10 of the Coolest People I Met at a Backpackers’ Hostel in Delhi
I love to travel but on a tight budget, so I always look for a good deal that can save me some money. When I was in Delhi earlier this month, I chose to stay at GoStops Hostel in Daryaganj. It is a smartly designed place with a warm vibe that is perfect for Indian and international travellers who like to meet new people, swap travel tales, and make friends.
Thanks to the generosity of Pallavi Agarwal and Pankaj Parwanda who run this place, I was able to stay there for a whole week in exchange for some work I did for them. I was assigned the exciting task of interviewing travellers staying at the hostel, and writing short profiles highlighting their unique attributes, stories and achievements. These were posted on the GoStops Facebook page. This is the kind of work I absolutely love because it gives me an opportunity to get to know people from various parts of the world, so I had a ball doing it.
Here are the profiles I wrote:
Meet Charlie Gillies from the United Kingdom. He was inspired to travel to India because his maternal grandfather used to work in India, Burma and Vietnam as a rice merchant in the 1930s.
He says, “I grew up with stories of India, so I wanted to come and see it for myself. My grandfather could not come back after he was drafted in the British army, and captured by the Japanese.”
Charlie has been to Varkala, Alleppey, Fort Kochi, Coimbatore, Ooty, Coorg, Mysore, Hampi, Goa, Mumbai, Gokarna, Varanasi, and Delhi on this trip. “I am going to come back to India. There is so much to experience here,” he says.
Meet Marissa Jordan (left) and Molly Powers (right) from the United States of America. They have been volunteering in India since the last 10 months. They are undergrads from Stonehill College, Massachusetts, who signed up for a service learning programme at the Holy Cross School in Aymanam, Kerala. Yes, it’s the same village that you read about in Arundhati Roy’s Booker Prize-winning novel The God of Small Things.
Marissa and Molly helped run a language lab for students from kindergarten right up to Class 10 to teach English in a fun, interactive way. This included expanding the library, and hosting a radio show on which students gave school updates and spoke about issues that mattered to them. Molly says, “I grew up in middle class America, so moving to an Indian village was quite a challenge. But I learnt to be a teacher after trying and failing, and then succeeding. Things that I thought were unattainable became possible.” Marissa says, “The teaching-learning settings are so different here from what we have back home. I learnt to live with less, and the most amazing part was that the kids loved us unconditionally.”
Apart from travelling all over Kerala, they have also explored Bangalore, Goa, Madurai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Agartala, and Delhi, and are now all set to go to McLeodganj and Amritsar. Wow!
Meet Alicia Bayer from Dusseldorf in Germany. She has been having the best time of her life, travelling since the last 14 months.
“After my degree in International Strategic Marketing, I did not want to immediately go and sit in an office. I wanted to see the world,” she says. She began her journey in Brazil, and visited Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and Paraguay before coming to India.
Her time here has been filled with adventures. She danced at a traditional Hindu wedding in Nagda, played Holi with widows in Vrindavan, participated in a beach clean-up in Mumbai, explored Buddhist caves in Aurangabad, and found peace in the devotional music at a Sikh gurudwara in Delhi.
She says, “Many people in India asked me why I wanted to help clean up a beach. Isn’t that obvious? Because it needs to be cleaned. When I am in the mountains, I always carry a little bag to collect junk instead of throwing it around.”
On this trip to India, she learnt about initiatives for environmental conservation, and particularly loved the idea of water ATMs on Mumbai’s local train stations because they reduce the use of plastic and provide clean drinking water at a small price. To stay updated about her travel stories, follow her on Instagram: fraeuleinweltenbummel
Meet Ashish Aggarwal from Amritsar. He is absolutely in love with animals of all kinds. He is usually found playing with the dogs and cats at our hostel in Delhi, and inventing new names for them. “I grew up in a household with pets, so I miss them when I am travelling,” he says.
Ashish has a mini aquarium at home, he volunteers to feed cows at a shelter, and he likes spending time with elephants at an ashram in Bangalore that he visits often. His long-term plan is to plant lots of trees so that birds like sparrows and pigeons can find comfortable places to build nests.
Guess what? If he had a chance to be re-born as an animal, he would like to be a tiger.
Meet DJ Miss Günnie T from Mainz, Germany. She is a quiet presence in the common room but has lovely stories to tell if you approach her with questions. She is proud of her identity as a lesbian woman, and she loves to play pop, house, hip-hop and other kinds of music at LGBTQ parties and discotheques. Some of her favourite artistes are Lady Gaga, Sia, J. Balvin and Nina Wang. Günnie has also appeared in a bunch of music videos, which you can look up on YouTube.
Günnie has come to Delhi after a delightful week in Rishikesh, meditating at an ashram, and she is now preparing for a ten-day meditation retreat in Bangkok.
Meet Soumya Ranjan Padhy from Bhubaneswar. He is always seen wearing a smile. This is his first time in Delhi, and he chose to stay at GoSTOPS for a few days while soaking in the sights and sounds of the city.
Soumya studied engineering because his family wanted him to but eventually found his passion in photography. His fascination with the camera began with wanting to click selfies, and moved on to becoming a serious interest.
He has now set up a work base in Mumbai, where he assists renowned celebrity and fashion photographer Rohan Shrestha on various assignments. He is enjoying every moment of it, and also wants to explore nature photography in the near future.
Meet Neelabh Srivastava from Varanasi, who is a prolific writer. We had a chance to hear him read out some of his poems and prose sketches, and came away impressed.
He used to write only in English earlier but has recently switched to his mother tongue Hindi as a medium of creative expression. “I do not enjoy writing. It is a way of pouring out my pain on paper,” he says. Neelabh writes about love, longing and heartbreak as well as the experience of growing up in Varanasi, being surrounded by his family, and endlessly exploring the nooks and crannies of his beloved city.
He has also performed at many open-mic events. We hope he finds a good publisher, and sends us a copy for the cool bookshelf in our hostel.
Meet Sophie Maliphant from London, who is a talented graphic designer. She has come to Delhi now on her way to Nepal, a country that is very close to her heart for reasons you would love to know about.
Sophie was in Nepal at the time of the devastating earthquake in April 2015. She says, “I was reading a book on the verandah in my hostel. We ran out when we realized the earth was shaking. Actually, the earthquake itself was not that scary but the aftershocks were.”
To get out of Nepal, she boarded a bus from Pokhara to Gorakhpur, and travelled further to Allahabad. Though she was glad to be safe, there was a feeling of guilt because she was able to escape when so many others could not.
She decided to find comfort in the act of drawing. The illustrations inspired her to weave a story around a fictional Nepali girl named Shanti who shows great courage in the time of difficulty, and saves her country from destruction. This is how her book — The Country That Shook — was born.
Sophie says, “I began drawing and writing as a form of therapy for myself. Then I realized I could print the book professionally, and use it as a fundraiser to support the reconstruction efforts in Nepal.” A Kickstarter campaign helped her find money to print the book while she was travelling in China. The book has been published, and proceeds from the sale are being sent to the Gurkha Welfare Trust in Rumjatar, Nepal, which runs the Shri Barbot Basic School.
The funds have helped rebuild two classrooms, and a toilet block, apart from ensuring the supply of drinking water. Sophie is about to see it all for the first time. She says, “The school serves students from ages 4 to 18. I am excited to meet them but also a bit nervous. I have seen pictures but now I will get to witness in person what the book has accomplished.”
Meet Alexandre Tersinet from Paris who has been on the move since the last one year. While he was in Indonesia, he heard about the 10-day Vipassana meditation courses offered at various centres in India. He promptly signed up for one in Haryana because it was the closest to Delhi, the city he was going to fly into.
He says, “It was a wonderful experience for sure but you had to pay the price for that. Not money, but just being there. Doing ten and a half hours of meditation every day was the most difficult part but I now see things with clarity. I have learnt how to reduce my worries.”
Alexandre landed up in India after travelling to Indonesia, Australia, Japan, and South Korea. Up next on his travel itinerary are Nepal, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
He says, “I have seen Agra, Jaipur, and Delhi but that is not enough. India is a really big country, so I will come again for the Himalayas and the south. This time, my main goal was Vipassana, and I stuck to that. It is something everyone should do. It does not harm. It makes people happy.”