Sunday, May 08, 2011

Doing the Impossible at Bir and Billing

"Научусь летать с тобой на небо
Там где звезды до рассвета
Говорят телами о любви"

Научусь летать (2007), МакSим

A pair of Russian girls at Triund told me that back home, only teenage girls listen to MakSim :(

Sun, Sky and Paragliding at Billing
Sailing beneath sun-haloed clouds.

I decided that I like small out-of-the-way Indian villages, and I would gladly live in them until I got sick of eating nothing but beans, gobi and paratha. Apparently, it's true that people inhabiting them are nicer than us city mice who have had our souls leaden down by years of city nights without stars. I have a natural suspicion of niceness which I had to override. In my experience, strangers who are nice to me are usually either out swindle me or trying convert me to their religion.

Bir (pronounced "beer") is a village in the northerly state of Himachal Pradesh, which itself is pretty much an idyllic statewide Himalayan mountain village, and the Himachalis' niceness is a point of pride for them. It must be true because they told me so repeatedly. Bir was lovely. It's a place where the houses are small and the hills are high. The days are for long walks and the nights are for writing. The terraced fields are growing cornucopiously with wheat, rice and tea - and the only bugs living here are the prettiest ones.

Ladybird on Wheat
A ladybird on a stalk of wheat.

Moth or Butterfly at Bir
A fuzzy day-flying moth.

Bir Field
A growing field of something or other. I'm a city boy - what do I know?

Bir is also haven for paragliders from all around the world and the site had played host to international paragliding tourneys for many years, including the 2008 Paragliding Pre-World Cup (gosh, they have one for every kind of sport there is these days). The launchpad is situated at Billing, a grassy meadow fourteen kilometres from Bir and about a thousand metres above the village.

I walked there. I think I was the only one who did so that day. Cabs full of picnickers and would-be pilots kept driving past me with their occupants giving me the thumbs up while I baked myself brown under the springtime sun. This might sound crazy but I do enjoy walking a lot - it gives me a lot of time to think.

View from Billing
A view from Billing.

Lights Bursting Through Clouds at Billing
Another view from Billing.

Paragliders at Billing
Paragliding pilots talking about the weather. That's all they ever talk about, really.

Up at the top, there were little more than half a dozen "pilots" (as they call themselves) who sought to ride the thermals that day on their plastic wings and most of them are white males. There were also a couple of local guys - one who was bringing an Englishwoman on a tandem flight - and a German extreme chick. Most of them possess an air of I'm-better-than-you Top Gun cockiness I really dislike, and they aren't even real pilots. I stayed till the evening watching them take-off one by one in the hopes of seeing one plummeting down the mountain face first or get struck by lightning, but I learned that unrealistic expectations only set me up for disappointments.

No, I did not pay anyone to take me soaring through the cumuli and slalom past the lances of sunlight - that could have cost me far above two thousand rupees. I could neither afford nor find the time to arrange it. I wish I had though. I once flew from the snowy pinnacles at Solang Nala near Manali three years ago, and it was sublime, if brief.

However, I did do something I've never done before in my life at Billing; a feat which I didn't think is humanly possible.

Paraglider at Billing
No, I didn't fly without a glider.

I managed to score a free taxi ride down to Bir, I shit you not. I chatted up one of the blokes hanging out with the pilots who didn't look like he's flying - he's the one with the red cap in the seventh picture. I thought he was simply pals with the lot, and had pitched in to give them and their gears a ride up - so I shamelessly asked if he would mind giving me a lift down the mountain. He said yes (and my mind said 'Yes!'). I soon discovered that he is actually a taxi driver and a novice pilot, but he said he wasn't flying that day because of the potentially dangerous weather. He also explained to me some of the meteorological details involved in paragliding and how much of a douchebag one of the pilots really is.

More interestingly, he told me how much standard commission he gets as cabbie when he introduces a tandem-flying customers to one of the professional pilots. I won't divulge the amount because he had sworn me to secrecy - but it's a useful thing to know if I ever return to Bir to rent a flight. I asked him out of curiousity about the usual price he charges for the ride between Bir and Billing, and he told me its five hundred rupees. It made me feel a teeny-weeny nip of guilt but it wasn't strong enough to overwrite my unsinkably blithe mood at saving that much cash (and saving my feet from further punishment that day).

But, it is true. The people of Himachal Pradesh really are as nice as they say they are. I wish I hadn't forgotten his name now. Actually, I don't even remember if I actually asked him what it was.

Deer Park at Bir
The Deer Park Institute, which doesn't actually have any deers in it.

Rode a cab without paying,
k0k s3n w4i


Phoebs said...

i wish that was me in the 2nd last picture :( i wanna be an extreme chick that speaks german too

McGarmott said...

Oooh, show-off time (sorry):

"Nauchus' letat' c toboi na nebo
Tam gde zvezdy do rassveta
Govoryat telami o lyubvi."

... Unfortunately my Russian is such that I only understood three words there without consulting a dictionary, sigh.

nicoletta said...

Those are some nice bugs, especially the lovely fuzzy moth.

c3rs3i said...

Those are some gorgeous pictures.

In order of faves -
1. Lalang field
2. Paddy bug
3. 1st pic

Found the first pic very interesting. On one hand there's the very ominous dark cloud looming and the glider seems headed for grey skies yet all that needs to happen is for the clouds to shift and the sun to come out from behind them. Such a tease!

Anonymous said...

Awesome photos! And I want a free taxi ride down too. :(

k0k s3n w4i said...

Phoebs: me too. imagine walking off a cliff and not falling. wow.

McGarmott: you're a lot better than me then. i only know russian words that were used in the titles of some of maksim's songs - and i can't read cyrillic at all.

nicoletta: i got a lot more pictures of creepy crawlies coming up. maybe you can help identify some of them for me!

c3rs3i: i'm pretty sure the ladybird was sitting on a ear of wheat. my tibetan spirit guide™ told me so. and to spoil the mystery, the weather was turning for the worse. in fact, it started raining on my way down.

Alynna: you must learn to be as charming as i am then ;)

c3rs3i said...

Yes, of course. Not sure why I said paddy when I meant wheat although I do confess I didn't know what paddy looked like.

By spirit you mean alcohol?

I would think it quite dangerous to paraglide in the rain. I'm surprised that was allowed to happen given the threatening look of the weather.

Anonymous said...

Teach me, oh great one! :D

k0k s3n w4i said...

c3rs3i: i daresay the pilots have all landed in bir by the time the rain started. the cabbie did tell me that they were crazy to fly in that weather though. spirit, alcohol... that's a good one, haha. must remember to use it. but no, the tibetan spirit guide™ is a tibetan girl living in mcleod ganj. one of my readers introduced her to me. i gave her a codename because she really likes her anonymity on the web.

lovealynna: introduce yourself as an atheist. i'm not kidding. someone actually bought me books when i was in delhi because of that (but that's a story for another time).