There is a phenomenon I’d like to call the “Lonely Planet effect.” When a hostel or hotel is listed in Lonely Planet it inevitably becomes a “hot spot” because thousands of travelers are thinking what you’re thinking, they call ahead, book a spot, the hotel reaches full occupancy and the owners can take advantage of the situation and raise prices more than the rest of the hotels in the immediate neighborhood.
What I figured out after a few weeks in India was that you can use Lonely Planet as a ‘compass’ to do your research and reconnaissance and based on where they have listed two, three or four hotels you can take a safe assumption that that is a “hostel or hotel district.”
So, when you arrive to town, take a rickshaw from the train station to this “hotel-hostel district.” Most likely you will see the couple hotels mentioned in Lonely Planet, but take a left, make a right or go up and down the streets of the neighborhoods and you see many other perhaps, better-staffed, renovated and affordable hotels that simply didn’t have the luck of being written up by a Lonely Planet author.
If you pop-in to two or three places you can figure out the going-price for the area, negotiate a bit, or go with the staff you think are the friendliest and most accommodating.
Sure, the Lonely Planet picks may still be good choices, if you want to try that, but with my experience there is a good chance, they may be less attentive on the customer service, because they know other travelers will be ringing up and filling the hostel soon, and even worse some owners increase prices or can even be arrogant of their brisk business.
Shop around and give other locals a chance, many of them will have half-price discount compared to popular places on travel guides.
I used this strategy in Ft. Kochi, Varanasi and Rishikesh and other cities and it was quite easy to locate the accommodation-neighborhoods and found some awesome hotels with the coolest, friendliest owners.