Zostel Manali had been my home for most part of the Himachal trip that i did a few years back. I went to Manali to just chill, hike in the mountains and from there, head to Parvati and Tirthan valley. In a way, i looked at Manali as a pit stop. I booked Zostel Manali for 2 nights.
It was a fantastic property located in Old Manali overlooking the mountains. The days i was just relaxing in the hostel, i would sit in the lawn in the morning, basking under the sun and just watch the mountains. The roof top was even better, with a 360 degree view of the mountains. With my camera, i would zoom into those snow clad peaks.
I extended my stay by 2 days.
I was getting used to having my breakfast while listening wide eyed to fellow travelers as they narrated their incredible travel experiences. Every day i met someone new and more stories were exchanged.
The day i was leaving, there was a guy who had arrived by paragliding all the way from Bir Billing to Manali, a distance of 180 kms by road. This usually takes 7-8 hours by bus. He casually said it took him 2 hours as he soared at over 5000 feet for nearly 50 kms and landed in a valley nearby. We just stood staring at him incredulously.
I mean how often do you meet such amazing people?
While this was meant to be a solo trip, i hardly traveled alone. I made tonnes of friends and together we explored the mountains on bikes, trekked to remote villages, dined at riverside cafes, stood on the rooftop watching the stars, played games and had conversations on everything under the sun.
Most of the days, we would sit outside after dinner and talk despite the biting cold. It was hard to believe that people could bond so well, sometimes having met just a day earlier. When i was leaving for Parvati valley, Bharat, the manager at Zostel told me i would return in 3 days and i called him up exactly after 3 days and said i am coming back.
I stayed for 3 more days in Zostel Manali. I had started to miss the warm, friendly and welcoming ambience of the place.
The second time I went, the experience was just as memorable. I wanted to celebrate my birthday in the mountains, and i couldn’t think of a better place than Zostel Manali.
I met tonnes of amazing people, a guy who had hiked 3000 kms, literally one end of New Zealand to the other. A 20 year old Canadian power-lifter who was traipsing around the world. A wedding photographer moonlighting as a traveler. I learnt a lot about the world i din’t know existed, just by listening to them talk.
On the day i was going to leave, we made a spontaneous plan to go rock climbing, after rounding up a bunch of people from different corners of the world. I went despite having a bus to catch the same afternoon. More than the thrill of trying something adventurous, it was more about spending time with my new found friends.
Every time i have been to Zostel ( And i am sure this is true of most hostels around the world), i have met people who shared an incredible passion for travel and adventure. An openness to embrace anything the road threw at them. A mind receptive to alternative ways of living and radical points of view. And that is precisely why, i love the traveler fraternity.
And that is precisely the reason why i shall make it a point to travel solo, to meet more of them, to learn from them, and make memories with them.
If Zostel Manali is such a beautiful place to stay, the credit for that goes to Bharat Thakur, one of the coolest people around. He has this way of making you extend your stay by recommending one good ( read offbeat) place at a time.
Jokes apart, it’s his friendly nature and ability to personally connect with every traveler who steps into Zostel that makes it such a wonderful place. And last but not the least, how can i forget Frodo and Drogo, my cute furry friends who had this magical ability of appearing under the table from nowhere when food was being served.
As with most experiences that stay with you, it’s the human connections that you cherish the most. The camaraderie that we as a group of travelers shared at Zostel Manali is what made my stay so memorable. It was with a heavy heart that I bid adieu, but knowing very well that i would soon return to my retreat in the mountains.
P.S. This is not a sponsored post, just that i am way too biased about Zostel 😛