History of Bir
One hears multiple stories about a place, especially for such a remote mountainous place in India. Meet Bir. A local who has served a lifetime in the army and then farmed in Palachak (some 26 km further up from Bir) tells us the region we’re speaking of is also known as ‘Chota Bangal’. And we know of a ‘Bada Bangal’, the extremely remote settlement deep in the mountains. It takes one 4-5 days of intense trekking from Bir to reach Bada Bangal. It is said that in the early 17th century, some people from Bengal in East India had slowly shifted ground to this remote place owing to wars and business. Bir and the surrounding area was called ‘Chota Bangal’ while ‘Bada Bangal’ was known as it is known now. Over time, other communities also landed up in ‘Chota Bangal’ and the place came to host a diverse set of people and somewhere in transition, the place started to be called ‘Bir’.
One youngster has also heard from his elders that the place is called Bir because it used to be very bushy and dense with vegetation and people didn’t wander here in the dark.
Then there are stories of the warring kings- the king of Mandi, the king of Kangra, the king of Kullu and one wonders where else? All these kings were in war with one another and the prisoners are said to be taken over to the remote ‘Bada Bangal’ region to be held in captivity. And over time, the population grew in that place to be known as what it is known now. Wow! Yes. What’s real, what’s fact, what’s fantasy? Well, maybe that’s why the 144 year old babaji who is said to be living in Upper Bir (Wikitravel also calls it the ‘Indian Bir’!) stays in silence. When logic and reason give up, silence prevails and trumps all. Smile.
And ofcourse, the buddhist vibe of the region. It was in 1966 when the third Neten Chokling, an incarnate lama of the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism brought his sangha to Bir. They bought 200 acres of land and established a Tibetan settlement for Tibetans to build houses and live. This is ofcourse, 7 years after the Dalai Lama came to India and setting up the government in exile in Dharamshala. The Tibetan Colony now is the heart of Bir and the gateway to almost all tourists who come to Bir for paragliding, trekking or spiritual pursuits.
What must have been a pristine village even as close as 20 years ago (watch Khyentse Rinpoche’s ‘The Cup’ which was shot in Bir in 1999), the region now stands at the precipice of massive change. Especially after the paragliding world championship in 2015 which has put Bir on the tourist hot spot and has led to a burst of guest houses and restaurants. The residents, tourists and civic authorities need to act now to steer Bir towards a cleaner, more sustainable future!