Accommodation in India

My latest visit to India is about to come to an end. And from my beach hut balcony I now sit, staring out at the Indian Ocean, writing in rhythm with the lightly crashing waves, wondering how I still have my teeth given the amount of sand that has ended up in my mouth as of late…and most importantly, feeling as relaxed and clear-minded as I had hoped I would be from spending twelve days on Palolem Beach in Goa.

That’s twice in a row now. Two visits to Palolem in the past year, both visits to try and clear my head. Both visits a major success.

Maybe it’s the beach. Maybe it’s the quietness of the village. Maybe it’s all the fresh fruit I’ve been eating. Maybe it’s the breakfast-sun-work-wander-swim-sunset-dinner routine I’ve been partaking in every single day.

Whatever it is, I will leave India feeling happy and healthy, ready for the next adventure, ready to continue creating, thinking, enjoying and living life to the fullest.

Back to my beach hut balcony. Here it is…

Havana Palolem, Goa

Not bad, right?

During my previous visit to Palolem back in December/January, I stayed at a place called Resort de Palolem which was by no means anything that resembled a resort. However, they had some of the best value beach huts on the entire beach and staying there was an absolute highlight of my visit. But when I returned this year, six weeks earlier than when I arrived last year, Resort de Palolem was an empty patch of grass. Since it wasn’t the busy tourist season yet, they had not even started building their huts, something they have to do every year because the local law requires all beachfront establishments to take down all huts and restaurants during the off-season.

So, this year, off in search of a new hut I went. And that’s how I found Havana Palolem, where I am now, and where I’ve been for the past twelve days. This hut definitely rivals my hut from last year, offering a spacious interior (in comparison to other huts in the area), a comfortable bed, plenty of light and an ocean view, all located in a quiet little “hut neighborhood” only steps from the beach. Ideal indeed!

And the prices, always negotiable, range from around 2000 Indian Rupees for a hut on stilts down to around 800 Indian Rupees for a standard version, which is a great value on this beach, hence the reason why I would fully recommend staying here.

In fact, as I began this post, which was originally only going to be about Goa, I realized that there are all sorts of accommodation in India that I would love to recommend as well. Palolem isn’t the only destination I travel to over here and after 10+ visits and 2.5 years in total spent in India, I certainly have my favorite hotels and guesthouses. And perhaps this information will prove useful to anyone coming to India who is trying to figure out how to choose places to stay.

(Keep in mind that this list will focus on the north of India since that is the region where I’ve spent most of my time during my last few visits.)

My Favorite Accommodation In India

For years I’ve stayed at the Smyle Inn in Paharganj, a busy market area that is definitely hectic and intense, but is also conveniently located and somewhat easy to adjust to given that most budget travelers do stay over here. Smyle Inn offers good, clean rooms, with fans, air-conditioning, private bathrooms, free breakfast, solid wifi throughout and friendly, trustworthy staff who can assist with anything you may need. They have slightly smaller and cheaper rooms in their original building and larger, more expensive (around 1000 rupees per night) rooms in their ‘newer’ wing. Overall, this place is as reliable a budget option as there is in Delhi which is why I am always recommending it to travelers headed to this city.

McLeod Ganj:
When visiting this village in the Himalayan foothills, I head straight to Pink House these days. Yes, you have to walk down 147 stone steps to reach it, and you must indeed walk up 147 stone steps to get back into town, but believe me, it’s all worth it when you see the view from your private balcony. And that’s not to mention the large, comfortable, warmly-decorated rooms, private bathrooms and helpful manager who will make sure you are happy throughout your stay. Cheaper rooms are in the old building, and slightly pricier, but significantly nicer, rooms are in the newer building. Expect to pay between 600 – 1400 Rupees per night depending on room type and season.

Pink House, McLeod Ganj

I’m not a fan of the area known as Taj Ganj, a neighborhood that is jam-packed with budget hotels and tourist restaurants and cafes. In my opinion, there’s a negative vibe over there and as a result, I prefer to stay away. I tend to stay at a random hotel called Hotel Daawat Palace, located just a two minute walk from the West Entrance to the Taj Mahal. Most of the people staying here are Indian tourists with a sprinkling of foreigners too but the rooms are larger than most in Agra, quite clean, come with air-conditioning, a large open courtyard on the third floor and a rooftop with a view of the Taj as well. The rates hover around 1000 rupees per night, a good deal for this class of room in this city, which happens to be one of the most expensive in the country when it comes to accommodation. (Also, just next door to the Dawat Palace is the Maya Restaurant, which I think is one of the most reliable restaurants, with great tasting food that does not cost a fortune, in all of Agra.)

Oh yes. Whenever I think of the Shivam Guesthouse, I immediately start to smile because I’ve had nothing but wonderfully memorable experiences while staying here over the years. Bright, clean, colorful rooms in an old family home right in the heart of town, run by a family who are all as helpful and kind as can be. It’s not possible to stay here and not be extremely happy, trust me on this one. Great food on the rooftop restaurant, only a few minutes walk from the Bundi Palace and as an added bonus, the owner’s daughter-in-law is one of the most talented henna artists I’ve ever seen in India and she’ll gladly henna ladies’ arms, hands, legs or feet for a small fee. Room prices are around 300 – 1000 rupees.

Poonam Haveli Hotel. Remember those two words and you’ll be all set. Simple, but spacious, quiet and absolutely spotless rooms, some designed in the style of a room in an old haveli (historical Indian private mansion), an unreal rooftop view of Lake Pichola and the surrounding area, and as perfect a location as you can get in this city. And you get it all for around 1000 Rupees per night. (If you’re looking for something less expensive, go to the Panorama Guest House. 400 rupees per night will get you a double room with private bathroom in a superb budget establishment.)

Palace on Step, Varanasi

Some people prefer to stay in the heart of the Old City and I’ve certainly done that myself. And when I do, I stay at the Palace On Step Hotel (also known as Ajaya Guesthouse), located right behind Rana Mahal Ghat, on the edge of the Ganges River. The rooms, spread out over a few buildings, all vary in terms of price and quality so make sure you look at as many rooms as they have available before choosing. And be sure to ask for a room that has a window overlooking the Ganges. The staff might be a little grumpy at times, but given that you’re a 30-second walk from the bank of the river and a 30-second walk from the heart of the Old City, and you have a clean room in a town that doesn’t have a great deal of quality budget accommodation, it’s still well worth it. Rooms here range from 800 – 5000 rupees per night.

On the other hand, if you prefer some peace and quiet instead during your stay in Varanasi, then I recommend heading south along the river, just past Assi Ghat, and staying at the excellent Rahul Guesthouse. As you pull up to the place, you’ll probably think that you’re experience is going to be anything but enjoyable, but once you enter your room, you’ll feel a lot better. The rooms are much more modern and comfortable than you would ever expect, the rooftop offers one of the best views of the city and the river that you’ll find anywhere, the neighborhood, while very local, is only a short walk away from the ghats and from plenty of restaurants and cafes, and there are also rickshaws hanging around that will whisk you into the Old City for 60 rupees. This place offers a truly quiet, peaceful experience, and the owners, a very kind family, will do their best to make you as comfortable as possible. Rooms typically cost from 800 – 2500 rupees.

If you need to be near the airport, have a look at the Anjali Inn. It’s a small hotel located less than a mile from the airport entrance, with small, but more-than-comfortable rooms with private bathrooms and hot water for around 700 rupees (which is a bargain in Mumbai!). The staff are friendly, there is no shortage of restaurants on the main road out front and an airport pick-up and drop-off service is offered for guests as well.

If you want to be in the heart of the city, I would recommend the YWCA International Guest House (men and women are welcome) over in the Fort area which is probably one of the best budget values in Mumbai. Otherwise, if you want to stay in the popular Colaba neighborhood, which is the main travelers hangout, I would just head there and go door to door looking for a room that suits you. Quality is generally quite low over here and the prices are shockingly high, but there are dozens of options to choose from so eventually you should find a room that is good enough and won’t clear out your bank account. Then again, for the real budget-conscious, you might want to have a look at this no-frills budget hotel that I reviewed last year.

Good timing. My taxi driver has just arrived to take me from Palolem to the airport. And I’m all packed and ready to move on. So, upon closing my laptop in just a few seconds, I shall walk down the steps of my perfect little beach hut one final time, I shall bid farewell to the beautiful Indian Ocean and I shall walk away wondering when I’ll have the good fortune to find myself back in this small slice of paradise.

In the meantime, I hope the above helps and if you have any questions about accommodation in India, just let me know!

**I was not paid by any of the hotels or guesthouses for mentioning them here. None of them even know I’m mentioning them in this post. These are my 100% honest recommendations based on my years of travel to India.

Any of your own Indian accommodation recommendations to share?