Paragliding and the art of Flying like an Eagle!

Now, Its been four months that I haven’t blogged, which is a shameful thing for someone who is a writer. But sometimes the journey is so exhilarating that words fall short. Infact life has changed 360 degrees, more on that later.

Coming to the part where I left off, I went to Mcleodganj in October and one of the most important part of my trip was to jump off from the mountain which is popularly called Paragliding.

A lot of places in India offer tandem paragliding, which basically means a professional will take you for a whirl, but there are long courses too but nothing can come close to jumping from Bir Billing Valley.

Its a feeling, its an emotion that one has to feel when they are right up in the mountain. While I was at The Bunker at Upper Dharamkot people who were coming back from Billing had varied stories to narrate. As the season was just about starting, due to rough weather only a few were able to fly and rest were coming back with disappointment and hence I was very clear that I wanted to take the first jump which starts at 7.30 am!

So there I was packing my bag to go to Bir and thanks to Ishan ( he owns The Bunker) who found fellow travellers to Zostel Bir I managed to cut my costs and happily shared a cab to the hostel.

Bir is a quaint town living in its own world with a huge Tibetian settlement and monastery around. After crossing the tea plantations of Palampur we reached Bir after sunset and couldn’t believe our eyes, for none of us had ever seen so many stars in the sky glittering like a milky way. Even though I was freezing I just could not stop staring at the sky while a traditional song was being sung at a far away settlement.

But we had things to do, and the manager at the hostel slotted all our rides and I jumped and said,’I am going first at7.30′

Like an excited child i sat outside waiting for the jeep and boy o boy I couldn’t contain my excitement when I was asked to sit in the back of the open jeep while it speeded in circles climbing up the Billing valley.

The Billing valley paragliding site is often quoted as the second best site in the world and many world championships have been conducted here for the thermals are very good and you can easily fly in the air for long.

When you stand atop the valley and look as far as you can the only feeling that i felt was how miniscule we are in the scheme of things called nature and life. Somehow I wasn’t scared I was raring to run and jump and scream my heart and so I did!

My instructor is an ex-Indian army fellow and he literally took me inside a floating cloud. Now imagine, someone who is scared of turbulence in a flight and who rarely takes flight out of choice is now taking a whirl inside a little passing cloud, like a neighbor who has come to say hello.

We were in the sky for over 20 minutes where me and Harish, my instructor shared our faith, lifestories, how he learnt paragliding, his daughter who wants to go to an english school and so much more.

He also taught me how paragliding is nothing but following an eagle’s flight as the eagle always knows where the winds direction moves. All you have to do is follow the tail, quite simple? Not really but he made it sound so simple and easy and just as i blinked he started air stunts and I screamed my lungs out and landed on the offsite!

For every person who does this ride those 20-25 minutes in the air mean something personal to each one of them. Something to let go, or something they seize in that moment! For me I screamed goodbye to my fear of flying that day, that’s a lot for a day!

Here is the quick takeaway:

Stay: Zostel Bir

Cost: Rs 500 per night (depends which bunkbed)

Pragliding through Zostel Escape: Costs Rs 2000/-

Go-Pro videos-Rs500/- directly goes to the gliding instructor

Upper Dharamkot to Zostel Bir: By cab, Rs 1500/-

Most important- The best alloo prathas at Zostel Bir and yes, say bye to your fears!


The Bunker Hostel -Debunking life in its own way

And I sat there on the cobbled stones near the waterholed bonfire on a cold Monday afternoon, amidst the clouds passing by, mocking my inability to fly with them. I sat there still blankly looking at the mountain and wondering if life could forever this be. If only time could stand still and let me be. 

This is not an exaggeration this is what The Bunker does to you. 

-How did I find The Bunker? 

I have never stayed in a hostel in India, partially due to safety and more so because of cleanliness reasons. But this time I was pretty tight on budget and after listening to a few stories about the new hostels springing up around the country, I decided to take the plunge. 

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, Shailaja introduced me to the instragram influencer Abhinav Chandel who goes by the handle @abhiandnow who recommended The Bunker Hostel at Upper Dharamkot and after reading and staring at the pictures for an hour I decided to book the place through 

Although my bed bunk was booked they didn’t charge any money upfront and I kept calling them to ensure if that means I don’t get a place. The person on the other side calmly said, Pooja, don’t worry we got your bed. We are hiking right now,ceya. 

With this I had an inkling that this isn’t just another hostel and after spending a week with this enterprising and amazing lot I can only say, this has been my best hostelling experience ever. (I have stayed at St Christopher’s Inn–which is an award winning hostel in Paris, just to compare the experience) 

– Are you ready to reach The Bunker?

First things first, if you think this place is meant for the easy hearts it’s not, whether you choose to stay at The Bunker or Zostel at Upper Dharamkot, you will have to pull your luggage for 500 meters to a kilometre from where the cab drops you. Not really a big deal, but I recommend do not carry suitcases and extra luggage. You will repent it. 

I reached the hostel after sunset and met one of the owners – Ishan Byotra. And his friends Nidhi Iyer and Naihad Mohan who help him run the show. I didn’t get the chance to meet the co-owner Ashish.  But I am sure you will find them running the hostel once you reach there. Oh, there are two more important inhabitants- -Rain and Tazzoo. 

-What makes The Bunker my favourite?

Its the people who run the hostel, its the people who stay in the hostel and those who come for lively discussions and stay through the evening for lovely dinners.  The hostel attracts a lot of foreign tourists as compared to a Zostel, mainly because Indian’s are more aware of Zostel as a brand and their infrastructure is usually the same across the country. 

In a way that has helped The Bunker create its own niche. People playing and teaching poyi, Omir, an Israeli guy rapping along a hindi song in Hebrew, to the Swedish mailman Anton who brought me back from a treacherous trek or people playing guitars or lazily listening to music with each other. By the end of the day you would have spoken to everyone who is in the hostel. Instant plans with hostel mates and the zeal with which Nidhi, Ishan and Naihad help everyone, it sets them apart.
I had to go to Bir and Ishan overheard people in a cafe that they are headed to the same destination and got me to travel along with them. Or when I was in too much pain and Nidhi made me peanut butter sandwich even though the kitchen was officially closed. Its these gestures that go a long way in building trust with customers and loyal repeat travellers. 

– What more? 

The place dosen’t feel like a strange new place, its more than a hostel, its a new home with a lot of roommates, who somehow leave their imprints  on each other.  So much so, that I cancelled my other plans and came back to stay three more days with them.  And they were nice enough to adjust me at my same bed! 

– Dent in the pocket? 

I stayed in a mixed dorm called Rivers and paid Rs 450 per night. The room is cosy and has enough space for your luggage.  The washroom is neat and clean and hot water runs 24*7! I think there are cheaper rooms too!

Food is good- totally recommend the ginger honey lemon to drink, the veg Thali and Bunker Fried Chicken. You obviously can’t leave without eating or drinking Ishan’s special hot chocolate or experimental desserts. 

The place is pretty neat and clean and I recommend this hostel to anyone who is seeking to travel alone or with friends. 

-What are you waiting to hear?

We all have fears of travelling alone, but this place makes it easier. So those who asked me if they should travel alone, there can’t be a better place to start it.

Trust me you will leave a part of yourself when you leave promising to come back for its not everytime that you find a place which sings to your soul. 
PS: Ishan didn’t give me a penny’s discount to write this. 

Cheap trip to Himachal Pradesh! 

I have been contemplating whether to go home for my holidays or to take my backpack and leave for some me time…Not surprising enough that I have chosen to go for a solotrip for my upcoming birthday week! 

I called my friend and asked her for some recommendations and did some googling and came to a conclusion that I will do a cheap trip and stay in hostels. Due to safety concerns I have never stayed in hostels in India or for that matter in Asia but after reading some reviews and looking at the beautiful hostels I have decided to give it a go. 

Also to make this trip as economical as I can I have decided to take a train from Mumbai to Pathankot and then take a bus/shared taxi to Dharamsala. 

This time around I had made up my mind to stay only in hostels during the trip and I came across one of the instagram influencer Abhinav Chandel who goes by the handle @abhiandnow who had recommended The Bunker Hostel (@thebunkerhostel) at Upper Dharamkot. After going through the pictures and ratings on Tripadvisor I booked the hostel through, which I have been using for last four years for my trips to Europe. 

Next up I decided to experience a Zostel hostel and booked my stay with them at Bir Billing Valley. Although I am not sure about paragliding activity during October but I am hoping to take the Barot Valley Trek which is considered an easy one. 

I want to thank Shailaja Sharma and Amritha Pillay for the ideas because personally they have been the flag bearers of all things Himachal! 

More once I embark on the journey later this month! 


Mumbai to Pathankot (Train) – Rs 2000/-

The Bunker Hostel Dorm-Rs1200/- (3nts)

Zostel Bir – Rs 1500 (3nts) 

*Does not include breakfast/food costs