India is one of the budget friendly countries for travellers. I have met people from around the world who have visited India a number of times. A few years ago, I met a Russian fellow in Delhi who was staying in Paharganj, the hub of cheap and budget hotels in Delhi, for just Rs 100 per night. Likewise, you can get a lot of cheap accommodation or even find many cheap destinations in India. But this is not the whole story. India is also a place where you can stay for FREE while travelling !! I have travelled across the length and breadth of this huge country and stayed either absolutely free or for very nominal charges. This article tells you how you can stay for free in India while travelling.
Stay in a Gurudwara (Sikh temple)
This may sound unusual for many of you, but this is what I have been doing while travelling for many years. Gurudwaras are the worship place for the followers of Sikh religion. They not only offer free food but some of the Gurudwaras in big cities also provide a place to stay. Generally, the free stay is provided in open halls where many people can stay together. There are certain rules and regulations which everyone in the gurudwara has to follow, however eventually you’ll feel at home because no other religious community demonstrates the meaning of hospitality as abundantly as the Sikhs.
Few of the Gurudwaras in India are huge and offer variety of accommodations. They are mainly located at the places having some significance in Sikh religion. For example, I’ve stayed in Gurudwaras at Amritsar, Patna & Delhi and they have separate air-conditioned rooms for people travelling with their family. Though facilities like separate rooms and air-conditioning are charged on a nominal basis. Just remember that these are religious places and requires a certain disciplined behaviour and respect.
I’ve stayed in Gurudwaras at famous tourist attractions like Goa, Manali, Guwahati, Shillong, Kochi and towns like Kalka, Moradabad, Karnal, etc. There were instances while travelling when I got stranded at some odd locations at odd timings when small gurudwaras in nearby locations like Nautanwa (Nepal border), Kursela (Bihar) and Moreh (Manipur, Myanmar border) provided me with the shelter. In such cases, instead of a hotel I always find Gurudwaras a better and safe place to stay.
Stay in an Ashram
Ashrams can also be a good option for a free stay in India. But as I said earlier, unless you are looking for peace, tranquillity & a spiritual holiday ashrams may not be for you. Ashrams can be the perfect place for yoga & meditation and one’s spiritual growth. Usually, they are located around natural landspaces, away from the crowded places. I have come to across few ashrams in India for westerners. Most of them are located in the Himalayas. Ashrams in Rishikesh and Haridwar are quite popular among the foreign travellers. So eat, pray and love the ambience of the ashrams and spend a quality time in a different manner. Getting such experience may not be possible anywhere else in the world.
Stay with locals
I believe, it is best to stay with locals and get the great benefits of travelling. No other way can make you learn about their lifestyle, culture and habits. Though finding a free homestay in India is not that easy. Getting a stranger convinced to allow you to stay at his place is not very normal here, but again, my experience says it is still easy to find help in villages and countryside than cities.
For example, I stayed with a farmer’s family in Bundelkhand (Uttar Pradesh) and a teacher in a village of Kinnaur (Himachal Pradesh). A computer operator took me to his small house in Nagapattinam (Tamil Nadu). Despite being a very simple family, they offered their best possible hospitality. In 2008, I went on a week-long trek to Har ki doon with my friends in the Himalayas. One of my friends started facing health issues and then an old man from a nearby hamlet came to our rescue. He sheltered my friend for 3 days until we returned from the trek.
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How will you approach locals and what will you say to convince them for your stay! Also is it safe to stay with anybody! If such questions are knocking your head then do as a CouchSurfer does. This is an online community of people from around the world who offer a couch at their place to fellow Couchsurfers. Everybody has a profile so that you can check their credentials before you send them a couch request or accept somebody as your guest. I have hosted an Australian, an Italian and a Ukrainian at my home. Likewise, I got some wonderful hosts in Europe and met people in Bangladesh who helped me to design an itinerary. In India, there are thousands of Couchsurfers. Send them a request. Stay with them. Learn about their Incredible culture and enjoy your stay for free in India :)
Not free, but almost free
If you know a government official then it is time to make him your best friend. Ok; Just kidding. But the fact is – the government owns hundreds of guesthouses (also known as holiday homes) everywhere in India which are very cheap, sometimes as low as Rs 10 per room per night. The only problem is these properties are meant for government officials only. If the property is lying vacant then it can be given to somebody else, but only with a recommendation of some government employee.
Departments like CPWD, PWD, Forest, Irrigation, electricity, etc. are the ones who own maximum numbers of such properties. I have found them in some of the most peaceful places in India, tough located remotely but offer the best vistas. Several state and central government owned Public sector undertakings also have their guesthouses. I have stayed in many CPWD guesthouses, Forest bungalows, circuit house, bank’s holiday homes and other government accommodations while travelling and saved a lot of money on hotel stays. Just be ready for not so welcoming caretakers. Sometimes, you may also be required to get your food from outside.
Dharamshala or Lodge – costs much less than hotels
If you are travelling in the countryside in India, you may also find Dharmshalas & lodges to stay. They are cheaper than hotels. However, my experience has never been good with them. Most of them were crude, rough and old. Interiors were mostly dark, damp and stinky. But if you are really running short of budget, you must give them a try.
Dirt-cheap online deals
Goibibo.com, makemytrip.com & yatra.com are few Indian travel portals who keep offering cheap deals and offers in the form of promotional coupons and codes. Subscribe their newsletter and stay in touch with them. Whenever they come with cheap hotel deals or other travel offers, you will get a notification email in your inbox. Such promotional codes are also valid for flight bookings. I am quite regular on these portals and always try to make maximum benefit from their flight booking offers. My friends have stayed in star hotels for as low as Rs 300 (5 US$) through these schemes.
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