan art and clothes. After an interlude, the cab that’d be taking us to the Monkey Mud Café, our campsite, arrived.

While Himachal is known for its impenetrable snow-clad ranges, it is beautifully complemented by vast woods and streams flowing in free spirit along the lofty mountains. Camping amidst these woods alongside the babbling brooks is like a dream and we are glad we got a chance to live it. After we reached the campsite, we were taken to our tents which were at the most pristine and woodsy spot. The shelter was pretty primitive and was sure to guarantee a peaceful experience with little luxuries. We were then asked to get prepared for the 7 km trek through the valleys.

The sound of the waterfall, the scenery- everything was simply surreal.

We shouldered our knapsacks and set about tramping behind our instructor. Initially, the trail was straightforward to pursue and we ascended smoothly towards a scenic stream adorned by a small, beautiful rainbow. We had a short break at a ruined house to appropriately marvel at the allure of the site and relish its calmness. Then we moved on. We had to drift a good deal to avoid the muddier parts as the paths narrowed down and were strictly instructed to avoid the ferns and thorns alongside. We were tired already and our instructor only smiled and tried to cheer us up. Towards the end of the trek, we had to leap over a wide beck and the final part of the ascent was rather steep and meandered over rocks. And what waited at the end was pure magic! A beautiful waterfall showered generously over the surface of water, glistening goldenly under the recurrent sunshine, widely interrupted by the heavy canopy overhead! The sound of the waterfall, the scenery- everything was simply surreal. After spending some time, we had to head back towards the camp before it was dark. We began trekking down the trail and this particular part of the route extended the best views which the delightful sunset embellished even further. We continued downwards, accompanied by a mild twilight and after managing to barely discern through the dusk, we finally reached the camp spot.

Towards the end of the trek, we had to leap over a wide beck and the final part of the ascent was rather steep and meandered over rocks.

We were greeted by the camp dog who had become Harsha’s best friend until morning. The camp night was incredible. We had a bonfire lit that night and we had visitors from the mountain musicathon going on in Himachal at that time. Good music perfected by a good vibe- what more could one ask for! The night stars were beyond bewitching. The trek and the camp night were truly beautiful!

Next morning, we bid a farewell to the incredible hospitality we had received there and headed back to the Tibetan Colony where we had some time till we would finally catch our bus to Delhi. We knew exactly what we’d be doing. After having lunch at the Himalayan Pizzeria, we moved towards the Landing Site. We witnessed paragliders coming down after their flight and wanted to relive the whole experience one more time. Harsha, Saumya and I had been thrilled about cycling on the mountain roads since day 1 and we finally had our chance. The bicycle looked bulky but was easy to handle until I had a good fall. That’s what happens when you speed up towards a curved slope and your clothes entangle with the pedals. Thankfully, I wasn’t hurt much and had had my share of fun already. We clicked a few pictures and Mahima and Anjali got us some food for the bus Journey from the ‘Sasta Café’. The place had this unique policy to pay as per the customer’s wish in exchange for amazing food.

I had the time of my life!

As the day began to sink, we strolled down the lanes of Bir for one last time. We walked past the Tibetan shops and houses, the aroma of food, the splash of culture and through a trail of nostalgia. We got on-board our bus and none of us spoke a word. It was a while that was gone in a while. As the bus started, along every step of the way, through every landmark, through the stream, the mountains and the fields, a feeling of gratitude grew. I reflected back at the events of my life that had brought me to this time and place, with these people. I was glad I was there, embracing the adventure. Bir had certainly affirmed my new outlook on life. I had the time of my life!   

-Sweta Jha

Leave a Reply