HPPWD rest house is a guest house like structure; built by the government in order to accommodate the stay of its officials traveling to that region. Also known as “Circuit House” or “Forest rest house”; these rest houses are available at even some of the remotest locations of Himachal Pradesh. I have myself stayed at quite a few of these and to be very honest; have always found a HPPWD rest house better than any other private hotel in that region.
A common theory about government run entities in our country is that it will be in ruins and not maintained at all. Surprisingly, stay at a HPPWD rest house and this theory will prove wrong. All these circuit houses are quite clean, in excellent condition with all basic facilities and at a stunning location with amazing views. If you are planning a trip towards Spiti, Ladakh or traveling to any other part of Himachal for that matter; staying at a PWD circuit house will be a great choice in terms of accommodation. In this article, I will provide details on how you can book your stay at a HPPWD rest house; along with some other details like availability of facilities, food and how much it is going to cost you.
Please visit the following links to get a list of all HPPWD rest house locations, phone numbers and charges you will have to pay. For the first link, it will take you to a page with a map of Himachal. For example, if you are visiting Lahaul & Spiti, click on the rest house icon and it will populate a list of all rest house locations in that region.
The first question here is can you really stay at a HPPWD rest house with not being a government official? The answer to that question is yes you can. It is not an everyday business that a PWD person will be visiting that particular area for government related business. Most of the times, these rest houses remain empty and even if there is a guest, it is at most one or two rooms occupied. So keeping that in mind, PWD lets tourists stay at the guest for a nominal charge; provided that there is no official visit scheduled at that time.
Before going any further in the article, let me first list down some of the advantages of staying at a PWD guest house.
This probably will be the best part in my opinion. All the circuit houses that I have been to so far were at an excellent location with mesmerizing views; a little out of the main town /village and in a peaceful area.
No matter how remote the region, all these PWD rest houses are located with all necessary facilities; like electricity, room heaters, western style washrooms etc. Availability of a Television however can sometimes be doubtful.
As I mentioned above in the article, all these rest houses are in good maintenance with clean rooms and beds. There is also mostly a nice garden out at front with proper seating arrangements.
Considering all the above, the tariff charged would be nothing as compared to what you would pay if staying at a hotel. If you are out on a budget trip, staying at a PWD rest house would be your best bet for finding affordable yet decent accommodation.
No place is perfect so of course there are some disadvantages as well which too I will mention here.
Availability & Booking:
This is the biggest hassle with a PWD guest house. If you are not a government official, getting a room here to stay can be quite a bit of a task. There are several rest houses that are not open for tourists at all so you might be in for a surprise after you reach there. The ones that do allow tourists to stay will require booking in advance; a process which will make you feel in every way that you are dealing with government clerks. Let us assume that you somehow managed to get in with on-the-spot booking and a government official later shows up; you will have to vacate the premises no matter what time of the day or night it is. How to book is further explained in the article.
This will be the second biggest concern. There is just a caretaker at these rest houses and chances are that he will not cook for you no matter what. You will either have to talk or pay him into cooking or at least allow you to use the kitchen. If neither works, you will have to make other meal arrangements. During my stay at the PWD rest house at Bairagarh, we had to walk two kilometers to the village even for a single cup of tea. The only thing available at the rest house was plain water.
How to Book a HPPWD rest house / Circuit House / Forest Rest House
With all said and done, now let us come to the biggest question, how do you book your stay at a PWD rest house? There are three ways around this:
Have someone in HPPWD book on your behalf:
The first way is the easier and most assured one. This would require that either you or one of your acquaintances have a contact with someone either in Himachal PWD or some other government job in HP. If you can find a contact, then there is no better way to do it. All you need to do is have your contact call PWD and book a room.
The way PWD gives priority to their guests is they will consider government officials on work related business first; second will be government officials for tourism and third will be non-government people on tourism. So if an HP government official can call on your behalf to book in his or her name and there were no other bookings at the guest house at that time; rest assured that you will definitely get a room. This is a tried and tested formula. Every time I stayed at a PWD rest house, my bookings were done by someone I know working for HP government.
On the Spot Booking:
The second way is easiest of the three but least guaranteed. This involves you showing up at the rest house with no prior booking and talking or tipping the caretaker in letting you stay. I have myself done it a few times but only when I had no prior intention of staying at the rest house, was traveling with plans to stay at a hotel and was surprised to find a rest house there. Whether or not the caretaker will let you stay depends on how good you of a smooth talker are, how well you can bargain and how well you can tip.
The biggest concern here would be the lack of surety of your stay. Even after the caretaker allows you in; there will always be a possibility that some government official may show up and you will have to vacate the premises. Chances of this happening however are like one in a million. Another big problem with this option is of a missing caretaker which happens a lot, especially with rest houses in remote regions. If there is a visit scheduled, the caretaker gets a notification in advance. Because there are not many visitors and the surety that he will get a notification, these caretakers can sometime go missing for days.
The Traditional Booking Method:
The third way is most assured but least easy. This means you booking a PWD rest house with no inside contact and throwing yourself at the mercy of PWD officials. Below is a step by step breakdown of how you can do it.
- Call the booking office and ask about booking a stay at the desired PWD guest house.
- They will ask you to send a written request by Fax. Confirm the fax number and fax in a request. Ensure that you are putting on a fax # where they can fax you back.
- After receiving the fax, the official at PWD office will confirm that there are no other visits scheduled around your time of travel.
- The approving officer will sign off and approve your request.
- PWD will issue a document in your name approving your stay; you will receive a copy of it by fax.
- A copy of the document will also be sent to the caretaker at the guest house where you will be staying.
Few Important Tips:
Please note that you will have to regularly follow up with PWD if you are not getting a response. Send in your request at least 2 – 3 weeks prior to your travel date. If you did not receive the approval document, call back and ask for a copy of the same. Also keep a note of the person you are speaking with. Chances are that you will arrive at the PWD guest house and the caretaker will tell you that he received no document or notification of your stay. If this happens, call the person you were speaking with at PWD and let him talk to the caretaker.
Always keep a backup plan ready even after receiving a confirmation of your stay. There will still be a chance that you will arrive at the guest house only to find a missing caretaker and the building locked. Most important; ensure that you are carrying something to eat as running to the nearest Dhaba will not always be possible. Carry something likes chips, biscuits and other snacks.