Engineering graduate Athul Bos, an international biking award winner, left the engineering route to take up his passion for travel and turned an abandoned cottage into the the Jungle Hut, an eco-friendly mud home in Himachal Pradesh.
Athul Bos, a mechanical engineering graduate, was bitten by the travel bug during his college days in Coimbatore.
“I owned a Pulsar 220 then and was surrounded by a group of ‘hodophiles’. We’d go on random bike trips within South India almost every weekend. Slowly, the area expanded and we began conducting longer trips to the Northeast too,” Thrissur-based Athul tells The Better India.
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In 2010, he raced from Hyderabad to Kanyakumari and back in less than 36 hours on his sport bike, bagging an international biking award as a result. “I am the first person from South India to complete this Saddle Sore Challenge of Iron Butt Association and earn its certificate at the age of 21. It was after completing this challenge that I travelled all over India and Bhutan.”
Between 2013-14, Athul decided to take a break from travelling by taking up his family business for a year after college. In the meantime, he also set up a riding gears’ shop in his hometown. This business slowly brought him back to travelling. He began organising all-India trips for others, himself taking part in a few.
“Soon, Himachal became our usual spot. I’d earn a living by guiding foreigners and biker groups through the treacherous roads of Manali-Leh-Nubra Valley and Manali-Spiti-Shimla. Soon, my friends and I wanted to take over a property to run it as a homestay,” the 33-year-old says.
“Seven years ago, we found a place near Manali and stepped into the hospitality field.”
In a few years, the town saw many properties and shops. During this time, while on a trek to a nearby waterfall, Athul stumbled upon a 20-year-old cottage in ruins. “The cottage was so aesthetic, made completely out of stone, mud and wood. I decided to take over it, rebuild it, and run as a homestay, this time without partners,” he explains.
The cottage, which had been set up by a German traveller, is 8 km away from town and accessible via a very short trek through nearby villages. Athul says this was the only settlement in the area three years ago, so he faced challenges in finding workers to rebuild the space due to terrain constraints.
“With the help of a few families from the nearby village and the assistance of my friends, I modified the cottage. Upon the advice of the villagers, we used a unique mix of soil and cow dung with rock stones and recycled wood to beautify the cottage. It took us two months to complete the renovation works,” says Athul.
The cottage was named ‘Jungle Hut’ as it lies near a forest. Meanwhile, the land was taken up through a 10-year lease policy. In less than a year, one more property came up near the cottage.
“In order to not ruin the peace of the area and maintain privacy, I decided to take up that property too. Unlike the cottage, this setup is made with modern facilities. But all of our guests are attracted to the one-room cottage, which has an attic, bathroom, kitchen and balcony,” Athul adds.
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Apart from providing a comfortable stay near the forest, Jungle Hut also arranges travel packages to Leh-Spiti to guests who wish to explore Himachal. Car camping is another peculiar facility they provide, where food and stay is arranged in a car while travelling through the major tourist spots of the state.
“In Jungle Hut, we give importance to the experience rather than the journey. The place would be an ideal getaway spot for those who love to understand the village culture in depth and spend a few peaceful weeks away from noisy cities,” he notes.
A ‘therapeutic’ stay away from the city
Apart from Athul, two caretakers are also available at Jungle Hut. The place is home to two pet dogs — Alphiee and Gama — who accompany the guests on hikes and guide them with correct routes.
Till date, Athul has not used any marketing strategies to promote his place, he says. “The property is fully occupied for almost three weeks of a month. Most guests are foreigners or from the South. Some arrive after hearing about our little space from friends or by seeing our pictures on social media.”
Most of the time, the entire cottage is given to a family/couple. “The price per night for the cottage is Rs 5,000 and for the ordinary room is Rs 2,500. If the booking is for a month, we charge Rs 30,000 for an individual and Rs 35,000 if for two. All three meals a day, Wi-Fi and laundry services are provided for this amount,” he adds.
Megha P Manoharan, who visited Jungle Hut this August, says, “I got to know about this place through a friend. The experience was satisfying and wonderful. The cottage is a cosy place to stay and the view from here is extremely beautiful. Honestly speaking, I didn’t want to go back home.”
She continues, “My favourite thing to do was to sit in the corridor, sip a cup of lime tea, enjoy the beautiful view, and work. All of us would spend the evenings in the kitchen, sharing stories and jokes while food was being cooked. Jungle Hut is ideal to relieve office stress. It feels equal to therapy.”
Megha adds that he homestay is surrounded by apple and apricot farms. “Walking through the farms and having freshly plucked fruits was another perk.”
Jungle Hut also has an organic vegetable farm near the property, from which produce is used to make food. “Our present plan is to expand the farm and grow more items in the compound so that the guests can enjoy a nourishing meal. We are also all set to make the whole property run on solar-power. This will be another step towards sustainability,” says Athul.
He also notes, “After graduation, many of my friends migrated to foreign countries and settled there. Even though I received similar offers, I denied them all to stay in this beautiful country. I can never get the most out of Himachal alone, although it has been years since I moved here. All I wish is to share this experience with everyone who visits Jungle Hut.”
Contact them here.
Edited by Divya Sethu; Photo credits: Athul Bos