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Dream journey back in time...

Visiting the land of the Maharajas and discovering its history, striking scenery and culture was like flying on a magic carpet back in time.

From the cosmopolitan city of New Delhi to the stunning scenery of Udaipur, India has it all.

Blessed with beautiful backdrops, a rich history, wonderful food and great shopping - it is hard not to fall for the fairytale country that was home to one of the oldest surviving dynasties in the world.

My eight-day adventure got underway in Bombay after a two-and-a-half hour flight with Gulf Air.

The trip was organised by Sunshine Tours with the co-operation of Oberoi Hotels and Resorts, Gulf Air, Tour Club, and Jet Airways.

Although we only had a couple of hours to tour Bombay, home to nearly 13 million people, our journey of discovery got off to an immediate start with Tour Club.

In that short space of time we managed to see several architectural wonders that hark back to the days of British colonisation.

Bombay is a city in which history and modernity co-exist with remarkable colonial architecture and monuments such as the Gateway of India, which was built with yellow stone in the "Indo-Sarcenic" style to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to the city.

Another major landmark is the Gothic-styled Victoria Terminus, now known as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), completed in 1887.

The railway station, designed by Fredrick Williams Stevens, is lavishly decorated with sculptures and looks more like a cathedral with its giant dome topped by a statue of a woman holding a torch to symbolise progress.

After our short tour we boarded the domestic Jet Airways flight to Udaipur, also known as the City of Lakes and the City of Sunrise.

Leaving the airport, I was at first surprised to see cows roaming the streets, grazing on roadside grass or just having a rest in the middle of a traffic jam. That's when I learned from our tour guide that cows are respected as a sacred animal in India and are allowed to roam around as they please unharmed.

Udaipur is surrounded by lush hills and is drenched with romance and beauty by its palaces, lakes, temples, forts and gardens - reflecting the varied influences of the centuries.

It is the capital of the former kingdom of Mewar, one of the oldest surviving dynasties in the world.

Legend has it that the royal Rajput rulers are descendants from the Sun God.

The golden sun, representing the god, is still the royal insignia of the Maharana of Mewar.

The city's main attraction is the enchanting Lake Palace, now a luxury hotel, located in the middle of Lake Pichola.

When the lake is filled with water it is said that the palace looks like it is floating on it (that's usually during and after the monsoon season). It's only accessible by a boat during that time, but when we were there we drove across the dry lake in jeeps.

We stayed at the Oberoi Udaivilas, located on the banks of Lake Pichola, which is one of the most romantic luxury resorts I've ever seen and a definite must for honeymooners.

We were each given a lavishly furnished room that opens onto a semi-private swimming pool, which overlooks the lake and wildlife sanctuary at the rear of the hotel.

I'll never forget my first morning there when I was struck by the fairytale splendour of my surroundings during a short walk on the grounds.

There was a mist covering the empty lake where the cows were having their morning graze, an orchestra of birds were chirping away in the background and in the distance the palaces of India stood proudly as monuments from the past.

One of the great things I experienced during the visit to Udaipur was a Polynesian massage, which I totally recommend for those who suffer from stress.

Tropical

All of the Oberoi spas are managed by world-acclaimed pioneers of the tropical spa experience, Banyan Tree, where a wide variety of massages and treatments are available and not to be missed.

If you're a fan of Indian food then there's no better place to have it than in India.

One dish we especially loved was Thali, which is a meal whose contents vary from state to state, consisting of delicacies native to each region.

It's basically a concoction of different dishes served in miniature pots on a circular tray served with rice and Indian bread. It's fun to eat and really fills you up.

During our two-night stay at Udaipur, one of the sights we visited was the City Palace, also built over the Lake Pichola.

It was originally built by Maharana Udai Singh of the Sisodia Rajput clan, but succeeding Maharanas developed it by adding several palaces and structures. Its style is a blend of medieval European and Chinese architecture and has a number of remarkable buildings, gardens and fountains of historic beauty.

We also visited the deserted ancient capital of Mewar, Nagda, which dates back to AD626.

Then we stopped at the surviving ruins of the twin Vaishnava temples made of granite also known as Sas (mother-in-law) Bahu (daughter-in-law).

These temples are ornamented with intricate carvings and erotic figures. The larger and more impressive temple, Sas, is surrounded by 10 subsidiary shrines, while Bahu has four.

The temples are located some distance from the main road on the edge of a small lake - giving visitors a nice, quiet and peaceful time to admire the skills of the ancient carvers.

Jaipur, popularly known as the Pink City, was our next stop in Rajasthan.

The city was founded by one of the greatest rulers of the Kachhawaha clan, the astronomer king Sawai Jai Singh.

The pink colour was used at the time it was built to create an impression of the red sandstone buildings of Mughal cities. It was repainted in 1876 during the visit of the Prince of Wales.

A wall surrounds the city with seven gates that was built for protection from invading armies and wild animals that lurked just outside in the jungles that surrounded it.

Driving around you could see a river of colours through the passing people of Jaipur, who are known for wearing colourful dresses and turbans.

We stayed at the Oberoi Rajvilas luxury resort, set in 32 acres of landscaped gardens with pavilions and reflection pools that create the romance and grandeur of Rajasthan.

Each of the Oberoi resorts has its own distinctive character and the Rajvilas have been designed to revive the gracious lifestyles of India's legendary Rajput princes.

In the famed Pink City, one of the finest examples of the Rajput architecture is the Amber Fort, which was once the ancient capital of the Jaipur state.

Built in red sandstone and white marble, the fort presents a blend of Hindu and Mughal architecture set majestically amid rugged hills and the Maotha Lake - where the elephants that transport you to the fort can be seen cooling off.

The fort boasts of a massive complex with gateways, courts, stairways, pillared pavilions and palaces and requires a lot of walking (when visiting make sure you put on comfortable shoes and carry a bottle of water).

We also visited the City Palace of Jaipur, built in a blend of traditional Rajasthan and Mughal architecture through a series of courtyards, sprawling gardens and buildings.

The palace has an art gallery with an excellent collection of miniature paintings, carpets and royal paraphernalia. Part of it is now a museum. The rest of it serves as the living quarters of the royal family of Jaipur, where the Maharaja of Jaipur and his family reside in.

We were also very lucky to get the chance to meet with him during our two-day stay in the city.

One of the loveliest dinners we had during the trip was in one of India's most charming hotels, the Samode Palace, where we were given a 'royal' entrance.

Located in the centre of the Aravali Mountains, we were escorted to the palace in carriages pulled by camels through a dark village that was lit by burning torches carried by little boys.

The whole village was woken up from their sleep because of the very loud music that followed us all the way up the mountain to the palace, but instead of glaring at us we were welcomed with cheers and waves.

Our next destination is well known and is the home of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal.

But that's not the only treasure it holds, for the city of Agra has many other monuments to remind us of the magnificence of the Mughal empire - such as the Red Fort, Agra Fort and the 'phantom city' of Fatehpur Sikri.

On our six-hour Tour Club bus ride to Agra, we stopped at the historic city of Fatehpur Sikri built by the great Mughal emperor Akbar. Being about just 35 kilometres from Agra, this site is not to be missed.

The red sandstone city was built to honour the Muslim saint Shaikh Salim Chishti, who foretold the birth of his son and heir, Jahangir.

Wandering around the city, abandoned after 14 years of its making due to a lack of water, takes you back in time where you could see the ghosts of the past going about their daily business in the palaces, harem, official buildings and mosque of the city.

In Agra, we stayed at the Oberoi Amarvilas resort, built in a style inspired by Moorish and Mughal architecture.

Located just 600 metres from the Taj Mahal, guests can take in breathtaking views of the monument of love right from their own rooms.

Waking up in the morning to the sight of the Taj Mahal really is an Indian fairytale come to life.

Stepping into the most extravagant monument ever built for love took my breath away and it was literally like stepping into a postcard.

The monument was constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died after 17 years of marriage during the birth of her 14th child.

Hundreds of people visit the tomb and are awed upon seeing its beauty and symmetry.

The Taj Mahal's beauty also comes from the way its perfect marble facade has been deliberately designed to appear different in different lights - from the blushing glow of a misty dawn to the soft greys, yellows and glittering whites at other times of day

During our stay we also visited the impressive Agra Fort, located on the same river bank, Yamuna, as the Taj.

The fort consists of a wall built in red sandstone and is a maze of arches, hallways, buildings and courtyards.

Emperor Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb in the fort, where he is said to have died in the Musamman Burj, a tower with a beautiful marble balcony that had the best view of the Taj Mahal.

Our last stop was Delhi - a city divided into New Delhi, the capital of India, and Old Delhi, which gave the feeling of stepping out of the past and into the future.

Delhi has a mix of ancient historical monuments and soaring skyscrapers.

On a short tour of the Old and New Delhi, it was very interesting to see how different both were.

The New Delhi was organised, cosmopolitan and very clean - where the old was chaotic, very busy and disorganised.

Shopping in Delhi is great and if you know how to bargain you could buy beautifully designed items such as silverware, bedspreads, pillowcases and other ornaments very cheap.

If you are like me and can't haggle, I recommend doing what I did and take a shopping partner to do it for you!



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