Like everything else in India, the range of accommodations is overwhelming and all over the map. On one hand, you’ll find some of the most affordable opulence in the world to rest your weary head, from standard five-star luxury hotels to cinematic palaces and forts that have rejuvenated royalty since the spice trade. If you’re not selective and careful, on the other hand, you can find yourself in an electricity-wavering, bed bug-infested, prison-like cell. In between you’ve got it all: ashrams and temples, homestays and houseboats, pilgrims’ rest houses and hostels.
If you heed one piece of advice, be it this: Never skimp on India lodging. Having a clean and comfortable haven to retire to at the end of each crazy day, with a wonderful bed and shower and walls thick enough to keep the noise of Indian life at bay, is an absolute must. You will never regret it. And the good news is that it’s a very affordable thing to do by Western standards. To learn more about where to stay in India, read on.
Hotels, Forts and Palaces
India is home to some of the most luxurious hotels in the world, many of which are so rich in architectural detail, history and no-filter-necessary “wow” that they’re destinations in themselves. People often plan entire trips around tucking in at some of the country’s most postcard-perfect hotels, such as the Oberoi Udaivilas, the Taj Lake Palace and the Devi Garh by Lebua in Udaipur; the Oberoi Rajvilas in Jaipur; the Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra and Fort Barli in rural Rajasthan — and those are just the most famous ones. Others, such as the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower in Mumbai, are iconic symbols of India.
Several of the world’s best luxury chains are based here, such as the Oberoi Group, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, and Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts, and many other international luxury hotel groups have majestic properties here as well, such as Amanresorts and Four Seasons. Of course, beyond the world’s biggest chains, there is a lengthy list of lavish independent properties.
No matter which you choose, you will be shrouded in over-the-top perfection, from the service to the food and everything in between, leaving you with the distinct feeling that being a maharaja mustn’t have been so bad indeed.
India is also home to a well-defined mid-range hotel sector — you’ll often find “Residency” in the hotel name, which is a designation that must be earned to use in India. At these properties you can expect standard amenities such as room service, Wi-Fi, satellite TV, air conditioning and a daily newspaper.
Hotel, Palace and Fort Resources:
Government Hotels and Tourist Bungalows
They’re not quite as exciting as the regular hotel sector, but India also has numerous budget and mid-range hotels owned and operated by the tourism arms of state governments; they’re sometimes bookable online through the official state tourism websites.
These are usually a total crapshoot in terms of quality and comfort, with some states (like Madyha Pradesh, for example) doing a much better job than others, but they are often the best option in more remote towns and villages where there is scant else for choice. They are nothing if not functional, run by stiff bureaucrats who definitely aren’t fond of going out of their way for you, but it’s hard to ask for more when you are off the grid.
Government Hotel Resources
Houseboat accommodations, especially popular in Kerala and Kashmir, run the gamut from some of the most luxurious sleeps on the water (such as the Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda) to multi-day cruise comfort on the Ganges to historic budget beds on Dal Lake in Srinagar.
Comfort and services vary depending on the houseboat’s class, but you can expect experiences steeped in history and atmosphere — many, in the case of Srinagar, dating to colonial times when the British were banned from owning land. On fancier category A boats, architectural touches like carved walnut paneling and khatamband (faceted wood paneling) evoke a sense of days gone by. In Kerala, houseboats are often designed like kettuvallam (rice barges). Whichever you choose, these floating hotels often spark some of the best Indian memories in travelers.
Havelis and Homestays
Homestays are finally starting to catch on in India. Immersing yourself in the home of a local family allows you to crack the culture in ways that were unthinkable in years past.
Historic havelis, on the other hand, offer a different home experience. The word itself means a private mansion in India and Pakistan, and these days many are run as mid-range B&Bs. It’s a perfect compromise between value and history; if you cannot afford the five-star palaces and forts around India, these will give you a smaller but equally rich historical experience without the damage to your bank account. You’ll find havelis all over the country, but they are especially prevalent in Rajasthani cities like Udaipur.
Haveli and Homestay Resources:
Ashrams, Temples, Monasteries and Pilgrims’ Rest Houses
Many folks go to India for extended periods to “find themselves.” Whether it be through yoga, meditation, guru worship, religion or any other philosophical ilk (it’s all here!), there’s usually a bed for you, often free or at laughable rates, inside an ashram, temple (known as a gurdwara) or pilgrims’ rest house (dharamshala). Many sacred Buddhist pilgrimage sites like Sarnath, Kushinagar and Bodh Gaya are home to numerous monasteries from countries around the world, some open to the public, others reserved solely for citizens of their respective countries.
These rooms are never elaborate, offering little more than a bed, table and bathroom with bucket shower and squat toilet. Vegetarian cuisine is the norm for food, usually available in the refectories, and alcohol and smoking are nearly always banned. These accommodations foster a spiritual vibe and are designed for actual students and pilgrims; they should not be taken advantage of by those just looking for cheap and/or free sleeps.
To find these, your best bets are guidebooks and the individual websites of the ashrams and/or the specific religious associations in which you are interested.
–written by Kevin Raub