Katie Nicholl travels to Mumbai, Delhi, Agra and Bhutan following the route taken by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Travelling around India can be daunting.

Packing Mumbai, Delhi, Agra - not to mention the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan - into a week is verging on the impossible, but that's what the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge did earlier this year, and I followed them every step of the way.

While challenging, it was the perfect chance to experience a bite-sized portion of this part of the world.

I have always longed to experience the cosmopolitan charm of Mumbai, shop in New Delhi's markets and marvel at the splendour of the Taj Mahal.

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Luckily for me, the Duke and Duchess, who were on an official overseas tour, had a similar checklist.

The Cambridges' first stop was Mumbai, India's commercial centre.

After arriving refreshed from their overnight flight (they flew direct from London First Class on British Airways), the couple headed to the Taj Mahal Palace, one of the most iconic hotels in the world.

Famous for its architecture and its clientele, which include presidents and princes, the hotel was attacked by terrorists in 2008 - 172 people were killed.

A memorial, where the Royal couple laid a wreath, serves as a reminder of the tragedy. Security now is understandably tight, with airport-style body-scanners and bag checks.

The royal couple stayed at the iconic and exclusive Taj Mahal Palace. Photo / iStock
The royal couple stayed at the iconic and exclusive Taj Mahal Palace. Photo / iStock

While the top suite at the Taj costs more than $18,000 a night, tea for two in the Sea Lounge is a far more affordable $41, and you still get to experience the hotel's recently restored art museum, boasting more than 4000 works.

You can also clearly see the Gateway of India, the city's most famous landmark. Work on the dramatic stone arch overlooking the busy harbour started in 1911 to commemorate the post-Coronation visit of William's great-great grandfather, George V.

It is free to visit and tourists and locals alike enjoy admiring the great monument with its striking Gujarati motifs.

Mumbai's Gateway of India, illuminated at night. Photo / iStock
Mumbai's Gateway of India, illuminated at night. Photo / iStock

It's also worth a trip to see the caves at Elephanta Island - ferries ($2.80 return) run every 30 minutes. The caves are home to Shiva temples, with carvings and spectacular religious rock sculptures dating back to the 5th Century.

Bombay, as it was originally called, started as a port, and fishing is still an important trade. When you're back on land, take a taxi to Cuffe Parade to see the Koli villagers who fish in colourful boats.

Despite India's burgeoning economy, 60 per cent of the city's 20 million inhabitants still live in poverty. William and Kate visited the Banganga slum in the Malabar Hill area portrayed in Danny Boyle's film Slumdog Millionaire.

Here, 10,000 people live in dilapidated shacks next to some of Mumbai's wealthiest properties. Nothing prepares you for the shocking disparity.

Tour operators offer guided visits to Dharavi, Mumbai's biggest slum. Photo / iStock
Tour operators offer guided visits to Dharavi, Mumbai's biggest slum. Photo / iStock

Slum dwellers sell everything from scrap metal to flower garlands. Open-air 'launderettes' - bathtubs full of bleachy water - do a roaring trade and sheets hanging out in the stinking alleyways typify the area.

Tour operators can arrange trips into Dharavi, the city's biggest slum. It's a sobering experience.

With little time for shopping in Mumbai, I decided to hit the famous markets of Delhi instead.

The capital was baking hot and always busy. I stayed at the Taj Palace Hotel, a great base to explore the city.

Dilli Haat Market in South Delhi is a taxi ride away and entrance is 60 rupees (about $1.30) for foreigners. The street market is an Aladdin's cave of stalls selling clothes, jewellery, handbags, shoes, wooden crafts and handicrafts, but be prepared to haggle.

I bought a pair of beaded ballet pumps for 400 rupees ($8.40) after initially being offered them for 800 rupees.

The markets of Delhi are a great place to pick up a bargain. Photo / iStock
The markets of Delhi are a great place to pick up a bargain. Photo / iStock

If you can handle the heat and the crowds, Sarojini Nagar open-air market is a bargain-hunter's paradise.

William and Kate also visited Gandhi Smriti, the house where Mahatma Gandhi lived for two years before he was assassinated in 1948. The gardens are beautiful and you can see the very spot where the "Father of the Nation" was killed.

After the searing heat of the day, it's a relief to go out and see many of the capital's famous sights by night. India Gate and the Lotus Temple, one of the country's most important temples, are spectacularly lit up after dusk, while the Red Fort is simply stunning at sunset.

Keen not to get the dreaded "Delhi belly", I dined at Saravana Bhavan, a well-known vegetarian chain, and enjoyed curd vadai (sweet dumpling in coconut milk) and uttapam and dosa pancakes, which were divine.

Next stop was the Kaziranga National Park in Assam, which meant an early morning flight to the north-eastern city of Guwahati. The only way to reach the park from the city is via a terrifying five-hour drive.

The Iora Retreat in the heart of the park offers accommodation from £60 a night, and staff can arrange tours by the Assam Safari Organisation. Like William and Kate, I booked a 6am tour for 2,700 rupees ($56.50).

A pair of elephants in Kaziranga National Park. Photo / iStock
A pair of elephants in Kaziranga National Park. Photo / iStock

Spread across 482,800 square metres, the bush is expansive and packed with wildlife.

The park is home to elephants, water buffalo, swamp deer, tigers, and two-thirds of the world's population of Indian one-horned rhinoceroses. It's incredibly rare to see a tiger, but on most visits you see just about everything else and you can ride elephants at the park's entrance.

The only inconvenience is getting back to Guwahati, essential for onward travel, including to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

William and Kate wanted to visit the great monument to love before leaving India and so did I, even if the heat was unbearable.

The Taj Mahal is a wonder to behold. The crowds, rather like ants against the vast mausoleum, were cordoned off during the Royal couple's visit, giving me the rare chance to get a clear picture.

Even on a whistlestop week-long tour like that undertaken by the Cambridges, if you are travelling to India it's worth finding time to visit Bhutan too.

The Tiger's Nest monastry is a prominent Himalayan Buddhist sacred site in Bhutan. Photo / iStock
The Tiger's Nest monastry is a prominent Himalayan Buddhist sacred site in Bhutan. Photo / iStock

Perched majestically in the Himalayas, the kingdom is often voted one of the world's top destinations. With a population of under a million, it was opened up to tourists only in 1974.

Today tourism is the government's top priority and holidays are booked through one of the government's licensed tour operators. Flights into Paro airport are an experience in itself as you fly over Mount Everest. The landing is also pretty spectacular.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge pose next to a prayer wheel on the trek up to Tiger's Nest in Bhutan. Photo / Getty Images
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge pose next to a prayer wheel on the trek up to Tiger's Nest in Bhutan. Photo / Getty Images

There are excellent hotels in Bhutan, such as The Druk Hotel in the capital Thimphu, and getting around is easy. The national language is Dzongkha, but English is widely spoken.

With rolling hills, flowing streams and lush, green forests, the countryside is breathtaking and Bhutan has some of the best hiking areas in the world. William and Kate walked to the Taktsang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery.

Archery is Bhutan's national sport and is taken very seriously. However, stray arrows kill on average three people a year - so watch out!

In two days you can see plenty, but there is so much more to explore. William and Kate said they can't wait to go back, and neither can I.

Bhutan has to be one of the most magical places on Earth.