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With tourism the single most important industry in town, Leh is inundated with accommodations, most of them offering very good value, often with a homey, welcoming atmosphere rather than five-star luxury. Remember that virtually all these places are closed for most of the year during a prolonged harsh winter, so it doesn't really pay to have heaps of facilities that are only operative for a few months. Besides, you're here to see the dramatic Ladakhi landscape and discover its unique culture and Buddhist heritage, so forgive occasionally basic conditions, especially when it comes to bathrooms which, for the most part, are merely adequate (check into the glitzy Grand Dragon if you demand more). Try to be understanding about hot water facilities (which may be restricted to certain hours), and consider the fragility of the environment and the fact that running water is in fact a very scarce resource.

We've long enjoyed the out-of-the-way setting of the welcoming Shambha-La Hotel, and this, together with family run Omasila (both reviewed below) remains our top choices.

There is no tax in Ladakh, but most hotels do charge an additional 10% service charge which will be added to your bill; most hotels have meal plans in addition to the standard bed and breakfast options for which we've provided rates. It's definitely worth venturing beyond your hotel and trying some of the restaurants in town, though, so rather avoid signing up for all-inclusive meal packages. The same does not apply once you step outside Leh, when finding a reliable place to eat can be quite challenging.

Village Homestays, Boutique-Style

The smartest way to see Ladakh is with the innovative and stylish Himalayan specialists, Shakti (tel. 0124/456-3899; www.shaktihimalaya.com), which runs all-inclusive personalized airport-to-airport trips (minimum 5 days) that give you a genuine feel for the region. Supported by your very own team of English-speaking guides, porters, a cook, and a driver, you'll get to overnight in unspoiled villages where you become VIP guests in renovated upstairs rooms in traditional family homes. It's a novel approach to the homestay experience, where you needn't forgo basic luxuries such as a decent mattress or comforting linens -- Shakti used Ladakhi craftsmen to upgrade parts of traditional family homes, resulting in slick-but-cozy spaces that are infinitely more suitable for travelers unaccustomed to the cold, harsh and basic conditions that are the norm for most Ladakhis. So instead of rough mats and a pile of blankets, you get a plump bed, chic duvets, and your very own wood-burning fireplace -- chances are you'll have a wonderful view through lots of windows, too. Besides getting an inside look at traditional Ladakhi life (increasingly absent from Leh, which has become very much a tourist town jam-packed with guesthouses and hotels and little room left for authentic culture), Shakti relies on guides, chefs, and chauffeured vehicles to get you where you need to be -- not to mention amazing treks, rafting experiences, and plenty of interaction in the villages and insights at the monasteries. A week-long package costs $6,092 for two people traveling together (this includes all transport within Ladakh, accommodation, all meals, drinks, personnel, and taxes; children pay approximately half).

If, on the other hand, you don't mind abstaining from many of your basic home comforts, you could always investigate an entirely authentic experience with Himalayan Homestays (www.himalayan-homestays.com). Rooms will be basic but clean, and have some lighting (either candle or solar-powered), and meals will be the genuine article, prepared hygienically using mostly local ingredients and served with the family. The organization now has 44 homestays in 11 villages around Leh region and a farther nine homestays in Zanskar. You'll pay just Rs 800 double with all meals (Rs 450 single) with meals. You can book through Maitreya Tours (DB2, Zangsti, Leh; tel. 01982/25-0060, -1466, 94-1917-6036, or 96-9738-7083; www.spiritualhimalaya.com).

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.