Weekend getaway from Mumbai

I seek new experiences. I crave variety. My bucket list gains new entries even as I tick them off. All this motivated me to stay at Zostel Panchgani for one night, in a 20 x 8 feet converted shipping container. That’s 150 square feet, gross. Was the thought of sharing such tight quarters with another person the offbeat element? No, I live in Mumbai where my room is 170 square feet.
The prospect of staying in a shipping container was intriguing, coupled with my first brush at India’s hostel life. Zostel is a branded hostel chain in India established by Indians, with presence in 25 locations across Indian…and 2 in Nepal! [https://www.zostel.com/zostel/panchgani/]
Common room, Zostel Panchgani
Super chill artwork in the common room, photo bombed by my foot!

Getting there

The drive to from Mumbai took about 5 hours, on a rainy, foggy Saturday morning, in the peak of the Indian monsoon. The Mumbai-Bengaluru Highway was an absolute treat! A bus to Panchgani or a train to Pune are cheaper travel options. Zostel Panchgani is also known as “container” to locals / taxi drivers in the area (shout out to Swar and Aman for this tip!).
Mumbai - Bengaluru Highway
Mumbai – Bengaluru Highway in the monsoon

#BeContained

Google maps will show you’re 400m from your destination and soon enough, a turn later and you’re outside an unassuming wall with ‘Zostel’ on it. Go through, and a riot of colours and scenery greet you! Built into the side of a hill, the containers look over a valley and offer a sense of … openness that a hotel room simple couldn’t.
Zostel Panchgani offers dorms (6 beds apiece, with mixed and female-only dorms) and private containers (accommodating 2 persons). The dormitory containers are larger, at 40 x 8 feet and the layout made it seem compact, yet spacious. Did I mention they’re bunk beds?!
I’m not going to lie – I WAS NOT prepared for the size of the private container. I’d read up on the rooms and seen pictures (having had a long obsession with container rooms) and I was still surprised by the tightly packed together room. Then the curtains open and you discover the balcony AND THE VIEW and it all seems so roomy and cozy! The bathroom was clean and tastefully done, with an ample supply of hot water.
PS: No closets and not much hanging space, so don’t pack an entire wardrobe! Carry out own toiletries – they provide towels and liquid soap.
Room view, Zostel Panchgani
Step out into the mist

Hostel vibes

Each Zostel has bespoke interiors, aligned to its location. Zostel Panchgani offers a spacious common room, with games, books, a TV (with a Netflix connection no less!), a foosball table and basically everything one needs to promote social interactions in a young, fun, hip setting.
The kitchen is tucked in next to the common room, and offers a decent variety including salads, juices, snacks and rice bowls. I have to recommend the rice bowls – absolutely delicious (and very filling) on a wet and windy afternoon. While accommodation rates are priced for their target market, the food is not – so if you’re a backpacking budget traveler, you may want to step out for cheaper and more local food in the marketplace.

Things to do (a.k.a. MORE on the hostel vibes)

They offer a ‘movie afternoon’ in the common room, which was a great way to draw people, and got us all sifting through their sizeable collection of board games and getting a bite to eat. A private table land trek started at 5pm, and although we didn’t go along (my friend was nursing a football injury), we heard good things. They also suggests walking trails around the area, but incessant rains had loosened the soil a bit, and we were dissuaded from giving that a try.
Night-time festivities including live music courtesy guests at Zostel Panchgani, who’d obtained permission to play their guitars in the common room. Picture 20-odd people indulging in passionate singing and occasional dancing!
We came away with sore throats, lots of laughs and great memories, and I’ve already planned my next trip involving a stay at Zostel.
Tips:
1. The private containers are first come first serve, so get there on time if you want an unobstructed view – believe me, it’s worth it!
2. Carry your snacks / munchies with you – once you settle into the common room, going to the market will seem like a herculean task