As the setting for a smash hit movie, northern India offers a treasure trove of stunning sights, writes DOMINIK LEMANSKI
IN the hit film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a group of ageing Brits travel to Rajasthan in search of a cut-price retirement.
I'm not quite ready to join Bill Nighy, Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith's characters in hanging up my boots.
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But I was excited about the prospects North India had to offer.
Arriving in Delhi, I couldn't wait to get to the awe-inspiring Akshardham Temple.
Built in just five years the majestic Swaminarayan Akshardham, as it is known locally, offers a whirlwind tour of 10,000 years of Indian culture, including some incredibly beautiful sculptures and statues.
Next day, I set off early on the fourhour train journey to Bandikui, which burrows its way north through the Rajasthan countryside.
Waiting at the other end was the truly mesmerising and mindboggling Chand Baori stepwell. This 10th-Century monument in Abhaneri, near Jaipur, is one of the deepest and largest in India.
With more than 3,500 narrow steps and 13 flights of stairs, the 100ftdeep well is a stunning example of India's rich architectural history.
In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel it was the place where henpecked hotel boss Sonny Kapoor, played by Dev Patel, declared his love for girlfriend Sunaina.
My next stop was a sightseeing tour of Castle Kanota - a 19th-Century hotel that was the setting for the Viceroy Club in the film.
This was the spot where Madge (Celia Imrie) and Norman (Ronald Pickup) go in search of new partners. The hotel has incredibly grand surroundings, including eight acres of land and a soon-to-be opened museum and library.
After lunch I set off for Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan.
Commonly known as the "Pink city" or the "Paris of India", the bustling metropolis is best known for its stunning architecture, forts and palaces.
There, the swanky Hotel Mandawa Haveli was a haven of peace, with huge four-poster beds and immaculate courtyards and gardens. I found myself on the back of an elephant at 8am the next day during a trip to the ancient capital of Amber to visit the fabulous Amber Fort.
Settling down on the animal's back, a pal and I were swiftly transported to the top of the fortress, with the odd pit stop to answer calls of nature (the elephant, not me).
The fort is a fascinating mixture of courtyards and halls complemented by wall paintings with precious stones and inlaid mirrors.
On our way out, hawkers offered mementoes of all descriptions from guidebooks to replica mirrors.
By the afternoon I was meandering through Jaipur's bustling flower and vegetable market and was reminded of the scene in the movie where Sonny bought marigolds for Sunaina.
Later, I headed to Jaipur railway station for the eight-hour overnight "Super Express" train to Udaipur.
By now my body was battling the effects of an incredibly strong Lal Maans (red mutton curry).
Thankfully, a couple of sweet mango lassi yoghurt drinks and a soothing flannel on my brow seemed to sort things out.
In Udaipur the majestic Ravla Khempur heritage hotel is a magical retreat steeped in local Rajasthani history and customs.
It also made the ideal setting for the former family home-turnedhotel depicted in John Madden's film.
Big-screen stardom aside, the Ravla is a delightful olde worlde hotel where you can do as much or as little as you like.
You can have a private horseriding session or simply sit back and relax on one of the hotel's lofty terraces or open courtyards looking out over rolling mountains and farmland.
Originally a tribal chieftan's palace, the Ravla is a delight. It is no wonder stars such as Dame Judi looked so at home in the film.
No visit to Udaipur would be complete without a pit-stop at the City Palace.
Built in 1725, the stately home is actually a collection of 11 palaces overlooking the sprawling Lake Pichola.
As my whirlwind tour of northern India came to an end I enjoyed one final night at the luxury Devra Hotel in Udaipur.
I spent the evening looking out over hills and fields and enjoying distant views of the City Palace and Lake Pichola…all washed down with a bottle of Kingfisher lager or two.
The owner informed me that "Devra" translates as "where god resides". I was not surprised.
It was a perfect end to a perfect introduction to the delights of Rajasthan.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is out on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow.
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INDIA travel specialists Mystic India feature a Best Exotic Marigold Hotel film location tour for £1,010.
Trip includes stays at the Colonel's Retreat, Grand Imperial Agra, Ravla Khempur, Castle Kanota, Jagat Niwas Palace, Mandawa Haveli and overnight train to Jaipur as well as a visit to the Taj Mahal.
Flights from Heathrow to Delhi with Jet Airways cost from £500. See jetairways.com.
To book visit mysticindia.co.uk, email email@example.com or call 0207 931 8273.