18th May 2018

Bihar as a tourist destination gets a bad rep. A friend once described it as the wild, wild East. Maybe it was its reputation of jungle politics and warring clans of Wasseypur as shown in movies. Yes, its not the friendliest state to visit and cities are indeed chaotic, but for those travel buffs who want to see true rural hinterland, yes, contrary to popular belief, rural Bihar is the place to be.

Photo of WHERE IS HAITHI BALI?  1/3 by Rajesh Kumar

Train journeys to village are for me the morning rush at train platforms which are now wi-fi friendly and cleaner than before. Packing a few snacks, a camera, light jeans, t-shirt and slippers, a small bag, and a window seat is all I need to be out of Delhi. As the train moves, I zone out, ears plugged into my favourite Lana Del Ray songs as the city fades away into industries then towns then fields. I have come to accept that train journeys are incomplete without crying babies and men discussing the elections at all times of the year. I wake up having slept little. Train journeys leave me sleepless and restless. Soon the next morning, I am in Darbhanga station with coolies running around, women selling flowers, autowalas screaming. Eveyone appears blurry in the early morning like a scene from an old black and white movie.

Photo of WHERE IS HAITHI BALI?  2/3 by Rajesh Kumar

It is foggy just as I wanted it to be - as if everything is shrouded in mist and moved back in time. People seem to move in slow motion. Time stops in Darbhanga, and recedes like a wave as I take a tempo to my ancestral village, Haithi Bali, two hours away on a dust road. Arriving hot, thirsty and dusty is actually perfect because when I reach I know my grandmother would have drawn a warm bath in the backyard and would be making roti and bhujiya for me, the two perfect solutions to a train journey to my village. I don't think I have felt as much as at home as I have in Haithi Bali. My grandmother holds fort in our family home, as brothers have moved and families split into factions (always wondered why they call it a "nuclear family"), but the angaan brings everyone together once a year. I spend my days resting my head on her lap while she instructs her visitors in ways of the world. I walk in the compound dotted with mango, guava, and lichi trees and walk along the long canals as the sun sets. Some days I watch ants crawl up the silvery trunks of the guava tree, pollinating the flowers and listen to koels call all day long and drunken parrots swoop between trees.

Photo of WHERE IS HAITHI BALI?  3/3 by Rajesh Kumar

Can you find your way to Haithi Bali? It is unlikely that you will as there isn't a inn or restaurant in sight. But to find Haithi Bali is to find an India that is real yet as become a memory for most of us. It is a journey without too much planning and without luxury. Travels have become so planned that they have lost the joy of discovering something that is familiar yet old. I suggest you to take a train to Bihar, get off at Darbhanga and find your own Haithi Bali.