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For those keen on outdoor pursuits like paragliding in summer and skiing in winter, you can skip the towns completely and head directly for Solang Valley Resort (tel. 01902/25-6132; www.solangvalleyresorts.com; doubles from Rs 6,500), situated only 0.5km (0.3 miles) from the beautiful Solang Valley (about 45 min. from Manali town). Accommodations -- in a small cluster of buildings that look like an unfortunate attempt to imitate a Swiss suburb -- are very comfortable.

Mandi & Kullu

If you're traveling by road from Shimla direct to either Manali or Dharamsala, it's a good idea to take a break en route. In Mandi, 70km (43 miles) south of Kullu, Raj Mahal (tel. 01905/22-2401, -3434 or 98-1602-1126; www.rajmahalpalace.com), a creaky-floorboards "palace," is recommended for its serious time-warp character. Book one of the four enormous Royal Suites (Rs 4,400 double), which showcase an assortment of kitsch furnishings and objets d'art (in one room a stuffed leopard grimaces on a table with rifles for legs!). Generally, the service at Raj Mahal is quite awful, and the ancient plumbing acts up at times, but as a place to lay your head for a night and as a base for visiting nearby Rewalsar, it's adequate. If you're after a more typical hotel experience, head on to Apple Valley Resort (tel. 01902/26-0001 or -0006; www.applevalleyresorts.co.in), just short of Kullu town. Set on the banks of the Beas River, the luridly decorated country-style cabins with ivy-covered walls and stone chimneys are Rs 4,780 double, with all meals; insist on a cabin with a view. However, far better than either of these slightly institutional places is Banjara's new, magnificently situated Sojha Retreat (www.banjaracamps.com) way off the beaten track (and a good 117km/73 miles, or 4 hr., short of Manali). Getting there requires quite a detour, heading first in the direction of Kinnaur before heading north of the Jalori Pass (3,223m/10,571 ft.), but its sublime mountain setting makes it a destination in its own right, with great walks (you can trek to Raghupur Fort or Serolser Lake) and excellent trout fishing in the nearby Tirthan River. A night in one of the 10 big pine rooms with attached bathrooms costs Rs 4,400 double, including all meals and taxes.

Manali

For the most atmospheric room in town, you're best off in an original lodge apartment at Jimmy Johnson Lodge (aka Johnson Hotel, but not to be confused with the adjacent Johnson's Lodge) or at Negi's Hotel Mayflower; even better for a peaceful stay farther away from the main bazaar, is Casa Bella Vista, which has an inkling of small town glamour about it (all three are reviewed below). Alternatively, one of the most comfortable places in the vicinity of Manali is Span Resorts, which enjoys a superb riverside location (also reviewed below). If none of the following recommendations are available, Manali's Private Hoteliers' Information Centre (The Mall, near the taxi stand) is well established and can assist you in finding suitably priced accommodations if you haven't prebooked. Note that during the busy season (mid-Apr to early July) you will have difficulty finding any decent guest accommodations in Manali (not necessarily a bad thing, considering how packed it gets).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.