Very few people in India are comfortable with the idea of booking-less travel. As far as transport is concerned, going gung ho might not be the best thing to do, especially if travelling with kids and other dependants. But because of this, there seems to be a wrong preconception about accommodation as well.
On my return from Ladakh, many family and friends asked the routine questions of how was the trip, what did you see and where did you stay. Though many of these questions were just small talk and thus, deserved curt replies at best, I made it a point to elaborate when it came to the subject of hotels. And I always started my discourse with the line – “I never spent more than 100 bucks per night on the entire 25 day trip.”
It seems imprudent to consider advance booking to a location as tourist friendly as Ladakh. Hotels are only a luxury available in the town of Leh and its outskirts. At all other destinations like the lakes and the valleys, home stays are the only option available. Home stays are true to their name and offer everything that a cosy mountain home can. They are not luxurious or adorned with meaningless stars, but are comfortable, culturally grounded and humble. Usually a family is in-charge of running the household which includes cleaning up, cooking and undertaking the herculean task of arranging the necessities like water and fire. Ladakh is an arid land and common people struggle to live on a day-to-day basis, let alone provide luxuries of a typical hotel only to burden the environment and tax the local human resources. There must be no space for unnecessary indulgences in such a remote part of the world.
There is also something intrinsically romantic about these home stays which is best experienced firsthand. There is a kitchen lined with innumerable utensils, both big and small. If there are less people living in the home then you could even request the owners to let you cook. It will be a great way to exchange stories and cultures between the cities and the villages of Ladakh. Not only this, while staying your fill at home stays, there is no regard for stupid check out times or room keys at the reception. It is supremely safe, like one’s own home, and very amicably managed. For once while travelling, look at the people serving you as human beings and I promise that every issue will be sorted out. Hotels are way too expensive for backpackers like us, but even if a wealthy family spends less on their stay, they will not only be less of a burden to the environment but will also be able to spend their saved money on some other stuff like adventure sports or something.
I was always a no booking kind of person, but that was because of laziness. Now, I have reaffirmed my belief for no booking travel but with a much more acceptable reason backing it up.