Sleeping Around Rajasthan and Varanasi

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

400 rupees

Hostel New King New Delhi

Eventually he gave up and we put the curtains on the floor.

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

600 rupees

Shubh Laxmi Guesthouse Varanasi

Painted walls. Soft blankets. Veranda. I’m sold.

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

500 rupees

Tarah Homestay Bundi

View of Tarah from the castle.

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.

Bundi sunset from Tarah Homestay

Yes, the view is this amazing 24-7.

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

500 rupees

Mewargarh Palace Udaipur

It might not look like much, but a hot shower goes a long way.

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

300 rupees

Chacha's Garden Pushkar

Freshly swept courtyard, waiting for you to sit and order a lassi.

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

600 rupees

Vinayak rooftop Jaipur

Vinayak’s rooftop breakfast area. Chai, paper & muesli and you’re all set.

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.

4 Responses to “Sleeping Around Rajasthan and Varanasi”

  1. This blog is amazing! It would be cool to have a map of the world with dots of everywhere you’ve been that act as links to take you to the various posts on those places. Love it though.
    I am going to India in three weeks and very nervous but beyond excited at the same time! We’re landing in Mumbai, taking the train (AC) to Ajanta Caves in Aurangabad, then sleeper class from Aurangabad to Varanasi, then train (AC again) to Agra, then train to New Delhi, and flying off to Thailand. I’m nervous about the trains, especially sleeper class, and Varanasi, but I know it’ll be an experience. I’m staying in hostels the whole time, bringing a pretty nice camera (costs $400, but that is the extent of my nice stuff), and nervous about my things being safe. Were there lockers in the hostels you stayed in? I see you used your bags as pillows on the train–did that work out ok? I’m excited for the food and the culture and I know when I survive it I will feel like a champion! Any tips?

    • Thanks so much, I’m glad you like the blog! I love your idea about the map, if only I were savvy enough to implement it… Enjoy India! And Thailand, for that matter. I was nervous about the trains & general security, too, but sleeper class was much more manageable than I thought. We were sort of welcomed into the community there – generated some interest as foreign travelers, but people were mainly curious and I never really felt unsafe. The bags-as-pillows worked out surprisingly well, but we’ve got small bags. We also stayed in private rooms, so security wasn’t an issue. My tip to you is to be careful with what you eat in Agra! Hopefully you’re one of the people who gets away without Delhi Belly – but worst case scenario, you will definitely feel like a champion when you survive it!

      • Thank you for the tips and for getting back to me! Seriously, what you’re doing is so admirable, and I love your ascetic look at it: that you chose this life over a fancy career. I am quite disinterested in that kind of life as well, and feel that my mission in life is to see as much as the world as possible. I traveled Australia and NZ on a work visa by myself a few years ago and it was the best experience of my life. I still talk about it all the time. Thanks for helping to show the way.
        I will indeed be careful about the food and hopefully I can find a balance that still allows me to enjoy my favorite thing about traveling! One more question, around India what did you do with your cash? Did you carry lots on you or take out money as you needed it, use debit card, or something else? I am always a bit confused how to do this and usually just take a lot of cash out at one time so my bank doesn’t charge me lots of money, but not quite sure if that’s safe.

        • I’ll always talk about my time in Australia & NZ as well! Sometimes I can’t believe I’ve been working abroad for nearly 10 years, but it’s been 10 years well worth it. I hope you can continue living the life you want, too. It’s definitely possible, if not conventional.

          As far as cash – typically when we travel, we take money out of an ATM as needed (Jared has a 28 degrees Mastercard which doesn’t charge international transaction fees. It’s only available to Australians, but I think Charles Schwab is similar if you’re in the US so you may want to look into that.) However. We traveled to India from Korea, and our Korean bank cards didn’t work overseas, so we exchanged a chunk of cash and carried it with us through India. I know that we stashed it in different places (money belt & 2 backpacks) and it did make me nervous, but we didn’t have any dramas in the end.

          The worst part (at least for me) is when you’re in transit with all that cash, but once you’re in a room you can lock it up and breathe easier.

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