With 17 hostels under it’s belt, ‘Zostel‘, is India’s first chain of branded hostels located throughout the subcontinent. So far I have stayed in five of them, Jaipur, Varanasi, Agra, Delhi, and most recently, and the one I want to talk to you about today, is Zostel in Bir.
I’ll be honest and tell you that I’d never actually heard of Bir before this trip to India, and I’m still getting my head around the pronunciation of it! (It looks like it would be easy to say right? Nup! – I don’t think it was designed for a British accent! Not mine at least it seems 🙂 )
So, Bir is a little mountain town located north of Himachal Pradesh. It is known for it’s paragliding, supposedly the second best paragliding location in all of Asia, and also for its nearby hikes and treks.
It’s for these reasons that in 2016… Zostel Bir was born.
Having stayed in a few of the Zostels already, you start to hear about the locations of the others, and certain attractions of each. We had heard that Zostel Bir had recently begun organising a particular two day trek, this, as you might imagine, perked up my ears and got my attention.
I did the math – Whoa… it has been about two months since I have done any serious exercise! More than that since I have done any trekking! – Dear lord I need to do this! My thighs and bum will thank me.
“So tell me a little more about this trek please?”
…and so off we headed to Bir.
Now, Bir in itself, I really liked. In fact I could definitely see myself spending more time here. You know when you go somewhere and you just get a good feeling from a place; the people, the scenery, that’s how it felt here – I trusted it.
Zostel Bir is like a little haven. Perched gently above the town, the views overlook the hills, and gardens surround the grounds. The incredible hand drawn/painted artwork throughout the building, once again, showcasing the spirit of a Zostel. A short downward walk will take you directly to the town which consists of one long, fairly narrow, street – which is fringed with small shops and restaurants. Keep following this street and you will get to a large open field, also the landing strip for the paragliders.
So all in all not a bad place to spend a few nights or more, pre and post trek.
So let’s crack on with the trek….
Bir to Barot Valley: (70km drive, aprrox.)
My body clock has gotten awfully used to waking up as and when I wake up (no alarm clock) – and fortunately this trek allows us to maintain this lifestyle! Happy days! Departing Zostel around midday, we all head off in our transfer headed towards the drop off for our first days hike; Barot Valley.
It’s a nice drive guys, but it is windy, prepare yourselves for that – I mean you’re in the mountains, I’m guessing you’ve already realised the roads lack a certain smooth sailing – The scenery though, pretty much makes up for any potential discomfort, check this out:
As we get into Barot, we stop to see an old British built dam. A strict ‘No Photography’ policy means I haven’t any photos to share with you, but if you do this trek you’ll get to see it yourself. Now, I don’t know much about dams – but as far as dam’s go, in my world, I would say it’s a pretty cool looking dam.
A short stay here, and then we are taken for lunch before the walking begins.
So, drive done – time to put on your walking boots. Don’t sweat it guys, it’s just a short 5km hike on your first day. Easy peasy eh 🙂
Barot Valley to Rajgunda: (5km approx.)
To start with you’ll walk the gentle curve cut around the hills, allowing us to keep following those views of the Himalayan foothills. It can get a bit muddy and slodgy, but ‘Meh’! Who cares right? We’ve all got our walking boots on eh! At points, throughout this entire trek actually, you’ll walk past garden patches; fruits and vegetables grown side by side – not to dissimilar to how you might imagine Mr McGregor’s garden! (I tried explaining this, and the world of Peter Rabbit and his friends, to my fellow hikers… Tumble weed! haha. Perhaps the magic of Beatrix Potter can only be ignited as a child).
The hike continues on for a while at a steady incline, barely recognizable as an incline actually – passing creeks and cutting through the trees, until finally we reach a swing bridge, and how I would describe a glade. Across the bridge you can go and sit next to the fast flowing river, and so that’s what we did for the best part of an hour.
Okay, stop procrastinating…time to get up and get walking again.
This time you can feel the incline slightly, but still it’s not difficult, and it’s not for long either. As we walk up, we walk further up into the clouds.
Before you know it guys, you’ve reached your base camp for the night. A lodge run by Zostel, and so subtle in it’s appearance that you could be forgiven for walking right on by without even acknowledging these are your digs for the night. The only lodge in sight. Overlooking the valley, covered in pine trees, this could be somewhere in the Swiss Alps.
So included into the cost of this trek is all your food and drinks as well. On arrival we get tea and maggi (such a good combination to warm your body up again as it starts to cool off) – and then they get the camp fire burning – Damn it! Shoulda brought marshmallows!…somehow a campfire just doesn’t seem the same without a burning piece of flump hanging on for dear life at the end of a stick dangling over a fire. I’m telling you this so that if you are a fellow lover of roasted/toasted (I never know which word it is) marshmallows over a fire, don’t miss out, pack a bag on this trek! If however, you are a fan of corn on the cob cooked over a fire, you would have been in luck – this was our pre-dinner appetizer.
A yummy home cooked dinner – it always amazes me that everything here is cooked from fresh, in the most basic of set ups. What would take me an entire day to prepare and make, is whipped up in about an hour (it’s easy when you know how) – and then bed.
….Aaaaaand relax. Goodnight world.
Rajgunda to Bir: (14kms approx.)
Waking up to the sounds of people stirring, and breakfast being made – I sleepily walk to the common room to get my morning cup of tea. Life really can’t begin without a warm, sweet tea. I take a sip, the taste feels my body, and I start to feel human once again.
Come on day 2 – let’s get started!
Today is a longer day of walking, around 14kms. We start off continuing on from along the same trail we were walking yesterday, taking us further up. We pass local farms, shepherds with their herds of goats and sheep, the path taking us deeper into the clouds. Meanwhile the side view remains open and wide, overlooking the valleys.
Just as everything starts to become more enclosed, woodland taking place of the open valleys, we take a quick shortcut – scaling a steep hillside we all scramble to the top, bursting out through the clouds so that now they sit below us like a blanket. We all stop to take in the view.
Not too far away, and back down into wooded land, we stop for lunch at what looks like a woodcutters hut:
And actually, turned out… he was a woodcutter:
It was a really nice place to stop and eat; Aloo paratha’s, hard boiled eggs, maggi, chocolate, masala tea – oosh!
Before food comatose fully kicked in…
…we were back on our feet and walking again…
…Well, some of us were at least…
The rest of the trek pretty much continues as the same; bending through the forested valleys, playing chase with the clouds – we were lucky to avoid rain throughout the entire two days….
…right up until the last 15 minutes!
And the heaven’s opened.
We all quickly piled on our brightly coloured ponchos we had been dished out – we were now a fully fledged tribe of smurfs, minions and snowmen. Wearing a yellow poncho I flew my minion flag proudly – actually I didn’t, I grumbled a bit wishing that my waterproof jacket could have been enough. Turns out I care, more than I thought, how I look! – time and a place Jen, time and a place! haha).
I’m glad it rained – since I was a little girl, if the skies began to shower I would always run outside to splash about in the puddles. A short 15 minute soak before the end of the trek was a fun way to end it. As we approached our transfer waiting to take us the remaining 15 or so kilometers back to Zostel, we could hear loud noises of what sounded like singing… Yep – there was about 7 or 8, I’m guessing fairly intoxicated, men singing and dancing in the rain wearing nothing but their sodden shorts and vest tops… I had to feel slightly envious, give me a beer and let me sing and dance in the rain, that’s going to be a moment to remember.
And then back to Zostel we went, Trek over!
* * * * * * * * * *
So I’m guessing you want to know how much this costs?
Guys, it’s a bloody good price. For the two day trek, all food, accommodation for the night, a guide, trekking poles, and your transfers to and from the start and end – you’re looking at just INR2500.
I need to just mention the guide quickly, Chandar, he honestly couldn’t do enough for us – throughout the trek he laughed and chatted with us, whilst constantly making sure everyone was okay. At the lodge he, and the lodge keeper, would cook for us and make us tea, they played volleyball with us – basically they did everything they could to make sure we were happy and getting the most from our time with them. If you’ve trekked, hiked, rambled, whatever, before as part of a group then you’ll know that having a good guide can make or break the experience. Chandar definitely delivered.
Not only do you get all of that included, but you also get to have a great experience – unique to Zostel…
…and if you are as lucky as I was, you will get to do this trek with some great people, who, by the end of the trek, you’ll get to call your friends – Thanks guys for creating some lifetime memories with me 🙂
Check out more details on this trek, and the optional 3 day option, by linking through to the Zostel website and clicking onto Escape Trails. You can contact them with any questions you have. Whilst you’re at it take a gander at the other Zostel hostel’s around the country – there is a reason why they have become the first branded chain of hostels in India, and award winners! Zostel Jaipur in particular, taking the crown for Best Hostel in India!
Happy trails people 🙂 x x x