Youth Hostels Association of India (YHAI) is a non-profit organization and an associate member of the Hostelling International (U.K.), with 23 functional state branches, managing around 95 youth hostels throughout India, and annually organizing more than a dozen of national trekking, biking, family-camping and other environment friendly adventure programs. YHAI claims to be promoting travel, tourism, adventure spirits, national integration, education and health by providing hostels of good standards to millions of youths of modest means during their travel at cheap rates on a sustainable basis and also organizing adventure/educational events, to create understanding among youths about social and developmental issues. I trekked with YHAI in last December and during that trip I was lucky to interact with fellow trekkers who had have several treks with YHAI. I could even gather information from cyclists who had participated in the biking program in Goa. So, from my own experience and facts assembled from veteran members I'm here to review the adventure/trekking programs run by YHAI. Let me be fair and confess that I've already enrolled for a life membership with YHAI, as I see many more treks coming my way. But that shouldn't be your yardstick, better read the pros and cons to decide whether you're game for YHAI trekking programs.
|Inside view of a typical YHAI tent for 8-10 trekkers.|
Things which YHAI keep common in all trekking programs:-
- An all inclusive package cost (Includes food, boarding, lodging, transportation, equipments, group insurance, guide fee, training/orientation, forest fee, any other permit). Once you reach the base camp it feels as if you returned to hostel and anything that happens to to you shall be taken care of by the warden!
- Simple vegetarian nutritious meals. It starts with morning tea, breakfast, lunch, tea-snacks, dinner and then bournvita drink before you retire. You'll be served welcome drinks as you (though you'll soon develop repulsion for Roohafza) reach higher camps every day. Sometimes you may be offered soup as appetizer before the dinner. Don't be disheartened, at times you'll get boiled eggs too. So, in short , forget starving, you'll rather be overfed.
- Shared tented accommodation or dormitory.
- Common toilets or makeshift ones depending on the remoteness of the camp. You may have to poo behind the bush too, after all you're no common douche-bag... you're a trekker!
- Schedules are maintained pretty strictly by field directors and camp leaders. Like, even if you're free for the day/evening you'll be given a time deadline for reporting the camp.
- No smoking and no alcohol!
- Rules rule the game. This is one of the biggest reasons behind parents sending their children for these programs without much anxiety.
|At higher camps you may encounter such wells.|
Things you'll certainly like in YHAI trekking programs:-
- Unbeatable, budget-friendly package cost! Yes, no other organization/company can quote you similar rates. All this is possible because entire support team in these adventure programs consists of volunteers, who're YHAI members with generous hearts.
- Although food is simple you'll like it for two reasons. First is, once you're doing physical activities the hunger you develop is your best sauce. Secondly, despite the unavailability of raw materials and inadequacy (owing to the low package cost) of funds you'll always feel that YHAI is trying its best to rotate the menu and present you with maximum variations! You can eat as much as your capacity permits.
- A built in environment that automatically keeps you disciplined.
- Equality and lack of prejudice in any form from YHAI. I didn't just talk of equality of cast, creed, race, gender etc. Here people of varied age groups trek with equal eagerness and integrity. Treks are also designed to keep them doable for wide range of participants.
- Strong sense of being in a group. You'll never feel abandoned and insecure unless you're a pathological loner.
- Concern for environment. You may end up picking all plastic wrappers from your path to dump them into their suitable place. Even if you're among those careless bunch who tends to litter craps a lot, you'll surely improve your habit, at least for the sake of your self respect!
- As I mentioned it before, once you're in, logistics and technicalities of the trip are no more your headache. YHAI will take care of all and only obedience is expected from you in return. Just imagine, although you're going for a trek it is okey even if you report without a rucksack as YHAI will provide you one!
- You can trust on the name of the organization and this is a big relief especially for first time participants.
- Due cares are taken for female trekkers so that solo women can join with complete peace of mind.
- At the end of the trek, a dozen of hands won't haunt you for tips.
- Here I'm not mentioning subjects like- advantages of trekking in a group, opportunity to remain in close proximity to unadulterated nature, development of team spirit etc, as those things you can gain by trekking with other agencies as well.
|A typical YHAI dormitory accommodation for trekkers.|
Things you might not like in YHAI trekking programs:-
- Toilets/washrooms are public and not sufficient in number. Even in base camps where there's ample opportunity to keep them better maintained, you may find waterlogged bathrooms, stinking latrines and sometimes toilets with half broken doors.
- Tents are too tightly packed, often making it a challenge for tall trekker to find his sleep. 8-10 trekkers may have to share a large tent and I tell you honestly, you'll struggle to drive away your insomnia unless you're an easy sleeper.
- Rigidity with schedule may suffocate you at times and you might momentarily hate being constantly under supervision.
- Large group size (say, 50 trekkers in a group) gives rise to micro groups and at the end of the day unknowingly you may end up backbiting others with the ongoing trend. Yes, if bitching is not in your nature, later you'll suffer from self reproach.
- Apparent bossing of the camp leader. But I tell you, always remind yourself that every human being is different and your camp leader is volunteering out of generosity.
- Certainly these trekking programs are not suitable for solo/independent trekkers and also for those who need certain amount of luxury in their trip. Abundant dust in camping grounds may not be suitable for asthmatics and allergy prone individuals too.
|My YHAI ID Card for Goa Trek.|
In this review I shared pros and cons of YHAI trekking/adventure programs in considerable details. Other than garments depending on the trail, few more things which you should carry in these treks for your personal convenience are- a rectangular lunch box, plate, spoon, mug/tumbler, water bottle, torch, mosquito repellant ointment, water purifying tablets, portable power bank, few waterproof adhesive bandages, antimicrobial powder, needle, lighter, few plastic packets and a sleeping bag if you have one (though in Himalayan treks YHAI will provide you sleeping bags). Hope my article served it purpose and now it's your call whether to trek with YHAI or not.
|Tents arrangement at Panaji base camp, Goa.|