Bir – Billing, the two gems of Himachal Pradesh are tucked away in the Kangra region and are nothing short of astonishing. Winding paths leading into dense forests, a panoramic view of the mighty Himalayan range along with a range of adventures bring the nomadic soul to this terrain. Even though Bir and Billing are two towns nearly 15 kms apart, they are synonymous to visitors.
Ever since the Paragliding World Cup was there held in 2015, Bir-Billing has made itself known as one of the best paragliding sites in the world. Now flooded with tourists, paragliding has given the local people of this area employment opportunities and steady economic growth. What once started as a modest hand gliding site, has now turned into a full-fledged paraglider’s paradise, with over a hundred pilots to assist you in taking your leap.
Although the landscape from the top of Billing is impressive while gliding, Bir and Billing are much more than just 15 minutes of serenity in the sky. Trekking through its wonderful forests is something every traveler must do. Why? Simply because accommodating yourself in a hotel neither does the mountain air justice, nor you.
What are you set to encounter on your trek? We’re here to tell you just that.
An immersive experience to help you grasp the cultural heritage of this part of Himachal – the Kangra Valley, is to set foot into the charming village of Andretta. It just so happens that Andretta village is not too far from Dharamshala, the city which is renowned as the quarters of Dalai Lama. If your trek takes you here, be sure to visit the artist’s colony and camp against the backdrop of the Shivallik Hills – teeming with bamboo woods and a thick jungle.
It was 75 odd years ago that Norah Richards, a theater artiste from Ireland, acquired land in Kangra from its District Commissioner. She was first living in Lahore with her husband who was a professor at a Government College. She, in turn became the vice principal of Dayal Singh College. However, shortly after her husband’s death she went to a village near Palampur (now Andretta) and even lived in a traditional Kangra-style mud house. The 15 acres of land that she had acquired is known as Woodland Estate.
Spending a couple of days in Andretta is every artist and art lover’s dream. Many have walked the path of Andretta’s Artist Colony where you will find Sobha Singh’s Art Gallery, the Andretta Pottery and Craft Society and a look at what used to be Norah Richard’s abode. Carry home a souvenir from the village: a traditional village pot or a piece of ornamental earthenware.
That’s not all, Andretta has experts offering classes too. For the more committed wanderer, you can choose to extend you trip and learn pottery, acting or take theater lessons in this charming village. One can also attend the Yoga retreat the takes place at The Mirage, a lodge in Andretta.
Near Bir Billing lies the Bada Bhangal village at 7700 ft above water level. Six months a year, Bada Bhangal is open to trekkers, while the rest of the year it remains closed due to snowfall in the mountain passes. This is an unexplored area by first time trekkers, with mostly local villagers travelling for trade. From Bir-Billing it should take an average of 4-5 days of trekking.
Trail route: Bir-Billing-Plachak-Bhed Pal-Thamsar-Udgh-Bada Bhangal, (along the banks of river Ravi).
The walk is glorious and if you’re lucky you could find yourself surrounded by dense clouds and a shroud of mist, making this trek even more surreal. Exploring this trail gives you the chance to go somewhere few tourists have been, and you get to immerse yourself in the local culture and cuisine.
Once you have reached Bada Bhangal, you get a glimpse of the tribal culture and lifestyle. With only one shop for supplies in the entire village, the people of Bhangal live simplistic lives with trade, farming and livestock as their main source of income. Most people here have two residencies, one in Bada Bhangal and one in the lower planes, which they move to when the temperature dips down. Though a small village, Bada Bhangal in itself is self-sufficient and has been for years.
Please leave behind all sense of connectivity with the rest of the world while traveling through this remote area, as catching a signal from your telecom provider is improbable.
Rest assured, while you’re resting in the lap of nature you’re unlikely to be worrying about what the rest of the world is doing and simply soak in the beauty.