He smiles slightly as if suppressing a full-blown grin, describing in his characteristic voice the complex geography of the chicken cafreal he’s about to dig into. The excitement is flooding his face and as the slight traces of the crow’s feet begin to deepen, the joy of seeing Harish Bali nod his face affirmingly and let out a sonorous sigh of satisfaction, comes alive. My contention is that from getting excited by likes in single digits some four years ago to close to 950K subscribers today, the man in a crew cut and neatly ironed half-sleeved shirt travelling across India, hasn’t realised how iconic he has become.
In terms of territory covered, Bali has done nothing that others haven’t. But you have probably seen him in your pandemic-era explorations of the world wide web—following a band of Rajasthani farmers into a field to see where what he just ate was born; hurtling down the snow in Manali, yelling in excitement like a child; explaining hotel room prices in the simplest possible terms in Gangtok, breaking down a complex trip across Kumaon like he was born doing it.
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Last year on this day, I started my Uttarakhand journey, It's been year now. Thought to share with you.. These images are from Mussoorie - where we had Garhwali ThaliðÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ Simply delicious... ðÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ¯Authentic @Hapur valon ki dukan #Visa2explore #Mussoorie #Hapurvalonkidukan #Uttarakhand
Except that he wasn’t—Bali, who started his channel Visa2Explore quite inadvertently in 2016/17 on a family trip to Mussoorie, owes his success to his sales experience. “I started out making technology tutorials on my first channel. But there is a difference between what interests you and something that is your passion. Around this time, I realised that things were moving at a less-than-ideal pace and it was around then that my wife and I travelled to Mussoorie, where we, with no thought whatsoever of starting a channel, recorded our first video on a mobile phone. That turned out to be the genesis of Visa2Explore,” he recalls.
Bali is nothing fancy. He doesn’t prance around the high streets of New York or Vienna. He doesn’t discover Hindu temples in Muslim countries or go petting around goat kids in the remote Himalayas. He doesn’t crack unfunny jokes to break the ice with the viewer or make filler small talk with himself to seem like hot stuff that’s still everyday. His videos range from fifteen to thirty minutes long and generally provide a detailed guide to the place, in-depth exploration of the food and the must-do destinations—all tempered in the man’s now-iconic style. It’s the perfect fallback snack to fatten up on as travel slowly recovers.
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Those who have followed Bali have seen him progress from inconsistent video quality and choppy audio initially to a standard that’s increasingly reminiscent of the Rick Steves style, only more desi and au naturel. “In the beginning, I was used to one or two, or maximum five views per day. We were thrilled to see 70 views one fine day. That was when we realised there was an audience for what we were doing,” Today, after having covered 22 states, Bali retains his trademark childlike curiosity and first-time traveller’s charm.
He recalls making day trips inside Delhi and short getaways to destinations within neighbouring states at first with a colleague, who he trained in videography and editing. “I realised I couldn’t be handling the camera, presenting and then editing video. One can’t be talking in front of the camera and be worried at the same time if the camera is even on or if stuff like lighting and aperture are okay,” he explains.
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Kerala jouurneytoday comes to an end.. had great time here 18 day tour... This moment we r at Kochi airport leaving back. Special thanks to kochi taxi 24 × 7.... further extra effort to make this a successful trio for us.... For your ready info things r fine here in kerala... tourism is now up... we travelled to South central and north kerala during this 18 day your... Tomorrow Sunday jaisalmer... see you bye for now....
What strikes a chord with the viewer is their access to the man they’re watching on the screen. The other reason why that is, is the sheer ease with which Bali forges connections with people on his show, minus any millennial blogger airs. The credit for it goes to his sales background, he agrees, and then to the fact that he prefers actual interaction over social media. “It is an age where everyone has a thousand friends on social media, but I believe in connecting more organically. Meet someone, spend a couple of days with them and get to know them that way," he says, adding, "I find making friends very easy. People might not always be open to connecting with everyone but I have always received appreciation after I approached them with my ideas.”
Bali is known for patiently explaining the different aspects of his travel from food reviews, bad weather and sighing with a familiar wonder at coming across pristine views, exclaiming, ‘What a moment’ or pointing out exactly what spice it is that is ‘changing the game’ of a recipe. “Even I didn’t know how much I loved food until I started to travel extensively because the scope of our travel increased from the 200km radius that we knew about. While earlier a lachcha parantha would get us all excited, now we’re just as psyched about the cuisine in Goa, Meghalaya and Assam,” he says with the same gregarious energy.
In his videos, Bali’s frank and slightly self-deprecating admission that he won’t be able to paraglide because of his weight, his adaptability as a north Indian man eagerly learning to pronounce Umngot or merely being awestruck at the uncorrupted joy of sipping coconut water at a beach in Kerala—mark him out as a uniquely aspirational figure in the travel blogger space. Next up on his list is Himachal. But a lot of people often ask him if he will ever cover international travel, and Bali tells us he would love to travel to and do a series on the scenic landscapes and delightful cuisines of Nepal and Bhutan first.
With travel restarting slowly, the man is approaching it cautiously. He recently travelled to Mukteshwar in Kumaon, observing all the safety protocols, and released the video a few days ago. “I had my team members sanitise to the point of even vexing them, but it is necessary. We have to be very careful and aware of the danger around us, always wear masks because we would be travelling neither to give nor get the virus. We, as a team, are also working on increasing our immunity,” he says, holding up his salad bowl to the camera.
This story was published in September 2020.