Ours is a country where traveling has been always considered synonymous with “sightseeing” and “pilgrimage”. Ours is a society which often looks upon the brave spirited traveller souls with contempt; and calls them all sorts of names from weird to crackpot to selfish. Amidst this foggy, dark night of ignorance and prejudices, YHAI stands out proudly like a bright light on a tower, showing an exalted path to the seekers.
YHAI (Youth Hostels Association of India) is a non profit organization to promote backpacking and hosteling culture in Indian youth. They have been working for this cause since early 1970s; long before Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani loosely attempted it.
They have near about a 100 youth hostels across many popular as well as offbeat places of India. These hostels provide cheap yet decent accommodation to the members. They also organize treks and other adventure activities in a variety of geographic regions of the country. I have been fortunate to have been on one of their programs – “Himalayan Mountain Biking Expedition – Jalori Pass 2013”
If you have heard about YHAI, chances are that you or someone whom you know have trekked with them. If you haven’t heard about them but you still landed on this page means that you were seeking information about trekking and adventure activities.
In either case read on to know the top 12 reasons why you must go on a YHAI trek.
- A great stepping stone
YHAI welcomes one & all with no discrimination of age, gender, region or language. If you have never been on a trek before, there’s no better option to start with. I have seen all sorts of people there – kids, college students, businessmen, housewives, newlyweds and senior citizens. In fact, many of these participants do come alone. It’s a great prospect for your first trek because accommodation, food and travel are taken care of. You just have to reach the base camp and then it’s like a packaged tour.
- Adventure in true sense
Mountain biking on the great Himalayan passes, sail-boating in Arabian Sea in Goa, trekking through knee deep snow, cave exploration in Mizoram, camping in desert, hike to a vast lake through dense forests. If these are the things that excite you, then YHAI is for you!
- Test of mettle
Often, we do not know how strong we are until we face adversities. Often, we think of ourselves as very tough but breakdown at the first touch of hardship. On these treks, you will have to push the limits of your physical and mental strengths. It is only after completing the trek that you will be amazed by your own capabilities which you never knew to exist.
Unfortunately, military training is not mandatory in India which leaves a majority of youth undisciplined. Many of us (like myself), even loathe the term “discipline”. However, these 5 to 10 days of first hand experience of a disciplined life might be enough to teach the importance of discipline. You will have to get up very early (else miss the bed-tea), do warm up exercises in the morning, get ready quickly (else miss the breakfast), do your own dishes and mugs after every meal, cleanup your tent, wear full length clothes, complete the day’s trek on time, turn down the lights at 10 and sleep early (there’s no chance you’ll be able to stay up late). Phew!
- The program
They have a well defined, no-nonsense program without any scope for stuff like “leisure” or “shopping”. Yet, it is never too hectic. It starts with an acclimatization walk on day 1, which is usually more difficult than the actual trek. The actual trek starts on day-2 and each subsequent day you have to keep marching (or cycling) towards the next camp. Each day ends with campfires and fun activities.
- The places
The places on their itinerary are so remote that no one outside the district would have heard of them. Most of them are villages with no more than 20 to 30 houses; having no cellular networks and sporadic electricity. The life for the villagers is hard but they are still happy. Who wouldn’t be in such a serene place?
- Cultural insights
You understand the culture of a place better by playing with local kids rather than a visit to handicrafts center. You will get a chance to interact with locals on the days when you reach the camp early. You get to know their language, their games, their aspirations and what keeps them always happy.
- Team spirit
Not everyone can walk / cycle at the same pace. It’s a great feeling when you see people motivating those who are trailing behind. It’s an even greater feeling when you are that person who is trailing behind and others from the group are cheering you up.
- New friends
Man is a social animal and these treks provide a great many opportunities for you to socialize – while trekking, over campfires, in the tents after the lights are out etc. I have always believed that trekking bonds people like no other activity does. You will meet some nice, interesting people here. Thanks to Facebook and WhatsApp many of them will stay in touch for years.
- Excellent staff and volunteers
At YHAI majority of the camp personnel are not permanent staff but volunteers. Every from the camp leader to technical persons for adventure activities to guides and cook has volunteered for the job. Most of the management staff are government employees who get official leave for a long duration to serve at YHAI. While the guides are locals who know the places like back of their hands. All these people have been helping YHAI since years. They are the type of people whom you see daily during your commute to work but won’t ever notice them sitting across you in a bus. They spend the entire year with their monotonous jobs in anticipation of one month of summer they get to spend at YHAI. It is interesting to see how they are in totally different color then their usual self.
They make sure you are well fed, four times a day with “simple vegetarian meals” viz a hearty breakfast, a packed lunch, evening refreshments and an early dinner. All except the lunch are unlimited. They are prepared from local, organic materials using least amount of oil and masalas; yet delicious. They also give hot bournvita before going to bed 🙂
Being a non-profit organization, YHAI charges bare minimum for these programs – generally in the lower 4 digits for a 7 to 8 days trek. Plus you can avail accommodation at the national and international youth hostels anytime during your membership at easily affordable rates. Plus discounts at multitudes of food chains like Narulas. All in all it’s a deal too good to be true.
With inputs from Shabbir, Jinesh, Chinmay & Payal 🙂