A complete guide to paragliding at Bir Billing in Himachal Pradesh
We were being driven to Billing from Bir for the paragliding session. They combine to make it Bir-Billing, India’s paragliding hotspot. And, if you seriously think that paragliding at Bir-Billing is a thrilling experience, then hold on- travelling to Billing from Bir itself is by no means less thrilling, more so if you are travelling in a vehicle provided by your paragliding operator to carry you to the take-off site.
To take the paraglider down this magnificently picturesque valley, you need to reach the Billing hill first, or it is a small table top over the hill, overlooking majestic landscape. It’s a steep uphill drive of around 16 kilometres on a narrow winding road, not in most excellent of condition. When you go to Bir for a paragliding experience, you most often get in touch with a paragliding operator. Once you book your flight, its the responsibility of the operator to take you to the take-off site at Billing.
Now there are two things- firstly, operator will always combine many groups into one such ferry trip to the top. One vehicle can easily accommodate eight to ten persons. Moreover, two way trip will take some time, therefore driver will always think of catching up precious time to make more trips. Since, it isn’t a sight-seeing trip, hence the only motive of the driver is to take you to the top at the earliest. So, although you will always have beautiful Kangra valley on one side and mighty Dhauladhar ranges on other, only thing you will be taking care of during this short journey is to catch hold of your seat on this bumpy ride, good enough to post a challenge to a cross-country race.
So, who says, there isn’t any other thrill then paragliding at Bir Billing! Good thing is, you are not coming down the same way. Once down, I felt that flying down to Bir in a paraglider was a safer way back!
Well, having said that, it wasn’t an attempt to scare anybody. Drivers are perfect and know every inch of the road. You are always in safe hands, as you are in the sky with your paragliding instructor or pilot!
Located west of Joginder Nagar valley, at the base of the lower Himalayas Bir-Billing is often billed as India’s paragliding capital, and rightly so. That was the way this place stamped itself into India’s tourist map. As I said, the place is collectively known as Bir-Billing, but Billing is actually the take-off site and Bir village is the landing site. Billing is right inside the mountains at the altitude of about 2400 metres. On the southern edge of the Bir village is a huge ground known as Chaugaan, which is actually the landing site for the paragliders. Difference in altitude of the take off and landing site is almost 3700 feet.
Bir-Billing is equally popular among foreign paragliders as well. Many experts consider this as the second best place in the world for paragliding following Lake Como in Italy. Many national-international events are being held here. But the event that propped this place on the international scene in big way was Paragliding World Cup, which was held here in October 2015. It was the first time when India was hosting any such event. More than top 150 international paragliding pilots participated in the event along with almost 500 free-flying pilots. It was also a big opportunity for Indian pilots to prove their prowess.
You can fly here at any time of the year, except for the months of monsoon. Remember that rainfall in this part of India is usually very heavy in the times of monsoon. Therefore you won’t be able to fly here in months of July and August. You can’t fl when it is too windy, its pouring heavily or there is a thunderstorm. For a good flight you need a good wind and a good weather. Keeping that in mind, September to November and then March to June are considered to be the best.
However, you can fly in other months as well. And, actually different seasons give altogether different feel of paragliding. While during September to November period, everything will be lush green post monsoon, and during February-March it would be white with snow. Just imagine, a carpet of snow at Billing and you run through it and jump in the air with your paraglider!
The reason behind popularity of paragliding at Bir-Billing is its geographical location. At Billing, on the back is Dhauladhar ranges acting as a wall and right in front is the vast spread of Kangra valley. This makes for flow of smooth winds from hills to the valley, winds which are termed as ‘thermals’ in the language of paragliding. These smith winds help in smooth take-off and landing. Besides, while flying, you get a panoramic view of valley as far as you can see. This makes it perfect place for paragliding and parasailing.
Billing is also know for safe and comfortable take-off. I have felt it myself and you can see whenever you go there that you hardly need any take-off acceleration. You just move a couple of steps down the slope on the ridge and glider will lift you smoothly in the air.
A safe adventure
It is definitely an adventure activity and not for the weak hearts or for those with any problem of vertigo. But it is equally safe. You might feel a slight fear while doing it for the first time, but then it has a thrill and once you overcome this initial hitch, you will enjoy flying like a bird. This is an experience like no other. All you need is to know and ensure the proper procedures and safety drills & requirements before flying.
Paragliding is done in two ways- solo and tandem. Solo flights are done by trained, certified and experienced pilots, for their own purpose, adventure or flight hours. Tandem paragliding is done in a two seater paraglider, in which pilot sits on the back and the amateur or the tourist seats on the front seat. Instructor pilot controls the glider. Second person just enjoys the flight. These fights are for first timers, tourists and amateurs, That is what we do at Bir-Billing.
To become an instructor, you need minimum flying hours on your back and one has to pass a test. Local pilots are more aware of wind speed, height, topography, clouds, weather and the route. As experienced the pilot would be, more would be the fun for the tourist flier. All paraglider operators need to maintain the drills, regular training and updates for their pilots. All equipments, gliders should be regularly checked and at no point safety of fliers should ever be compromised.
Fly like a bird
Paragliding is the adventure of flying in open air like a bird. There is a parachute above you and a pilot behind. You are seated on a chair just tied to it with a seat harness. You can feel the cool breeze brushing your body. Its open all around you and you feel like floating in the air. This is the thrill (and fear for some) of paragliding. After initial couple of minutes, when your minds get settled with the fact that you are safe, you start enjoying the every moment, until you land safely and smoothly.
Tourist flights at Bir Billing are of two durations either 30 minutes or 45 minutes. Although you can have longer flights if you wish so by paying extra fees.
Precautions for a safe flight
- Always fly in a good weather, when there are good thermals and no sign of rains. Watch the clouds closely as weather changes all of sudden in the mountains.
- Don’t fly when you are tired, exhausted, sick or in any sort of intoxication. Always be attentive and careful, you will enjoy the flight more.
- While landing, be aware of any wire, building, tree or anything else on the path which might hinder you.
- Also check the age of the parachute. Every parachute has a sticker, check it. Better not to fly on a parachute more than seven-eight years old. In tandem flights, pilots will usually carry an extra parachute with them.
Much more to do
But, Bir Billing isn’t just about Paragliding. It is also a centre for ecotourism, spiritual learning and meditation. This village has been largely a settlement of Tibetan refuges, hence there are many Buddhist institutes, monasteries and stupas in this region. There is a Tibetan colony as well. So, for a tourist who wants to spend some time here, there is much more to do besides paragliding.
It is also becoming a hub for other adventure activities. These include camping, angling, mountain biking and much more. Now Bungee jumping, valley crossing and Zip-cycling have also been added to adventures available here by many operators. This place has also been old base for trekkers. Trek to Thamsar pass starts from here and it crosses Billing on the way. From there, trekking routes lead to tribal regions of Chota Bhangaal and Bada Bhangaal. There is another anecdote about Billing and it is said that the name comes from a Britisher who found this place. There are many caves and waterfalls as well in the surrounding mountains. Some of them are said to be mythologically associated with Pandavas.
As I said that this place has a big Tibetan influence, there are many monasteries here as well Choukling, Nyingyang, Tsering Jong and Sherabling. Bir has many hotels, resorts, homesteads, hostels, camping sites and restaurants. You can do a bit of shopping from the Tibetan Market. You can also enjoy authentic Tibetan dishes here in some of the restaurants. However, you get all types of food as the tourists come here from all over the world.
Paragliding costs: obvious and hidden
Usually, your place of stay will be having a tie-up with a paragliding operator. But you can also manage both the things separately. You can easily check the rates online but always read between the lines very carefully. Check these few things-
- Normal rate for a 30-40 minutes paragliding session is 2,000 INR per person. That includes your transportation to the take-off site. You can even bargain a few hundred rupees on that cost. If you want to fly more, rates will increase accordingly.
- Operator will also propose to capture your photos and videos through a Go-Pro camera while you are flying. They will charge 500 INR per person for that. Each pilots carries a Go-Pro camera along.
- Now when you are landing at Chaugaan, you will see many photographers randomly clicking the fliers. Once you have landed, a photographer might approach you with offer to give you your photographs of flying and landing. You should bargain as per number of images and your willingness. He might charge 300-400 INR for 30-40 images. After striking the deal, they will immediately transfer the images digitally to your mobile.
- Having said that, you can also carry your own GoPro or mobile camera fixed on a selfie-stick or even a DSLR while you are flying provided you are confident enough of handling it safely while you are in sky. I carried my DSLR and captured still images as well as videos which you can see in this post as well as on my YouTube channel.
Bir has become a popular weekend destination for travellers in North India. There is a huge number of youngsters who travel to Bir just for paragliding. Many of them will take a night bus from their cities, reach Bir early in the morning, spend the whole day in paragliding, take the evening bus back to their cities and reach home early next morning. Therefore, there are many hotels in Bir which will offer short stays of few hours to relax and freshen up. Due to this, you will find a big rush of tourists at Bir on Saturdays and Sundays. Its good strategy for those adventurers who go there again and again just for paragliding, but for the tourists, who are going to Bir Billing for the first time, it is always good to spend a couple of nights and enjoy other things around in Bir.
How to reach
Bir is very easily approachable by all means. You can take overnight luxury buses from Delhi, Chandigarh and other cities to reach directly to Bir. Else, you can take a train to Una and travel to Bir by road. Or, you can take a train to Pathankot and travel to Bir either by road or by narrow gauge train to Kangra. Kangra railway station is just 3 kms from Bir town. Alternatively, you can also take a flight to Gaggal airport near Dharamshala and then reach Bir by road. Airport is around 60 kms from Bir town.
You can also watch a video of paragliding at Bir Billing on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-
Have you ever been to Bir Billing for paragliding? How was the experience? Share with us in the comments section below.
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