"If it wasn't done right, I would have done it all over again because for me the idea of opening a hostel was to find a place where I could truly express myself and you'll find it here on each of our walls", said Ved, co-founder of Hostelite World, Bir.
Once upon a time a boy and a girl were complete strangers. They met at a hostel on the outskirts of Manali and when the whole world went to sleep, the two stayed up talking till they feasted on the sunrise. Love story? Plot twist - they actually became the best of friends because they loved the same thing. The idea of opening a hostel.
3 years and many trips later Shamlee and Ved achieved just that when they opened the doors of Hostelite World in Bir earlier this year. They did so despite the fact that theirs is a case of 2 States - Best Friends Edition. Ved hails from Ghaziabad and can't fathom why Shamlee's family must boil all their vegetables. On the other hand the girl from aamchi Mumbai swears that Ved's north Indian family consumes unimaginable amounts of potatoes with every meal! And, that is just the tip of the iceberg, the two even have a 10 years age gap. When is a decade too small a thing for two co-founders? When they are equally passionate about a shared dream.
Why did you want to open a hostel in the first place?
I'd been visiting the mountains my whole life, with friends and family. However, when I went on my first solo trek it felt as if I was entering a whole other world. 6 days on the Hampta Pass trail meant 6 days of wilderness and solitude. I felt at home although I was miles away from what technically was my 'home'. Thus, began the process of manifesting, to create a place where people with different journeys and different life stories could meet and bond over their mutual love for exploring.
You've travelled in Ladakh for a month, covered regions of South India as well as extensively explored Himachal Pradesh. What made Bir your first choice for setting up your own property?
You're asking me this when we're sitting right in front of some of the reasons that made us choose Bir. From this terrace itself we can see a trace of the mighty Dhauladhars, we see a string of paragliders adorning the clear blue skies, we see the famous and ever so beautiful Bir sunset and we see a monastery preparing for their evening chanting. When someone asks us why Bir, we actually ask why not Bir? From a business point of view it has a large tourist season, it isn't overly commercial and yet sees a steady footfall. However, if you ask my soul, we fell in love with this little Himachali haven the first time we laid eyes on it.
Someone may say that the two of you are complete opposites. Be it the age, the hometowns or even the personalities. Then why open a hostel together?
I've been in business with others in the past and maybe not always had the best luck. Maybe those were people whom the world would deem to be similar to me and maybe when you look at us you see a cheerful girl greeting the world with a big bright smile and a shy guy silently listening to his Floyd. But none of the differences matter. You know why? Because we have the same outlook when it comes to one thing. The experience that we want to deliver. We want people to feel at ease when they walk through the doors of Hostelite, whether they wish to dance in the rain or lay in the grass by themselves, meet a dozen people and head off on impromptu treks with them or simply curl up with a book in front of a good view; we want to give them exactly that. That's why the two of us and our hostel are in sync.
The property is decked with beautiful artwork on each and every wall. Was this a decorating strategy or more?
More. Much much more. Yes, we live in a time where everything has to be aesthetically pleasing and rightfully so but for us the art means more. You can ask me about any wall in this hostel and there's a whole story behind each of them. The rooms all represent different seasons to celebrate the different moods of nature. The common rooms reflect the Bir sunset to a quote penned to make each passer by reflect within. We wanted that our guests should of course fall in love with the destination but also with our mountain home. So, even on the days when you don't feel like heading out, when you merely wish to stay in, the artwork will have you wandering within your own thoughts.
What were the issues that you faced in starting a hostel? Would you say that it's challenging to establish one in Himachal Pradesh?
Our challenges were mainly around labour, firstly, finding them and secondly, pushing them to finish things on our timeline. See city life spoils you, it gets you used to quick service. That's not how things work in the mountains, everything happens at its own pace and accepting that was a learning curve initially. Added to this, sourcing of materials or rather the quality of desired materials isn't easy. Plus there's the weather. The highly romanticized weather of the hills is as unpredictable as it gets and in Bir it comes wrapped around a series of water supply issues. The silver lining throughout was that we found the people of Himachal Pradesh very cooperative, accommodating and welcoming during our journey.
If there's another Shamlee or Ved out there, whose eyes twinkle at the thought of starting their own backpackers hostel, what would be your tips to them?
Clarity and fluidity. Be clear in your conscious about what you want, having a plan is the key. Equally important is having a thick skin and knowing that not everything can go as per your plan, you have to be be able to accepting changes along the way. Moreover, we'd suggest having an open mind to learning. You have no idea how much you can learn along the way! Above all, don't just follow a trend, have your own niche and stay true to it. For us, we set out to redefine the hostel experience, for you... well, you'll discover that, won't you?
With this the hosts and I sipped over some local apple cider, pet their hyper yet adorable dog, Baghi, gazed at the sky in silence and exchanged stories from different chapters of all of our lives; just as they'd imagined they would once they had their own hostel, just as they do from a cosy and beautiful space in Bir built with all their heart.
You can connect with the property and the hosts on Instagram @hosteliteworld
You can connect with the author on Instagram @migrantmusings