Ever stayed in a hostel where your first interaction with the staff put a big smile on your face that didn’t fade throughout your stay? The Jugaadus hostel in Amritsar (North West India) definitely falls into this category. I even ended up altering my travel plans in order to come back to it on my way back. In this article, I will share my experience with this extraordinary hostel and its owner: Sanjay.
Arriving at the Jugaadus hostel in Amritsar
After a long train ride from Haridwar to Amritsar, we hail a tuk-tuk to get us to the hostel we booked online after checking its reviews. We get dropped off at a door that says “no alcohol or drugs allowed”. Girlfriend Claire and I climb the stairs and at the doorstep, we see another sign: “leave shoes & ego outside please”. I started to have a good feeling about this place already.
We were greeted straight away by one of Sanjay’s staff members. The first thing we get offered, even before checking in, is a cup of chai. Now that’s hospitality! The Jugaadus hostel isn’t big; with only 4 rooms (with 4 to 6 bunk beds in each room) the hostel never feels too crowded. The walls are full of funny quotes and inspirational life lessons from previous guests, which is a feast for the eyes.
Breakfast at Jugaadus
Breakfast is on donation, but to take away some of the awkwardness around this there is a card that shows what an average donation would be. On the breakfast table (a recycled truck tire covered by coconut fibre) there is some Indian chai, normal black tea, cornflakes and some delicious biscuits. I found out later that there also was an Aeropress coffee maker and a bag of single estate coffee (with “roasted especially for Sanjay” on the label). As I am a bit of a coffee snob, this gave my inner hipster a boner.
On top of the table in the common room I find a binder with some interesting articles:
- Why did Sanjay open Jugaadus?
- Jugaadus’ financial details
- An explanation of the garbage situation in India
- Indian railways demystified
- Why are Indian guys so creepy?
It takes a great level of openness and transparency to share your hostel’s financial details with every one of your guests and frankly, I haven’t stayed at any hostel that was willing to be this specific. However, this total transparency is part of what made this hostel so great; by being open and honest about the way he did business, I felt more comfortable and willing to participate in the activities that were offered.
A hostel clearly designed by a traveller
It is clear to see when the owner of a hostel has travelled himself. It’s the little details: a power outlet here, a handy shelf there. At Jugaadus you won’t get annoyed because of poor interior decisions. There are 3 rooms with 3 bunk-beds each and a room with a double bed. Each bed has its own light and power outlet, and there are large extendable storage areas below the bunk-beds.
There is wifi in the whole building, except between 5 pm and 7 pm when the wifi is deliberately turned off to encourage dialogue. The mattress, pillow, and sheets are clean and of decent quality. The showers and toilets are clean and spacious, there is an extra toilet block on the roof in case the main one is full. There is a desktop computer which may be used by anyone.
Jugaadus’ eco-friendly practices
Even though the hostel is located in the middle of the city, it uses various practices to stay eco-friendly. To name a few:
- Tires are re-used to make tables for the hostel
- Wiring is done in bamboo wiring panels to avoid the use of plastic
- Plastic bottles are reused using a free filtered water service
- Plastic bags are reused
- Mattresses are filled with organic cotton bought from local organic farmers
- The fabric for the (pillow) sheets are bought from Aura Herbals, a company that deals in organic cotton fabrics
- The dustbins, trays, and keyrings are made from bamboo and bought from the Uravu “bamboo village” NGO
- Groceries are organic and bought from local farmers or organic fair trade stores
Activities and tours organized by Jugaadus
There is a myriad of things to do at Jugaadus and even though Sanjay likes to rally everyone up to participate, he respects it if you don’t feel like joining in. There is a whiteboard where you can put your name underneath the activity/tour you would like to join. If enough people have signed up, the tour will be confirmed. A few of the activities I joined:
Improvised Bhangra dancing class
I stayed at the Jugaadus hostel during the famous Holi festival and we were prepared for what was to come by an improvised Bhangra dancing class right in the common area. Sanjay showed us some moves and invited us to copy them, which resulted in both hilarious and intense dance-off with great vibes all around.
5-Hour food crawl
The Punjab state is widely known to be the food capital of India, and I can wholeheartedly agree after this intense food tour organized by Sanjay. It’s pretty much all-you-can-eat, and Sanjay even challenges his guests to break the record of finishing 29 dishes. Some dishes are bigger than others, of course, but you’ll be sure to be bloated by the end of it. Sanjay takes you to his own personal favourite places, ranging from street food to hole-in-the-wall style restaurants to bigger establishments. This is one of my all-time favourite experiences in India and if you only have time for one tour, make sure it’s this one.
A look behind the scenes of the Golden Temple community kitchen
The Golden Temple is the most important place of worship for people practising the Sikh religion. The temple in itself is outright spectacular and you can hop on one of Sanjay’s tours to visit it and learn more about its history. On this tour you will also be able to have dinner at the community kitchen where 100.000 to 300.000 people can enjoy a free meal every day, making it the largest free kitchen in the world. People from all walks of life volunteer in the kitchen whenever they can, and you will be able to see how efficiënt the process of making the food, serving it and cleaning the dishes really is.
The whacky Indian and Pakistani border ceremony tour
This military ceremony of lowering the flags at the border between in India and Pakistan has been held daily since 1959. It’s as impressive as it is confusing: expect soldiers with feather dusters on their head, the ministry of silly walks and an Indian audience being hyped up as if they were at a pop concert. Sounds weird? Yes! Sounds amazing? Also yes! Go see it for yourself 🙂
Celebrating Holi at Jugaadus
I stayed at the Jugaadus hostel for only 3 nights but it felt like at least a week as I spent all of my time having interesting conversations and having honest fun with honest people. It helped that I celebrated Holi here, as Sanjay took everybody on an unplanned tuk-tuk tour stopping at his friends’ living rooms, roof terraces, and food places. It turned out to be one of the most amazing days I have had in a long, long time. For a glimpse of this day, check out the movie I put together with the highlights.
Jugaadus’ amazing staff
One of the things that make this place so great is the people that work there. Sanjay has a close circle of staff members and trusted freelance tour guides suppliers and tuk-tuk drivers. They are all hard-working, warm people that will go out of their way to help you. I needed to recharge my Indian BSNL sim card for instance, and not only did Gopi point me in the right direction, he helped me to set it up afterwards as well. Here’s how Sanjay describes his staff in the information binder I mentioned earlier.
Sanjay (owner and founder)
The founder of Jugaadus, Sanjay came back to his hometown Amritsar in Feb 2014. He has proven all the stereotypes of being Indian right by studying engineering, working in an IT company in India (Bangalore) for two years and a year and a half in the Netherlands. After quitting his job, travelling the world for a year while hitchhiking, Couchsurfing and getting an introduction to spirituality in India, Sanjay is trying to show tourists the Punjabi hospitality and culture. He lives in the Jugaadus’ hostel and is trying to make it a home for the travellers coming to the city. He loves making weird faces, talking about cultural differences, making jokes and challenging normality.
Seema is a single mom with two very cute sons to raise. She has worked hard to transform from a housewife into an independent working woman. She manages the cleaning of the hostel, loves cooking and conducts cooking classes at the hostel. You will mostly be listening to 90s Bollywood music if Seema is on reception duty.
Gopi is the “jugaadu” (meaning something along the lines of “jack of all trades”) at the hostel, you can go to him for anything you need help with in Amritsar: tickets, shopping, currency exchanges, you name it. Jumping around the hostel, he is hardly found at the reception. Gopi needs some English writing classes and learns really well from pretty foreign girls.
The calmest and hottest guy of the hostel staff, Jagroop is a farmer in his village by daytime and works the night shift at the hostel’s reception desk. Jagroop’s wonderful family hosts the village tour and takes care of the hostel’s cow. Jagroop loves to dance and teach Bhangra at the hostel.
Balbir is known for her immaculate cleaning skills and strong personality. She is a very strong woman who once beat up a guy who got a bit too close in a tuk-tuk. While she seems tough on the outside (with the whole staff including Sanjay being scared of her anger), she is really soft at heart and volunteers to help anyone facing social injustice in her village.
Dalbir is the quiet one in the housekeeping staff, working with Balbir handling laundry, cooking, and the cleaning of the hostel. She is a hardworking person who you won’t see sitting around much in the hostel.
Vicky (tuk-tuk driver)
Vicky strikes a balance between being hardworking and hilarious. He drives a tuk-tuk and manages the maintenance and shopping of the hostel. Never sitting idle, his tuk-tuk is available 24 hours. This makes him the most hardworking person of the hostel. Vicky has a beautiful wife and two sons (the younger one is very naughty).