If there’s one major hang-up I have about traveling in India, it is the lack of quality backpacker hostels that cater to solo travelers, but thankfully the hostel landscape is changing a wee-bit in recent years. Things are speeding up further with the arrival of hostel chain Zostel, looking to establish itself in some of the backpacker circuits. A lot of my friends have stayed at the Zostel places in Rajasthan, and I was pretty sure I’d be staying with them whenever a trip to Delhi eventually materialised, but out of sheer curiosity I decided to check out if Delhi is home to any other hostels, which in hindsight was a great instinctive decision, because I ended up discovering the best backpacker hostel in India (I can’t claim to have lived in all that there are to check out, but Madpacker’s has already managed to set the bar pretty high).
Bumpy Intro to Delhi and the Best Backpacker Hostel in India:
I was in North-India to attend a friend’s wedding in Lucknow — some 500 kms south-east of Delhi (I think I might just be a little tempted to do a post on an Indian wedding a little later, just for the sheer number of people that have asked for one); and I reckoned I could very well use this opportunity to make a visit to the capital. On an impulse, I decided to pick Madpacker’s over Zostel, tempted by reviews on Hostelbooker’s and Booking.com. Unfortunately I arrived really late in Delhi — my Indian Railways train was uncharacteristically delayed by a ridiculous 4 hours. This not only meant that I arrived in Delhi in a foul mood, but also that I’d now have to deal with peak-hour travel in the tube. For those unaware of what this could entail, should absolutely check out the video below:
Imagine dealing with THAT after three nights of relentless dancing, drinking, excessive clothing, and with 1 mid-sized trolley-case + a backpack to reel-in. Needless to say, my introduction to Delhi wasn’t the greatest. Thankfully, Mayank, at Madpacker’s, made life a little easier for me. Before arrival, the hostel sends you details of how to arrive at the hostel from the railway station, as well as from the airport (pretty handy gesture, if you ask me). The hostel is a 10 minute auto-rickshaw ride from the Hauz Khas Metro Station, and Mayank was kind enough to speak with the auto-wallah, and tell him exactly where to come.
Rooms & Common Areas
Madpacker’s achieves big wins on amenities. It is a relatively small hostel — not more than 5-6 rooms, but facilities are top-notch throughout. The reception extends into a common room, which is incredibly comfy with bedded seating and a couple of armchairs that promptly remind me of the Victorian setup from BBC One’s Sherlock! There’s hand-drawn graffiti all over the walls — some of which has actually been drawn by past-travellers. The 24-hour music, which is pleasantly well-compiled for most parts adds final touches to a perfect, friendly atmosphere to the common-areas.
I was living in a 8-bed mixed dorm which comes with an attached bathroom, the size of which puts the bathroom back in my bedroom at home to shame. A hot shower later, I headed upstairs to the terrace, which also doubles up as a smoking area. The patio seating and pretty warm lights immediately put you at ease. Over smokes, I made friends with some of my hostel/room-mates, and was happy to find out that the hostel was frequented by a really cosmopolitan crowd.
Kitchen & Breakfast
The thing I loved best about the kitchen at Madpacker’s is free 24-hour chai/coffee for you to pour yourself a mug of, whenever you want. I must have consumed like a gallon of tea in my three nights there — I’d like to believe it had something to do with the chill in the air (but secretly I know, I’m just addicted to good chai, and the chai was GOOD at Madpacker’s).
Breakfast is included in your room-price, and is pretty basic. I was expecting eggs and cereal, as is the norm at most hostels/B&Bs I’ve stayed in, but I was surprised to find a decent variety on offer. There was an Indian snack every morning, in addition to sprout-chaat, and the regular array of cereal, toast and fresh fruit to choose from. Personally, I’d have preferred a choice of egg too, but I think including Indian items is a great way to help some of the western travellers taste some nice Indian food.
Other than that, the kitchen is always open to use for travellers, and there’s always somebody to help you out if required. The only expectation is that you clean up after use 😉
Staff & Events
Staff is great, kind, warm and very friendly. Most importantly, the hostel is run by young kids, who understand what young, solo backpackers are really looking for. They will order food for you from nearby places, recommend places to see, and even help you find your way back if you are out and lost.
On my second night at the hostel, one of the guys who runs the hostel took a mixed group of western travelers out to watch a live Qawwali performance nearby. While many would have gladly made arrangements for the group to go watch this by themselves, Madpacker’s taking the initiative accompany their travelers, thus becoming part of the experience as against being mere facilitators, really sets them apart in my opinion.
Madpacker’s also organizes several events within the hostel itself. I think they organised a ‘henna painting workshop’ on one of the days I was there, but naturally, not quite my area of interest, since I can’t stand the smell of henna!
Atmosphere & Co-Travelers
I think I was taken by the vibe of this place almost as soon as I arrived at the hostel. I’ve lived in a few hostels before, but in Europe my experiences are limited to party-hostels. Not to say I don’t enjoy party hostels; as a matter of fact, those are right down my alley (bring on my belligerently drunk, frat-boy mode). Every once in a while though, it’s really great to stay at some of these more contemporary, soulful places, since they are so full of character.
The great thing about hostels is that similar people tend to sub-consciously gravitate towards them, which makes them a wonderful place to bump into like-minded travelers who have great stories to share. I was in Delhi this time on a social visit, and I had a lot of friends in the city back from my college days to catch up with, which sort of limited the amount of time I spent socializing with other travelers in the hostel, but one of these days when I stumbled back into the hostel well past midnight, admirably drunk, I bumped into one of my roomies on the way to the loo, who seemed unusually happy to see me, and invited me upstairs where some of them were having ‘a little party’. I’m glad I took him up on the offer because I met some wonderful people upstairs. Over some lukewarm beer, some frantically bad Indian music (thanks to me), and some some ice-cold pizza, I traded stories with some real interesting people. There was this one dude who’d formerly served in the Royal British Army and was on a biking expedition of his own around different parts of the world. Surprisingly, he wasn’t the only dude from the British Defense Forces in the group that night. We soon found another dude from the Navy amidst us, and some good-natured army-navy banter ensued between the pair of them for the rest of the night (HA!)
I think the people I met on my short visit to Delhi this time were some of the most interesting bunch of travelers I’ve met in hostels – people who have lived in India for several months, who keep coming back for more, some who have been trying to start a business in the country, some others who are indefinitely in the country ‘until money runs out’, and I think that is one of the most important reasons Madpacker’s has become a special place to me. I love that I heard and told some great stories here, and I am certain that I will keep coming back here for more, every time I find myself anywhere close to New Delhi again 🙂
Oh! And did I tell you about the absolutely dashing little gangster the hostel has adopted? Chewbacca, the baller little Maltese poodle was barely a few weeks old in Feb ’16 when I first visited Madpacker’s and is one of the cutest little balls of fur you’ll ever find in hostel premises. I think he was pretty much the icing on the cake that Madpacker’s so efficiently laid out for me 🙂