It’s been a while since I wrote about my getaways although I have taken a couple of them in the last few months. Recently, a friend of mine went to Himachal on a backpacking trip without any agenda and ended up in this village Bir Billing, which is famous for paragliding for almost ten days doing random things with the villagers there and had amazing stories to share. And that was when I thought, this could be the perfect place to escape from all the work pressure that drives me insane here in Mumbai. To tell you the truth, this has been one of my budget friendly trips in a long time.
Bir is a two hour drive from Dharamshala. Since I couldn’t get cheap flight ticket to Dhramshala due to India New Zealand ODI, I decided to go via Delhi as I am also not a big fan of spending hours in buses. It makes me sick. So I got a cheap return airfare to Delhi and from there I took a train to Pathankot. There are trains from Chandigarh as well but I preferred Delhi. From Pathankot, Bir was a 4 hour drive (around 145 kms) and since my train reached Pathankot in the wee hours of morning, I reached Bir at 7 am. While boarding a taxi, its important to negotiate with the driver so as to reach the best price possible and if you have people sharing with you, boom! Staying in hostels has become an integral part of my travel so even this time I stayed at Zostel Bir. It’s a recently opened property and definitely one of the best.
Zostel at Bir is run by two engineers who quit their jobs to pursue their passion and love for creating an eco friendly vacation getaway. They plan to extend the idea to encourage corporates to plan meetings integrated with vacation for families in an interesting way.
The food at Zostel is delicious especially their parathas, omlettes and daal. They have a cool lounge like setup on the terrace where one could enjoy the sunset with piping coffee or tea admiring clear sky changing hues over the green mountains.
There isn’t much to do post sunset in mountains. That is the time when you engage in interesting conversations with the locals, hear stories of other fellow travellers, enjoy some drinks with strangers before retiring in the comfortable dorm beds at the hostel. The hostel is reasonably priced, boasts good cleanliness and hygiene.
Next day, I rented a bicycle and rode uphill to a monastery. It was physically exhausting as the route was narrow and full of curves. There were times when the incline was so steep that I couldn’t peddle after a point and used to start sliding down, so I had to get down and walk. Once I reached the monastery, the feeling of achievement was thrilling and the place was grand so to speak. It is one of the biggest training institutes for monks in Asia and quite heartening to see them pray and share a glimpse of their routine with strangers.
Next on the agenda was paragliding. I have never ever done any aerial adventurous sport before and there were butterflies in my tummy before I went for my jump. There’s a pilot who accompanies you on the jump. I can’t really explain the feeling in words but the initial couple of minutes that I was in air, I was just smiling throughout and talking to the vast universe which embraced me in its warmth. It was cold up there and my pilot was worried since I wasn’t shouting or exclaiming, which could be a common form of expression for others. But little did he know that I was happy and it was a great feeling within. Towards the last lap of my landing, I was actually starting to feel sick because if you are going to do paragliding with the expectation of thrill then it might just disappoint you. It’s more meditative than adrenaline.
After Bir, I descended down to Mcleodganj. Although in hindsight, I wish I could’ve stayed at Bir a little longer as you start gelling in the vibe of the place only after two-three days and by the time I had started enjoying the calmness around me, it was time to leave. Mcleodganj was a sudden plan as I was joining a few friends there but I know I will be back to Bir soon. The only cafe I went to in Bir was Silver Lining cafe and fortunately I was their first customer. The guy there makes amazing cafe mocha. Make sure you guys try it out when you’re there.
Mcleodganj was commercial and surrounded by tourists. It’s good for shopping and cafes. Thanks to international travellers there has been an increase in the number of cafes at such places in the last 2-3 years. I stayed at this hotel called Zambala and it was a decent hotel. The room was clean, nice and comfortable. And since it was in the centre of the city, we could just walk to the nearby places. Some of the favourite cafes that I went to are:
1. Shambhala restaurant: they are good with their breakfast and coffee but I didn’t quite enjoy the food there especially their momos. They were huge and didn’t taste as good as the ones you get on the street. Personally, one should go for the street side momos rather than the restaurant ones. Shambhala did have good thukpa though.
2. Illiterati Cafe: I went here twice and I must admit that it is one of the best cafes I’ve ever been to. It’s a huge cafe integrated with a bookstore and a mini terrace kind of setting. Fortunately I was there during full moon day and I could witness the moonrise from behind the mountains illuminating our tiny table with its full might. Everything on their menu is droolworthy, be it coffee, sandwiches or burger.
3. Moonpeak Espresso: another favourite cafe of mine for breakfast. It’s a tiny cafe located in a busy shopping lane. A must try for coffee and chicken sandwiches.
4. Shiva cafe: one of the most popular cafes of India, to be honest I was a bit tad underwhelmed by it. Firstly, it’s located on top of a mountain so the trek is literally exhausting and then the food (not that I tried anything fancy) is nothing to rave about either. It’s just the location that attracts people and the not-so-great view from the top. The only good thing was the fresh mountain water from the tap which you’ll need after the tiring steep trek!
5. McLlo: perhaps the most famous Indian restaurant in the entire Mcleoganj only cause it has host the cricket team from India and elsewhere. The entire place is full of photos of all the popular cricketers with the owner and the food was just like any other Indian restaurant but the apple cider beer is something that could be given a try there. Good place to drink and chill with friends.
There is also a small village Nadi near Mcledoganj city where we took a cab while going and because we wanted to enjoy the sunset, we trekked all the way down from the valley. It was a beautiful little trek and I’d advise you to try it too. You’ll find the descending walk down the narrow green valley exciting and peaceful.
This was perhaps one of my most commercial hill experience, barring Bir ofcourse. In my next blog, I’ll write about my experience of Leh Ladakh where I went in July this year.
All Images © Kainat27