The Kumaon Hills are dotted with laid-back, atmospheric accommodations that offer guests either a laid-back but relatively luxurious guest house experience such as Fisherman's Lodge or the more intimate experience of a homestay: an opportunity to mingle with Indian families who live in the hills -- a wonderful reprieve from overcrowded tourist hubs, and a chance to really help the local communities as well. Note, though, that because these are not hotels, hot water in the bathrooms often comes via a geyser, which must be switched on when required (or in buckets carried into your bathroom). Room service is limited, and food cannot be rustled up in minutes, on demand. Other than the options reviewed, take a look at Himalayan Lodges (tel. 98-1170-4651; www.himalayanlodges.com); the company has a good selection of comfortable homestay type properties throughout the region aimed at the more budget conscious traveler.
Nainital To Mukteshwar
Out of season, a good place to stay in Nainital is the Palace Belvedere (tel. 05942/23-7434; www.welcomheritagehotels.com). Built in 1897, this former summer palace offers a casual historic ambience with personal, attentive service. Book a lake-facing room (from Rs 6,400 double), which has an enclosed porch-cum-study (no. 19 is particularly large) from where the view of the sun rising over Nainital Lake is simply exquisite; bathrooms also have views of the lake. Other than this, consider The Naini Retreat (tel. 05942/23-5105 or -5108; www.leisurehotels.in). The gabled bluestone summer retreat of the Maharajah of Pilibhit, situated above Naini Lake, retains much of its charm. Standard ("deluxe") rooms are neat but a tad cramped (book nos. 304-311; doubles from $150), so it's best to reserve one of three "garden" units ($210), which share a common balcony, or opt for a lake-facing room ($230). Avoid staying there in the peak season when ghastly outdoor live music all but kills any illusion of being in a retreat. If you are on a budget a comfortable and interesting option is Balrampur House (tel. 05942/23-6236 or -9902; www.balrampurhotels.com; doubles from Rs 3,166), once the summer home of the Maharaja of Balrampur and now a heritage hotel run by his descendant Jayendra Pratap Singh.
Nainital offers many accommodations, but a visit during peak season is likely to be accompanied by crowds, noise, and irritation. Duck the crowds by opting for one of the fully reviewed options, or for one of two recommendations at Naukuchiatal: Déjà-vu (reservations through Corbett Trails, New Delhi; tel. 011/4282-8232; www.naukuchiatal.com; Rs 2,000 per person per night) is a small, cozy, two-bedroom stand-alone cottage overlooking the lake. It comes with cable TV, DVD and music system, as well as housekeeping attendants and a cook who will prepare meals on demand; you just need to pay for ingredients. Be prepared for frequent power cuts although there is a backup inverter. For more hotel-style amenities (albeit in a concrete and stone block with plenty of face-brick and mortar), The Lake Resort (tel. 05942/24-7183 or -7184; www.lakeresort.in; from Rs 2,400 double) is a newer hotel whose sprawling grounds hug Naukuchiatal Lake. Every room has a view of the lake; ask for the pricier log hut with wooden floors and a bathtub for two. Room nos. 1, 5, and 12 have lounge areas and fine views, but bathrooms are small. But, should you opt to overnight at Bhimtal, Fisherman's Lodge is the perfect choice.
Binsar & Almora Surrounds
Best option near Almora is the wonderful Kalmatia Sangam, on the road to Kasardevi Temple. Nature lovers on a strict budget might want to look at the Forest Resthouse. Located high on the hill within Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, it's characterized by long, musty rooms, high ceilings, old-fashioned furnishings, a lack of electricity, and reasonable room rates (Rs 1,400/night). The rest house is looked after by a chowkidar (caretaker), who may even prepare meals for you if you bring your own supplies. Book a room through the DFO, Almora Forest Office (tel. 05947/25-1489; http://almora.nic.in). Also near Almora, within a forest, the Deodars (Papparsalle; tel. 05962/23-3025; email@example.com) is a family run lodging offering one of the best budget options, with just three guest rooms in an old stone cottage; solitude is guaranteed for just Rs 4,000 double, including all meals. Guest rooms have fireplaces, and one unit has a bathtub.
Our top pick for the region is however the unbeatable 360° at Leti, which although still a good deal farther than Almora (5 hr. by road), is an absolute must -- but it doesn't come cheap.
This area hasn't really taken off like the rest of Kumaon in terms of accommodation standards -- for luxury you'll need to head to Nainital or Rishikesh, but lodgings are by and large adequate in a simple sort of way. An attractive alternative to the hotel reviewed below is Chevron Rosemount (tel. 05966/22-1391; www.chevronhotels.com), a century-old, two-story colonial bungalow in a forest clearing that's showing its age but in a charmingly dilapidated way. In particular, reserve room no. 202, the Nirvana Suite (Rs 5,000): Unwind on the armchairs, chaise longue, or large comfortable bed; the large bathroom has plenty of natural light. There's tremendous scope for birders in the ravines surrounding the property, and on a clear day you can see the lovely Trisuli range. Another option worth considering is Holm Farm, the first bungalow in Ranikhet, with suites from Rs 4,000, and even cheaper Swiss huts. This is ideal for those looking for relaxed, old-world atmosphere -- though when the place is full, you'll find tents pitched outside for guests (tel. 05966/22-0891 or 97-5939-5520; www.holmfarmranikhet.com); there are also indoor and outdoor activities for children.
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.