Inside the hidden backpackers' paradise in a Bandra bylane
D'Monte Road lies in one of those nooks of Bandra that still has narrow lanes with crumbling Portuguese-styled bungalows on both sides. It's the sort of neighbourhood where kirana shop owners know the names of their customers and local boys chat with each other sitting on parked scooties in the evenings, indifferent to the glitz that the rest of the suburb has accumulated over the years.
The area is named after an illustrious family that continues to own bungalow number 22, which today is decrepit from the outside. That's where Horn OK Please (HOP), a backpackers' hostel, is located on the ground floor. We reach there at 10 pm on a Monday having booked ourselves in for the night. Over the next 13 hours, we inhabit a different world altogether from the one in the streets just outside. It's almost as if we are teleported to a hostel anywhere in the West the moment we enter. Firstly, the place is spanking clean. In fact, it's so clean that Ambika, a guest from Bengaluru who's in Mumbai to study photography for a year, tells us over conversation, "I don't want to pay monthly rent for a place where I'll have to control the mess myself. So, I'd rather just spend Rs 800 a night here."
Secondly, HOP has successfully appropriated the European essence of a backpackers' hostel in terms of its décor and ambience. Attention to detail is of paramount importance in the hospitality industry, and the five proprietors have carefully thought out everything from the antique bric-a-brac on the walls to the charging points placed conveniently next to each bunk bed. The bedding itself consists of mattresses you can sink into, and if the air-conditioning in the dorms gets too cold, fluffy blankets save the night. The complimentary breakfast served at 8 am is a simple affair of toast, eggs, fruits and tea or coffee, which, actually, is a lot better than the soggy muffins that passed off for the same when we stayed at a similar hostel in Paris a few years ago.
Thirdly, HOP has guests from all over the world who flit in and out, which helps build a sense of community born out of temporary cohabitation. The night we are there, for instance, we share our drink with Alex from Finland who "can never say no to gin", Jan, a German who is still charting his trip across South East Asia, and Oscar, who tells us that he finds his native Iceland to be a "boring" country. We don't ask Lilia where she's from, but are surprised to find out that she is such a Bollywood fan that she knows more about the industry than even Ambika does. Ultimately, it is reaffirmed that even if it's over only 13 hours, you can forge relationships with people if you are willing to give it a genuine shot.
But most importantly, it's the five people who started HOP six weeks ago — Smith Jain (31), Rohan Shelke (33), Amar Ganjawalla (42), Rishabh Maskara (31) and Maskara's German wife, Adina Goerke (29) — who keep the hostel's ethos intact. They take turns to personally ensure that each guest is made to feel welcome and taken care of, even in the case of someone returning at 4 am after a heavy night out. Jain tells us that the idea of starting HOP struck them when they were once at a hostel in Budapest that knocked their socks off.
(from Top) One of the dorms, the reception area, artwork on a door, the living area and the dining section at Horn OK Please. Pic/Falguni Agrawal
We won't be surprised, however, if their establishment has the same influence on one of their guests someday, as long as they keep up the good work.
AT: 22 D'Monte Street, Bandra West.
COST: Rs 799 per night Horn OK Please didn't know we were there. The Guide paid for its stay.