Paragliders Paradise

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!

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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

The Secret Gateaway!

Last weekend I had the best gate-away I could ever ask for. The entire week’s work takes such a toll on the mind and body that it becomes absolutely essential to have a relaxing weekend to gear for the week that awaits. And, if someone proposes a weekend party or a short vacation, I usually am not up for it unless the place and company is worth indulging. So, something similar happened last week when my father and a couple of his friends had planned a weekend trip to a place situated on the outskirts of the city, Hidden Village. Initially, I was aversive towards being a party to this plan but when I saw the pictures of the place my mind immediately said a yes. With just a 75 kms drive from Mumbai, the drive was pleasant and smooth with the highway being mostly empty in the wee hours of the morning. It took us 2 and a half hours to reach the place (with a halt in between for breakfast) and as the name suggests, the place was actually hidden in a small locality called Atgaon which is 6 kms from Shahpur. For people who do not know, Shahpur is an agricultural and industrial area located on the outskirts of Mumbai.

Hidden Village is in a small corner of a road and the entire place is full of greenery, with beautiful hotel rooms built on hilly terrains. There is a waterfall coming from a nearby dam area which forms an important attraction of this place. Because the place is situated in a village, the feel and experience is also like staying in a village. The staff of the hotel is hardworking, cooperative and extremely warm.

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The entrance to Hidden Village

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Typical village architecture welcomes you to Hidden Village

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rooms were big and spacious to accommodate our group of 13 people comfortably. All kinds of facilities were made available in the rooms starting from extra beddings to bedsheets and pillows. The rooms were air-conditioned with hot water available 24/7. There was a big seating area outside the room with tables and chairs.

The living area in the room

The living area in the room

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Seating space outside room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two days that I was there, the weather was at its best. It was raining and the greenery was endearing with cool breeze blowing throughout the day. When we arrived, the dam water was clean and clear with the flow quite normal to venture and soak ourselves in the cool waters. The next morning when I woke up, I was astonished to see the same dam water turned into coffee colour flowing at gushing speed, owing to the incessant overnight showers.

Clear waters of the dam Tansa

Clear waters of the dam Tansa

Coffee colour water thanks to incessant rains

Coffee colour water thanks to incessant rains

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden Village is a perfect place for people across all age groups. Apart from the dam, there is a swimming pool to relax in, a recreational section where a number of indoor games are set for having fun with our group members. I particularly enjoyed playing foosball which puts your motor skills to test and can get quite exhausting towards the end. Apart from that, one can easily while away an hour or two by playing carom, pool and table-tennis.

Recreational Centre

Recreational Centre

The best thing about being at Hidden Village is that at no point in time you will feel hungry. The staff there makes sure that you are well fed during your stay. Their breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks consisted of lip- smacking Maharashtrian delicacies, namely, Misal, spicy Chicken, Mutton and Fish curries along with desi desserts to pamper your taste buds.

The Restaurant Area

The Restaurant Area

There was this mini trek trail that one can take within the hidden village and go up to the dam area where you would be greeted by some white ducks. The trek trail is a relaxing walking up the slope with greenery all around and if you are lucky enough you would also spot some rare bird species out there. Make sure to keep your cameras handy to capture these birds and the flowers that you would discover on your way.

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Trekking Trail

 

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Ducks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At reasonable overnight rates, I feel this is the perfect place to sneak away from the hustle of our daily lives because we truly deserve a peaceful get-away over the weekend. You can check their website (www.hiddenvillage.in) in order to check the kind of rooms and tariffs they have to offer. I am sure after checking their website, you will be tempted to pack your bags and drive off in pursuit of relaxation and mental bliss.

 

 

 

All images © Kainat27