In most of India you'll get a cheaper rate as a walk-in guest than if you book ahead. However, this doesn't always apply to hostel and hotel chains, or to higher-end boutique guesthouses, where, as in the rest of the world, online discounts are the norm.

  • Hostels A new generation of good-quality hostels offers clean, well-equipped dorms, helpful staff and a fun backpacker vibe. A definite step up from India's old-style guesthouses.
  • Homestays Usually away from tourist hubs, but a great opportunity to experience ordinary Indian life.
  • Hotels India has the whole gamut, from top-end five stars to no-frills cheapies.

Reservations

Except during peak seasons in particular places, reservations are seldom essential. It's very rare to arrive in a town and not be able to find somewhere to stay; also, you usually get the cheapest price as a walk-in guest, particularly in budget accommodation.

Seasons

  • High season usually coincides with the best weather for the area’s sights and activities – normally spring and autumn (March to May and September to November) in the mountains, and the cooler months (around November to mid-February) in the plains.
  • In areas popular with foreign tourists, there’s an additional peak period over Christmas and New Year; reserve well ahead at this time.
  • Many temple towns have additional peak seasons around major festivals and pilgrimages.
  • At other times significant discounts may be available; it's worth asking for one if your hotel seems quiet.
  • Some hotels in places like Goa close during the monsoon period; hill stations such as Manali close in winter.

Taxes & Service Charges

A goods-and-services tax (GST) is usually calculated on top of the advertised rate for accommodation in India; its level varies according to the room price. Tax levels are as follows:

  • Less than ₹1000: zero
  • ₹1000–₹2499: 12%
  • ₹2500–₹7499: 18%
  • More than ₹7500: 28%

Rates quoted in listings include taxes.

Hotels

India's hotels are many and varied, from basic cheapies to the last word in five-star luxury.

Some places require a deposit at check-in – ask for a receipt and be wary of any request to sign a blank impression of your credit card. If the hotel insists, pay cash.

Budget & Midrange Hotels

  • Shared bathrooms (often with squat toilets) are usually only found at the very cheapest lodgings.
  • If you're staying in budget places, bring your own sleeping sheet or sleeping-bag liner, towel and soap.
  • Insect repellent, a torch (flashlight) and padlock are handy accessories in many budget hotels.
  • Midrange hotels tend to offer extras such as cable/satellite TV and air-conditioning.
  • Noise pollution can be an issue (especially in urban hubs); pack earplugs and request a room that doesn’t face a busy road.
  • It’s wise to keep your door locked at all times, as some staff (particularly in budget hotels) may knock and walk in without awaiting your permission.
  • Note that some hotels lock their doors at night. Let the hotel know in advance if you’ll be arriving late at night or leaving early in the morning.
  • Away from tourist areas, cheaper hotels may not take foreigners because they don’t have the necessary foreigner-registration forms.

Top-End & Heritage Hotels

India's top-end properties are stupendously fabulous, creating a cushioning bubble from the outside world, and ranging from wow-factor five-star chain hotels to historic palaces. In states such as Gujarat and Odisha (Orissa) there are increasing numbers of converted heritage properties.

Camping

There are few official camping sites in India. On the other hand, wild camping is often the only accommodation option on trekking routes.

In some mountain or desert areas you’ll also find summer-only tented camps, with accommodation in semipermanent ‘Swiss tents’ with attached bathrooms.

Hostels & Dormitory Accommodation

There's an ever-increasing array of excellent hostels across India, notably in Delhi, Varanasi, Goa and Kerala, all with air-con dorms, a cafe-bar, lockers and free wi-fi. These are hugely popular with travellers who want to connect with like-minded folk. Properties usually have mixed dorms, plus a female-only option. Impressive chains with branches dotted around India include Stops (www.gostops.com), Backpacker Panda (www.backpackerpanda.com), Moustache (www.moustachehostel.com) and Zostel (www.zostel.com).

A number of hotels have cheap dormitories, though these may be mixed gender and, in less touristy places, full of drunken men – not ideal conditions for women. The handful of hostels run by the YMCA, YWCA and Salvation Army or associated with Hostelling International (HI) or the YHAI (Youth Hostels Association of India) are more traveller friendly, if a bit institutional.

Government Accommodation & Tourist Bungalows

The Indian government maintains a network of guesthouses for travelling officials and public workers, known variously as rest houses, dak (staging post) bungalows, circuit houses, Public Works Department (PWD) bungalows and forest rest houses. These places may accept travellers if no government employees need the rooms, but permission is sometimes required from local officials.

‘Tourist bungalows’ are run by state governments – prices are usually midrange (though there are some cheap dorms), and rooms are spacious and clean, though lacking in character.

Some state governments also run chains of more expensive hotels, including some lovely heritage properties. Check with the local tourism office.

Homestays

Homestays (family-run guesthouses) will appeal to those seeking a more personal setting with home-cooked meals. Options range from mud-and-stone village huts with hole-in-the-floor toilets to comfortable middle-class homes in cities.

In Ladakh and Kerala, homestays are the way to go, but standards are fairly modest and prices can be relatively high. Some places market themselves as ‘homestays’ but are run like hotels, with little (or no) interaction with the family – read up on your chosen place to see whether it's a genuine homestay.

Contact the local tourist office for a list of participating families.

Railway Retiring Rooms

Most large train stations have basic rooms for travellers holding an ongoing train ticket or Indrail Pass. Some are grim; others are surprisingly pleasant but suffer from the noise of passengers and trains.

They’re useful for early-morning departures and there’s usually a choice between dormitories and private rooms (with 24-hour checkout), depending on the rail class you're travelling in.

Some smaller stations may have only waiting rooms (again divided by class).

Temples & Pilgrims’ Rest Houses

Accommodation is available at some ashrams (spiritual retreats), gurdwaras (Sikh temples) and dharamsalas (pilgrims’ guesthouses) for a donation or a nominal fee. Vegetarian meals are usually available at the refectories.

These places have been established for genuine pilgrims, so consider the appropriateness of your staying at one and always abide by the protocols. Smoking and drinking on the premises are absolute no-nos.