The towns of Bir and Billing provide a destination for paragliders. Every year visitors compete in world championships and enjoy magnificent views as they soar above the Himalayan Dhauladhar mountain range.
Bir is also home to a large Tibetan community which includes several monasteries and a beautiful temple. Strictly speaking it is the village of Chaugin rather than Bir which has become a second home for Tibetan monks and families. The outlying area of Kangra provides good farming land and is characterised by large tea plantations.
I took a short walk around the grounds of the temple, looked in on monks seated in the hall and saw butter lamps being cleaned outside. I then went a little further down the road to the Garden Cafe at Palden house for dinner.
I was struck by the beauty and serenity of Bir and was keen to stay and explore for a few days. I returned to the Garden Cafe the next day having failed to find accommodation. Another visitor to the cafe; Jessinta directed me to an Eco Village (Namlang Himal) nearby. They provide cheap rooms for ‘volunteers’ in a tumbledown flat above a row of shops.
During my two days at Bir I visited a monastery, spent time sitting with metal craftsmen fashioning religious items and enjoyed time chatting with Jessinta who was engaged in a buddhist course at the temple. We tried walking to the American run Dharmalaya buddhist environmentalist centre but realised it was a lot further away than imagined. However it led us across fields and to bump into a retired Aussie/US real estate manager outside his home. He had set himself up in a rented modern building on farmland to live semi permanently and had settled into the ‘good life’. He had become a vegan and practising buddhist. His sour dough rolls and salad were delicious. He was keen to see my bike as he too had a Surly back in Oz. We arranged to all meet at the Garden Cafe for lunch the next day.
The hot weather continued through the next day. Northern India as a whole was experiencing record breaking temperatures. Once again I visited the temple and took a short stroll past fields of tea. After a local takeaway meal with friends at the flat I retired for the night. Sadly a burglar awoke me in the middle of the night and after a flurry of activity he left empty handed. I was somewhat shaken by the violent encounter and packed to leave the next morning. I was offered alternative secure accommodation at the Tibetan run Palden House. An extra two nights there and then I fled Bir. It was not exactly the personal oasis of peace and calm that I had anticipated. I warned local people about the armed intruder and contacted the British Embassy with a view to creating a few red flags. Some local business people including the French owner of the ‘eco village’ were not exactly enamoured with the idea of involving the local police. Appearances are deceptive. Back on the bike into the heat and dust….