Nestled amidst quaint mountains with the mighty Dhauladhar range in its backdrop, the Bir-Billing area in Himachal Pradesh this weekend will have more to offer than just India’s first AAI Paragliding World Cup 2015.
Tourists and adventure lovers to the picturesque towns of Bir and Billing, where 130 paragliders from 35 countries will converge during October 23-31, will also savour a taste of Tibetan culture and get a chance to angle for fish, camp, trek and, of course, paraglide as a free-flyer.
“After seeing the inaugural flights, we will devote time for searching out Tibetan spiritual sustenance,” Abhishek Nayyar, a Chandigarh-based senior executive with a multinational company, told IANS.
He said after the opening day of the World Cup, he and his friends would spend time in nearby Tibetan monasteries and shop for handicrafts.
Mona Dhingra, a Delhi-based entrepreneur whose husband is a free-flyer, said it’s more than flying this weekend.
“We are planning to mix the long Dussehra weekend with leisure, flying and spiritualism,” she said.
Bir, the landing site that is also home to Tibetan refugees and Buddhist monasteries, and the take-off point of Billing are separated by 14 km in Kangra district, some 275 km from Chandigarh.
A French contingent with 13 pilots, including many who have won World Cups and Super Cups and have been ranked World No.1, will figure in the event, Sudhir Sharma, president of the Billing Paragliding Association, the club organising the event, told IANS. The French team also includes the current World No.1.
The paragliders also include about 12 women, including former World No.1 Klaudia Bulgakow of Poland, who also won the 2013 Pre-World Cup at Bir and Billing.
While the state government and the Billing Paragliding Association would jointly organise the event, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) would be the title sponsors.
Members of the hospitality industry are expecting record footfalls during the long weekend coinciding with the Paragliding World Cup.
But they admit that the spectators might face problems in getting suitable accommodation.
An extended weekend - Thursday (Dussehra), Saturday (Muharram) and Sunday of course - should see thousands of the tourists coming to watch the event and holiday in the nearby hills.
“Most of the guests coming for the paragliding event are showing interest in nearby tourist destinations like tea estates and temples, Buddhist monasteries and Tibetan establishments,” Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) officiating general manager Vijay Sharma told IANS.
Besides, tea estates of Palampur town, Kangra, Baijnath and Jwalaji are known for the prominent Hindu shrines. Most of these towns are within a 40-km radius of the World Cup.
McLeodganj, the uphill quaint town, has already gained prominence for attracting a steady stream of Tibet enthusiasts, Buddhist scholars, back-packers and even Hollywood stars like Richard Gere.
Also known as Little Lhasa, located just 50 kilometres from the World Cup spot, McLeodganj is known for its Tibetan artifacts and traditional recipes like Tibetan dumplings.
“We are expecting a good rush of tourists this weekend after T-20 between India and South Africa in Dharamsala on October 2,” said Pankaj Chadha, owner of the McLio restaurant in McLeodganj.
Organiser Sudhir Sharma said over 20,000 spectators and adventure lovers are expected to witness the World Cup.
According to him, accommodation for the pilots and visitors is at Bir and at Chowgan village, where there are hotels, besides which special luxury tents have also been put up.
Bir is a noted centre for ecotourism, spiritual studies and meditation.
Sharma said the visitors could also opt for home stay units.
Getting to Bir-Billing
How to travel: One of the best ways to reach Kangra is by a flight to the Gaggal airport. There are daily flights to Kangra, which is 40 km from Bir.
Other modes to reach the venue are by road and train. The nearest broad gauge railway station is at Pathankot, about 90 km from Kangra town.
Barot in Mandi district is a two-hour drive from Bir. It’s known for trout angling.
Palampur is 29 km from Bir and Baijnath is 13 km from Bir.
Bir-Billing is 499 km from Delhi.
Where to stay: Small hotels, guest houses, and even home stays with local people.