Paragliding at Bir Billing, Himachal Pradesh

After having the thrilling experience of Giant swing at Sandhan Valley in Maharashtra, I was looking for my next adventure. And after about 8 months, I zeroed down on Paragliding. This adventure activity was already known to Indians, thanks to the Amitabh Bachchan movie “Yaarana”, although it was actually “Hand Gliding” in the movie. The activity has gained immense popularity in India recently and you could easily find it on the bucket list of almost every adventure enthusiast.

WHAT IS PARAGLIDING?

“Paragliding” is actually a competitive adventure sport of flying paragliders: lightweight, free-flying, foot-launched glider aircraft with no rigid primary structure. The pilot sits in a harness suspended below a fabric wing. Wing shape is maintained by the suspension lines, the pressure of air entering vents in the front of the wing, and the aerodynamic forces of the air flowing over the outside.

Tandem paragliding is where the participant is accompanied by a trained instructor sitting behind him/her. The instructor takes care of directing the glider and manoeuvring it. The participant has to just relax and enjoy the beautiful aerial view. Okay it’s not as easy as it may sound. Before the relaxing part, the participant has to gather courage, run faster along with a heavy glider off the cliff and then has to hold the selfie stick throughout the flying session.

Though there are many spots in India where Paragliding is done, following is a list of some of the popular ones with approximate prices per person per ride (prices could vary depending on season and number of participants).

  1. Bir Billing, Himachal Pradesh: Rs. 2,500
  2. Solang Valley & Marhi at Manali, Himachal Pradesh: Rs. 1,500
  3. Mussoorie, Uttarakhand: Rs. 2,000
  4. Kamshet, Maharashtra: Rs. 2,500
  5. Hoskote Lake & Nandi Hills, Karnataka: Rs. 1,500
  6. Yelagiri, Tamil Nadu: Rs. 1,200
  7. Ranikhet, Uttarakhand: Rs. 3,200
  8. Baliman Dara & Bulbuley Dara, Sikkim: Rs. 2,500 – 4,500

WHY BIR BILLING?

Located in the Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh, Bir Billing carries the tag of world’s second best and Asia’s top spot for Paragliding. The place gets average thermal of 5 m per second, allowing the flyer to get perfect uplift to fly. Bir Billing also boasts of the site for smooth take-off and for safe and accident-free landing.

Due to these reasons, India got to host the Paragliding World Cup for the very first time in 2015 at Bir Billing. The event was well organised by Billing Paragliding Association. The take-off site is Billing at an altitude of 2,325 metres and 14 kms North of Bir which is the landing site. Paragliding from Billing gives you a beautiful view of the Kangra Valley.

MY PARAGLIDING EXPERIENCE AT BIR BILLING

I made a trip to Himachal Pradesh in mid-September of 2016. Bir Billing was followed by an overnight trek to Triund Hill in McLeodganj. Since we were 3 friends, we booked a cab at Mcleodganj (don’t remember the charges). As we had to reach Manali after Paragliding (which is a 180 kms/ 6 hours journey), we started our day at 7 am. We reached Bir at around 10 am. We had a taken a 30 minute halt at Baijnath Shiv Temple which is a good place to visit on the way.

  • Tandem Paragliding
    This is what Tandem Paragliding looks like

I had booked our Paragliding activity through 365hops, a web aggregator of adventure activities.

Paragliding charges at Bir Billing per person per flight

  • Rs. 2,500 for Tandem Paragliding
  • Rs. 500 for video shooting
  • Rs. 200 for individual photographs just before landing

You may directly approach other local operators but these are the standard rates anyways for a single Paragliding session. In case you are opting for Paragliding session with overnight camping and meals, then they have different packages starting from Rs. 5,000 per person.

We left the office of our activity operator at Bir village at 10:30 am, taking all the gear in a Toyota Qualis and believe me, it was the scariest drive ever for all of us. The driver must be in his late teens and was driving as if we had participated in The Dakar Rally. Billing is 14 kms North of Bir and road is narrow and bumpy. On one side of your car, you have the hill and on other is the valley. And these drivers drive so recklessly but since they are used to it so you are pretty safe (as if you have any choice).

Our operator advised us to leave our bags and valuables in the office at Bir itself. He did so as we were eventually going to be landing at Bir only. Also, you cannot take the risk of keeping valuables with you while flying in the air. Due to this reason, we couldn’t take pictures at the take-off site.

  • Ahju Railway Station
    A secluded Ahju railway station near Bir village

We arrived at top at around 11 am. It took us 30 odd minutes to reach the top of the hill. The operator had told us at the office itself that the weather had turned bad in just few hours that day. We had still taken a chance and as expected we were welcomed by thick fog at the top of the hill.

Our instructors prepared us with all the gear and then we waited for the fog to recede. The instructors told us that in paragliding, weather plays crucial role apart from the glider quality. They said that when it is foggy, taking off is a strict no-no. Reason being the lack of visibility in air and possibility of gliders colliding with one another. At such times, all they can do is wait for a short drizzle which eventually results in a clear sky.

After almost 4 long frustrating hours, we thought of giving up and heading for Manali. But fortunately at around 3:15 pm, there was a short drizzle and the instructors sensed a window of 10-15 minutes which was our last hope. There were about 10-12 gliders lined up by instructors of other operators as well. Our operator had only 3 customers for that day – me and my friends. All instructors hurriedly started readying gliders for take-off. Every single glider started taking off with an interval of 2-3 minutes between two take-offs.

My other two friends belong to sub 95 kg weight category and our instructors were 60 kg something in their early 20s. But as they say, paragliding is all about finesse and not about strength. The way they managed the take-off of my friends was appreciable. I have purposely added a our group photo with our instructors. It will give confidence to those who are on heavier side and are in a dilemma of whether to go for it or not.

  • Paragliding landing
    Captured during the landing

In tandem paragliding, the instructor sits behind you in the harness setup and he only manages the direction and speed of the glider using the wind flow and direction. Before the take-off, the instructors were literally shouting at us and telling us that “you must run as fast as you can and if you don’t, there’s a deep valley down there waiting for you and your instructor.” We were left wondering whether that was a motivation or a death warning.

So, the distance between the cliff and the spot where we were standing holding the glider would be hardly 50-70 metres. Since Billing is like a meadow only, the surface is not flat; it is uneven. And we had to run that short distance on that bumpy surface as fast as we could and that too while pulling the heavy glider behind you. After my friends successfully took off it was my turn and I just gathered all the strength to pull the glider and ran as fast as I could. It seemed like an effort more for saving myself falling off the cliff than to actually take off for paragliding.

After successfully taking off, I got to experience 10 minutes of pure bliss. Getting the bird’s eye view of the Bir village was simply amazing. The instructor did manoeuvre the glider couple of times to show his paragliding skills. I won’t describe much about the actual experience here. You have to see it in the video below to believe it.

At the landing site, a photographer is already there who clicks some of your best shots in the air. He had charged us Rs. 200 per person for the pictures (10-12 photos per person). Since it was once in a lifetime experience, we didn’t mind paying. We had to wait for some more time to get our videos from the instructors after which we left for Manali.

If planned well and done with a reliable operator and instructors, Paragliding at Bir Billing could be one of the best experiences you could ever have in your life. Following checklist will make things easier for you.

Best time to visit to Bir Billing

March to May before the monsoon and September to November.

How to reach Bir Billing

Since Paragliding at Bir Billing was part of my Spiti Valley / Himachal Pradesh trip, I followed it up with my trek to Triund Hill at Mcleodganj.

Bir village is 67 kms away from Mcleodganj. One can plan an itinerary like this:

  • Mumbai/ Delhi to Amritsar (by flight / train / car)
  • Spend couple of nights in Amritsar and move to Mcleodganj by car (212 kms)
  • Night stay in tents on Triund Hill and visit Dalai Lama Monastery at Dharamshala next day near Mcleodganj
  • Mcleodganj to Palampur (38 kms) by car; spend time at the Palampur tea estates
  • Palampur to Baijnath Shiv Temple (16 kms)
  • Baijnath to Bir (11 kms); overnight hotel/ tent stay at Bir

You can hire a cab for Mcleodganj – Palampur – Baijnath – Bir journey (rates could be upwards of Rs. 2,000) or if you are a budget traveller, then you can rely on state transport buses. All these spots are on same route and in same sequence.

For people coming directly to Bir from Delhi, Bir is 520 kms away. You can reach Bir from Delhi by:

  • Air: Delhi – Dharamshala flight; the Airport is in a town called Gagal, a few kms outside Dharamsala. From there, one can reach Bir by state transport buses or hired cabs.
  • Train: Several overnight trains are available between Delhi and Pathankot. One can get off the train at Pathankot and get a taxi to Bir.
  • Bus: Boarding the buses at Majnu Ka Tila or Delhi ISBT Kashmiri Gate. The ticket prices are typically in the range of Rs. 1,250 – 1,350

Accommodation in Bir Billing

If you plan to stay overnight, there are few budget-friendly options for you like

  • Colonel’s Resort
  • Bhawani Guest House
  • Chokling Guest House

Restaurants in Bir Billing

There are several decent food joints and restaurants available near Bir (landing site). Some of them are:

  • The 4 Tables Cafe and Gallery
  • Garden Café
  • Zhim Zhim Restaurant
  • Norgay Kitchen
  • Café Cloud Door

There’s only one small shop available on Billing (take-off site) where you could get tea/ coffee, biscuits, bread, omelet, parantha etc.

Things to remember

  • Start your day early if you are leaving for Bir from Mcleodganj and planning to do Paragliding same day.
  • You can keep your baggage at the activity operator’s office and can carry your valuable things in a small backpack. But make sure you fasten all belts tightly and that the bag won’t trouble you during the take-off.
  • Paragliding is dependent on weather conditions so be prepared to wait longer if it is foggy.
  • Do not get overwhelmingly excited and follow all safety related instructions given by the instructor.
  • Wear light clothes and do not over eat or drink before your take-off.
  • There is no age limit as such but kids under 18 will need their parents’ consent.
  • As far as weight limit is concerned, any person in the range of 20 to 120 kgs can do the activity safely.
  • Make sure you turn on the GoPro camera attached to your selfie-stick before the take-off and test it properly w.r.t. battery levels.

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Till then…Happy Travelizing!!!