I've been travelling 8 years straight now and never have I had a truly backpacker experience. You know staying in a super cheap place, eating the cheapest meal you can find. While I enjoy carrying a backpack when I travel, truthfully I've only stayed in a hostel once in Prague in an emergency. My friend owned it and I had the room all to myself, so does that really count? Nah not really. So my husband and I decided to have as close to a backpacker experience as we could get short of staying in the room with other people, for two whole days. That was about all I could commit to.
Usually when I travel I like to rent apartments from locals on websites like Aibnb, VRBO or do homestays to gain a local perspective, benefit the local community and not have to deal with questionable cleanliness that come from quick hotel turnovers.
I often look at backpackers and wonder what their experience is really like. Do they actually find good deals, are they staying in safe places, what are the accomodations like in the cheapest of the cheap places?
We booked an air-conditioned room at Al- Muviaaya Guesthouse for two days and it was by far the least expensive accomodation I've ever had. Yes, only two days but that was about all we could risk for such an experiment, this was our first time in India and I'd heard plenty of horror stories. This place had some okay reviews but I still didn't really know what to expect. After landing in Mumbai and resting and working at a private house in a more residential part of the city for a few day we took an Uber to Al-Muviaaya. I looked at the crowded dirty street from the back of the car and looked at my husband and said, "Oh no, I might have made a mistake here."
We lugged our bags down the road went inside, notified the man at the desk of our booking who in turn told me that they were booked up and that our reservation had been changed to their sister property down the road. "Oh just great!" I thought.
A young guy in this early twenties quickly helped us carry our bags through the crowded roads to meet Abdul at Hotel Kausar on Zakeria Masjid Street. Everything was rushed and confused with motorbikes zooming back and forth, tons of foot traffic and cars everywhere. We arrived at the next hotel a bit of a mess and I peeked in the room while my husband sternly guarded the bags to ensure it wasn't a rat trap. It was a matchbox of a room, but it had an air-conditioner that was ice cold and a private bathroom and it was shockingly clean. I told my husband Boni "Okay, it's two nights, we can deal."
Over the next couple of days this little experiment would prove to be one of the best decisions that we've made in a long time. Firstly, Abdul, a Swhili speaking Indian came to our room personally, more than once to make sure that we had absolutely everything that we needed from food to information on buying our "dongle", or wireless modem, to taxis and etc. His service was truly five star.
We explored the neighborhood which is full of shops and basically a giant marketplace. Everyone is busy all day and all night selling things, providing services and there seems to always be an abundance of traffic. During the days we worked, ran errands and did a bit of sight-seeing in Kala Ghoda, the arts district. We found out that we were actually conveniently located and never more than about 100 rupees away from anything we needed in the city.
Being in this area allowed us the opportuity to stumble upon another great find, cheap local food. Worried about catching the old "travellers belly", I didn't want to jump into the street food head first, but having been eating Indian food my whole life I did want to eat plenty of it. Chakla Restaurant right down the road operates at a quick yet professional pace, the goal is to get as many people in and out as fast as possible. However, they manage to do this with great service.
The locals at Chakla also were polite and welcoming by motioning for us to join them or pulling their chairs out. I loved people watching here and even being watched a bit as well. Watching men pour their chai into their saucers in order to cool it effectively and drink it quicker so they could move on to their next destination I found unique and fascinating. The waiters were always prompt yet friendly and we never had a bad meal here. The food was cheap and absolutley delicious!
By the time it was time to leave Hotel Kausar we were actually sad to go. Abdul had become our friend and had given us better service than we'd received in places we'd spent way more money on. The neighborhood had grown on us too and we were greatful for the insight into no-frills daily Indian life in Mumbai.