Guesthouses are to India what hostels are to Europe: a budget traveler’s answer to affordable accommodation. There is, however, one notable difference between India and Europe: the price. On average, we spent less than 500 rupees a night for a double ensuite. That’s about $10 – hardly tough on the bank account.
But, with this boon in price comes a slight complication: you are spoiled for choice. There are tons of cheap, well-located guesthouses all over India. If, like me, you struggle with making simple decisions, that’s not always a good thing.
I spent approximately two months on the internet, obsessively searching for flights before making our final purchase. Then Jared and I sent off for our Indian visas. After that, I agonized over where we should stay.
Hopefully, I can make this easier on any readers who are planning their own trip to India. Here’s a rundown of where we stayed in Rajasthan & Varanasi.
*All prices listed are per night for a double ensuite room.
New Delhi: Hostel New King
If we hadn’t arranged for airport pickup, we never would have found this place. It’s tucked away in a maze of busy alleyways, which was a real slap in the face straight off the plane. Luckily, it’s easy to find once you know where it is, so that didn’t pose any further problems.
The man at the front desk was really friendly and eager to help us with anything we needed. The room, on the other hand…we chose the cheapest room, and that’s what we got. It only cost $8 a night, so I was able to grin and bear it.
Standout feature: Location. It’s near New Delhi train station in Pahar Ganj, a place stuffed with backpackers. This can be a turnoff to some, but since we were only there for two nights, accessibility to the city was key.
Varanasi: Shubh Laxmi Guesthouse
After a night of raging sickness on the overnight train from Agra, I would have slept anywhere. With the cows at the train station. On the side of the road. In a dumpster. Anywhere.
So when we walked into a comfortable room, I was instantly in heaven. This family-run guesthouse is about a ten minute walk to the ghats of Varanasi, but you’re still right in the thick of the action. The owner taught Jared to fly kites while his wife explained to me the difference between a ‘marriage’ and a ‘love-marriage,’ then offered to give me a henna tattoo.
Standout Feature: The comfortable room was a bonus, but the real selling point was the owners’ flexibility. They let us keep the room well past checkout time, all the way up until 9PM, for no extra charge. Now that’s hospitality.
Bundi: Tarah Homestay
Confession: When I first saw our room at the guesthouse, I was a little bit disappointed. It wasn’t the cleanest place I’d ever seen, and there were two single beds instead of a double. On top of that, the monkeys had pulled apart the water pipes so we couldn’t have a hot shower.
Then they took me to the rooftop.
And you know what? A little bit of dirt on the mirror isn’t so bad.
Standout Feature: Besides the rooftop views? Jitu and his family. You are literally staying in their family home, where you are instantly made to feel welcome with hot chai. Breakfast is included in the price, and huge home-cooked dinners are available for about $3 per person. The family even woke up before the electricity was turned on to make us chapatis over an open fire when we had an early train to catch.
Udaipur: Mewargarh Palace
This was the closest we got to luxury. Round-the-clock hot showers, WIFI access in the room, and toiletry samples! Nothing reels me in like miniature shampoos and toothpaste. There’s also a beautiful rooftop restaurant and the whole guesthouse has a calming lavender color scheme. And when you’re in India, you need all the calm you can get.
Standout Feature: The Mewargarh toasted sandwich. Simple veg-and-cheesy goodness. Just give it a minute to cool down or you’ll be peeling skin off the roof of your mouth for the next three hours. Uhh…that didn’t happen to me, though.
Pushkar: Chacha’s Garden
My first impressions of Chacha’s weren’t great, because we had to wade through a wasteland of garbage to get there. Add to that a mosquito-infested room and finding out that our ensuite was a squat toilet – I was run down and almost ready to change guesthouses.
But we stuck it out because the woman at the desk was so lovely I couldn’t bear to turn Ugly American on her. She was a British expat who’d married Chacha himself, an exuberant Indian man keen to talk cricket. She apologized for the mozzies and gave us plug-in repellent. Jared and I shut the doors and underwent Operation: Mosquito Massacre. Fifteen minutes and four bloody flip-flops later, the room was virtually mosquito-free. I didn’t get a single bite.
Standout Feature: The courtyard, a peaceful spot to have a lassi or chat with other guests. Also, at $6 a night, it was our cheapest accommodation of the trip.
Jaipur: Vinayak Guesthouse
I was stunned when the man at reception gave us a choice of two large rooms before handing over the keys. After three weeks in India, I was relatively easy to please, but the large beds, clean bathrooms, and excellent breakfast muesli won me over.
The guesthouse is a ten-minute walk from the train station, but to get into town you need an auto-rickshaw. Luckily, this is India, where auto-rickshaws are easy to come by.
Standout Feature: WIFI lounge. Get the password from reception, then flop down on the floor cushions and breathe in the peace and quiet. There’s a computer there, too, for those who are traveling free of electronics.
The best part of India’s guesthouses was the chance to talk with the local families who own them. In my experience, these people are kind, generous, and they know their stuff. And that’s worth a lot more than a five-star rating.