Bir Travel guide

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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.

Understand


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.

Get in


By bus

Bir is about four hours or so from Dharamshala/McLeodGanj.

By toy train

By taxi

Detailed Travel Tips

For much more detailed travel tips, see the Bir Portal's Bir Visitors' Guide.

Get around


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).

See


Do


Learn


Buy


Eat


In Bir Proper (Upper Bir)

In Tibetan Colony

Elsewhere

Drink


Sleep


Stay safe


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.

Get out


Informational Resources


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.

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