There's always a first time for everything... And for the traveller in me, it was living in
a hostel. I must admit that not only had I procrastinated over the idea of
staying at one but in doing so had also deferred the decision until well, I
felt somewhat ready for it.
So who better than *drumsroll* Zostel to have this experience
with! Zobu not only ensured that I had a warm and comfortable stay but also helped
me check two things off my list: a hostel experience and a Zostel experience.
Why the Zostel
The month of June sees me on the last leg of the
Himsagar fellowship – an opportunity that got me to leave behind my home and
city – Mumbai – in a pursuit where travel met social good. The past six months
have seen me solo travelling my way meeting non-profits through the states of Bihar,
Chhattisgarh, Odisha among others - places that may not be on most people’s travel bucket
list! Back in the capital in an attempt to consolidate my learning and tie
together the loose ends (to the extent possible) needed a roof over my head.
Finally, Zobu and I were in the same city – Delhi.
I do not exaggerate when I say that the Zostel
hospitality receives you right at the entrance – prior to stepping inside! Because
the security guard is the first fast friend you’re most likely to make before
you’ve met your bunk-mates. He was mine, undoubtedly.
He’d enquired of my whereabouts the evening on my
first day when I’d meandered a bit about the place in an attempt to placate the
voracious beings that inhabit my stomach. And when I mentioned that I’d gone to
grab a bite, he gestured in the direction opposite to the one I’d returned from
and pointed to a place I could frequent for a wholesome meal.
You see what I mean by hospitality?
During my 10 day stay at Zostel, I met a person from
every continent on the planet – well almost, now if only the penguins could
find their way from Antarctica, we’d be covered! The conversations we had
provoked me to try another something out for the first time.
Here’s what it was…
I wanted to capture and share the conversations we’d
had by assigning a visual to it that wasn’t their face. This was partly because
I find the idea of shoving a camera in someone’s face a little intrusive.
To that end the question being answered was: “What is
that one object you possess right now that you’d like to be remembered by 10 years from now?”
And because it’s an experiment I limited it to just five of the bunk-mates I met during my stint. Here's what that led to:
My friend here was the personification of curiosity in
a small package. But her every question was prefixed and suffixed with a ‘Sorry!
I ask too many questions…”
Can I wear shorts here? Not everywhere? So I’ll have
to buy full length pants?
Don’t all children go to school here? Why not? Why
won’t their parents send them? What do they do? What does the government do?
And she had observations too…
“People here are very helpful. Always smiling. Some
cheat. But not all of them are like that”
I came up with ‘my question’ a little after my friend
had already made her way to Agra. So what would remain as a memory of her for
me would be the Xeroxed pages from a guidebook she was roaming with. Why? So
she could leave behind the section of the city she had toured and thereby
reduce her weight in her backpack! A little less painful than burning pages a la Cheryl
P.S.: If she ever remembers me, it would be as the 'Indian
Encyclopaedia' which is what she would call me her for being able to provide
some answers to her questions.
The one from the Czech Republic –
She’d been travelling for a year and India was her
last destination before she flew back home. For now at least – while she
replenished her depleted savings. She’d prolonged her stay in Nepal in an
attempt to help out with some of the relief activity there. It had shortened the time
and the places she’d visit in India but she was okay with that. She had something
of that no-nonsense vibe about her and didn’t shy away from stating her
opinions – be it the status of women, politics, religion, solo travel or even
When I asked her my question, she merely took out a
paperback she was carrying along with her. It’s a book that had left an imprint
P.S.: Besides her boots, she claimed that that only reason
why her backpack was heavy was because of the books she’d been carrying.
For someone who I couldn’t engage as much with
because she stayed in our dorm for just one night we did have conversations
across an eclectic range of topics. I respect her for being open and sharing
instances from her childhood, the move from Morocco to France and why she feels
drawn towards those who are lesser privileged. We also went on to discuss soap ingredients
for some reason.
For her, the answer to my question was her stole –
the ever so dynamic piece of clothing that can be converted into a head scarf,
a sarong or even a light bedsheet when required.
She was perhaps the only one I met who wasn’t in the
city or the country for that matter merely to travel. She was here to perform –
what I think was – a one act play at the Japanese Embassy. She was visiting
India for the second time. She shared with me her and her husband’s fondness
for mangoes and how in Germany (where she was partly based out of) they were
always so expensive.
I was unable to ask her my question too but she’ll be
remembered for extending an invitation to me to come watch her performance. And
though she moved out of the dorm after the first night, it was very thoughtful of
her to leave behind a little note for me right beside my pillow.
The one from California –
She checked in to our dorm no more than 15 minutes
before I did and stayed on even after I’d left. In a series of unfortunate events,
her debit card had been stolen and she’d been waiting for her bank to send her
the replacement. She too had been travelling for the past couple of months and
would continue to do so at least for a couple more weeks before she’d head back
When not attempting to figure out the possible
coordinates of her debit card, she’d talk about her encounters with the locals –
mostly men and how she was gradually beginning to trust them a little less than
the previous day.
And because our waking and crashing to bed hours
seemed to clash, I never got around to asking her the question either. I think
I’m going to remember her as someone who seemed to be able to retain an optimistic
disposition towards life in spite of running into some quirky scenarios (to say
Such are the things memories are made of, I say!
P.S.: Irrespective of the time and duration each of
the bunk-mates I’d met had spent in India, they’d had the nicest of things to
say not just about India but also its people. And Zostel too! It’s an
indescribable feeling when you’re sitting back and listening to people – and in
this case women – defend that how contrary to media reports and what people say
they’ve felt much at ease and safe in the country. They also acknowledge the
aspect where on their part they are now a lot more mindful of their surroundings
and its culture.
P.P.S.: This is a gratitude post, not a sponsored
post. The only bribe (if I can call it one) is my Zostel passport with a stamp
mark on it. Well, at least one passport has a stamp on it.
Labels: Delhi, fellowship, female solo traveller, hostel, India, solo travel, travel