James Walker visits Nepal for a month every few years to take a break from his hectic life in the United States. He always prefers to stay in Thamel because it was where he first stayed back in the 80s. But two years ago, everything changed when he decided to walk to Swayambhu rather than take a cab.
“I always took a cab there but that day I don’t know what happened I wanted to walk and then is when I discovered all these different hostels around the Paknajol area,” says Walker, who adds he was shocked to see so many tourist hostels in the area.
Over the last few years, there has be a rise is these hostels in the area which have been a revelation for backpackers. “Most come here on a tight budget. Not all come here to have a fun. Some come here as an escape from their daily life,” adds Walker, saying he stays at a hostel named Zostel every time he visits Kathmandu these days.
Hostel vs hotel
Staying in a hostel will save you huge amounts of money, but the main reason people stay in hostels isn’t the price, it’s the people. The social atmosphere in hostels is totally unique, and it’s what makes ‘hostelling’ so addictive. It can transform one’s trip from a sightseeing tour into a more meaningful experience.
It’s a place where one can meet new friends from all over the world. You’ll cook together, drink together, and go on adventures together.
Value for money
One of the prime reasons these hostels have gained popularity is they are cheap. Any hotels around Thamel will at least charge tourists $10 for a night which is double the price of many hostels in the area.
Most of these hostels have bunk beds like those found in Amsterdam and are safe and secure. Some even have private rooms for those who want their privacy. They offer services like kitchen, laundry and a few also have travel desk which makes the tourists feel at home.
“One of the reasons hostels have been successful is also the rise of backpackers in Nepal,” adds Dhurba Raj Sapkota, Manager of Wander Thirst Hostels. “Thamel has become really expensive for tourists. With many hotels not giving attention to details, it has resulted in tourists not going there,” he continues.
“The fact that we offer many services for a reduced price makes us value for money. Like, during off seasons, we always give tourists a complimentary service including breakfasts and dinners which adds some value to our service,” adds Sapkota.
It is quite true. Over the last decade, Thamel has become really expensive for both Nepalis and tourists alike. Nepal has been marketed as a cheap destination but if one looks around Thamel, it isn’t so cheap. Plus, the price one pays for the rooms doesn’t match the quality–a reason why most backpackers prefer to pay $3-$5 and stay at a hostel than pay $10 and stay at a hotel.
“The first time I stayed at Shantipur, it only cost me $4 and that included breakfast,” adds Walker who says he was quite shocked at the price they were charging. But soon, he found better options around Thamel.
Solution for solo travellers
Hostels have also helped solo travellers find people to go trekking with. Many come to Nepal in groups but there are a few who come alone and that is where these hostels help them out because there are many fellow travellers like them.
“I came here in April to trek around the Annapurnas and was wondering where to stay. A friend of mine had stayed at Zostel, and he had recommended me to stay there. I thought I’d find people in Pokhara with whom I could trek but to my surprise, I met many here at Zostel itself which was quite nice,” adds Tom Miller, who feels hostels are necessary for tourism to flourish.
“If you can’t bring backpackers, you won’t have many tourists. If you look at it if the hippies (who were backpackers) didn’t come to Nepal, tourism in Nepal would never have flourished the way it has since the 80s.”
Future of hostels
Some travel agents emphasise bringing highend tourists to Nepal, but that is quite ludicrous because the same agents talk about bringing two million tourists to Nepal. The numbers are quite high and unless Nepal welcomes more backpackers, there is no chance of reaching that mystical number.
If these businesses survive or not one will have to see; but many have got good reviews on websites like Hostelworld and Tripadvisor, platforms from where guests come to these places. But there are a few who need to do more than reducing the price to get guests.
It is likely that these businesses will flourish over the next decade with the Nepal Tourism Board hoping to bring 5 million tourists a year by 2030. With the rise of more international airports, the inflow of tourists is sure to rise, which will give these businesses added motivation to prove themselves.