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In Mussoorie

Set on the outskirts of town, Claridges Nabha Residence (tel. 0135/263-1426, -1427, or 011/2301-0211; fax 011/4133-5133; www.claridges-hotels.com; doubles from $250, breakfast and dinner included; ask about off-season discounts) is Mussoorie's best option, though not in the same class as its Delhi namesake. It is located on a serene and lovely estate (ca. 1845), once used by the Maharajah of Nabha for his summer escapades, and surrounded by cedar forest, where langur monkeys perform acrobatic feats watched by visitors lounging on the terrace -- a welcome break from the buzz of Mussoorie. Accommodations are large and comfortable but fittings (particularly in bathrooms) looking a little tired; the best are room nos. 110 through 115, which enjoy attractive forest views (no. 114 is the biggest room). The hotel conducts courtesy pick-ups from the Mall (about 10 min. away) throughout the day. If this old charmer is full, or you'd rather be in the heart of town, consider Park Plaza Sylverton (www.parkplaza.com; from Rs 7,000 double), a good and very popular option with Delhites -- located right on the Mall, it does offer some of the best Doon Valley views (ask for a room with one), but we prefer the more characterful stately mansion Kasmanda Palace Hotel (tel. 0135/263-2424 or -3949; www.welcomheritagehotels.com; doubles from Rs 4,000; you can negotiate a 20% discount on a double room in low season). The well-preserved former holiday palace of the Maharajah of Kasmanda, it's packed with antiques, animal skins, and hunting trophies, including an elephant's-foot piano stool. Ask for rooms with views of the Doon Valley, but be warned that you'll have to put up with stuffed animal heads mounted on the walls and a liberal use of gaudy floral fabrics; service can also be very laid-back. On the budget front, there are tons of choices, of which Padmani Nivas (Library, The Mall. tel. 0135/2631093; www.hotelpadmininivas.com; doubles from Rs 1,300) is arguably the best -- almost next to the Mall, it screens off most of the chaos with its cocoon of greenery and has great views with one side overlooking the valley; food (vegetarian only) is also good.

Note: The summer months (Apr-June) and October are extremely popular with domestic tourists, and hotels everywhere in the hills tend to cave under the strain of rampant business, and what would otherwise be a quiet environ can turn into a nightmare for those looking for a peaceful retreat.

In Rishikesh

In a town full of ashrams and sadhus, you might very well expect Rishikesh luxury to involve a bed of sharpened nails. Fortunately, you can indulge in the unadulterated luxury of one of the country's finest (indeed internationally renowned) spa resorts: Ananda-in-the-Himalayas, located just outside Rishikesh itself. But for the most unusual and truly lovely place to stay, don't miss The Glasshouse on the Ganges, which enjoys a remarkable location slap-bang on the edge of the great Ganga; if you book the right room, you can hear the waters roaring by from the comfort of your four-poster bed; in terms of value and location it gets our top recommendation but bear in mind it is about an hour from Rishikesh, and won't suit those looking for a hotel with action. Also well situated on the river, about 19km (12 miles) from Rishikesh is Himalayan Hideaway (tel. 011/2685-2602; www.hhindia.com), a lodge owned by the couple who run the Himalayan River Runners outfit (their riverside camp is 2km/1 1/4 miles away). Accommodations are in stone cottages set in a forest near the Ganges (an 8-min. walk); all have air-conditioning and decent bathrooms (shower only) done out in stone and tile. Select a river-view room (Rs 4,900 double), gorge on delicious meals, go rafting, or while away the hours watching the river; trips to Rishikesh for sightseeing and the evening Ganga Aarti are easily arranged. If you really want to be near the action (and the noise), the most acceptable choice is Hotel The Great Ganga (Muni-ki-Reti, Rishikesh 249 201; tel. 0135/244-2243; www.thegreatganga.com; doubles from Rs 2,790), which is fine if you just need a clean place to sleep and don't plan on hanging around during the day. Some of the rooms have little terraces that overlook the Ganges, but be aware that you'll be picking up a lot of traffic noise. Accommodations have marble floors, kitschy fabrics, and very firm mattresses, and the small tiled bathrooms have aging tubs. Do not even consider the suites, which are in a shabby apartment block next door.

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.