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Gliding through the skies in Bir-Billing

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Bir-Billing, located in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, is an adventure destination for paragliding. Bir-Billing is roughly a 2-3 hours drive from Mcleodganj – another tourist destination also famous for housing the monastery where His Holiness, The Dalai Lama resides. Bir-Billing is a well known destination among paragliders the world over and it also hosts annual pre-World Cup paragliding events with support from the Himachal Tourism Development Corporation, Government of Himachal Pradesh.

The nearest station to Bir-Billing is Patahankot, a drive of around 4-4.5 hours. In case of a bus journey, the Volvo bus from Delhi to Baijnath is the most convenient. Baijnath is a 10 km drive from Bir which is the landing point for paragliding. Billing, located a further 13 kms above Bir is the take-off point for the same. Either ways, Bir-Billing is an overnight journey from Delhi and takes roughly 12 hours to reach.

On the way to from Baijnath by road, one would be greeted by the sight of many paragliders flying in the clear skies as you come close to Bir. It is a rare sight in India. In fact it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it is a lot easier to spot para-gliders floating through the skies in Bir-Billing than spotting birds.

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Upon reaching Bir, the sight of lush green tea estates on either side of the road will greet you. In the months of April – May, the weather is quite sunny and hot during daytime. The temperatures however go down after 4 in the evening and by night it becomes considerably cool and pleasant. It is better to spend the night in Billing than in Bir as Billing is at a height of 2400 metres above the sea level and enjoys a much cooler climate. Moreover, the aerial view that Billing offers of the entire landscape down below is a sight to behold. To watch the early morning sunrise in Billing is nothing short of a magical experience. Billing not only offers beautiful sights of lush green landscape, but also boasts of a splendid aerial view and is a beginning point into the forest which leads to Barabhangal village after a 5 days trek. There is no other approach road to this village, located in a remote region in Himachal Pradesh, except through the mountains.

There are two options of going to Billing from Bir – either by trekking through the hills/walking up the road or by car through the motorable road made for vehicles. Those who are keen on burning some calories can opt for either the trek through the hills (a steeper but shorter route) or use the motorable road for walking up (longer but less stressful and tiring). If you wish to enjoy the lovely sights on the way to Billing, it is advisable to opt for the trek/walk instead of the easier option of car.

Our joy knew no bounds when we saw the campsite which was our place to shack up for the night. A line of five colourful tents greeted us as soon as we reached our destination. The tents were pitched right under the clear skies and on the steep slopes which looked down upon the lush green mountains. Each tent can comfortably occupy two persons with their bags. If you wish to take a dump or pee, there is another tent created especially for that a few yards below the slope.

If you are lucky, it might even rain and make the weather quite chilly. We did get lucky. We had come with our stock of booze for the night that actually helped keep us warm for the night. The same place which was hot in the afternoon had suddenly become very chilly at night due to the rainfall. It however was a night to remember for many reasons. It was after all a night out at a campsite in the Himalayas, lovely weather, and booze to keep us warm along with food cooked in a shack by the camp manager’s team. Most importantly it was a night spent under the open skies with thousands of stars shining brightly. It seemed like every star was trying to outshine the other stars. Thankfully, we were one of the few people present there in Billing that night to admire that beautiful sight where heavens seemed to be shining upon us. It seemed like the heavens had suddenly spread out its long black blanket with hundreds and thousands of stars stuck on it. Never before had I ever seen so many stars shine so brightly all at once in the skies. Thankfully, we had our share of booze to admire the lovely night. Thankfully, we were present on top of those hills to admire that beautiful sight.

The next day was the day of reckoning for us. As we got up in the morning, we were greeted by the sight of horses grazing around the hills. There is something really special about waking up in the middle of the mountains in the Himalayan range. The sight of this gigantic range which spans thousands of kilometres across multiple countries can make one feel insignificant and small. One look at these beautiful hills and snow covered mountains makes us realise that “our world” is just so small and there is so much more to explore.

The weather on that morning was just perfect and we got ready for the ride with assistance from the organizers and our fellow pilots. Our introduction to the activity was quite simple. We walked up to the take-off point in Billing which was just 5 minutes from our campsite. The kits were already there and we were told that the instructions were very simple. The organisers told us, “You have to run as fast as you can and jump off the cliff. The faster your speed while running, the better your take off will be.” Very simple instructions indeed! Run down the cliff, jump off without a parachute and then hope that the glider opens up in time! That is certainly a perfect start to the day. But thankfully our fears were unfounded. Thankfully, gravity always does its bit and thanks to Newton’s laws of motion, the take-off was scary but safe. The entire thrill ride lasts for around 20-25 minutes with the pilot, who thankfully sits right behind you, controlling everything including the manoeuvring, speed and height. Our job is to sit there, scream and feel like a bird.

At certain points we were flying high above the mountains from where I was gazing down on the planes below a few minutes back. The first 10minutes of the ride were quite scary as it took a while for the whole experience to sink in. The first 10 minutes of the ride were spent worrying about the consequences of an accident if anything went wrong. There was after all no chance of survival as we were flying way up in the sky without the comfort of a parachute. Thankfully, these fears were unfounded as the kits used for paragliding are tested and approved by competent authorities. The pilots too are skilled and well trained pilots who are equally concerned and cautious about safety.

The next 15 minutes were spent admiring the beauty of the landscape from a bird’s eye view. The whole experiences was simply mind numbing as we flew high over the mountain tops and tried spotting some of the prominent landmarks below. The goosebumps gave way to renewed excitement as we quikcly flew over the forests covering the mountains and the open plains right below these mountains. The landing spot for the activity too is a well maintained site. The landing can be a bit tricky if not done as per the instructions of the pilot. However if you pay heed to his advice a comfortable and smooth landing is easy to achieve. Our joy knew no bounds as we landed one at a time within a span of 10 minutes. We were literally jumping like mad-hatters and pounced on each other in a super-hyper and excited phase as we completed our rides. The entire experience was truly memorable and the flight towards the skies was surreal.

The Himalayas have always had a magical pull on me and this time it was no different. It was a new destination, a new adventure and a different experience altogether. Highly recommended for those who yearn for a high-flying experience.

Pranav is a Mumbai based sustainability analyst. Besides earning his daily bread with a typical 9-5 job, he likes to travel and exercise. He also is an avid reader, passionate writer and a foodie. He likes writing on topics related to climate change, sports, movies, politics and travel. He has his own blog –www.pranav84blog.wordpress.com which he tries to update once in a while. 

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