The most surprising thing about India for many first-time visitors, including myself, is the sumptuousness and glamour you'll find in abundance. It's there in the richness of multi-course feasts of traditional cuisine, in the flawless saris of impossibly gorgeous Indian women; a confetti shower of red rose petals joyfully scattered to herald a welcome or the turquoise feathers of a proud peacock strolling the grounds of a centuries-old palace.
I travelled with Insight Vacations on its Essence of India eight-day escorted journey, part of the Insight Gold Luxury collection, and it was a sensory delight from start to finish.
India had always figured on my destination wish list but I had been reluctant to navigate it as an independent traveller. Scared off by reports of difficult travelling conditions, I knew this was the kind of place where I'd be happy to leave the decisions to local experts.
Magnificent monument to love
We began our journey in Delhi with fragrant floral garlands placed around our necks and delicious mint tea served in embellished cups. Delhi is a big, bustling city and a window into the fascinating contrasts of old and new India.
In one action-packed day we toured the Mahatma Gandhi memorial, India's largest mosque, the back streets of Chandni Chowk market, and the elegant wide boulevards of New Delhi, where you'll find the grand India Gate and Parliament House.
Next stop: Agra. All roads lead to the magnificent Taj Mahal, a touching monument of love and grand architecture, and with thousands of tourists flocking here each day, we were grateful for the early-morning access arranged by Insight. The privilege of being there to watch the sun rise above the gleaming white marble is an experience not quickly forgotten.
At nearby Agra Fort, a sprawling UNESCO World Heritage fortress of red sandstone dating back to the 11th Century, we learned more of the region's history from our guide.
Later that night it was brought to life in spectacular colour, music and dance at the Saga of Love stage musical, inspired by the construction of the Taj Mahal.
Driving west towards the Pink City of Jaipur, we stopped in the ancient Mughul capital of Fatehpur Sikri, a glimpse into the regal court life of the 16th Century.
Tamil Naidu as a Raj official might have seen it. Tamil Nadu, India: In The Footsteps Of Linnaeus Tripe
Dazzling journeys through India. 3 Iconic Journeys Through India
Honoured guests at a lavish dinner
Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan, could just as easily be called the City of Palaces and Forts. Here we ascended by Jeep to the Amber Fort, clicked our cameras at the Palace of Winds and marvelled at the historic art now displayed at the City Palace.
On our final full day of touring we explored the imperial Samode region, a short drive from Jaipur and rich in heritage monuments. At the glittering Samode Palace, the restored residence of the Royal Family, we were honoured guests at a lavish celebration dinner.
Course after course of delicious appetisers, aromatic curries and decadent desserts were served as Rajasthani folk dancers performed in what was an unforgettable evening. It was a fitting farewell feast for a trip that had been a food-lover's delight.
Whether enjoying banquets in palaces or gourmet dinners in slick, modern hotels we had been treated to true heartfelt hospitality and first-rate cuisine made with love.
The accommodations chosen by Insight Vacations are also first-rate and provide all the comforts that make travelling even more of a pleasure. The Hyatt Regency Delhi is a glamorous, modern hotel in the city's CBD, while the Radisson Blu Agra Taj East Gate is within walking distance of the magnificent Taj Mahal.
Jaipur Marriott Hotel is a sought-after address in the Pink City. Samode Bagh, in the sleepy traditional village of Samode, is set in lush gardens and features a design that pays homage to the classic Mughal style.
Guests of the tour are accompanied by knowledgeable, caring guides who know the destinations inside out and go above and beyond to ensure everyone feels like a VIP. I'm not sure I'll ever top the birthday I spent with Insight in India, waking to bouquets of red roses and multiple birthday cakes throughout the day. The opulence and sense of celebration was simply delightful.
If travel is about making dreams come true, this certainly fit the luxurious bill.
* The Insight Vacations Essence of India 8-day escorted journey is priced from $A1850.