India will challenge travelers like few other places. Besides the occasional physical challenge, heat, lack of infrastructure and lack of privacy there are new rules for basic aspects of life. Some of the cultural aspects are dealt with in the section on "Cultural Pointers". Some of the ones dealing with food and eating with your hands are dealt with in the "Food" section. Here are some basics that deal with hotels and sanitation.
Budget hotels are rarely called "hotels". They could also be called "Lodge", "Cafe", "Boarding House" or "Guest house". Most offer simple accommodation: a room with a bed or two, a fan, a fluorescent light, and perhaps a small desk and chair. A bath and toilet may be attached, or "common" down the hall. There will be a mattress, a pillow, and a bedspread. Sheets are very uncommon on the low end and the bedspread provided is not necessarily washed between guests. Bring your own pillow, bedspread, soap and toiletries, including toilet paper. The hotel will supply drinking water, but it will not be boiled or purified. The hotel will provide a lock and key, but since most hotel doors use a bolt and hasp it is wiser to put your own lock on the door.
Prices vary considerably. Rooms in the South tend to be somewhat pricier than many places in the North, though really big cities like Delhi, Bombay, and Calcutta have become ridiculous.
In major Southern cities budget rooms (doubles) run from roughly Rs 150 to Rs 400 and singles from about Rs 100 to 300. The lower end can get kind of divey. Check out is usually 24 hours, but some places post a 10 AM or noon check out time. A few guest houses offer dorm rooms for around Rs 50 but these are rare in the cities. Prices are usually lower in smaller towns sometimes half of what you'd pay in urban areas.
In budget places, the bath will consist of a shower, or at least a tap and a bucket. There'll be a dipper for a bucket bath. Hot water will probably not be available, unless the place has a reputation for being cold. Most Bangalore hotels, for example, offer piped-in hot water and give you a wool blanket, though few westerners would consider Bangalore to be "cold", even in the winter months. Cold baths, once you get used to them, are nicely bracing. The toilet will most likely be Indian style. See the next section for tips on dealing with that.
You can always ask to see the room before you rent it. Check for basic sanitation and that there are no bedbugs. Make sure the fan works, and is not too noisy. Make sure the room is secure with no easily opened windows. No peep holes. And if you don't like it, ask for a different one. Or try another hotel.
All hotel rooms have a master switch outside the room that cuts off power to the room. If you think your lights are out, check that switch first.
There is no clear division between better budget hotels and mid-range ones. Even price is not an indicator. You can find great budget rooms with phone, TV, etc., and then pay twice as much for moldy rooms with crumbling walls and faulty plumbing. We categorize mid-range as costing between Rs 500 and 1500 for a double. These would include many of the recent 'resort' type places that cater to the new middle class. You may find air conditioning, rarely a pool, and phones, TV etc., and usually a western-style toilet and shower. Bathtubs would be rare. Take a look at the place and decide if it's worth it to you. Most of these places will have dining facilities with Indian and Western food.
High End Hotels
All major cities have high end hotels, from 3 star to 5 star. We couldn't tell you what the stars mean. They are pricier - Rs 1500 to 5000 and up - and try and create an international standard. Usually a pool, one or more pricey restaurants, maybe a business centre - all the stuff you'd expect. The décor will be classy, with significant "ethnic" touches. If your budget can afford it you may want to book in once in a while for a taste of "home". (But then, why are you travelling?) Some guests at these fancy places appreciate being shielded from the poverty in India, but others are overcome with guilt. What they are spending in a few days could equal the annual income of an entire family of the very poor!