How I Eased My Passage Into India By Pretending To Be The Maharaja

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When travelling in India, you should invest in a turban, available with a little haggling at any bazaar.
You might expect the locals to resent your attempts to dress up as a minor character in a Sidney James or Peter Sellers film. On the contrary, they appreciate any efforts by Westerners to come to terms with their complex culture and exhaustingly hectic society.
'You look great, sir, magnificent,' said a tuk-tuk driver, stopping in heavy traffic in Jaisalmer, causing an embarrassing fanfare of car horns. 'You look like maharaja.'
A landscape of colour and charm: The Jaswant Thada memorial (foreground) stands proudly in Jodhpur
Next morning, when our guide for the day turned up, he had heard there was a maharaja in town. When I was greeted by shopkeepers, shouting 'Where is your turban, sir? You must wear it,' he realised the fake maharaja was only me.
Wherever you go in India, strangers engage you in conversation, usually trying to sell you clothing, food or hotel rooms, or asking 'Where you from?'
Wear a turban to cut out this tiresome preliminary banter.
Our guide happened to be a local disc jockey and, by the time we set off the next evening for a camel trek and camping by a fire in the sand dunes, the presence of the fake maharaja had even reached the camel drivers.
Radio is a powerful medium in the desert by the Pakistan border, they told us.
How to wear a turban, parts one and two: Left, a camel driver in Rajasthan; right: James as a 'maharaja'
We spent two weeks driving in and around Rajasthan, starting and finishing in Delhi, staying one or two nights in each place. The province is the size of Germany, but the roads are not as good, so it's a punishing schedule, with gridlock traffic in the cities and huge potholes taking you by surprise.
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A driver is an essential requirement for anyone unaccustomed to Indian roads. Ours was able to negotiate heavy trucks, cyclists, unaccompanied cows, dogs, sheep and goats, and rickshaws, sometimes at speed through narrow gaps with inches to spare. 

A place for reflection: Udaipur rises magnificently on the shores of Lake Pichola in Rajasthan
What do you do if you find your side of the motorway is blocked by roadworks? Drive on the opposite carriageway against the oncoming traffic, then cross the central reservation when you get a chance. Others may blast their horns, but this is standard procedure.
Animals and men, young and old, even sleep unmolested in the central reservations, while fathers often pile their families on the backs of their scooters, sometimes with five passengers, including small children and ladies in flowing saris, riding sidesaddle without helmets.
We never saw any of them come to any harm, although there were some agonising near-misses.
It is 41 years since I last visited Delhi, but since that time, everyone has acquired a car. Thank goodness for the Commonwealth Games, which caused them to invest in a Metro system.
We spent two days in Delhi, visiting the Red Fort, Jama Mosque, Gandhi Smriti, Humayun's Tomb, Connaught Place and Lutyens's monumental government buildings.
Then Agra, the Taj Mahal, where ladies like to sit sadly perched in Princess Diana's famous seat, and Fatehpur Sikri. Then Jaipur, Bundi and Udaipur.
Jaipur is famous for its harem where the ruler's ladies can look out on the street from windows without being seen themselves, as well as a tribe of elephants taking tourists up the hill to the Amber Fort. Udaipur has a lake with a palace in the middle and another on the shore.
This is popular as a wedding venue and for spectacular firework displays.
All in the balance: Local women display their astonishing carrying skills in the desert outside Jaisalmer
From there, we travelled to Chhatra Sagar, a noted bird sanctuary with dam and an artificial lake. Guests stay in luxurious tents and the manager takes you on a tour of the local village, explaining the Victoria's the Prince of Jaipur in painted the colour giving it 'the City' environmentallyfriendly structure of the community, its schools, farm workers, potters and silversmiths.
Life sometimes stands on its head in India. At Bikaner, we saw a temple where rats in their thousands are fed, pampered and generally worshipped.
In Jodhpur, we stayed in the now famous Raas hotel, with its magnificent view of the Mehrangarh Fort perched on top of a steep cliff.
By this stage, you'll need to keep a note of your forts, to avoid getting them muddled.
The Raas is a quiet enclave in the centre of the city, but with a mosque at the end of the garden. The hotel thoughtfully provides earplugs to prevent guests being woken up by the call to prayer at 4am.
We had dinner in another new establishment, the WelcomHotel, on the evening the Maharaja of Jodhpur was paying his first official visit.
In the pink: Local men watch the world go by on a warm afternoon in the Rajasthan city of Jaisalmer
This is one of those hotels where massive, three-day Bollywood-type weddings take place - a thriving business and expensive for prosperous families.
The Maharaja and Maharani were greeted by the manager and by the head chef, who happens to be His Highness's nephew.
Rose petals were sprinkled at the Maharaja's feet and a four-course dinner served.
Good to see that nothing has changed.
No one sprinkled rose petals at my feet, however. I wasn't wearing my turban.
Travel Facts: Plan your own tour of northern India  Cox & Kings (0207 873 5000, [

Read more:][ Cox & Kings - Luxury Holidays and Tailor-made Tours]

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