From rainbow-coloured saris to terrifying traffic jams, Paul Rush finds all of his senses assailed in India.
Somu displays all the finesse of a safe, professional driver, for which I'm very relieved, given the unmitigated chaos and confusion that surrounds us as we try to escape Delhi.
We skilfully weave around a motorised tuk-tuk on our left with barely half a metre clearance, while a fruit seller pushing an unwieldy wooden cart shouts at us on our right - and it was definitely not a friendly "Namaste". By the time I turn back to the front, I am straining against the seatbelt as Somu stands on the brakes "Sorry about that," he says politely in crisp, clear English. "There's a Brahman cow lying in the middle of the road."
At that moment I see the motor scooter. It flashes past our car and squeezes between the cow and a truck with consummate skill. It's packed with five riders; a man, a woman in a dazzling pink silk sari, and three children.
The vivid colour stands out in the bright Indian sunlight like a shimmering beacon in the drab, swirling miasma of unrelenting, unregimented traffic. The sari is edged in soft blue and the skirt billows behind the scooter like a bullfighter's cape.
As we clear the city's outskirts, Somu is able to relax a little and maintain steady progress over a reasonably smooth highway.
"To drive safely in India you need three things," he tells me, "a good horn, good brakes and good luck."
My tour of royal Rajasthan embraces the capitals of former princely states that ceded their powers to the central government in 1947 when independence was gained. Their formidable fortresses and fairy tale castles now serve as museums and luxury hotels.
We pass many small towns where I catch a thousand glimpses of rainbow-coloured saris and glittering gold jewellery. People here have an enduring passion for decoration. When we stop at a tourist bazaar, I'm impressed by the colourful arts and crafts, especially the hand-woven carpets, which are decorative and functional. I learn of the cherished tradition of deriving colours from natural sources: yellow from turmeric, green from banana leaves, orange from saffron, blue from indigo and purple from the kermes insect.
Emerging from the muted tones of the desert highway and its dusty crowded towns into the brilliant reflected glory of Agra's Taj Mahal entails a massive culture shock for me.
This marble monument to Shah Jahan's love for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, is almost too magnificent in an imperfect world. It's like a painted landscape made real, a vision of symmetry with impossibly delicate, beautiful designs.
The road to Jaipur is lined with pilgrims. The men stride purposefully along the dusty verge proudly holding aloft their district flag.
The heavily veiled women move more circumspectly, seeming to float in slow motion as if carried along by their flowing red, orange and yellow saris, despite carrying heavy bags on their heads.
The honey-coloured Amber Fort in Jaipur rises from a steep ridge to soaring watchtowers and battlements. On a richly caparisoned elephant adorned with garish body paint, I ride up to the view the fort's lavish maharajahs' private quarters and the glittering Hall of Mirrors.
Jaisalmer, the Golden City, has an equally impressive fort rising defiantly from the dun-coloured desert sand dunes. I wander through warren of bazaars and meet several members of Jaisalmer New Zealand Cricket Club, who wear Kiwi symbols on their shirts and speak appreciatively of Kiwis' sportsmanship and fair play on the field.
Entering the bustling "Blue City" of Jodhpur under the protective gaze of Mehrangarh Fort, I see colourful street scenes of massed pilgrims, donkeys yoked to heavy carts and holy men sitting cross-legged on steps waiting to give blessings and advice.
It would be hard to imagine a more romantic setting than the picture-perfect, wedding-cake Lake Palace in Udaipur. Lake Pichola is the centrepiece of a series of mirror-surfaced lakes with beautiful reflections.
I rest my head on a feather-soft pillow and sleep as soundly as a maharajah in a luxury palace.
It does not take long for this country to grow on you. Colour flows from a pantheon of forts, palaces and temples and embraces every visitor. I soon experience the warmth of that embrace and begin to feel I'm a part of India and India is a part of me.
Getting there: Cathay Pacific is currently offering Christmas-time airfares from New Zealand to New Delhi with prices starting from $1859.
Getting around: Adventure World organises small group tours around Rajasthan in modern vehicles with local guides at each city. Carry low-denomination currency as tipping is common.
The writer travelled to India courtesy of Adventure World and Cathay Pacific.