Bir is a small, agrarian village in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas. Bir is also home to a Tibetan Refugee Colony of roughly 3000 people. The older generation Tibetans escaped Tibet on foot. They walked by moonlight, crossing mountains over 6,100 meters high. Many witnessed their family members being murdered, and were captured and tortured, by Chinese soldiers. Many of the younger, India-born Tibetans are lost. The complicated political climate leaves them with few opportunities and little hope.
The Indian community consists of mostly poor, simple farmers and mountain people who migrated to lower elevations. The conventional medical care available in this area is very poor. Shopkeepers pass themselves off as pharmacists, and minimally trained pharmacists pass themselves off as doctors. People are regularly misdiagnosed and then heavily over medicated. Others, due to poverty, simply go without any medical treatment.
Bir’s natural beauty is spectacular. At 1500 meters in elevation, Bir’s terraced farm fields rise up into the Dhauladhar Mountains, a southern branch of the Himalayas. The clean water comes straight from these steep, snow capped mountains. A short walk into the mountains will take you past water falls and into the red, rhododendron forests. There are langurs, deer, leopards and bear. Flocks of wild parrots, iridescent kingfishers and soaring eagles all dot the sky. The scenery is majestic and magical.
These mountains have for thousands of years been considered sacred to the people of India. They are indeed places of power, wonder and blessings, inhabited by the pantheon of Hindu and Buddhist tantric deities. In upper Bir, the Indian village, a 130 year old yogi lives in his ashram. Lower Bir, a Tibetan Refugee Colony, is filled with monasteries and practicing Tibetan Buddhists. Many of the great, compassionate lamas of Tibetan Buddhism have residences here. The Dalai Lama lives 2 hours a way in Dharamshala. The Karmapa lives 1.5 hours a way in Sidhbari.
The Tibetan Colony is a gritty town, populated with real people who live and work here. Mountain shepherds pass through the streets with their flocks of goats and sheep. Old Tibetans bring their ancient culture out onto the streets with their leathery skin and traditional dress. Incredibly devout, they spend most of their days in prayer, circumambulating the many sacred stupas.
The combination of sublime blessings and earthy reality makes Bir a very special place. It is considered one of the most sacred places in northern India, and any time spent here usually brings moments of great, inner clarity. A visit here is rare, and worth the journey.