On the first floor of AAO Hostels in Koramangala are two bunker beds tucked behind thick curtains. They are adjacent to what is one of their common areas where hostel mates meet, chat, and watch movies. Where’s the room? Where’s the privacy? Its co-founder Saurabh Jain responds to our concerns, “We offer 20 beds. But one day in July, we got four extra guests, so we had to make temporary arrangements. They seemed to be fine with it.” To his surprise, future boarders readily called these four bunks home too. We bought the story; right opposite the veiled area, was a young man sleeping on the floor, despite having a proper room to his name. “They crash wherever they like,” Jain laughs.
At another backpackers’ inn called Social Rehab, in Indiranagar, a guest, and not a manager, answers the door. Except for a helper and a cook, there usually is no other staff on the premises. Past the wall of ‘Thank You’ sketches and sticky notes, we spot two boarders discussing Goa in the ’70s, and one watching TV in the living room. There are no signs that give away the fact that this is a hostel. The apartment has four dorms and private rooms – clean, tidy, and spacious, a fully-stocked kitchen, a small stack of books and DVDs, a low, long dining table, a notice board announcing travel offers, a green balcony, lots of doodles on the white walls, and, yes, happy faces. The vibe is informal, cheerful, and almost like home. Last month, they branched out to Lavelle Road as Social Rehab Downtown.
Welcome to the new age hostels in town, inspired mostly by European-style budget, friendly, and social lodges, with other names being Cuckoo Hostel, Construkt, and The Meditating Monkeys. Then there is Stay Abode, meant for longer stopovers. They are more than your regular bed & breakfast inns, where you come only to sleep. There must be something special about these options, or why else would travellers, job and internship seekers, startup crowd, musicians, and even families veer towards such a place, so much so that they often overshoot their stay, sometimes up to even a year?
Prices are definitely one attraction, starting at Rs.399 a night for a bunk bed in a dorm, to Rs.15,000 a month for two in a well-furnished room. In most cases, this package gives you access to morning meals, self-catering kitchens, washing machine, cycles and scooters to commute, printers, and, of course, WiFi. And with Indians travelling like never before, giving up long, annual vacations in favour of frequent weekly or monthly trips, budget is definitely a concern. As far as foreign itinerants go, Bengaluru is one of the prime gateways to south India. Add to that the constant flow of people who come to the city for work.
All about the people
But there’s more to them than the price, which Vineeth Vincent, a beatboxer, who co-runs The Meditating Monkeys in Cooke Town, refers to as the “experience of people”. These hostels are becoming the new melting pots of cultures, ideas, and skills. They are brewing new friends and travel buddies, businesses, and talents. Some are building communities of backpackers, entrepreneurs, and artistes, others are happy fostering the importance of sharing, caring, and growing together. That’s why common areas such as the patio, living room, kitchen, dining table, terrace, games room, music corner, and library are so central to their designs. Take it from us, these corners have a life of their own, buzzing with people, conversations, or jam sessions over chai and cut fruits.
To add more bang to your buck, a few also host dance workshops, cookouts, craft classes, inspirational talks, and even pub crawls. It’s on the house, for now at least. Since these sessions are mostly open to everyone, guests get to mingle with locals too. In doing so, these hostels are changing the way people travel, and learn about the city, and the many countries, and diversities that lie outside it. After all, it’s satisfying to come back from a vacation with new stories, inspiration and influences than just a stash of souvenirs.
For instance, The Meditating Monkeys is meant for globetrotters, and artistes on the move, who are looking for a quite retreat. Since its November launch, the G+2 lodge has seen a cross-section of people from Finland, Germany, Brazil, Colombia, Holland, and Russia, the enterprising youth of Under 25 Club, and, most recently, Strisvara, a music group of 17 Indian tribal and urban women from Nepal, Spain, Sweden and the USA, share one roof. It doesn’t come as a surprise then that owners of all these hostels have a background in backpacking, and Airbnb hosting.
Connect and create
That Construkt had to originate in Bengaluru is no surprise. The 3,500 sqft bungalow-turned-hostel in Indiranagar is an invitation for the travelling startup and creative community, from India and beyond, to stay and network with like-minded crowd. With 500 ‘hackpackers’ since May launch, and 60 per cent occupancy at any given point of time, the idea is quite a success. For entrepreneurs travelling from another city or country, it becomes an ideal forum to get started with the city’s startup set, or test their products (For instance, Mumbai-based Memcorp gave a demo of its ‘game of leadership’ here).
Founders Shashikiran Rao and Karan Bahadur leverage their background in startups and accelerators to help them further. Every second and fourth Wednesday of the month, they hold ‘Open Hacks’, where business leaders talk about their journeys of success, failure and missed opportunities. With so many startups shutting shops, peer-to-peer learning can go a long way. Ideas are also taking shape at AAO. Four of its guests – techies and job seekers from Italy, Dubai, Hyderabad, and Pune – are in the thick of setting up a social enterprise to sell pickles from the interiors of Tamil Nadu. “There’s no TV in our hostel. There’s only one water filter in the kitchen. It’s on purpose. We want guests to meet, talk, and share. Pickleness (the enterprise) is a result of one of such random chats,” says Mahendra Pyati, founder of this 10-month-old lodge.
Then boarders are introducing each other to yoga, magic, tattoos, sarees, pani puris, Diwali, and what not.
We own it too
When you share and care, a sense of responsibility takes over naturally. Take for instance, Marvin Diaz’s case. He checked in to Cuckoo in Koramangala, as its first guest, on August 22. Today, the Chennai lad is looking after this 18-bed, DIY boarding in the absence of its founder Rajat Kukreja, while hunting for jobs in aerospace sector. A short chat with a backpacker buddy got him Googling about Euro-style hostels in Bengaluru. That’s how he found his way to the Cuckoo’s nest, bypassing the many hassles of PG accommodations (deposit money, curfew timings, matchbox rooms, nosy landlords, etc). The 21-year-old has also offered to set up a solar panel and kitchen garden here. “The hostel feels like your own home. You make food, feed others, tidy the kitchen, look after the garden, lounge around, or throw in ideas. I guess since each one of us (the inmates) like it here, and each other’s company, we automatically get a sense of ownership to maintain it,” he says.
These accommodations reflect the personalities of the people who run them, besides their wanderlust. For instance, Cuckoo is an almost zero-waste management hostel. Its tables, kitchen counter, bookshelves, lockers and dorm beds all are repurposed, and up-cycled. Its 27-year-old founder Kukreja believes in generating low carbon footprint, and mostly lives off his “laptop and backpack”. He is hoping his “sustainable lifestyle” rubs off on the inmates too. He has a few ideas to save electricity and water. “Something as simple as comparing electricity bill of one month with another, and setting targets for the new batch of hostellers,” he gives an example. The Meditating Monkeys and AAO encourage green and clean living, minus non-veg food, drinks, or smoke.
Above all, the owners like to stay put at the hostel, despite having a home in the city. Devashish Dalmiya, who co-runs the Stay Abode chain of “homes”, as he calls them, first one being in Koramangala, is one such case. “How can I make the experience of my guests better if I am not around them?” says Dalmiya. The four-floor building is dedicated to young working professionals and students.
Free and fun
To knit the lodgers together, activities like dosa-making sessions, book reading events, pub-crawls, movie nights, bonfires, table tennis matches, and board games in parks, are also throw in. Freedom of creative expression is also high on their priority. So while Stay Abode residents helped doodle artist Harshi Agarwal paint two wall arts in their corridor, ‘Cuckoos’ have sketched a geometrical mural in the common room along with furniture designer Deepa Rodrigues. Pitch your ideas, and owners will accommodate them. It works both for the hostel and its guests. AAO had its visitors make light stands from waste bottles recently. These will now be part of their décor.
Then there’s the freedom from rules. While a few have an understandable curfew timing of midnight to 7am, others let you walk in and out at your will. Stay Abode issues a biometric access card for the purpose. A few don’t even mind your party nights.
Since these inns are mostly fashioned out of apartments, duplexes and bungalows, they can accommodate 20-40 guests at a time. It’s great, because this helps to maintain the quality of service and experience. But a need has been felt to make these hostels mainstream, and that’s what AAO is working on. Last week, the team raised Rs.40 lakh funding from the Karnataka Startup Cell as part ‘Pitch To Government –Tourism Challenge’, to help locals in other parts of the state build more such hostels, as well as code an in-hostel management software for each. “We need more hands. That’s when we will be able to build the backpacking culture in India. One of our Japanese guests told us, while leaving, that she would like to open one such hostel in Japan as well. That’s quite a compliment. I am sure we are doing something right,” says Pyati. Or, something memorable, we’d like to add.
Credits Bangalore Mirror