HOP HOSTEL WANTS TRAVELLERS TO FEEL WELCOME IN MUMBAI
Horn Ok Please Hostel is a backpacker hostel in a 100-year-old building in Bandra. It has co-ed dorms, a female dorm, and a private room, all with freeWiFi; all beds are reasonably priced at Rs. 799.
HOP Hostel, 22, D Monte Street, Santosh Nagar, Bandra (w), Mumbai 400 050. Phone: 099855 44000
There are fewer backpacker hostels in Mumbai than you’d expect, given our (a) ridiculous real estate rates and (b) the numbers of young people who want to visit the city as a pit-stop or more. And they’re mostly either far away from places of interest or in soulless neighbourhoods.
Rishabh Maskara and his friend Smit Jain were travelling in Budapest when they realised that hostels facilitated young travellers in ways they’d never imagined. Rishabh’s wife, Adina Goerke (of German origin), had already used them as a young traveller. And so the idea of starting one in Mumbai came to fruition. They began to make plans in 2014, but HOP – Horn Ok Please – opened its doors only in September 2017 in Bandra.
The hostel has one female dorm with eight beds, two co-ed dorms with eight beds, two co-ed dorms with six beds, and one private room which is a double. There are shared bathrooms and showers, a library, and a communal table where everyone sits down to breakfast together. The hostel sources all its essentials from the markets nearby, including the neighbourhood anda-pao chap whose fortunes have taken a turn for the better since HOP opened. Word of mouth has been all they needed. They run at almost full capacity all the time.
The best part about the Horn Ok Please Hostel is you could walk right past it. It is at the edge of the higgledy-piggledy heart of one of Bandra’s old neighbourhoods. Around it, the lanes are like a series of children’s squiggles – walk this way and you will reach Bandra Station; walk that way and you’ll get to Lilavati Hospital or Bandra Bazaar. The hostel itself is in an old traditional East Indian house owned by one of Bandra’s oldest families. The signage, a large H O P rendered in jute woven through the mesh on the entrance, is discreet.
I am familiar with the area, and the Google Maps pin is perfect. But still, when I pause for a second, I am heartened when a local woman, bags of vegetables weighing her down, stops and immediately says, “Hostel? It’s right there. The lady is waiting for you outside it.” This is the kind of neighbourhood where everyone knows everyone. It’s old Bandra. And the old-time resident likes HOP, or she’d have given me the wrong directions. Don’t ask me how I know.
Adina is waiting at the entrance and, as you step inside, a mess of footwear greets you amicably. It looks like a typical Indian household patio on a party day. Inside, there’s a sense of European efficiency that sits comfortably in the traditional layout of this house. A cosy living room (young folk on the diwans, reading, chatting) houses a reception desk in a nook. We walk into the large kitchen with its massive dining table. Having grown up with people whose intimate socialising always happened across huge dining tables in or near the kitchen, I find this instantly comforting.
It’s not just about being a place to stay. HOP wants people to feel welcomed in this typical big city with its typical big city hustle. “Sometimes people arrive panicked or just exhausted,” Adina says, “we want this place to be an oasis. We want to offer a chance to socialise, share common interests. We take people out to local places; we organise game nights and jam sessions. We take Bandra walking tours.” The best part of being in Bandra, she says, is that the locals are used to seeing foreigners, and they tend to treat them like expats, not tourists. There’s less cynical opportunism in that, and it tends to put visitors instantly at ease.
While they knew their location in the heart of a bustling, authentic neighbourhood, their competitive pricing, and their excellent facilities would always be welcome, the one thing that did surprise the folk at HOP is the number of domestic tourists. Most of their international travellers arrive in the “cooler” months, but the rest of the year, a bulk of their visitors are people from places like Bangalore and Delhi who come to visit friends, go out, and shop.
It’s a win-win situation for everyone, including people outside the cliché age-bracket you’d typically associate with hostels. Adina says while most of their clientele are young, they often have older people staying with them, retired folk backpacking across the world.
Like the elderly American gentleman I met earlier in the week – lost, distraught, panicked, and heat-exhausted in a taxi cab, who handed me a piece of paper with the HOP Hostel number scribbled on it. I calmed him down and called the number, and the person who picked up was kind and reassuring. I passed on his directions to the worried taxi driver. “I’m sorry,” the American man said when he finally calmed down. “I just haven’t seen another American in four days.” I smiled at him. “Don’t worry,” I told him, “Mumbai is not such a bad place. I’m sure you’ll make some friends.”
After going to HOP, I’m even surer what I said is true.
Photographs courtesy HOP Hostel