I fall in those categories of travellers who are an impulsive bunch. The ones who don’t plan, don’t know their next destination and like to go with the flow. Contrary to what I usually do, this time, I had planned to be in Mumbai. (the city I despise at times) Reason: I was looking for freelance assignments to fund my travels in the near future. However, itchy feet took over and I booked my train ticket to explore the Konkan coast. (More on this later)
In the midst of this, I got a message on one of the best travel groups o n Facebook- Travel Correspondents and Bloggers Group to know if anyone was interested in reviewing a hostel. Normally, I do not take up review assignments, if they do not go with my travel style of staying in homestays and hostels and exploring the local culture of a place.
Having stayed in backpacker hostels before and enjoying the time, I happily took this offer. It was also a chance for me to head to Goa.
With a couple of WhatsApp texts, that were exchanged with the owner, I was on the way to Arambol in north Goa from Swantwaadi which was an hour away. I had to reach Happy Panda Hostel.
On reaching Happy Panda, I savoured the ginger lemon tea, which was one of the best I have had. I chatted with the owners Pareen and Mansi, who I learnt had quit their well-paying jobs in Mumbai for a slow and laid back life and so Goa seemed like an obvious choice. I am biassed towards people who have moved away from cities, something that has been running on my mind for the longest time. I had started to like them already and I knew I would have a good time.
Pareen and Mansi have built the hostel from scratch right from sourcing the beds, getting volunteers to do the art- work on the walls and even co-ordinating with plumbers for fixing the water pipes. For them, the hostel is their proud possession. The duo told me that the hostel was never really planned. They were passing by Arombol on a bike trip when they saw a sign on one of the houses which were put on rent. Since the two of them were already looking to move out of Mumbai, they contacted the number and realised this place could actually be a backpackers hostel. This was exactly how Happy Panda was born.
The bunk beds at the reception area
Some more art work done by fellow traveller Kartika
Located in the middle of nowhere, this place is away from the party places of Goa. However, it is just a 10-minute walk from Arambol beach. Since I was travelling in an off-season, it was even more silent. It was ideal for me. One can rent a bike and go beach hopping or can commute from one end of north Goa to the other. Right outside the hostel, there are buses which can be used to commute if you don’t know how to ride.
I soon dumped my luggage in one of the bunk beds. Keeping the shoe-string budget of a backpacker in mind a bunk bed is economically priced and costs Rs 300 a day. At a time, the hostel can accommodate about 30 people.
I could hear Edde Vedder songs playing in the background, there were some artists who were busy painting the walls with interesting graffiti, others were engrossed reading a book. The hostel was full of chatter most times and there was even a kitten who was rescued and was staying indoors.
I learnt that there was a Yoga session planned by one of the volunteers- Cassandra, who was staying in the same dorm where I was put up. I gave the Yoga session a miss as I was tired after the commute.
Within some time, it was time for dinner which was a home cooked vegetarian meal with poi, the local bread of Goa. The eggetarian in me was delighted to find good food. Ginger lemon tea became a ritual and that thing grew on me. Dinner time was also a time when everyone came together, spoke about world politics, movies, exchanged their travel journey and spoke about different cultures.
There was beer lying around, but none of us were in the mood to drink. We were consumed in the stories we heard. Hostels are one of the better places to hear stories of fellow travellers, mix and mingle with different cultures. Yes, this too can be Goa, a place without beer and the beach.
The next day, I went to Arambol beach, 10 minutes away from the hostel. Arambol is popular for its drum circles and you will find great music and hippies at this place. However, in the off-season, there is pretty much nothing happening at the beach. A fellow traveller took me to one of the secret places which I would have never known if I were travelling by myself. It was a beautiful sight. We were the only two people and I enjoyed solitude. You know, this is another advantage of living in a hostel, the travellers who are staying with you, know the place better and take you around.
Rains always add a dash of colour to the greens
When we returned, we got to know that due to a heavy downpour, there was no electricity. However, when the electricity came, there was no internet connection. This did not stop any of us from having a good time. It was mutually decided to screen the movie Wild which was a journey of Cheryl Strayed, women who had taken the Pacific Crest Trail. Each one of us could relate to the movie in some way or the other.
Everyone has a different travel style. If you are a luxury traveller or prefer having a room to yourself, Happy Panda or any backpacker hostel is not a place for you. This place is for backpackers who want to mingle with travellers from different countries, make memories and have a good time.
Or if you like nothingness once in a while, you sure will like Happy Panda. If you are someone who wants to travel alone and is unsure, a stay at a hostel could be a good start. There are always people around and you can surely explore a place with them.
As I am back to Mumbai I gulped the ginger lemon tea. It did not taste as good. Maybe it was the stories, the people and the environment that made it special.
P.S: I was hosted by Happy Panda hostel in Arambol and got this opportunity as a part of Travel Correspondents and Bloggers Group. The thoughts and experiences shared are mine.