20 fabulous boutique hotels in India

Live like a raja in a stately hillside fortress, relax on your own private beach or set out from a luxury treehouse in search of tigers. The publisher of the Special Places to Stay guidebooks selects 20 extraordinary hideaways in India

When travelling in a country as richly alien as India, it is tempting and almost forgivable to reach for the familiar. The unwary retreat to large, Western-style hotels where they are safe but dissatisfied (and also – misguidedly – convinced they are safe from water-borne diseases.)

Yet the solutions are there. All over India people have opened their homes or created small hotels where you feel safely part of the country. But the word "hotel'' does little justice to this fabulous mix. There are, in our latest guide alone, treehouses, villas, camps, palaces, cottages, bungalows and forts – up mountains and rivers, in cities and in the countryside. The variety is almost bewildering. Adopt any role you wish: collector of human experience, idler, yoga disciple, massagee, meditator, adventurer, aimless wanderer, self-improver, design buff – India can absorb all your fantasies and offer a thousand more.

Above all, India is utterly itself. It is so diverse that the footprints of other cultures quickly fade or take on an Indian hue. That is a considerable strength, and you, too, if you step off the path to meet the people to whom these places belong, will be changed. Each place gives you India on its own plate – a treat for every type of traveller.

1. The Manor, Friends Colony West, Delhi

Before you march headlong into the full Indian experience, unwind in this city oasis with an acre of garden. The Manor, designed by a Japanese architect, started life in the 1950s as a jungle-fringed hotel; now it finds itself in the city's smartest suburb. With far more character than many other luxury addresses, it exudes a minimalism that is never austere: lovely wall hangings in the corridors, stunning mosaic floors. The delicious food is Indian or fusion and the tranquil garden is a sweet spot for a fresh lime soda. Try a morning yoga or a rejuvenating massage – a 15-minute taster is included in the price.

• themanordelhi.com; 15 double rooms from Rs7,500 (£95). All prices in this article are for a double or twin room per night

Alastair Sawday
The Observer, Sunday 27 September 2009