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Where the lonely find each other...

At the end of last year, I embarked on a ten-day trip to the Himachal with my wife and friend. Wow, it feels weird to say that it has already been a year! Anyway, this trip was revelatory for both of us in more than one way, and I've discussed various aspects of that trip in my posts on paragliding, a small car called Alto, the joy of eating thukpa, and general life in the mountains. But, another illuminating experience from that trip was our hostel stay in Mcleodganj.

Despite browsing numerous hotels and homestays in the area, the three of us finally agreed to settle for a hostel called Triangle Folks for two main reasons. Most of the homestays and hotels had little to no reliable reviews online, and we had to recalibrate our expenditure to accommodate the startling peak December rates that we'd ignored blatantly.

Anyway, what was to be an economically responsible decision turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. We loved our stay at Triangle Folks so much that we booked another hostel called the Bunker for our next leg at Bir, the land of gliding humans.

The food at Triangle Folks was alright, and the rooms were minimalistic, and situated in the Upper Bhagsu area, it was by no means easily accessible for city-dwelling sloths like us. 😂 But then, why did I love my stay at the hostel?

To appreciate the significance of what I am about to narrate, you must first understand one thing about me - I am somewhat awkward in new social situations and usually don't buddy up easily. My wife is the exact opposite, and the third wheel of our small group fell somewhere in between the two of us. So when I tell you that I made at least three new acquaintances in the four nights that I spent in Triangle Folks, it is no mean feat! 😅

The best thing about hostels in the mountains is the campfire at the end of every day. There is no way that one can resist the pull of a warm fire on nights that are biting cold, and once seated in a small circle around the fire, how long can you stare into your phone or each other's faces? A conversation is bound to spark at some point, and that's all it takes to get acquainted! In fact, our discussions were so diverse and deep that in two of those campfire sessions that we managed to unearth two new trekking routes, a couple of hidden Tibetan food cafes in the market area, and a startling secret about the beloved 'soya chaap' of Delhi. Read on till the end of the post for the big reveal. 😋

The experience at Triangle Folks, and later at the Bunker, was so welcoming that despite staying in a fully-stacked resort in Solang Valley, I missed the company of friendly strangers and lifelong acquaintances. And this is what made me think about hostel life in a new light.

Hostels were supposed to be an economical travel option for solo travellers who wanted to experience the world on a frugal budget. Guests only have to pay for the bare minimum lodging, and long-term stays can also offer healthy discounts, making them further viable economically. In some places, if you plan to stay longer than a couple of weeks, you can also work part-time as a volunteer and save on stay costs altogether! And most important of all - backpackers who spend most of their day outdoors do not need to spend unnecessary time indoors, only to justify the cost of living and soothe their guilt.

But that was what hostels WERE known to be. These days, look up any of the top hostels in hot tourist destinations and compare their rates across decent budget hotels. Hostels are no longer cheaper by a mile. Hotels offer convenient dining facilities, better safety for your belongings, and some much-needed privacy. And yet, hostels have never been more in vogue. And the reason for that is simple - hostels have moved on from being economical stay options to bustling traveller hubs, where most of the relevant information exchange occurs.

Whether you want to gain entry to a confidential island party or whether you are interested in an off-the-beaten-path culinary experience, hostels can provide all. The common areas in hostels are a multi-channel melting pot of ideas, recommendations, itineraries and full-blown travel extensions. Take a glance at the activity board or join a discussion at the in-house bar. Spark up a conversation over a community breakfast table or share a couple of drinks over a crackling fire. The means to gain information in a hostel are endless and only limited by your determination to avoid them. 🙂

Hostels are great. They have their obvious limitations, but if you wish to explore a new destination, there is no better place than a hostel to start your journey. That brings me to the actual epiphany that triggered this entire post in the first place - are travellers in a hostel ever lonely?

They are part of a large and ever-expanding family, and frankly, an endless network of global travellers. One chance counter in a hostel can connect you to a traveller who has visited hundreds of countries while you are only on your first.

So, if all you may need to give up is a few creature comforts for a couple of nights in a trip, isn't it worth it? 😉

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