Note from The Hosteller: Hello guys. We recently received a very heartwarming letter from one of our travellers. She was a first-time solo female traveller and hostel goer. Her letter made us realize how much of an impact budget travel can create in the lives of enthusiastic travellers who are often not able to fulfil their travel dreams because of constraints like a budget. We know that the letter is a bit long but trust us, it filled our eyes with tears and gave us a whole new perspective on what it feels like to be a solo female traveller. To us, she is an inspiration in many ways and we think everyone can benefit from her story. Read on.

Dated: 18th November 2018.

Dear Team Hosteller,

I stayed at your Manali hostel last week and I chose to write to you this mail because of the experience I have had there. Staying with you guys has really changed my perspective on travel and I would like to share my story with you.

My name is Shyamali. I am a married woman doing a 9 to 5 job and I have almost little to no time to ever indulge in activities like travel. Wherever I have been to has always been with my husband or my family members. I love my family very much and this is not to throw shade on all the travel experiences I have had with them, but I always had wanted to know what it felt like to go somewhere alone. My office has plenty of young working women who go on these trips by themselves (or with a couple of friends) and always come back Monday morning with beautiful pictures and stories to tell us. Frankly, I was often quite envious of that.

But this month I had an opportunity that I just could not miss. My husband was away on a work trip to Ahmedabad and I had the entire weekend just to myself. So I decided that this would be the best time to go on a trip all by myself. I was very nervous because I had never done this before and did not know a single thing on how to go about it. So I called an old friend of mine for ideas. She told me that she and her husband had just come back from Manali and that if I want a perfect weekend getaway, Manali was the place to be. She also gave me the names of several hotels that I could choose to stay in. The next few hours I spent on my laptop, researching about these hotels and the things I could do there. Solang Valley was something that captured my attention. There was an article written by someone indicating all the adventure sports they did in Solang and I made a mental note to myself about definitely checking that out. So I headed over to Booking.com to make a reservation for myself. I didn’t have the luxury to spend a lot on stay, so I started looking at budget hotels. That is precisely when I came across The Hosteller. At first, I did not realise you guys were a hostel as I myself was not familiar with this concept. I looked through all the reviews and photos and saw that you guys offered dorm beds at really budget prices and they all looked clean, safe and well maintained. Even though I had no idea how the experience would turn out to be – I was in a mood to do new things and hence, I booked my beds in one of your female dorms. Then I got to packing.

Thus began my journey. The day I was to leave for Manali I woke up in a sweat thinking about all the things that could go wrong. But I braved it and boarded my bus. After a long and tiring journey, I finally reached the town of Manali. Reaching your hostel was very convenient because of its location. It is quite easy to get to and falls very close to the bus stop itself. Upon entering, I was greeted very warmly by the receptionist Mayank and shown to my dorm. The beds were neatly made and the throw pillow with your logo was a cute addition. My female dorm had 2 other females living in it. Maria was from Spain and Tiffany was a volunteer from London. They told me that they had been in Manali for a week now and living at The Hosteller was very much fun. Maria invited me to go to the cafe with her for a bite and I agreed.

The cafe was very beautiful and the views of Manali were even more spectacular. I was surrounded by big and bold mountains on all sides. A cool wind was blowing through the valley, rustling all the leaves and even overturning napkins on the tables. It was late afternoon so I ordered a few sandwiches and a cup of coffee from The Hogger Cafe. Maria introduced me to her friends Avni, Roy, Peter and Jacob. I couldn’t believe that I had made so many friends so fast. By this time, all the fear and anxiety in me was gone and I was busy gossiping with my newly made group. The food came and we all dug in. The sandwiches tasted fresh and the coffee was absolutely amazing in that weather. I have to say here that I felt that the food was a tad bit overpriced but the cafe manager assured me that they were working with the central team to redraft the menus (which was a good enough answer for me).

After snacks, Jacob invited me inside for a quick game of chess after which we were to head out to the nearby markets. The common room was extremely cosy. The walls were lined with wooden bookshelves and the charcoal sofas were plush and very comfortable to recline in. It felt like I was not in a hostel but in a close friend’s living room. We ended up playing two games of chess and I was quite elated because I beat him both times. Avni burst into the common room to tell us we were getting late so I bid goodbye to Jacob and headed out to the Mall Road. The impressive thing here was the hostel’s proximity to the markets. They were hardly more than 2 kilometres away. We reached quite fast and shopped for a bit. I was not in the mood to do any heavy shopping so I only bought a shawl for myself and a sweater for my husband. I kept asking everyone what they were doing tomorrow but Maria and Avni responded saying they had an early bus back to Delhi. As we were roaming around the market, I couldn’t help but feel sad at their departure. I had met these sweet girls only a few hours earlier but I was already upset about them leaving. I suppose this is what hostel life does to you.

When we came back, I went and asked Mayank what I could do the next day. Since Saturday would be the only full day I would get to enjoy the town. He was very polite and helpful. He told me of all the nearby places I could go to like the Hidimba Temple, Tibetian Monastery, Circuit House and Mall Road. I told him I had already been to the markets and would like to do something more fun and memorable. He immediately suggested I check out Solang Valley and all the adventure sports. My eyes lit up as I remembered the article I read back home. He told me if I wanted to go it would be very easy as some other members from the hostel were already going tomorrow and a cab had been booked for them. This made me happy because I didn’t want to be alone there. Luckily during dinner (a yummy cheesy burger and fries) Jacob caught up with me and told me that they were the ones going to Solang tomorrow and I was very relieved that someone I knew was coming along. I slept like a baby that night.

The next morning was super exciting. I woke up before anyone else and realised that a frosty white layer of snow had covered everything in Manali. From the roof of the buildings to the table-tops of the cafe, everything was decorated in the snow. It felt like Christmas. I was overjoyed at seeing this. I went around the entire cafe drawing shapes and names in the snow-covered tables. I ordered a masala chai and just spent a few moments looking at the snow and the beautiful view, patting myself for making this stupendous decision to travel alone for the first time. It was just me, my chai and the mesmerising view. At that moment I truly felt free and excited about the day. I was not worried about work or what food to cook today or what clothes to wear to the office tomorrow. The only thing on my mind was Solang.

At around 9 am, the cab was here to pick up us. All of us sat in the car and set off for Solang Valley. Jacob informed me that the valley was only about 14 km away from the hostel, which was a pleasant surprise. After about an hour or so of driving amidst lush green woods and a chilly morning wind, we reached our destination. It was a lot more beautiful than I assumed it to be. The ground was laden with fresh snow and I could see children frolicking around and taking full advantage of the same. I saw a few people tumbling around in what looked like a giant balloon. I asked Jacob what that was and he told me that it was a Zorb ball. I was so amused by it and had to try it. So we went there and told the instructor I wanted to go next. I was really scared at first but Jacob and Anne laughed it off saying that it is just beginner’s anxiety and that I would be perfectly alright. That reassured me and I ended up having a blast inside the ball. It was so funny to just roll down the hill and see the people and greenery whizz past me like I was in some sort of time capsule.

Next, we tried paragliding. For this, we chose to do it from the lower jump station because I was quite unsure of starting from too high up. But I must say -it felt amazing. Soaring across the blue skies and cutting in between giant mountains, the air on my face felt divine and wonderful. I could see people in the valley below and to me, they all looked like little ants beneath my feet. Anne had booked her session with mine and was with another rider quite close by. I did scream her name once but I think she might not have heard me. By the time we landed, I was dying to try it another time. I had never felt this ecstatic in my entire life. And it was all quite pocket-friendly. None of the adventure sports there cost more than INR 700-800. I envied the life of full-time travellers who get to go on adventures like this all the time. What a life that must be!

After having a really fruitful and thrilling experience at Solang, we headed back to The Hosteller. The snow had almost melted away but I was secretly hoping for more tomorrow morning. I spent that evening mostly in the cafe and the common room. I met a few more people and we all played cards together after coffee and snacks. This time Jacob managed to beat me at a game of chess which seemed to greatly amuse him. After a hearty dinner at The Hogger Cafe, I sat down in my bed and packed for the next morning. It was such a complicated feeling.

There I was just 3 days ago – not knowing anything about Manali or backpacker hostels and here I am now, full of happiness at having chosen this place to live and so sad to be leaving. You guys have given my life a new found meaning altogether. I now know how easy, convenient and amazing it is to travel and live at hostels like this. In these 2 days, I have made friends that I will love and remember for the rest of my life. Not a single moment at The Hosteller Manali was dull. Also according to the budget of the hostel – your services at unmatchable. The rooms were fresh and clean smelling, the cafe food was yummy, all the staff was warm and generous and the views were simply to die for.

For someone like me who is hesitant to make travel plans because of safety concerns or budget constraints – backpacker hostels like yours are the perfect place to choose. Not only do I not have to worry about good and safe lodging, but I also get the freedom of choosing from so many hostel activities (like my Solang Valley trip) and also meet wonderful people from around the world.

Thank you The Hosteller. You have made me a changed person. This time I too have a brilliant and life-changing travel story about Manali to share with my friends, colleagues and family. I promise to see you again very soon.

Love,

Shyamali.

NOTE: Names and dates have been changed for the protection of privacy. This write-up has been uploaded with prior permission of the author and is forbidden to be copied or duplicated.

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