Bir is a town in the eastern end of the Kangra District in Himachal Pradesh with a friendly, relaxed Indian population and a large Tibetan (Khampa) community. It is home to several educational institutions, monasteries, and nonprofit organizations (NGOs), and is becoming a popular off-the-beaten-path destination for meditation courses, volunteering, and ecotourism.
Bir is a small mountain town in northern Himachal Pradesh with a large, well-established Tibetan community. Set against the backdrop of the Dhauladhar Range of the Indian Himalayas, the town is picturesque, although the rubbish-strewn roadsides and waterways of the Tibetan Colony (down the hill from Bir proper) are an unfortunate contrast to its golden roofed temples, and to the greenery of Upper Bir (Bir Proper) and the surrounding villages. The Tibetan Colony is actually in the village of Chowgan. Bir proper, sometimes referred to as "Indian Bir" or "Upper Bir", is the small market and surrounding farming community located in the foothills above Chowgan.
The founding of Bir: Local accounts indicate that Bir was first settled by immigrants from Bengal around 1600 C.E. These families settled in Bir proper. Other groups migrated in much more recently, starting in the early 20th century C.E.
The Tibetan Colony: In 1966 the third Neten Chokling (1928-1973), an incarnate lama of the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, brought his family and a small entourage to Bir. With the help of foreign aid Neten Chokling purchased over 200 acres of land and established a Tibetan settlement where 300 Tibetan families were given land to build houses. At this time Chokling Rinpoche also started building in Bir a new Neten monastery and disciples who had followed him into India formed its first sangha. When the third Chokling Rinpoche passed away in 1973, his eldest son, Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche (b 1951), assumed responsibility for completing his father’s vision. The fourth Neten Chokling incarnation was born in 1973 in Bhutan and brought to Bir at a young age where the family of the third Chokling took him under their wings. In 2004 full responsibility for Pema Ewam Chögar Gyurme Ling Monastery in Bir was passed to the fourth Neten Chokling. The monastery, now a place of study and practice for over 120 monks, served as the setting for Khyentse Norbu’s 1999 feature film “The Cup.”
Other Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Bir include: Palyul Chökhorling Monastery (Nyingma) under the guidance of Rigo Tulku Rinpoche; Bir Dirru Monastery / Bir Sakya Lama Society under the guidance of the 15th Gyalsay Tulku Rinpoche and the 14th Dungyud Rinpoche; and Drikung Dozin Theckcho Ling Monastery (Drikung Kagyu) under guidance of Ontül Rinpoche.
A variety of information on the Bir-Billing area is available at the Bir Portal (BirHP.com), a community-supported online guide for visitors and residents of the greater Bir area.
Bir is about four hours or so from Dharamshala/McLeodGanj.
- From Dharamshala: There are direct buses to Bir Road/Upper Bir leaving at 6am & 2pm from Lower Dharamshala. Or you can take a bus to Palampur, then to Baijnath. From Baijnath there are buses every half hour to Upper Bir - for Bir Colony ask them to drop you at Chowgan crossroads, then you have to walk about 1km. Or get off at Bir Road junction and get a taxi (Rs50-60).
- From Delhi: From the Inter-state Bus Terminal (ISBT), take a direct bus to Bir Colony. There are other buses that go either Baijnath or Bir Road(The one going to Joginder Nagar) - the latter is closer. There are many overnight buses leaving Delhi departing mid evening and arrive early morning.
By toy train
- There is a morning train from Pathankot to Ahju, which is only 3kms from Bir. Trains from Delhi arrive at Pathankot an hour before the toy train leaves. The ride is long, tiring and often crowded but the stunning scenery more than compensates for any inconveniences.
- This is the most convenient way of getting to Bir from Pathankot (~4 hours, Rs. 2500) or Dharamshala (2 hours, Rs 1500).
- Taxis from Bir Road (the final destination of most long-distance buses) to the Tibetan Colony or Deer Park should not cost more than Rs 60-70.
- Taxis from Upper Bir or the Tibetan Colony to Ghornala (for the Dharmalaya Institute) should cost Rs 150 return.
Detailed Travel Tips
For much more detailed travel tips, see the Bir Portal's Bir Visitors' Guide.
Taxis are usually available in the Upper Bir bus stand and in the main intersection of the Tibetan colony.
Buses ply the main north-south Bir Road fairly regularly, connecting the Bir Road turnoff from the NH20 (the highway) to Upper Bir. The closest bus stop for the Tibetan Colony is at Chowgan Chowk, on Bir Road about a 10-minute walk east of the colony.
The historical center of Bir is in Upper Bir (Bir proper, sometimes referred to by the Tibetan community as "Indian Bir").
The Bir Tibetan Colony (often simply called "Colony" by locals) is at the west end of the village of Chowgan, about a 20-minute walk (or five-minute taxi) below Upper Bir.
Sherab Ling Monastery is a 50-to-70-minute walk (or 15-minute taxi) from Chowgan, or slightly longer from Upper Bir.
The village of Ghornala, a small, quiet area home to the Camp Oak View - Travel Bir Billing, Dharmalaya Institute (on Dhanaari Hill), a Sikh meditation retreat centre, and a few cottages, is about midway between Bir and Sansaal. From Upper Bir, it's about a one-hour walk or 15-minute taxi to Ghornala (and slightly longer from Chowgan or the Tibetan Colony).
Taxis to Billing takeoff is Rs 500, it is usually shared between 4 pilots.
- Chökyi Lödro College of Dialectics (formerly Dzongsar Institute). A center for higher Buddhist philosophical study with about 600 monks in nearby Chauntra.
- Palpung Sherab Ling . A Karma Kagyü Tibetan Buddhist Monastery located in woodlands between Bir and Baijnath, headed by the 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche and also host of frequent visits from Mingyur Rinpoche.
- Dharmalaya Institute . An eco-campus for compassionate living, set on a hill with breathtaking views overlooking Bir and the valley, offering programs in sustainable living and contemplative practice, and creating green jobs for local villagers. Normal visiting hours are 11:00am to 12:00pm and 3:00 to 4:00pm, Monday through Saturday (closed Sundays and holidays). Must contact via website before visiting, as campus is sometimes closed to visitors due to silent meditation retreats and other special programmes.
- River pools in Upper Bir.
- Paraglide from the mountaintop at Billing, but if you take a tandem flight check that the pilot is carrying a reserve parachute & ask him to show you the age sticker of his glider, if it's more that 7 or 8 years old, think again, there is no maintenance programme or safety check on the equipment. Paragliding in Bir and vicinity is the subject of Jim Mallinson’s entertaining feature length documentary DVD “Temples in the Clouds” (AIM Television 2008).
- The Dharmalaya Institute offers volunteer and service-learning opportunities for short- and long-term visitors. Activities include earthen building (traditional adobe and bamboo eco-construction), organic farming, tree planting, permaculture landscaping, etc. The best times to volunteer are October-December and March-June, but work can be done year-round for those who don't mind the cold of winter and the rain of the monsoon season. Volunteers must apply on their website before going.
- AryaMarga Yoga institute offers authentic teachings on Yoga based on the lineage of 84 Mahasiddhas. You could drop-in for a daily class or attend one of their workshop.They believe in the philosophy of Anubhava (Experiential) Yoga.
- The Dharmalaya Institute hosts weekly sitting meditation groups and talks. These group meditation and discussion sessions, which follow the curriculum of the Tergar Meditation Community, are open to everyone regardless of background or experience level. They are free of charge, with donations welcome but not required. (Seasonal: see http://dharmalaya.in/meditation-programmes/ for details and contact them via website before visiting to be sure you go at the right time.)
- Mountain Biking http://www.travelbirbilling.com/tours/palampur-paragliding-mountain-biking/ in Bir is one of the best option to do around the valley. Here in the Bir Billing valley, many roads which are not motor-able and can be accessed by trekking, horse riding and mountain Biking. These trails leads to tribal part of Himachal. Experience is amazing and do it. A mountain biking race organized by The Hell Race happens every year in November.
- Bir is also an excellent choice for endurance training. It has got amazing weather conditions and terrain for trail running and ultrarunning races.
- Buddhism. Deer Park Institute (located on the former campus of the Dzongsar Institute) offers courses and workshops to explore various aspects of Buddhism and other classical Indian wisdom traditions. Most classes are taught in English and are free of charge. Accommodation is available on site.
- Dharmalaya Institute is an eco-campus for volunteering (earthen building, organic gardening, language instruction), meditation, yoga. Dharmalaya is an Indian charitable society 'devoted to education, service, and compassionate living, with a practical focus on sustainable village development, contemplative service-learning, and immersive ecotourism'. Dharmalaya hosts service-learning programs and meditation retreats, providing opportunities for long-term volunteers and students to do karma yoga (mindful service work) for various charitable projects to benefit the local community and the natural environment. Programs include natural earthen building, green job skills training for local villagers, organic farming, vernacular eco-architecture, and a tree-planting project. Accommodation is available in either private rooms, dormitories, or comfortable tents, with several traditional adobe buildings are under construction (in 2013-2016). Must contact before visiting.
- Guna Institute offers a five-year Tibetan Translators Degree Program under the guidance of Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.
- Chowgan/Bir Tibetan Colony: everyday shopping
- Upper Bir: post office, a chemist (pharmacy), and a few basic general stores
- Chauntra (east of Bir): basic kitchenware
- Jogindernagar, Baijnath, and Palaumpur: a few pharmacies, hardware stores, shops with decorative items, drugstores, shops with basic domestic appliances. For more choice in clothing and appliances and for garden nurseries go to Palampur.
- Dharamshala is the place to buy books, textiles, jewelry, Tibetan Buddhist items, fresh bread, fancy sweets, and junk food.
In Bir Proper (Upper Bir)
- Four Tables Cafe and Art Gallery - Run by Frank - an Indo-German who cooks very well. Located in Gunehar , about 2 kms from Bir Paragliding landing site.
- Lhakpa Cafe in the main bazaar of Upper Bir serves tasty veg momos for lunch, but they usually run out by around 1:00pm so get there early.
- Bhawani Guest House, near the west end of Bir serves a wide variety of healthy and delicious food, but one must order in advance.
- Panditji, just west of the main intersection in Upper Bir, makes good pakoras, and is very gentle and warm.
In Tibetan Colony
- Hotel Surya serves some of the best Indian meals in the Tibetan Colony and has wi-fi.
- Norling (a.k.a. "Garden Café") serves some of the best traveler food (pasta, salads, etc.) in the colony.
- Another possibility is "Friends' Cafe", although their menu promises more variety than they actually can offer.
- Also try Gang-Chen Cafe on the second floor above the bank.
- Emaho Cafe has changed hands & no longer offers good food - simple "chinese" food is all they now serve - an institution lost.
- There are three hole-in-the-wall joints near the Hotel Surya where you can find good momos, parathas, and simple Indian meals.
- Sherab Ling Monastery has a simple restaurant with respectable food.
- Joy Restaurant in the nearby town of Palampur serves wide variety of awesome food at reasonable rates.
- Buckstars Coffee Shop, Tibetan Colony. Offers proper coffee, tea and muffins.
Please note that the prices may vary greatly depending on the season but should mostly be between Rs 500/- to Rs 1500/-.
- Dzongsar Guesthouse, . An eight room guest house. Big, cold rooms - sometimes solar heated water for showers. No restaurant.Rs.500 for double bed room, Rs.200 for single bed room
- Palden Guesthouse, . Electric heated showers. Nice hostess and husband. Very clean. Fast food joint also with Wi-Fi facility.Rs.500 for double bed room, Rs.200 for single bed room
- Bir Resort Hotel, . Electric heated showers.Restaurant facilities,12 bedrooms.Rs.500 for double bedrooms
- Hotel Surya Classic, chougan bir baijnath. A nice place with 14 luxurious rooms with 24 hot water and WiFi internet in every corner of the hotel Rs 900
- Camp Oak View, Bir Billing. Bed, Breakfast and Dinner. Food is Homely. Campsite is eco-friendly. Camping in Bell tents and called as Glamping. Tents are fixed at the edge of forest area. Camp site has the option of birdwatching is surrounding, village walk, nature walk, trekking to billing, mountainbikingINR 2500/-
The water in Bir is usually uncommonly clean, but it's still worth taking precautions. It comes from a spring in the mountains above any village, it's usually drinkable except during the monsoon when the groundwater can pollute the system, but it's wise to boil or filter it year-round because contamination can happen during storage or in the pipes. Boiled/filtered water is available in some restaurants.
Check the date on the bottles of soft drinks in all places, including shops.
- Acupuncture & traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) from Dr. Norbu, near the main intersection in the Tibetan colony. Also does cupping and moxabustion. Clinic open 10a-1p Mon-Sat (more or less). Tel: +91 98823.37181. Very good with sprains & back pain.
- Bhawani Panchkarma Centre: Holistic Ayurvedic Treatment centre providing herbal treatment and various rejuvenating packages Rediscover your own unique identity with Ayurveda contact Dr Manan Soni Ayurvedacharya 919857460215 9459203257 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Government doctor at crossroad to Chauntra.
- Men-Tsee-Khang: traditional Tibetan herbal medicine.
- Tibetan government clinic: Allopathic medicine, including low-cost vaccinations (e.g. Hepatitis B).
- Veterinary clinic (extremely cheap)
- Western medical clinic (low-price vaccinations, e.g. rabies, tetanus), Upper Bir.
- Shiva Temple – Located in nearby Baijnath and dating from 1204 CE, the temple is a beautiful example of the Nagara style of early medieval North Indian temple architecture. The temple is dedicated to Shiva as Vaidyanath, ‘the Lord of Physicians’. Said to be the location of one of the 12 jyotirlingas.
- Tashijong – another Tibetan settlement with a lay community of about 400 people and a Drukpa Kagyu monastery (established by the 8th Khamtrul Rinpoche) with about 140 monks near Palampur.
- Dharamshala and McLeodGanj, the seat of the His Holiness the Dalai Lama, are two-and-a-half to three hours from Bir.
- Tatani Hot water spring Located at the distance of 20 km drive and 6 km trek. Trek to Tatani start with the hydro project. Valley around here is amazing and one of the beautiful part of Baijnath region and also considered destination for the tourist coming here for paragliding at Bir Billing.