There are occasions in life where we are forced to travel to places famous for all the wrong reasons. The summer internship involved work in the Western Champaran district of Bihar. The place is known for all the wrong reasons. So we were all apprehensive about going to such place. Fortunately we were working with a good organization and for a good cause, thus had all the protection one can get. We stayed in safe places and traveled under protection, so it was overall a safe journey apart from few minor incidents.
We were really worried that we were going to reach the district headquarters Bettiah at 3AM in the morning and were hoping the train gets delayed by at least 4 hours ! And it did ! My friends who were already stationed there couple of days back guided us on how to reach to the district guest house. The guest house was old British style structure with all the basic facilities and it was better than what we were anticipating.
The Western Champaran district shares its international boundary with Nepal. It has a recurring problem of floods. It has a beautiful tiger reserve called Valmiki Nagar tiger reserve. The overall infrastructure situation is very bad. The power situation, apart from the areas situated near the hydro power projects , is really bad. But the place enjoys a very pleasant weather even in the summer season and the place has plenty of water available because of river Gandak. The area has agriculture as main occupation and the region of Tarai is famous for the basmati rice variety different from regular basmati rice.
The tarai region is very beautiful and has fertile land. The region is also affected by flash floods in monsoon season. In our attempt to analyze various problems in the area we came to know that river erosion is a big problem. The Gandak changes its course and many small hamlets disappear in the change. Many people lose their land and livelihoods and forced to migrate.
The changing river course has created a lot of developmental issues in the area. Schools in the villages nearing the river side are washed away and the students have to study in the open. Many people do not construct permanent homes as each year the flood destroys them. Water borne diseases are common in this area. Each part of administrative block in this area has unique challenges. The tribal blocks nearing the Nepal border face issues like land rights and man-animal conflict. Women members of the community are more empowered in the tribal blocks and you can see their dominance in the local governance councils. In rest of our journey, we could not find active women participation or for that matter any participation from women belonging to any class of the society. They were not visible in any of the day-to-day activities. The market was mostly controlled by men with exception of few women vendors.
People have adapted to floods in this area. They have developed their indigenous ways to survive in the floods. They have constructed raised platforms in homes to protect important goods and themselves from the floods.
The Bagaha 2 block was much more beautiful compared to Bagah 1 block. The Bagah 2 block contained the Valmiki nagar tiger reserve.
We received a warm reception in all the villages we toured. The people were really nice and friendly contrary to the perception. But still in some areas there were issues regarding safety at night. We were advised to finish our work before the sunset.
If I have to sum up this experience, I would say one of the best and life changing one. I got to see the other side of India which is always marginalized and how people survive in challenging environments.
If you don’t explore further , what’s the fun of coming so far. So, we decided to go to Nepal after hectic summer internship. We decided to go by road via Raxaul to Pokhra. We hired a cab from border for hill station of Pokhra. After we left Birganj, the change in the society was evident. All the shops were controlled by women. When we reached Pokhra it was dark and after a tiring journey of around 7 Hrs everyone went to sleep. Next day we started early morning for the sight seeing. We went to see the local caves, temples and markets. As a foodie it was a treat to enjoy different cuisine. The mutton momos with soup were heavenly and melt in mouth while eating. The cost of food is very reasonable and most of the places are very hygienic. We enjoyed our day visiting the local sights.
The next day was journey back but we went for an early morning tour to the higher mountains.
It was an exciting summer internship with two complete different experiences.