Accommodations in India – Lodging Tips From a Local

India Lodging Tips: How to find good, affordable, and clean guest houses in India

 

Finding good guest houses in India could be as chance-based as cracking a lottery. Amongst the many variables that might work for against you finding a comfortable Indian lodging are location, pricing, facilities, cleanliness, linen and towels, water taps, mosquitoes, cockroaches, (noisy) fans, parking, host and the service staff, their culture, relationship between the guests, and the geography.

In this guide, I provide you tips to find good accommodations in India — fighting all the above factors — and I also take you through the history of travel and lodging in India. Without knowing how travel has evolved in India we can’t understand the current Indian hospitality industry.

Table of Content

 

Dharamshalas and My Childhood in a Small Town of Uttar Pradesh

 

I had almost never stayed in a hotel until I was 15. The rare occasion of a cousin’s wedding is the only time we put up in a hotel room(booked by the cousin’s parents). But those rooms felt less like hotel rooms and more like family homes. They were in a simple hotel or a community home and were filled with our extended family rather than unknown guests. As a little girl I would scamper from room to room trying to find my mother and hot samosas.

On a rare two-day summer trip with parents and siblings, I stayed in dharamshalas in Haridwar and Rishikesh(the only cities my parents visited). Dharamshalas are simple, community-run stays for religious travelers(mainly). [As per Wikipedia, the word dharamshala refers to a shelter or rest house for spiritual pilgrims.]

As Haridwar and the places we visited were pious destinations, we could always find a big dharamshala with large rooms, long corridors, and shared/private bathrooms. Most dharamshalas had fans to survive the summer.

These shalaas were constructed by and run on donations of religious and affluent businessmen. Back then, almost 25 years ago, we would pay anything from fifty rupees(< $1) to a couple of hundred rupees, at most, or nothing, for a room.

Now I can’t find those dharamshalas online. I only see these Jain dharamshalas available to be booked through an online form. But to my surprise, these dharamshalas aren’t any cheaper than hotels in India.

Dharamshalas are, sadly, a thing of the past. When Indian families want to send someone away, they say, “ey, this is my home, not a dharamshala. You sleep here, eat here, for free. Off you go. Leave.” And so on.

 

kalga+food+barshaini+village+parvati+valley+himachal+pradesh
Dharamshalas remind me of these simple, delicious, benevolent thali served by a very kind soul in Barshani village of Parvati valley. Only for 80 rupees all you can eat.

The History of Travel and Hotels in India

 

Dharamshalas were, once, our go-to affordable hotel. India didn’t have that many hotels back then. And hotels weren’t even considered the best places, at least in our small town and middle-class family of UP. It wasn’t a matter of reputation to stay in a hotel. In the then economy, a family was respected more for working hard and sending its children to school, which is what my parents did.

I’m sure hotels had a better reputation in other parts of India, especially in big cities.

The lack of hotels and the disinterest of people to stay in them can be blamed on colonialism.

During the British rule, only the aristocracy and the British officers traveled. They had travelers’ guesthouses and five-star hotels where civilians either weren’t allowed or couldn’t afford to go.

Or there was the common man traveling for some trade or medical reasons. People would walk from village to village or used bullock and horse carts. Travelers would stay in a dharamshala or in an acquaintance’s or relative’s house. There were some guesthouses, too. Or people just called out in the street to check if anyone would take them in for the night.

That was when the phrase “Atithi Devo Bhava” — guest is god — started getting used more(the phrase is from the Taittiriya Upanishad). The idea was to not let the traveler alone on the streets at night without food. Wild animals roamed around and, in some places, even dacoits posed a threat.

But that was about it.

 

Traffic in Kolkata in 1945 [Mr. Claude Waddell,, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

India became independent in 1947, and we got the Ministry of Tourism in 1967. Accommodations were still lavish and expensive. Only wealthy families could afford the money and time to travel.

Firms were given permission to franchise 3-star and 4-star hotels in India only in 1987(my birth year). And that is when the travel scenario must have started shifting in favor of the middle class.

Travel advanced from foot and bullock cart journeys. We used cars, buses, and trains to commute. Along with the grand hotels, dharamshalas, and homestays, sprang up the affordable accommodations in India. They were needed to cater to the backpackers of a foreign world and Indians who dared to travel on a budget.

Families started taking vacations. Bohemian individuals traveled. Couples honeymooned in Mussoorie, Coorg, and Munnar. Hotels, motels, and travelers’ inn sprouted in the country. We had money to pay and time to go.

Indian travel has changed dramatically in the last twenty years. Until 2000, 70 percent of the revenue of major hotels came from foreign tourists. Now we see a lot more domestic travelers(1.8 billion domestic tourist visits in 2018).

While on the way to Spiti Valley one Canadian lady told me Indians only love big guesthouses and sparkly hotels and not the small homestays the foreigners adore. Instead of explaining the history, I ignored her comment. I was busy stuffing myself with amazing cheese grilled sandwiches while that woman waited on the side of the ice-laden road for she couldn’t eat anything on a bumpy ride.

Her view was pretty restricted to what she saw without taking the time to peek into the past. In ancient India, travel was limited to commuting for trade, migrating for better resources, going to see a faraway relative, religious travel, traveling to gain knowledge and learning, and performing artists journeyed near and far. Until recently, travel only meant visiting a relative or taking a family vacation for us Indians. In the summer holidays, most of my schoolmates and I visited an aunt’s place and stayed there for a few weeks. That was holiday for us.

We were busy recuperating from the rule and had no time to think about leisure. Even the last generation — my parents — were only thinking of survival. They didn’t have time to relax and take month-long vacations. So whenever Indians went out — which was only for a limited number of days in a year — they would choose the most comfortable modes of travel — because that was their relaxing and indulging time. It was a short duration stay. They chose big hotels with a staff who served them over small backpacking hostels or homestays.

“We toil all year-long. Why do we toil even now on our vacation?” They would say.

Of course, I’m not talking about everyone. We still had rich or artistic Indian families who explored travel as a larger way to live and traveled for longer. But those were few in number.

As generations go by and survival isn’t the primary instinct(not for everyone), we indulge in traveling as a way to live or learn or spend our time. Not everyone wants to travel to only unwind. Some travel to challenge themselves. In every case, today we see more domestic travelers and more budget hotels.

In the transition from extravagant properties to affordable accommodations, we lost a lot of things. Less money somehow implies less of everything in India. It implies less cleanliness, less use of Harpic in toilets, less frequency of washing and changing linen and towels, less dusting, less milk in breakfast tea, less chickpea in the chickpea curry. Sometimes, less privacy and less respect too.

If you book a 1000 rupees room in Bangalore, expect less of everything. They would almost be doing you a favor by giving you a roof over your head. What? Sorry, can’t hear you. Say a bit loudly. What did you say? You paid a 1000 rupees? That’s not nothing? Nobody is here to listen. I’m sorry, my friend.

Atithi Devo Bhava is not the phrase most Indians believe in these days. Now guests are perceived as who they are: living organisms who eat, sleep, burp, fart, and breathe more often than the host or the server would like.

In India — cheap hotels aren’t a judgment on your pocket, they are a judgment on you. We are a class-based society after all. When your choice of affordable accommodation is used to declare you as an inadequate person, the host takes liberties with you.

Of course, not all hosts reduce the basic standards on low pricing and not all people would judge you. But I can’t count how many times a guesthouse owner or a friend or a family member or a fellow traveler has commented on another traveler as worthless because they chose a “worthless” property. Most people said they weren’t in a bad situation so why would they book a budget room. An aunty laughed at me because I live in homestays.

All people around me always talk about getting the most comfortable, luxurious, family stay. As travel is still mostly family-oriented in India, we book large and comfortable places to give our families the best time.

Good means costly and costly means good(for us). Maybe because the quality goes really down when we go budget in India.

hill-homestay-guest-house-in-india-karnataka-2.jpg

 

Why are the basic standards compromised in budget stays in India?

 

People are not trained in the Indian hospitality industry. We don’t have enough hospitality and hotels schools and the ones we have aren’t the best institutions. Remember we only got the tourism ministry in 1967?

Most of the staff in the service industry — except in places like the Hyatt or Taj or something of the like — haven’t been to college. They are those people who didn’t get any other job and decided to serve in a restaurant or joined as cleaning staff in a hotel. Don’t forget we are a developing country.

While some people make use of the opportunity and train themselves on the job, a lot of them just make it through. We are all lazy, right. In the mix, you will find both opportunistic and kind people.

One hotel manager in Amritsar told me not to pay 500 rupees for the room the owner was offering me for a couple of hours. He said there was no air conditioning there(I was literally sick from the heat), and the price wasn’t justified. The manager failed to do the things we had asked him but he was, at least, kind.

You will get as good service as the serving staff’s education and experience.

When recently I asked for parking at a Treebo in Bangalore, one member of the staff told me to park on the street. Later I saw they had dedicated parking for guests so I told him we would park there. When I asked him why didn’t he tell us about the shaded and secure parking, he had nothing to say.

Another fun fact — The staff and owners in our hotels don’t want to offer their entire services to the guest. They perceive their fellow Indians as opportunity grabbers and trouble makers and whatnot.

This idea isn’t entirely wrong. I’ve seen children breaking a hotel’s kettle or a cup or pulling the curtains. The adult guests shout at the staff. Families spoil the linen with spilled food. And there have been instances when the staff told me the previous guests had stolen bathrobes or blankets or even mosquito machines.

So the present notion amongst the hospitality staff is — hey, if you give two, they will ask for four. Better not to give.

The idea is not to make your guest feel comfortable and provide her with your best options, but to let her stay pass by with minimal efforts and spend on your end. Of course, I’m not talking about all guesthouses. And foreigners wouldn’t face this judgment.

While some hotel and homestay owners completely depend on their property to support their families, some just run it on the side with another great business or income to support them. They do want the money but they don’t always have the time to maintain the property and provide the promised amenities.

I’m presently going through a horrible Airbnb experience(or shall I say a series of them). While I sit in the staircase of this remote Bangalore house, three old people downstairs, who of all the things in the world shouldn’t be running an Airbnb, wait for the next tantrum we might throw. The place can be booked instantly. When we checked in, the room didn’t have the basic things required. And in the bathroom, there was no toilet paper, the light didn’t work, the geyser and shower didn’t work, and the toilet was dirty and yellow. The old grandparents downstairs told me to clean the toilet. When I called the host — who doesn’t live here — and told him about these things, he said he can’t check the property before every booking and that he couldn’t come to help us out. He asked us to use the bucket and said the geyser was designed by his grandfather and couldn’t be fixed. Hours later, he booked a cleaner and gave him my number to coordinate. And then the grandparents reproached us for disturbing their grandson during his work hours. This happened quite a few times while they got the plumbing and other things fixed(not entirely though).

So the hosts don’t have the time to maintain the property and it has become the guests’ problem to buy toilet paper and light and spend hours getting their house fixed. (I faced this issue in Germany, too.)

You will have this kind of experience mostly in Indian Airbnbs. The hotels on Booking may not offer all they can but have dedicated people who maintain the place.

We were discussing how guests are anything but not gods in India. Of course, there are exceptions and I know a lot of people would condemn my words in favor of those exceptions. And I have faced some of the problems I mentioned above abroad as well.

My job here is, to be honest with you. In this honesty, I will also tell you about the kind Rajasthani lady who offered to sleep next to me in a camp in the desert to save me from nightmares, the Coorgi aunty who gifted us big ripe avocados from her coffee estate, and a Goan man who was upset I didn’t wake him up at night when I feel sick from a heatstroke.

Let us go through some options of the kind of hosts and lodging in India.

 

 

What are the various kinds of accommodations in India?

India is full of ashrams, guesthouses, hostels, hotels, resorts, homestays, eco-accommodations, houseboats, apartments, paying guests, and independent houses available for rent and booking. 

Let us look at each of the accommodations in more detail.

 

Ashrams in India

Ashrams are ubiquitous in India. I haven’t stayed at one, yet. 

Ashram means a hermitage, a place for saints. A good ashram should offer simple living. The ashram may have a theme (dependent on the ashram guru) that you have to follow. You might have to pay a bit, or the stay could be based on donations and volunteer work. Food cooked in community kitchens would be provided. Also, you would have to clean your and common space yourself — one of the main aspects of ashram living is self-independence, serve yourself and others. Beautiful mantra, right? 

In the past, ashrams were popular even amongst Indians. In fact, a lot of children studied in gurukul schools — ashrams where children lived far from their parents to learn with other students and sages. But with time the influence of ashrams reduced amongst Indians. The fact that a lot of ashrams and their gurus were frauds who molested children and adults alike could have something to do with the steady decline in Indians who trusted in ashrams. Please read this and this and this and this.

Ashram living wasn’t a novelty or reliable thing anymore.

Now ashrams entice foreigners more than Indians. Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand are filled with Ashrams. Ashrams could be yoga and meditation based or Ayurveda driven. Which so ever ashram you choose remember to read reviews about it and the guru who founded it. 

In place of an ashram, I would suggest you take a Vipassana meditation course of ten days. The course also has an ashram-like simple living, and meditate for ten days for hours at stretch. Find the courses here. When you get more accustomed to India, then find reliable ashrams.

 

Apartments and Independent Houses in India

Apartments are available on Airbnb and Booking. You are more likely to get apartments in tier-1 and tier-2 cities and independent houses in all kinds of destinations.

I have had horrible experiences with apartments(and other places) booked through Airbnb. But booking.com has worked well so far. 

When you book an apartment or an independent house, make sure to check if you would be sharing the space with another guest or a caretaker. In most Airbnb listings, the host mentions a caretaker or a common living area. Sometimes the caretaker stays inside the apartment, and the common living area is accessible on certain criteria(for example the host doesn’t expect you to stay at home during the day). 

Cleaning is done generally once before check-in and after check-out. You may have to coordinate with the caretaker or the host if you want frequent cleaning. 

Do negotiate the price if you are staying long-term.



Booking.com

 

Hostels in India

As I said before and as you might know, Indian culture wasn’t high on traveling. 

In the ancient past, Indians traveled both domestically and internationally for trade. But the British rule screwed us so bad we stopped thinking about leaving our loved ones behind and worked near our homes. 

Now even all of us travel writers lie to our parents about traveling. When I go to a new destination I tell my parents I have a writing project. Sometimes I do have writing work at the location, and most of the time I write about the place when I’ve visited it. But I don’t explain all the caveats to my parents else they would worry about my safety and well-being. Indian parents are sure everyone out there wants to harm their son or daughter. 

As Indians, didn’t travel that much, especially solo, we never had hostels. And the Indians who take vacations can pay well for their trips so they book expensive hotels. 

Hostels started coming up when the foreign backpackers coming to India(10 million in 2019) demanded affordable accommodations.

Most of the foreigners — you guys reading this piece — travel for long-term and save up for years to travel. India is one hotspot where people prefer to stay for months on end. There is so much to see. So they ask the hosts and owners to provide cheap accommodations and bargain often. 

I have heard the story on both sides. Many foreign visitors have told me Indian stays can get really expensive. And if they go for low pricing, the quality of cleanliness et cetera deteriorates way below the price. You know the cobwebs in the salt packet and stained linen type of situation. So they either go for something a bit more expensive or try to crash at an Indian friend’s place whom they met on the travel or risk a cheap place knowing the consequences. 

The travel hotels have told me the firangis don’t have any money madam. They are bhukkad(someone who doesn’t have anything to eat). Using these exact words. I’ve, yes, gaped at the comments and the sudden change of the expression of the hosts.

Most Indians sprawl their art over footpaths hoping they would sell to foreigners. Every white person means money for them. But when they see that foreign backpackers really don’t buy so much, they withdraw in despair. 

Whose fault? No ones. 

Hostels opened up to provide affordable dorm beds to foreign travelers who travel on a strict budget. They were joined by the Indian with a limited pocket, a student, an average job employee, or a backpacker who quit his job to travel.

You can’t get hostels in all Indian cities yet but now we have a lot of hostels in India. You are guaranteed to find hostels in popular tourist spots like Pushkar, Jaisalmer, Rishikesh, Hampi, Goa, Pondicherry, Kolkata. Hostels are functional in the big cities such as Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Delhi, et cetera too. 

Not all hostels would be trustworthy. You may not want to get into a mixed dorm room in a secluded hostel in any small village or city or town.

And here is one rare observation: hostels of big cities or the hub of tourism sometimes can be more troublesome than smaller and quieter areas. My hostel stay in Kasol was disappointing as a guy who lived in another room kept coming to mine — my bed was in between two floors and formed the pathway to upstairs. He kept asking me to drink beer with him while I was already almost asleep. 

Kasol is a travel hub for uninitiated travelers. I’ve had a nice experience in a hostel in Jaisalmer in an individual room. In a hostel dorm room in Dharamkot in Himachal Pradesh, strangers came in the middle of the night to use our bathroom. They weren’t quiet and when they left, they left the door of our room ajar. Then the next morning the hostel owner told me those people were travel influencers of India, but not travelers. I rest my case(s-both on influencer marketing and hostels in India).  

Zostel is a chain of colorful and funky hostels that you can trust — I haven’t stayed there yet but friends I trust have. Zostels are now in many cities and towns and are known to provide great experiences and comfortable stays.  

Most hostels have dorm rooms, shared kitchens, private or shared bathrooms, common areas, and internet.

India has a long way to go in the hostel experience.

Try booking hostels at HostelWorldHostelbookers, or check Zostel directly. Or find some of the best hostels in India on Booking.



Booking.com

 

Hotels in India

Hotels have survived for the longest in India. We have small, mid-range, budget, three-star, four-star, and five-star — all kinds of hotels — for decades now. 

Hotels could be shady in some small cities and near railway stations. Even the budget or low-priced hotels in big cities and metropolitan might not feel safe or clean. Also, make sure the hotels accommodate unmarried couples(more on that in the tips below). 

My best way to find hotels is on Google Maps and Booking. I put the right filters and use Booking or I zoom into Google Maps and find the place I like. Google reviews are often pretty reliable(so please leave one, especially if the place wasn’t nice). 

Most hotels have standard check-in and check-out times. Again, affordable hotels in big cities would be in pathetic locations, not superbly clean, and provide dismal service. But a mid-range place could be good enough in tier-2 and tier-3 cities.  

My most common filters to find hotels on Booking — budget per night, free wifi, available properties, at least rated 7+, free cancellation, no prepayment, balcony, and mostly that is. You can see this in the screenshot. 

Bonus tip: You can choose the kind of property — whether a homestay or hotel or guesthouse or apartment — you want in one of the filters on the left-hand bar of Booking.

Add screenshot with filters.

And here’s a screenshot of the Google Maps on how I search for guesthouses in India. (attach screenshot)

Filters or price, guest rating, and I click on search this area.

Hotels are mostly impersonal. The mood of the staff generally determines the experience not the standard rules and price of the hotel, unless you are going to stay at an extremely luxurious place like a haweli or a palace. Yes we have those. These are bets you will have to make. Don’t you?

I only book hotels when I don’t find a good homestay though.

 

a homestay in India

 

Homestays in India

Homestays are family-run accommodations. The family (mostly) provides food, has local recommendations, and gives a chance to immerse in their culture. Travelers who love to know a place from up-close should choose homestays over impersonal hotels. 

Homestays are now ubiquitous in India. Families run homestays for the extra income. Some families also host guests because they like to meet new people from around the world and give them a good experience of the Indian culture.

Homestays are not just any accommodation, they are experiences. You would have to be open to the host family’s culture and routine and immerse in it. I’ve figured if the family is nice, even the obvious patriarchy and invasion of privacy seems bearable. Everything looks beautiful when people treat you with smiles.

I’ve stayed in homestays from Spiti Valley in the North to Varkala down South. Although I prefer homestays over everything else, I’ve both loved and hated homestays in India and outside. While some homestays have been superbly comfortable and nice, I’ve faced extremely rude behavior and invasion of privacy in many Indian homestays. Sometimes an odd uncle or babaji could turn out to be creepy, too.  

In a homestay in Himachal, the homestay mother suggested me to lock my room while I left for a hike. When I came back after two days, she grumbled her husband was angry because she had let me lock the room as they lost weekend customers. I was baffled. This was neither my suggestion nor my problem. I didn’t know what to say so I stayed quiet. 

The boundaries in Indian homestays are hazy, even invisible at times. I would have been okay if I was also judged from behind these blur boundaries but the standard rules for all guests applied to me as well. That homestay didn’t say these confusing things to the foreign travelers. Most homestays don’t. 

In an Airbnb-cum-homestay I’m staying at now, the grandma who runs the place is rude. She scolded us for calling the host(her grandson) about the issues in our room, groaned when we couldn’t lock her main gate, and threw our clothes out of the washing machine onto a dirty slab just because she wanted the washing machine to be covered(It hadn’t even been half an hour since we washed the clothes). Oh, she also asked us to clean her yellow toilet and moth-filled fridge as soon as we checked in. And this isn’t all.

My response? When I realized I can’t do anything about the situation, I retracted. I stopped talking to her and didn’t ask for anything. I was being friendly and kind so far. But now with the newly introduced distance, she thought before speaking with me. She also created a little distance.

In Indian homestays, on a lot of occasions my (over)friendliness and offer to help has given the hosts an impression they could say whatever they liked. They treated me less than other travelers staying at their place and paying the same(or even less) tariff.

Let’s ask her to shift. Those other people wouldn’t like it.

You can clean your room yourself. (after getting everyone else’s room cleaned)

So do take some time before you immerse. Open up with the family slowly depending on how they respond to your questions and gestures. You don’t have to put yourself completely out there without knowing what would come back in your direction. These are lessons learned from my over-friendliness.

Common things I’ve found in Indian homestays despite the pricing are

  • the place might not be clean
  • the owner may not have changed the linen and blankets after the last guest
  • the shower might not work
  • geyser might not work
  • late arrival et cetera could be frowned upon
  • toilets might be dirty(often)
  • old, used, and hairy bar of soap might be offered(ugh)
  • personal questions would be asked
  • food might be made as per the spice taste of the owner(mostly the patriarch) and not the guest
  • rarely, but possibly, a family member might be fit into the same room as yours
  • different instructions from the father and the mother in the family

Having said this, you will sometimes find yourself in the middle of love and kindness. Unasked pakora plates might come your way. People will open the gates for you. Someone might offer to carry your backpack. Pickup and drop would be arranged without you even asking. Cooking lessons might come free. Aunties would wrap you in their ancestral saris. Pickles would be offered.

When I get love from the other side, I make sure to give back a lot. In Kaza, an old lady fed me methi parathas at her homestay. I bought jalebi for her and we shared it with tea. Another time in a Madikeri homestay, I gave my host mother fresh beans and brinjals(plucked from plants on the way). She immediately gave a full tour of her house and became much less formal. (But her husband later asked us to pay 100 rupees more than the per night price we had finalized.)

Homestays in Trichur, Kaza, Goa, Dharamshala, Bangalore, Alleppey, Pushkar all brought their own experiences. It is up to us to choose the right kind of problems.

What about pricing?

Only in small rural areas or villages, you can expect budget pricing. So while a homestay in a Himachal Pradesh village for 30 days cost me 500 rupees every night, a homestay in another village Kalga in Himachal cost 300 rupees per night. In Bangalore, a homestay cost me 1000 rupees for a day and in Madikeri village in Karnataka, it was 800 rupees with breakfast. 

This was the long-term price for all these places. Only Madikeri village provided breakfast. And even the family there told us most homestays charge 2000 rupees per night with breakfast. 

Homestays aren’t cheap anymore. Not everywhere. 1500 0r 2000 rupees per day for a couple is a standard despite the geography and small and big place. This price doesn’t feel like a dent in the pocket for one day but is not sustainable if you plan to stay for a longer time. You can talk to the host and see how much he can reduce for a month.

Choose the homestay wisely. You would also be surprised to find out how many homestays now run commercially as hotels and feel as much impersonal. You are just another guest and the homestay family doesn’t have the time to give you the personalized experienced you choose the homestay for. This was common in the homestays in Bhagsu, a village in Dharamshala where I stayed for a month. That blue homestay had so many travelers every year they had lost all interest in their guests. No one was there to take care if you fell sick. Even after a substantial tariff, every water refill from the filter cost 5-10 rupees. But the people who ran the restaurant on the property were kind and took care of us more than the homestay family. 

Also, homestays in big and small cities and remote places all differ from each other. While I felt loved in one homestay in Kaza, I felt alienated in another in a smaller village Kibbar where family talked in Spitian and didn’t let me become a part of the conversation even when I continuously asked things in Hindi and laughed with them. I was sitting right there making rotis with the girl of the family. I tried hard, but couldn’t buzz the family.

A good way to find homestays is Booking, HomestaysofIndia, and also Google maps. Find a well-rated homestay on Google Maps and call individually. Make sure to ask the specifics you care about and negotiate if you are staying for the long-term. On Booking some homestays are named as homestays but some come as guest houses or bed and breakfasts. You would have to read through the descriptions. 

Do check if there was a restriction on the time you could return at night et cetera. 

A homestay might promise you to shift from one room to another tomorrow. But they may not even come to you until 1 pm or won’t inform you. Things like these have cost us time and energy and frustration. Best way? Fix a time in the beginning if you care.

HomestayofIndia looks promising and this is what I will use on my upcoming trips to Uttarakhand and Himachal. I will update this article with my experience then. And I will continue to use Booking.

 

Bonus tip: use the left bar filter to select only homestays for your destination. But make sure to check the properly properly as not every listing that gets shortlisted would be a homestay. Standard categorization error.



Booking.com

 

Resorts in India

Resorts are present in abundance in India. They cater to rich travelers, outdoor events, and corporate outings. Don’t expect the resorts to give you a personalized experience. 

In India, resorts are common. Resorts cost five-six times the usual accommodation price. Swimming pools, large rooms, service, breakfast, pick-up and drop, bar, outdoor bathrooms, bathtubs, etc are all common in resorts.

I’ve stayed at some of the best jungle resorts run by the Karnataka government. Like the Kali wildlife sanctuary and the Bhadra wildlife jungle lodges. 

Even though these are expensive jungle resorts, the service wasn’t the best. At Bhadra, the staff who served food wanted to finish their job quickly. Some even got a bit brash about the food timings. One of the staff members got impatient with us because his friends and colleagues — people in the restaurant — were waiting for us to eat. The food was between 1-3 pm. But this conversation happened as soon as the buffet was ready. 

And these lodges have such a tight deadline for the whole day you can hardly enjoy the place and sit in the sun. Why do they serve four meals a day? Because they charge you a lot. So to justify six thousand rupees per person per day, they pack your day with activities and your stomach with heavy Indian food. Who can tell them this isn’t the ideal way? No one. Well, I tried but it didn’t work. You can’t customize any option. 

Another cultural insight: A lot of Indians consider a lavish or grand spread as good hospitality. They don’t think a big buffet would make them lethargic in the sunny afternoon when a wildlife safari is scheduled for that time. Instead, the travelers get impressed by the spread. And if they have paid enough, they would even get angry if the place offers a limited palette. A healthy salad might offend someone. I’m talking about the middle class. Only in the high-class Indians a salad and a light tuna lunch with fresh juice would be appreciated. Not for us. na. na. Biryani is must and chapatis and curd and papad and curry and poori and bring it all. And then we want to get the maximum value out of the buffet meal. So if you are new to this, embrace yourself for the impact. Burrp.

So an expensive resort’s staff might also lack in hospitality. Take your chances though. Book resorts here

 

Houseboats in India

Houseboats are a great option to stay in Kerala and Kashmir. I have not seen them anywhere else. You should not take the houseboat from a travel agency or not even online. Find a houseboat from a local homestay by staying in the area for a day or two. The entire experience would be different if you go with someone known or with a strange tour company. 

I stayed on a houseboat for one night with a gang of Kerala men. My Dutch boyfriend and I was the only one on the boat. The people on the boat flirted with me on the entire journey and made my friend and me extremely uncomfortable. It was not a guest and host play, it was a men versus one-man play. What an awkward journey! Oh, they also tried selling so much stuff to us that by the end we found it hard to keep refusing. We got the most awkward massage from the massage center the boat crew promoted to us. Those masseuses not only massaged us but washed us with soap and water like we were little children. 

Spend a day or two just relaxing in the area and getting to know a local guide or homestay who could direct you to a trustworthy houseboat. That’s your best bet.

 

Historic Homes and Palaces Turned into Boutique Stays in India

Ancient British homes, Rajputana havelis, traditional rajbaris — you will find them converted into boutique hotels throughout India. The prices would be high, but the stay would be good, culturally indulgent, and special(mostly). 

If you can splurge, do try these at least once. If I had to choose, I would pick a traditional rajbari in Kolkata. You can find these unique stays in Delhi, Rajasthan, Bengal, and the South of India, too. They are everywhere. 

[add links of places you like in this regard]

 

Paying Guests or PGs in India

My rendezvous at home ended when I was 15. I arrived in Kota, Rajasthan to prepare for my engineering entrance examination. I was to stay there for three years as a paying guest. From almost getting molested by a rich grandfather to getting a warm glass of milk by a landlady to running the bell of my homestay only to run away, I had a plethora of experiences in Kota. 

Paying Guests and PGs(that is what paying guest properties are called) still exist in India. If you are traveling for a short duration, you do not need to stay as a paying guest. Mostly the rooms are shared. Private rooms cost more. Some PGs offer an in-house canteen or mess where dismal food is served three times a day. Or you can also get a nearby tiffin center to send you tiffins, aka food boxes. These places hardly have a kitchen. They do have shared television, washing machines, common spaces to sit, et cetera. 

Cleaning is also mostly condemned at these stays, and the service people are hardly known to be good. Also, all sorts of people come and stay in the rooms, similar to how working people hostels work around India, and the world. Your next room could have a lover of loud rock music. Or your roommate, if you are unfortunate to have one, might use your razor to shave her, you know. Or she could be an angel who knows how to give the best back massage. 

You see luck plays a great role not just in PGs or hostels but also in other short-term accommodations. 

So don’t consider PGs for a short-term stay. And if I may suggest, please don’t consider PGs even for a longer stay. Choose something else.

 

Eco-accommodations in India

Eco-friendly accommodations are coming up in India, but we still need a lot of work in this space. Most hotels insist on buying water bottles from them. Big resorts leave plastic bottles for you in the room freely. Lights are in abundant. No matter how much I tried I didn’t understand where the wasted or surplus food goes. 

Even the so called eco stays don’t fill their fridges with local-made plastic free bars but are full of Lays packets and chocolates, all wrapped in plastic. In the hills the scene is different.

One truly eco friendly accommodation I stayed at was Saral Shambhala in Pushkar. The owner had built everything from residuals and waste or old material. Khats were being used for cots, books filled the rooms, sunshine poured in through old glasses, and so on. That place doesn’t run anymore but it was very close to being a responsible and eco-friendly space. 

 

Government Stays in India

Guesthouses, Jungle lodges, hotels at prime locations — the government has it all. But remember the prices are never low, service depends on the people and the tariff, and things could be a bit conventional sometimes. 

I would never stay in a government hotel in Uttar Pradesh but I’m happy to take one in Karnataka. Reason being? UP’s culture is more orthodox, and I don’t want to get stuck in the middle of a highly orthodox government staff who might judge me for my freestyle of living. But I haven’t felt judged in a more open-minded Karnataka.

I also love staying in adventure camps or forests that offer jungle safari. Mostly government has control on these places.

You can book the government stays on normal Booking websites or individual hotel websites or state tourism websites.

[Add websites]

 

About Treebo and Oyo. 

Treebo and Oyo are hotel chains in India. They offer rooms in all price range. And these hotels are now ubiquitous in India.

I only choose an Oyo or Treebo when I have nowhere else to go. While the overall branding of these chains is bright, reliable, and puts across the places as premium properties, individually these hotels aren’t great. Each hotel in these chains is being run by local people or a group of friends. Service will depend a lot on who is running the place. 

I stayed in an Oyo in Koramangala Bangalore for months but a one-day stay in a Treebo in Arekere Bangalore made me think never to book Treebo again. Oh, a Treebo in Hyderabad also threw us out because they don’t allow unmarried couples. I never got the refund. 

Though a Treebo or Oyo hotel might promise you the world, you might not get all that was listed unless you ask. Most of these hotels don’t provide filter water, and you have to purchase plastic bottles. Yeah, forget the environment and responsible travel and all that. Bedsheets and towels are mostly clean. The shower might not work. Electric kettles and teabags and all are also removed from the room sometimes. The staff doesn’t even tell you about the intercom and expect you to go down every time you want something thus removing your options to call and ask what’s missing.

Breakfast is questionable, too. They may just give toast or teabag tea. The recent Treebo was offering us cold pooris leftover in the container who the previous guests had all ignored. When we asked for fresh pooris, they gave us four each and then stopped asking. Tea was served in small paper cups — yeah the same one which you get on the road for 10-15 rupees. No refills. You might wonder I’m being greedy. But I paid 1846 for that room, so I think I deserve a good breakfast. I also had to ask for toilet paper for they had left a tiny portion of the roll in the toilet. And that was not by mistake. That’s how they run the property – low budget and low service.  

If you have nothing else, go here. Else, ignore. Do check the rules of the individual hotel. Most Oyo and Treebos don’t allow unmarried couples, and they mention it in tiny font somewhere in the middle of the extensive information.

 

Guesthouses in India

Guesthouses are family-run accommodations or hotels that prefer to call themselves guesthouses. 

 

Overall.

The rooms or apartments or suites in metropolitans for a couple run for a thousand rupees per night. Breakfast could be included but don’t count on it. Recently I stayed at Casa Cottage in Bangalore, a boutique stay well known for its hospitality. For breakfast, we only got bread and idli/dosa every day. They served Maza and Slice as juice. There were no fruits in the breakfast. We could get fresh tea and unlimited coffee though. We paid 2200 per day for that room. It included internet, cleaning, toiletries, water, and a shared kitchen. There was no dedicated parking so we parked on the street except for one night. That being said, the owner and most of the staff were extremely nice and kind.

But for 1000 bucks, you can get more in a rural or village area. After Casa Cottage, I stayed at a house in a village in Madikeri. The room there was 800 rupees per night with breakfast. No internet, no cleaning. The uncle first told us the price would be 8000 for ten days. When we went to pay, he tried charging us 900 for one night. Why? Because we liked the place so it must be good and so he should charge more. He said and I quote — even in small places, people charge 1500-2000 rupee per day per person. 

We stood our ground and didn’t renegotiate and didn’t pay more than what we had promised.

This trend of per person per day came along because Indians traveled as a group of colleagues and sometimes even in large families. So if a family of 12 insists on fitting themselves in two rooms, you cannot charge them only for two rooms(and included breakfast). You have to account for the spend per person and hence the concept of charging per person. 

Property owners don’t change their rules even for a couple or a family of two people. Try calling a jungle stay in the hills of South somewhere and you will understand the prices better. 

Now I have only given you an idea of how things work in stays in India. every situation would be different. Please make decisions at your discretion.

Use the right platforms as per your need, add filters, and try to speak with the property. if you can’t communicate with the owners, book on Booking.com. Most stays on Booking are without prepayment and remain cancellable for a long time. Please do leave reviews of the places you stay at, especially if you faced unexpected issues. Genuine reviews help us all.  

 

western ghats india

My Favorite Platforms to Book Accommodations in India and My Preferred Kind of Properties

As you can tell, I don’t advise Airbnb. I speak against it. This is not the first time I’ve had a problem with an Airbnb stay but I have faced last-minute cancellations, host not showing up or being unresponsive, dirty house, listing not accurate as per description, a bathroom mentioned private suddenly turned shared, and the host not maintaining the property — multiple times. I have written about the problems with Airbnbs in detail in my travel resources guide. [I will also update the article with my findings of HomeStayofIndia dot com.] 

My most recommended booking platform is booking.com

And I’ve never tried Agoda or MakemyTrip or Tripadvisor in India, and I won’t either. I don’t think those platforms are that reliable, and the prices quoted there are always high.

I also use Google Maps extensively to find places to stay in a particular location. Google Maps is what landed me on the Eishwari Cottage in Coorg where we stayed for thirteen days for 800 rupees per night.

I prefer homestays and eco-friendly stays over everything else. I don’t like resorts or hostels much. I also love staying in guesthouses with views. Nature is a must. I don’t get a room without a balcony or enough lighting else I won’t be able to work. Well-lit rooms in greenery and with open space to sit also keep me happy and content even if I am traveling alone. I choose places in the range of 500-3000 rupees per night. If I have to stay for long, I go for budget pricing. 

Don’t be surprised if your Atithi Devo Bhava doesn’t come true. If communicated well, people do consider your requests and help as much as they can. Go with an open mind, and more importantly, an open heart. 

Enjoy.

 

Tips for finding and booking affordable and good accommodations in India

 

1. Unmarried Couples listen carefully

I’ve been thrown out of hotels many times because I went with a boyfriend or worse, a foreign boyfriend.

A hotel in Mumbai whose name I can’t find, sadly, threw us out at night at 11 pm. They didn’t even let us sit for ten minutes in the room and knocked incessantly till we left. Our fault? We were unmarried and a mixed couple(white and brown). Then we checked in another place nearby for a much higher price.

Our other fault? We tried finding a decent and comfortable budget stay in Mumbai. The first time itself we should have just booked a nice, expensive place to get decent staff which didn’t judge us because we were unmarried and didn’t belong to the same country,

As a thumb rule, most places in India don’t allow unmarried couples. A lot of homestays wouldn’t appreciate it if you are unmarried. Many hotels also have this rule. Treebo and Oyo also only allow married couples.

Foreign couples won’t be asked about their marital status though. Because people know their culture is different. Also, unmarried Indian men and women could be prostitutes or the guy might kill the girl or vice-versa. The properties want to avoid trouble. I’m not saying this. Properties say this. If you are a local, unmarried couple, go prepared for scrutiny.

Pssst: if you act confident as a couple, everyone will assume you are one. Let the girl give her card. Or start fighting about how you always forget things and blah blah and they will just assume you are married.

 

2. Pricing

Prices are mostly exaggerated.

Most places have standard pricing of at least 1500 rupees per day – in big or small places, in towns, villages, and cities, with or without breakfast, and in hotels or homestays. Frankly, a lot of rooms don’t justify that price.

At a homestay near Jog Falls in Sharavathi Valley(Karnataka), we paid about 1800 rupees or so with breakfast every day. Was the place super clean and nice? The breakfast was nice, bedcovers and blankets weren’t freshly washed and were dusty, the room was full of cobwebs, the toilet was dirty, and there was no internet. But that’s the price the property charged weekend travelers and thus they felt it was fair to continue charging that even for a longer stay even for a not-so-clean place. And it was an old sort of simple construction. No fancy tiling, no high flooring, etc.

While you can’t negotiate on an online platform, search for the property online and see if their business has a contact number on Google. On Booking, if you make enough reservations you become a genius. Geniuses get additional discounts.

Standard pricing.

For a couple — A standard room in a standard hotel in
small city 1000-1200-1500
town 1500
big city 2000 and above
village —I’ve paid from somewhere 300 rupees to 1000, including breakfast mostly.

For solo travelers — the price remains the same. Unless you choose hostels.

Use price filter on Booking. Longer stays get discounts on Airbnb — the platform I don’t recommend.

 

3. Negotiation

Call Google business numbers and talk directly to the owner or property manager. Negotiation works but not always. You should also tell your priorities. You would need a clean room and a bicycle or whatever that is important to you. Negotiate for the long-term and see what’s appropriate for a shorter stay.

And do help bloggers by using their affiliate links(the links to accommodations in this article). You don’t pay extra when you use an affiliate link. But your booking gets registered under the affiliate id. The owner of the affiliate ID(in this case me) will get a percent of the booking platform’s commissions. You won’t have to pay anything extra. And I will be very thankful 🙂

 

4. Linen and towels

Due to power issues or weather issues or just cultural differences, a lot of guesthouses in India do not wash their linen every time a guest checks out. The blankets provided are hardly ever washed and are mostly dusty. These things aren’t washed if you stay for long-term. Talk about all this at the beginning itself.

I always carry my own bed sheet and duvet now. Even a seven thousand rupee per night room had blood-stained old dirty bed sheets and dusty blankets full of dog hair(the owner had stayed with his dog there) so I think it wasn’t washed for long. This place is called Elephant Country Homestay on Booking.

Don’t be surprised. If cleanliness is an issue, choose a cleanliness rating and then ask individually. Some branded hotels and nice homestays are super careful about cleaning.

 

5. Parking

Do read what is mentioned on the listing. Inform beforehand while sending the reservation request and ask the hosts when you arrive. Parking the car on the streets isn’t always safe.

In a homestay recently in Madikeri, we parked our car on the mountain road. The drive to the home was a steep downhill that was broken. So to make it easy for us, we parked our rental car amongst the other local vehicles on the main mountain road itself. After a couple of days, we found both our back tires flat. A local brought it to our notice. We called a tire repair shop. The mechanic told us the tires weren’t punctured. Someone had let the air out. Who? The villagers said a drunk pardesi — or locals not from that area — must have done it.

Someone said another homestay had done it because we weren’t staying there. Someone said they thought of us as people from the red-light district so they did that. I don’t know what to say. Please ask.

 

6. Small City versus Big City — things to notice

The way you book a place and what you expect should change as your geography changes in India. In a small city, people could be super polite and you could get really good treatment. In big cities, many times the hospitality staff treats you as worthless homeless shitheads.

What to do. Such is life. But things aren’t always in these brackets. A lot of people are running good homestays and hotels in both areas. But most good places run by decent and kind people who know how the hospitality industry works charge higher prices. Our culture also judges low-rental places as low quality. So to sound authentic and premium, guesthouses charge more.

Places near highways and railway stations and bus stands aren’t recommendable at all. Unless you choose a five-star hotel or something. Within the city, avoid dingy localities even if you are getting the place for cheap there. You don’t know what you might have to face. Instead, choose a less facilitated or smaller room in a good area.

 

7. shared rooms or dorm beds

Dorm beds in India aren’t in abundance, yet.

And not all dorm rooms would be good. I would strongly suggest taking female dormitories and male dormitories at the beginning of your trip. Book a hostel for the first day. Then go and see if you like and try to extend directly with the owners.

 

8. long stay and short stay

Hosts and owners might get a little too comfortable if you stay for long. Different things have happened to me on longer stays. To the extent that hosts stopped giving us any attention to me and only bothered about the new guests. What can you do? This is India.

You should negotiate for a long-term price. Also, judge the situation well. Do get comfortable and personal with hosts. But friendship and camaraderie between a host and guest might be interpreted by the guests as a chance to cut corners. I know this doesn’t sound cool. But I would suggest you try this out yourself. Of course, sometimes you might end up getting more perks.

 

9. Payment

Make sure you are making the payment you were quoted. Sometimes the pricing is something else and an attendant might try to charge more. Yes, it has happened to me in Ahmedabad once.

Do keep the receipt or a screenshot of the payment as proof. You may have to pay GST which might not be included in the price quoted to you. Check separately.

 

10. Remember to take your identity card back from the hotel

You will have to give proof of identities such as a passport or driving license. The government of India needs identity proof of guests who stayed at the property. When you give it for photocopy, do remember to take it back. Even a soft copy works at most places so just keep those handy and avoid giving out originals. Each member would have to provide identification.

 

11. The best tip of all – be nice

If you would be nice, people would be nice to you, mostly. Give what you expect in return. That’s all.

Also, be culturally aware. What is okay back in your state or country might not be liked in your travel destination. You will have to adapt as per the place.

 

breakfast-in-a-guesthouse-in-india-light.jpg

How can accommodations in India become more eco-friendly, responsible, and community-supportive

We can’t continue without thinking of ways to reduce the impact of traveling on the environment. If you think climate change is far away, think again. Climate change and the damage done to the earth are real. Do you know we lose 18.7 million acres of forest each year? Aviation overall accounts for only 2.5% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. But it is not only air travel that disrupts the climate. The usage of plastic on trips, local-community displacement, and wildlife threats are other real damages done by travel.

We have to find ways to travel and live sustainably. Sadly, we are far from maintaining an eco-friendly travel industry in India. To our joy, we only have to go up from here.

Below are some ways with which hotels and stays in India can reduce their and their guests’ carbon footprint and cultural impact.

  1. please don’t sell plastic bottles. Install water purifiers at your property. You can even rent purifiers in India. If you want to make money on water, which by the way you shouldn’t, charge five or ten rupees per bottle. 
  2. please use decomposable garbage bags in the bins
  3. please allow guests to borrow boxes if they go out to get food
  4. if possible, maybe it is too late, please construct your property with waste material
  5. please reduce lighting where you can
  6. please use the wastewater to water plants or send it back to the earth directly
  7. please sell local products instead of endorsing large chains 
  8. please allow customers to make food 
  9. please fix your linen and towel wash frequency and be transparent about it
  10. if you still have leftover food after the guests and hosts have eaten, please send it to people who will be happy to consume it
  11. please reject all ideas which promote the displacement of the local community just because a travel venture is planned at the location
  12. please try to buy cleaning products — such as detergent, cleaning products, toilet papers — from vendors who support minimal plastic usage and are themselves devoted to the cause of environment

 

How can travelers become more responsible, respectful, and better guests

While travelers complaint about the stays in India, we are equally guilty. Let us look at some ways in which we can be more responsible and better-behaved guests.

 

  1. say thanks, often
  2. don’t ask what was never promised. You may request but no one is obligated to give you what they never said they will
  3. please don’t break or burn stuff — I don’t get water kettles at most places because the hosts tell me children of guests broke the kettles. Please keep an eye on your children. Guest-houses aren’t places where someone can do anything they like. The bad behavior of some of us makes it harder for the rest of us. 
  4. please don’t buy water bottles — try to get the property to give you filter water from the kitchen. they always have it. If more of us refuse water bottles, it will soon become obsolete to buy Kinley or Bisleri at the hotels
  5. Or buy these water bottles that come with a pre-installed filter
  6. please don’t steal stuff — Multiple times the hotel staff comes to check our rooms when we leave. Why? Because guests took something with them while leaving. They reported missing blankets, towels, salt shakers, pillows, and even all outs. Not cool. You can take the salt, but not the salt shaker. You can take soaps or toilet paper, but not the shampoo dispenser. The check before we leave experience not only made us uncomfortable but even the hotel.
  7. please be polite to the staff. Most of our hospitality staff is rude because people have been rude to them. We all know workers aren’t treated equally in most parts of India. Whether it be waitresses, drivers, servers, guards, cleaners, and others. But when people face rude behavior or have been scolded for no major fault, they become rude themselves, just to protect themselves from unwarranted blame. Sometimes people have had reasons to scold a staff member. Like when they are staring at your girlfriend or they knock at your door five times in ten minutes just while you still have an hour to check out. Do a favor to everyone and tell them what they did was wrong. Maybe even scold politely. But don’t be rude and don’t be harsh without any reason. 
  8. please carry your own boxes to get food
  9. please treat places as they are. Don’t expect five-star hotel service in homestays. Don’t expect homestay warmth in a hotel. And so on.
  10. Clean your dishes where you should.
  11. give tips to the staff who deserve when you can. The hospitality industry isn’t well-paid.
  12. speak out if you are facing a problem. This will help both you and your host.

 

Did you like these tips to find affordable and good guest houses in India? Let me know in comments.

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