Flying report for Bir, India and Pokhara, NepalGetting there
This trip started on Oct. 18th, flying from Denver to Newark and then to New Dheli. You will need to get a passport for India, long before you fly there. My wife Pat and I stayed the night in New Delhi before flying the next day morning to Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India. These flights will take 2 days and I highly recommend sleep aids. The air in New Delhi is awful, I used an N-95 particle mask. Of course you can tough it out. Once in Dharamshala, you get a taxi to Bir. If you are staying in the Tibetan Colony there, you will need a permit. This is a pain, you stop at the office, see: http://birhp.com/2013/03/protected-area ... an-colony/
, fill out paperwork, with 2 photos, then try to find the government official to sign it and pay the man. Due to an election, we did not find the official. If you stay outside of the Tibetan Colony, you will not need this paperwork. We ended up staying in a house, so we did not have to go back to Dharamshala to get the paperwork and pay the man. Another group of pilots that were there at the same time as us sent someone back there to get their group paperwork. This is a 2 hour one way taxi ride.
Bir is an awesome Tibetan Colony with temples, lots of places to stay and eat. Due to tourists, you can eat American food or the local fair. Do not drink the water or eat anything that is not cooked. Check out the LZ on the West side of town. It is large and an easy place to land except it is thermic mid day.
The next day you grab a taxi to launch. This runs a couple of bucks if you share it with other pilots. I recommend getting up to launch early, if it is not flyable early, have a Chia or order breakfast right at launch. On the way to launch, you will run into the government official that has the paperwork to launch. All pilots need to submit a Registration Form and provide some supporting documents (IPPI card or National Certification + Insurance + Passport + 3 photos). The costs seems to vary year to year for 'Free Flyer Card' for a validity of 14 days. He might give you the paperwork on day 1, to then return with it all filled out on day 2.Flying
OMG! This place could be the best place in the world to fly.
Launch is awesome, on a ridge with different launch directions possible. Please see http://paraglidingearth.com/
and search on “Billing - Bir, in”. Launch to the LZ is just over 1000 meters or 3,300 feet of vertical. Beginners can fly early and late. Intermediate pilots can fly mid day at lower altitudes, as you can push out to the valley to land at any time. Advanced pilots can fly over the back into the higher Himalaya Mountains. The winds are very light in the Fall, I am not sure about other times of year. There are days where you need to do a forward launch due to light or no wind. There are about 200 tandem pilots working this site and possible 300 free flyers all launching, while this launch is big, it is very busy. I learned it is best to launch as early as possible, on a good day, about 9:30. The morning climb up to the ridge can be a bit tough, but once on the ridge, the day is on.
My warm up day was a lower elevation flight from launch to Dharamshala and back, about 80km. This place is like painting by numbers, you glide across valleys and climb in thermals on the ridges. You can top land on some of the ridges for a pee break and buy a Chia from the locals who hike up the ridge to cater to pilots. Then relaunch for more fun or camp there for the night. I was in Bir for 10 days, every day was flyable. I flew 9 days and took 1 day off to rest and be a tourist. My average flight time was 4.5 hours, with my longest flight of 6.5 hours. 9 days of flying, over 40 hours, over 720km and with what I know now, it could have been much more. Every flight was an out and back except one night where I did a bivy, and then flew back the next day. Over the back into the Himalaya Mountains
If you decide to fly over peaks that are 15,500’, you better make sure you are ready. You will want bivy gear in case you land out, I carried 2 days of food. You will want all your long underwear, it will be cold. I flew to 16,000 and then bailed out of lift as I did not need or want to go higher. It will be below freezing. I did not see anyone with oxygen for flying this high, I expect it is because getting oxygen could be really hard. So know your limits and get/be as acclimated as possible for these altitudes. I double gloved and just barely survived the cold. Once I was home, I made muffs for my hands, to keep them warm next time. You will also need to be ready for the strong turbulent lift. Expect lift at 1000 to 1500’ a minute on average. You better make sure your active flying and acro skills are up for this. At 15,500 on one of my flights, while in strong lift, my wing went to shit. I still do not know why or if I lost any altitude when this happened. What I do know is that I was over steep terrain, about 500 to 1000’ AGL, hard to measure, because the ground was at least a 45 degree slope. I hit my full stall hand position and waited for my wing to settle down. Once my wing was overhead, my stall recovery was text book. While I have practiced my full stall, this was the first time I needed it in flight. I cannot tell you how awesome it is to have a wing back over head. Just before I got to Bir, the story I heard was that a Russian pilot crashed on a cliff called “Big Face”. He was ok, spent 3 days on the cliff, as he could not re-launch or climb down. On day 3 he ate his snicker bar right before the helicopter plucked him off. While I was flying, I heard an American had a similar crash, and broke his leg. I think he was rescued the same or the next day. I also saw the aftermath of a reserve toss. The pilot landed at about 15,000 feet just below a ridge on moderate terrain. He was very lucky about where he landed, I expect he could reorganize and hike up to the ridge to relaunch. I saw him standing and taking off his harness. I also so what looked like his buddy flying back to his location.
Flying over the back, you will see and can fly over glaciers, high mountain lakes, huge waterfalls and in general, breathtaking views. While flying, I found it hard not to admire all the beautiful rock climbing potential. I flew along and over cliffs that would be covered in rock climbers here in the USA, but here in India, I do not know if anyone will ever climb them as they are so remote and there is so much of it. I was snowed on and one day had some graupel snow. Flying the distance
If you want to fly the distance, an out and back to Dharamshala is a great 80km flight. If you get up and on this flight early, you can even go past Dharamshala for some extra distance. You may have a very light tail wind going West to Dharamshala and then about 2pm, the wind can switch directions to give you a light tail wind back. This is about a 4 hour flight. Once back to launch, if you have the energy, stay high on the ridge and fly East above and past launch toward Mandi. There is a ridge you can fly along that has ridge lift and thermals. I made the mistake of taking thermals up and flying this section at a good altitude. While this if fun to be higher than everyone else, it is slower. You do not need to make very many turns if you just ride the ridge lift. This ridge is over 40km one way. My best day was 150km, but I turned around way too early, I expect I could have had a 200km day, but I am not complaining!Vol-bivouac
Many pilots use this launch as a start to multi day vol-biv flying. I did one bivy, where I flew 70km to Prashar Lake. There is a temple there that is awesome, I was able to order meals and there is even a guest house there if you want to sleep indoors. I slept outside, thank god I had my warm sleeping bag, there was a lot of frost on everything in the morning. I have also added ear plugs to my bivy gear as a local dog was nice to guard me barking all night. The lake also has a floating island. Google Prashar Lake, India and check it out. I ran into other pilots that were flying from one place to another every day, cross country.
Is Bir perfect in every way?
There are down sides to flying in Bir. There isn’t any garbage pickup in this area, so garbage is either thrown into the drainages to be washed away in the monsoon season or they burn it. There are public garbage cans made of metal mesh. When the can is full, they burn the trash right there. People burn their trash right outside their homes and businesses. While there is running water, us gringos should not drink it. The streams are also the open sewers. Just expect to be sick at some point on a trip here and hope it does not last long. I ran into quite a few pilots who had colds and then of course the stomach issues. Internet exists, but it is not very fast and goes down at times. The power is also a bit sketchy. On day 2 or 3 of my trip, my radio battery charger and battery got fried. So most of my trip, I was not able to use my radio. I plan on a backup battery the next time. Rescue and medical support in this area could be/is a real problem.Conditions
I got to Bir at the tail end of the good flying conditions. Toward the end of my trip, cloud base was much lower and flying in the big mountains was not an option. It was still fun to play on the edge of the clouds and fly for a few hours. It was about Oct. 28th that the cloud base lowered and many pilots moved on to other places or went home. The flying was still good, but not what it was when I first got there. I have been told that flying here in the Spring is when you will have stronger conditions and bigger flights. Check out this trailer for a film about flying Bir: “Glide-Bir Billing”https://cinecrowd.com/en/glide-bir-billing-1
. I met most of the people in this video, it is way cool. Based on how turbulent I found the fall, I have no intention of returning in the spring. There was one time when I was flying low, came over a ridge and hit lift that was so strong and narrow that I went weightless in my harness. The local pilots laugh at pilots that fly on “D” wings, as they say it is too turbulent for these wings. I would agree with them, you just do not need a hot wing to fly all day here. There is plenty of lift, the real problem flying in this area is getting down. Top landings can be really difficult due to the amount of lift you will find.Next Trip
After the incredible flights in Bir, I am totally spoiled. Flying other locations will have a really hard time to be called great when compared to Bir. If I go back, I would like to fly with friends that want to do the Vol-Biv.
After flying in Bir, my trip was not over yet, my next stop was flying Pokhara, Nepal.