Billing and Bir or Bir-Billing
Trip Start Oct 02, 2011
16Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Billing Bir Jogindernagar
The next day was to be a day trip to Billing and Bir. Billing is a mountain peak at approx. 2300m, a good 800m higher than Jogindernagar. From Bir, a motorable road goes all the way to the top; in the rains and in winter this road gets frequently blocked by landslides. It was in good condition today. Several taxis were standing at Ahju near the junction on the highway, waiting to ferry paragliders up the mountain. The road to Billing traverses beautiful forests of deodhar, oak and rhododendron. Yet again, the rhododendrons were laden with scarlet blooms, such a delightful sight. As we approached the small meadow on top, the Kangra valley unfolded below with paragliders soaring right above us. The snow clad Dhauladhars to the west completed the pretty picture.
An unpaved road seemed to go around the mountain from near the car park. It looked interesting and we went for a walk. This was the road that connects Billing to Barot via Badagran and Koti Kohad. The road was completely blocked by a landslide a couple of kilometres ahead. It appeared to be an old landslide which no one had bothered to clear. So much for the "motorable" road from Billing to Barot! Anyway, it was a beautiful walk with red and pink rhododendron trees against a backdrop of the snow clad Dhauladhars. Our driver Vinod collected a bag full of rhododendron flowers to give to his mother for making chutney.
We walked back to the small meadow to watch the paragliders. There were maybe seven or eight, all of them foreigners. Some were soaring above the snow peaks. A local Indian young man offered us a 30 minute tandem round in the sky for Rs. 2500/-. We did not go for it though I expect the price would be negotiable for those who were interested. An older foreigner made several attempts to take off, he was successful on his seventh attempt. It turned out that he was from Germany, an expert glider, about 70 years old and had been coming here to Billing every year for the last few years! For those who have their own equipment, Billing is an excellent uncrowded site for most of the year except when the championships are on. Accommodation and food are available at reasonable to downright cheap rates in Bir, Ahju and the surrounding areas and you can negotiate a flat rate with a taxi driver to bring you up and down the mountain.
Billing is not just about paragliding. You can spend the whole day there, it is incredibly scenic, though remember to pack your picnic hamper as there is just one small dhaba up there catering to the gliders, which offers tea and maybe Maggi on a good day. Several small paths along the ridge lead to small villages. These trails are flanked with beautiful rhododendron trees – in full bloom when we were there, and have incredible views of the Dhauladhar range. Those who are interested in long hikes can go all the way to Bada Bhangal, guides can be arranged through the local villages at negotiable rates. The sky became overcast at around 3pm when we made our way down the mountain. As usual we chose to walk downhill but had to hop into the car after half an hour when torrential rain started. A Russian hiker requested us to drop him at Bir, he had not anticipated it would rain so heavily and was not equipped for it. There was not the slightest trace of rain at Bir!
A Tibetan temple complex caught our attention, just off the road next to a tea garden. We are not really interested in Tibetan stuff and were pleasantly surprised by the aesthetically designed buildings, the intricate paintings, wood work and beautiful gardens. A Range Rover with a special BP number plate was parked in their garage. BP is the special registration given to vehicles owned by Tibetans in exile.
At the entrance, carved wood sculptures of buxom beauties in various poses, surrounding a large canopied statue of Guru Padmasambhava. The carvings were intricate reminding us of the Vijayanagara style but the faces were not aesthetically done. All the buildings had beautifully painted, typical Tibetan style windows. It seemed to be one of the many centres in the Dharamsala region, established for the promotion of Tibetan arts. A music class was on in one of the buildings, wood carving was being done in another. The interiors of the main temple were as yet unfinished. Work was in progress with monks overseeing artisans painting elaborate Tibetan designs on wood panels and on the main statues of the Buddha and his attendants. We asked one of the artists if we could enter, he indicated that we should ask the monk who nonchalantly waved us in. It was very interesting. Everyone worked in silence, on his own piece. Not all the artisans were of Tibetan origin. One was a Kashmiri Muslim and yet another a Mishra from UP! Exiting from the opposite side, we came across another batch of wood carved sculptures, and a pair of very aggressive geese who promptly ran up to attack us. Who needs guard dogs here? Some cute goose babies were resting on the lawns so perhaps that explained their behavior. Beating a hasty retreat, we found ourselves in front of the main entrance of the temple. A helipad had just been constructed, perhaps for the Dalai Lama himself and for the many high powered visitors that accompany him.
The skies were clear on our way back to Jogindernagar, the snow clad Dhauladhar ranges presenting an awesome background. Imagine seeing this every single day ….
That evening, we strolled through the small market of Jogindernagar. The grocery stores had interesting items of local cuisine. We bought a small quantity of dried mango peel. In Mumbai you get powdered dried mango sold as “Amchur”, here they prefer the pieces. There was not much else to see and we returned to our hotel for an early night.