Bir is a town in the eastern end of the Kangra Valley 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). It is becoming a popular off-the-beaten-path destination for meditation courses, volunteering, and ecotourism.
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 CE. These families settled in Bir proper. Other groups migrated in starting in the early 20th century CE.
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 and monastic colleges 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; Drikung Dozin Theckcho Ling Monastery (Drikung Kagyu) under guidance of Ontul Rinpoche, and Chökyi Lödro College of Dialectics under the directorship of Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche.
- Kangra Airport (DHM IATA) at Gaggal near Kangra is the nearest airport to Bir - roughly a two-hour journey. Air India, Alliance Air, and SpiceJet operate daily flights from Delhi.
Bir is about four hours from Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj.
- From Dharamsala: There are direct buses to Bir Road/Upper Bir leaving at 6AM & 2PM from Lower Dharamsala. Or you can take a bus to Palampur, then to Baijnath. From Baijnath there are buses every half hour to Upper Bir - for Bir Colony ask them to drop you at Chowgan crossroads, then you have to walk about 1 km. Or get off at Bir Road junction and get a taxi (₹50-60).
- From Delhi: From the Inter-state Bus Terminal (ISBT), take bus to either Baijnath or Bir Road - the latter is closer, but many buses only go as far as Baijnath. There are two overnight buses leaving Delhi. Both depart mid evening and arrive early morning. Lakshmi Holidays also operate a Volvo A/C semi-sleeper bus service from Delhi departing Majnu ka tila at 7:30PM and Karnal Bypass at 7:55PM, arriving in Bir at 7:30AM the next morning. Although the quality of the buses plying the route has improved immensely over the last few years, it is still a tiring journey and certainly not recommended for anyone who is prone to motion sickness.
- Toy Train: There is a morning train from Pathankot to Ahju, which is only 3 km from Bir. Trains from Delhi arrive at Pathankot an hour before the toy train leaves. The ride is long, tiring and often crowded but the stunning scenery more than compensates for any inconveniences.
- Express: Overnight train from Delhi. Alight at Pathankot (around 9 to 10 hours). Taxi to Bir - around ₹3,000 for the four-hour journey. More expensive than the bus, but a definite option for those prone to motion sickness.
- This is the most convenient way of getting to Bir from Pathankot (4 hours, ₹3,000) or Dharamsala (2 hours, ₹1000-1300). As it can be difficult to pick up a taxi in Pathankot willing to bring passengers to Bir, it is best to request your hotel or hostel in Bir to send a taxi to meet you at the station. Otherwise, request that they give you a contact number for a driver in Bir. Ensure that you inform the driver whether your train is stopping at Pathankot Junction or Cantonment.
- Taxis from Bir Road (the final destination of most long-distance buses) to the Tibetan Colony or Deer Park should not cost more than ₹60-70.
- Taxis from Upper Bir or the Tibetan Colony to Ghornala (for the Dharmalaya Institute or Ghornala Resort) should cost ₹100 one-way or ₹150 return.
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 Dharmalaya Institute (on Dhanaari Hill), Ghornala Resort, a Sikh retreat centre, and a few cottages, is about midway between Bir and Sherab Ling, and slightly to the north. 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).
- Chökyi Lödro College of Dialectics (formerly Dzongsar Institute). A center for higher Buddhist philosophical study with about 600 monks in nearby Chauntra.
- Dharmalaya Institute. An eco-campus for compassionate living, set on a hill with breathtaking views overlooking Bir and the Kangra Valley, offering programs in sustainable living and contemplative practice, and creating green jobs for local villagers.
- 1 Palpung Sherab Ling. A Karma Kagyü Tibetan Buddhist Monastery located in woodlands between Bir and Baijnath, headed by the 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche and also host of frequent visits from Mingyur Rinpoche.
- River pools in Upper Bir.
- Tea gardens.
- 1 Meditate, Dhanaari Hill, Sansaal Road, Ghornala Village, VPO Bir (HP) (Ask taxi driver for Dharmalaya on Sansaal Road). The Dharmalaya Institute hosts weekly sitting meditation groups and talks. These group meditation and discussion sessions, which follow the curriculum of the Tergar Meditation Community, are open to everyone regardless of background or experience level. They are free of charge, with donations welcome but not required. (Seasonal: its website for details.)
- Paraglide from the mountaintop at Billing, but if you take a tandem flight check that the pilot is carrying a reserve parachute & ask him to show you the age sticker of his glider, if it's more that 7 or 8 years old, think again, there is no maintenance programme or safety check on the equipment. Paragliding in Bir and vicinity is the subject of Jim Mallinson’s entertaining feature length documentary DVD Temples in the Clouds (AIM Television 2008).
- 2 Volunteer. The Dharmalaya Institute offers volunteer and service-learning opportunities for short- and long-term visitors. Activities include green building (traditional adobe and bamboo eco-construction), organic farming, tree planting, trail building, etc. The best times to volunteer are October–December and March–May, but work can be done year-round for those who don't mind the cold of winter and the rain of the monsoon season. Tent and dormitory accommodation on donation basis.
- Yoga (AryaMarga Yoga) (take a right from chowgan crossroads towards bir road), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 7AM-7PM. AryaMarga Yoga institute transmits the experience of Integral Yoga of the ancient lineage of 84 Mahasiddhas. They teach the 4 Yogas (Hatha, Mantra, Tantra and Samadhi) separately in retreats and in an integrated form in the Teachers and Advanced Teachers Training Courses. The courses, based on the traditions therefore give importance to specific techniques-physical, mental and senses based, that cause the inner experiences which are required for progress in the path of Yoga. You can also drop-over for daily classes as well.
- Deer Park Institute. located on the old Dzongsar Institute campus) offers courses and workshops to explore various aspects of Buddhism and other classical Indian wisdom traditions. Most classes are taught in English and are free of charge. Accommodation is available on site
- Dharmalaya Institute. An eco-campus for volunteering and meditation. Dharmalaya is an Indian NGO 'devoted to education, service, and compassionate living, with a practical focus on sustainable village development, contemplative service-learning, and immersive ecotourism'. Dharmalaya hosts service-learning programs and meditation retreats, providing opportunities for long-term volunteers and students to do karma yoga (mindful service work) for various charitable projects to benefit the local community and the natural environment. Programs include green building, green job skills training for local villagers, organic farming, and a tree-planting project. Accommodation is available in comfortable tents, and several traditional adobe buildings are under construction
- Guna Institute. The institute offers a five-year Tibetan Translators Degree Program under the guidance of Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.
- Chowgan/Bir Tibetan Colony: everyday shopping
- Chauntra (east of Bir): basic kitchenware
- Jogindernagar, Baijnath, and Palaumpur: a few pharmacies, hardware stores, shops with decorative items, drugstores, shops with basic domestic appliances. For more choice in clothing and appliances and for garden nurseries go to Palampur.
- Upper Bir: post office, a chemist (pharmacy), and a few basic general stores
Meals in local cafés and restaurants range between ₹20 and ₹200 per person (2019).
- Bhawani Guest House, near the west end of Bir serves a wide variety of healthy and delicious food, but order in advance
- Four Tables - Run by an Indo-German who cooks very well. Moved a bit above town, and likely you'll need a taxi to find it, at least the first time.
- Lhakpa Cafe in the main bazaar of Upper Bir serves tasty veg momos for lunch, but they usually run out around 1PM so get there early.
- Panditji, just west of the main intersection in Upper Bir, makes good samosas and pakoras, and is very gentle and warm.
- Emaho Cafe has changed hands & no longer offers good food - simple "Chinese" food is all they now serve - an institution lost.
- Another possibility is "Friends' Cafe", although their menu promises more variety than they actually can offer.
- Also try Gang-Chen Cafe on the second floor above the bank.
- Hotel Surya serves some of the best Indian meals in the Tibetan Colony and has wi-fi.
- Norling (a.k.a. "Garden Café) serves the best traveler food (pasta, salads, etc.) in the colony.
- There are three hole-in-the-wall joints near the Hotel Surya where you can find good momos, parathas, and simple Indian meals.
- Ghornala Resort has a very good cook who has traveled extensively (in Ghornala Village, north of the road that goes between Bir and Sherab Ling)
- Sherab Ling Monastery has a simple restaurant with respectable food.
- Joy Restaurant in the nearby town of Palampur serves wide variety of awesome food at reasonable rates.
- Byron Bay Cafe, Rooftop of Zhim Zhim Guest House, ☏ . 8:30AM-9PM. French press coffee. Excellent vegetarian and vegan meals. Pleasant environment with outdoor rooftop seating.
- Silver Linings, Suja Road (From town, walk past the paragliding ground. The cafe is in a small mud house on the left), ☏ . A very organic cafe with outdoor seating. Excellent espresso based coffees. Serene location. Healthy vegetarian meals. Free wifi and small but good selection of books.
There are quite a few guesthouses and hotels in Upper Bir. Rates range from ₹200 to ₹2000 per night (2019).
The Government of India has classified the Bir Tibetan Colony as a “protected area.” This means any foreigners wishing to stay overnight in the Bir Tibetan Colony must obtain a Protected Area Permit (PAP) before arriving. See (Bir Portal) and (Bir Portal)
- 1 Shiva Guest House, Vill Kotli, Bir-Billing Road (200m above Govt. Primary School Kotli), ☏ , , ✉ email@example.com. Standard airy rooms with attached bathrooms, hot water and LED TVs. Regular & fast food available on order. ₹500.
- Bhawani Guest House, ☏ , , , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. A nice place in Upper Bir with homely environment having nine luxurious rooms with attached bathrooms, 24 hot water, great Indian food on order. ₹300-700 for double bed rooms.
- 2 Bir Billing Camping, ☏ . Bir Billing Camping is eco-friendly and developed in a sustainable way. They used bamboo in their camp site to build a common bath and toilets. Bamboo is also used for the bases of the tents to elevate them off the ground and reduce the use of concrete. The tents are safe and insulated from rain water. Camping food is mostly cooked from locally grown vegetables by nearby villagers. Waste water is cleaned in a traditional way, by stone sand recycling, and released to orchid trees. Kitchen waste is divided into recyclable, biodegradable and non-biodegradable. All biodegradable wastes are decomposed and utilized accordingly.
- Bir Resort Hotel, ☏ , , ✉ email@example.com. Electric heated showers. Restaurant facilities, 12 bedrooms. ₹400 for double bedrooms.
- Chokling Guesthouse, Near chokling Monastery, ☏ , , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-out: noon. Pleasant rooms (16 doubles) with attached bathrooms and solar heated showers. Quiet environment and restaurant facilities. Double room from ₹250.
- Dharmalaya Institute. Dharmalaya is set on a hillside with breathtaking views over Bir and the Kangra Valley, with accommodation for volunteers and programme/retreat participants in private rooms, private tents, shared dormitories, and shared tents. They also provide vegetarian and vegan meals. By donation.
- Emaho Guesthouse, ☏ , . All rooms have attached bath. ₹220 for double bed room.
- Hotel Surya Classic (Surya), chougan bir baijnath, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. A nice place with 14 rooms with 24-hour hot water and Wi-Fi in every corner of the hotel. ₹700.
- 3 Palden Guesthouse. Electric heated showers. Nice hostess and husband. Very clean. Fast food joint also with Wi-Fi facility. R₹250 for double bed room, ₹200 for single bed room.
- Zhim Zhim Guesthouse (On the main street - towards paragliding side), ☏ . Simple, modern and stylish rooms. Hot water. Gated parking. Restaurant. Friendly and helpful staff. ₹700 to ₹1,000.
- 4 Shivirama Camping Ground, Plot no 505, Village Gharnala, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: Flexible, check-out: 1000 hrs. Luxury camp in the hills of Bir.
- 5 Ramsail Villa Hotel, Bir-Billing Rd (on Bir Landing Site), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Spacious and clean rooms with attached bathrooms. Mountain view. Complimentary breakfast. Free Wi-Fi. 24/7 hot water. Hygienic kitchen From ₹2300.
The water in Bir is uncommonly clean. 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 just in case. Check the date on the bottles of soft drinks in all places, including shops.
- Acupuncture & traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) from Dr. Norbu, near the main intersection in the Tibetan colony. Also does cupping and moxabustion. Clinic open M-Sa 10AM-1PM (more or less). Tel: +91 98823.37181. Very good with sprains & back pain.
- Bhawani Panchkarma Centre: Holistic Ayurvedic Treatment centre providing herbal treatment and various rejuvenating pacakages Rediscover your own unique idendity with Ayurveda contact Dr Manan Soni Ayurvedacharya 919857460215 9459203257 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Government doctor at crossroad to Chauntra.
- Homeopathic clinic
- Men-Tsee-Khang: traditional Tibetan herbal medicine.
- Tibetan government clinic: Allopathic medicine, including low-cost vaccinations (e.g. Hepatitis B).
- Veterinary clinic (extremely cheap)
- Western medical clinic (low-price vaccinations, e.g. rabies, tetanus), Upper Bir.
- Dharamsala and McLeodGanj, the seat of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, are two-and-a-half to three hours from Bir.
- Shiva Temple – Located in nearby Baijnath and dating from 1204 CE, the temple is a beautiful example of the Nagara style of early medieval North Indian temple architecture. The temple is dedicated to Shiva as Vaidyanath, ‘the Lord of Physicians’. Said to be the location of one of the 12 jyotirlingas.
- Tashijong – another Tibetan settlement with a lay community of about 400 people and a Drukpa Kagyu monastery (established by the 8th Khamtrul Rinpoche) with about 140 monks near Palampur.