Places to stay in India are a mixed bag, ranging from remarkably cheap (but very basic) guesthouses to expensive five-star offerings. India has a number of world­renowned hotel chains such as the Oberoi, Taj, Hyatt and Welcomgroup (affiliated to Sheraton) as well as some exquisite palace hotels in exotic settings. You’ll generally only find top-end hotels in the bigger cities and major tourist centres. Many top-end ho­tels apply US$ rates for foreigners (includ­ing NRIs).

Some hotels operate on a 24-hour system (ie, your time starts when you check in), while others have fixed check-out times – it pays to ask before checking in.

Many hotels will put an extra bed in a room to make a triple for an extra 25%. Some hotels even offer a handy half-day rate – ideal for breaking long journeys.

Credit cards are accepted at most top-end hotels and many mid-range ones; however, few budget places will take them. Some ho­tels may request an upfront payment. If you are asked to sign a blank impression Of Your credit card, refuse to do so. If they still in­sist, then fill in an amount that will be less than your estimated expenditure.

Some budget hotels (especially off the tourist track) won’t allow foreigners to stay because they don’t have the necessary foreign-registration ‘C forms’ (these must be submitted to the local police station within 24 hours of a foreigner checking in).

Be aware that during the peak tourist sea­son and some festivals, hotel tariffs can shoot up and it can also be tough finding a bed. Advance reservations are advisable at these times.

Budget & Moderately Priced Hotels

India has no dearth of cheap hotels, ranging from squalid dives (but at rock-bottom prices), to well-kept mid-range places at pleasantly moderate charges. Most cheap hotels are replete with mosquito zappers or possibly even nets. Almost all have rooms with ceiling fans but be careful when ad­justing mosquito nets on your bed, as low ceilings mean low ceiling fans – a danger­ous marriage if the fan is spinning at full speed! Some mid-range hotels have ‘air­cooled’ rooms that are one step up from a ceiling fan and one step below air-con. An air-cooler is a large (usually notoriously noisy) device built into a frame within a wall. However, as this is a water-filled cool­ing system, it’s pretty ineffective in humid conditions.

Don’t expect cheap hotels to be flawless – even if budget or mid-range hotels in this book are described as ‘clean’, they’re un­likely to be spotless.

Hotels are sometimes referred to as ‘West­ern’ or ‘Indian’. The ‘Indian’ hotels are usu­ally more modest and most have squat toilets. ‘Western’ hotels invariably have a sit-down flush toilet and may have fancier decor. However, don’t instantly assume that the ‘Western’ hotels are more desirable; you can often find modern, well-maintained ‘In­dian’ hotels and dishevelled, poorly run ‘Western’ hotels.

Some hotels lock their gates at night and remain unmanned on the outside, so let the appropriate staff member know if you in­tend coming back late. It’s also worth ma­king a mental note that some hotel rooms have a master switch on the outside of each room (usually near the door). If you return to your room to find that the lights, TV and geyser don’t work, check that your master switch has not been turned off while you were out. If you make a hasty assumption that there’s a general power cut, you’ll be waiting an awfully long time to see the light.

Government Accommodation & Tourist Bungalows

During the Raj era, a string of government ­run accommodation units were set up with labels like Rest Houses, Dak Bungalows, (‘ircuit Houses, PWD (Public Works De­partment) Bungalows, Forest Rest Houses and so on. Today, most of these are reserved for government officials, although some places may open their doors to tourists.

‘Tourist Bungalows’ are usually run by the state government; their facilities and service vary enormously. For shoestringers, some offer cheap dorm beds and food. The local branch of the state government tourist office may be found on the premises of these Tourist Bungalows.

Paying Guest House Scheme (Homestays)

Staying with a local family can be a re­freshing change from dealing strictly with tourist-oriented people and the Paying Guest House Scheme (or Homestays) en­ables you to do just that. Prices range from budget to upper mid-range – contact state tourist offices for details and also see re­gional chapters.

Railway Retiring Rooms

These are located at train stations, and you can technically only stay here if you have a train ticket or Indrail Pass. The rooms, which can range from very basic to surpris­ingly nice, are handy if you have an early morning train departure although they can be noisy if it’s a busy station. Most are let on a 24-hour basis and usually offer dormi­tories and private rooms. See regional chap­ters for more details.

Other Possibilities

Some budget hotels offer dormitory beds, which are a cheaper alternative to private rooms if you don’t mind bunking up with strangers. Be aware, however, that some (especially in nontourist areas) are geared to truckies or other passing male clientele and won’t permit women to stay­ There arc YMCAs and YWCAs in some of the big cities – the quality varies and most cost about the same as a mid-ranae hotel.

There are few camping sites around India, but travellers with their own vehicles can usually find hotels with gardens where they can park and camp (for a nominal charge that includes communal bathroom facilities).

Accommodation (for a donation) is avail­able at some gurdwaras (Sikh temples) and dharamsalas (pilgrims’ guesthouses). These simple lodgings are essentially for pilgrims so please exercise judgment about the ap­propriateness of staying. If you are wel­come, abide by any protocols.

Taxes & Service Charges

Most state governments slap a variety of taxes on hotel accommodation (and restau­rants). At most rock-bottom budget places you won’t have to pay any taxes. Once you get into the top end of budget places, and certainly in mid-range accommodation, you’ll have to pay something (usually 10%), and top-end places can stack on all sorts of taxes; these vary from state to slate.

On top of taxes, many mid-range and up­market hotels have a’service charge’ (usu­ally around 10%). In some hotels this only applies to room service and telephone use, not the accommodation cost. At others, it’s levied on the total bill.

The top-end hotels also whack unap­petising taxes onto food and booze bills. Many hotels raise their room tariffs on an annual basis, so there may be increments on the rates given in this book. Rates quoted in the regional chapters of this book exclude tax unless otherwise indicated.

Seasonal Variations

In popular tourist hangouts (hill stations, beaches and the Delhi-Agra-Rajasthan tri­angle) most hoteliers crank up their high­ season prices.

The definition of the high and low sea­sons varies depending on location. For the beaches and the Delhi-Agra-Rajasthan tri­angle it’s basically a month before and two months after Christmas. In the hill stations it’s usually from April to July when the low­lands are hottest. Some hotels charge higher rates for the brief Christmas and New Year period, or over major festivals such as Di­wali, Dussehra and the Pushkar Camel Fair. Conversely, in the low season, prices at even normally expensive hotels can be sur­prisingly affordable. It’s worthwhile bar­gaining for a better rate if the hotel doesn’t seem busy.