Deer Park Institute is located in Bir Colony, in the Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh, north India. Bir lies roughly midway between Dharamsala and Mandi, 16 km from Joginder Nagar and 19 km from Baijnath.
Situated at an altitude of around 1400m, Bir is home to a large Tibetan community and there are several beautiful monasteries in the vicinity. The neighbouring Indian villages are surrounded by terraced fields, tea plantations and rushing streams, with many pleasant footpaths to explore. On the edge of the Tibetan colony is the paragliding landing site, where paragliders land after taking off from Billing (see below).
The snowcapped Dhauladar range provides a dramatic backdrop to the valley. Running from Dalhousie in the northwest of Himachal Pradesh, in a curving arc southeast to Mandi, the range separates the Kangra valley from Chamba to the north.
More information and resources about the Bir area can be found on www.birhp.com.
The paragliding take-off site is located on the hill behind Bir. It’s a steep 3-hour hike from Upper Bir, or a 45 minute taxi ride. There’s a pleasant hike along the ridge behind the paragliding site.
Ahju Temple & Fort
The devi temple and fort ruins are located on a long, flat-topped hill south of Bir, with great views of the surrounding area. From Bir, the roadside village of Ahju can be reached in about 45 minutes on foot or 10 minutes by taxi, then it’s another 30-45 minute uphill walk through forest.
Large new monastic institute which opened in 2004, after relocating from what is now Deer Park campus to Chauntra, 5 km from Bir – about 15 minutes by taxi or a one hour walk. Go between 5-6 p.m. to see the monks debating.
Sherab Ling (Bhattu)
Large Tibetan monastery (www.palpung.org) located in a forest 8-9 km from Bir – 20 minutes by taxi or two hours walk on a quiet road. There are several scenic shortcut paths across the fields, if you go with someone who knows the way. It’s usually possible to find a taxi for the return trip.
Baijnath Shiva Temple
Small, beautiful 9th century temple with fine stone carvings about 20-30 minutes by taxi from Bir, or bus from Chowgan crossroads.
New eco-campus for sustainable and compassionate living (www.dharmalaya.in). The centre is located on a hill near the village of Ghornala, about 6km northwest of Bir Colony – about 20 minutes by taxi followed by a short, steep hike.
Tibetan settlement and monastery (Drukpa Kagyu lineage) between Baijnath and Palampur, about 25 minutes from Bir by taxi, or take any bus towards Palampur, get off at Tashijong turnoff and walk 1-2 km. Sherab Ling, Baijnath and Tashijong can be combined as a half-day/day trip.
Artists’ village with pottery studio (www.andrettapottery.com) located on a back road between Paprola and Palampur, about 45 minutes by taxi from Bir.
The popular destination of Mcleod Ganj, home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and a large community of Tibetans in exile, is about 80km northwest of Bir (2 hours by taxi, 4 hours by bus) from Bir. See http://www.mcllo.com for more information.
En route to Mcleod Ganj, one may stop to visit the Tibetan arts and crafts institute Norbulingka at Sidhpur (http://www.norbulingka.org/), as well as the nearby Dolma Ling Nunnery. In the neighbouring village of Sidhbari, H.H. Karmapa gives regular audiences when in residence at Gyuto Monastery (check www.kagyuoffice.org for details).
Kangra & Jwalamukhi
Kangra, about 60km to the west of Bir, has an important Hindu devi temple and the ruins of an old fort. Another 35km to the south of here is the popular Hindu pilgrimage site of Jwalamukhi.
Mandi & Rewalsar/Tso Pema
About 80km to the southeast of Bir, the large town of Mandi is home to numerous Hindu temples. Another half hour’s drive from Mandi is the holy lake of Rewalsar (Tso Pema), sacred to Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs alike. In the mountains above Tso Pema are several caves where Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) meditated.
Kullu Valley & Manali
Running north from Mandi, the Kullu Valley is a popular tourism destination. The resort town of Manali, at the northern end of the valley, is also the gateway to the more remote Himalayan regions of Spiti, Lahaul and Ladakh.