It is winter in India and the big news is the price of onions.
It has skyrocketed, largely because the weather was dry when the onions wanted wet and wet when the onions wanted dry.
Onions are such a staple of the Indian diet that the government had to impose restrictions to stop them being exported or stockpiled.
Our guide, Piyush, gave us his reason for this outrageous turn of events. "It is all political."
This leads him on to something of an ode to onions, in particular their cosmetic and curative properties.
Onions apparently will ensure you have clear skin, lustrous hair and good digestion.
He added a bit later that it might be a good idea to brush your teeth afterwards. He went on to make his most extravagant claim:
"Onions have the power to absorb all the bacteria and viruses."
If you are sick, he recommended putting an onion on either side of your head overnight to soak up those germs so others in the household are protected.
I am in the front seat of our bus, but I can feel the eyeballs of the others swivelling in my direction.
I had a vigorous cold and knew there was plotting afoot to sneak onions into my personal belongings, despite the lack of rigorous scientific evidence about this measure.
We were told this story on the drive from Delhi to Agra.
Outside the bus were fields of mustard in flower and brick kilns smoking. Water buffalo and donkeys mooched around or hauled trolleys between clusters of mud houses.
On the roadside were futile traffic management signs urging drivers to "maintain lane discipline" and warning "over-speeding" will be fined.
India's traffic is famously anarchic – the only give way rule that is adhered to is to give way to cows. One of our escorts joked that while drivers in other countries were told what side of the road to drive on, in India "it is optional."
Simply crossing the road is as adrenalin-pumping an adventure as anything New Zealand can come up with.
Slowly, slowly the haze of smog from Delhi is diminishing but not altogether.
December is winter in India. That means it is low to mid-20s and cool at night, the ideal travelling temperature. Because few in India mark Christmas, it also means the days are not blighted by Christmas carols being piped out wherever you go.
Different ways to experience India
"You won't see the real India," someone said to me when I said I would be staying in flash hotels for the 11-day tour through Delhi, Ranthambore National Park, Agra, Jaipur and Udaipur.
But it turned out the "real India" was not so shy after all, and she came in many guises. Each day we dipped into it, and then retreated to the hotels to recover.
We were travelling with Luxury Escapes, a company that organises small-group travel.
The prospect of a backpack or cheap tour around India had never appealed; I'd heard too many horror stories from others.
My only qualm about a group tour was the memory of seeing massive strings of people scuttling around after a poor guide carrying a flag.
My fears were swiftly allayed. Our group numbered just 11, aged from mid-40s to 85.
There was a Canadian and a couple of New Zealanders but most were Australian, including a family of three daughters and a son-in-law led by their 85-year-old mother. I swiftly dubbed her Queen, due to her majestic brandishing of a walking stick when something displeased her.
Group travel is perfect if you are going solo, it means there are others to talk to about your day.
The other advantage is that you don't have to spend hours planning the adventure. You can simply turn up. It is a holiday handed to you on a platter.
Luxury Escapes arranged everything we needed from being met at the plane gates and escorted through Customs on arrival, to guides and transport everywhere we went.
And India is a place where it pays to have a guide who knows how the system works: how to get things, how much to tip, and how to wrangle the hawkers.
Ours was Piyush, who was worth his weight in gold.
An encyclopaedia of historical facts, and information about Indian life, he also kept a vigilant eye out for possible pickpockets or pesky hawkers and shooed them away.
Piyush told many stories. I didn't fact-check them; it might have ruined the fun.
Queen's presence prompted Piyush to tell us about India's attitudes to the older generation.
He started his day by touching the feet of his father and then touching his own forehead. It was a way of passing on wisdom because his father was his 'first teacher."
"Then the ego is gone and when the ego is gone the learning can begin."
Queen's youngest daughter eyeballed her mother. "Just so we're clear, I'm not going to be touching your feet."
Journey through Delhi
Our tour started in Delhi, which was worth a day or two but no more. It was packed and when we visited also very polluted. Choking haze from burn-offs in surrounding regions hung over the city.
The lack of tourist facilities in India means the barriers between the tourist and the country's history are fewer.
And India has a dramatic and glorious history. It is writ in the sprawling red stone and marble palaces and forts from the 16th and 17th century days of the Mughal empire, and India's regional maharajahs.
Many are now Unesco heritage sites, untainted by commercialisation. There are no massive modern information centres or gift shops, just ticket gates and a sprawl of hawkers selling souvenirs.
There are very few roped-off areas or signs saying "do not touch".
So it was at Humayan's Tomb, built for the Mughal emperor who ruled from 1530 to 1556, where people now clamber over the massive edifice to look down on the gardens below.
Then there is the more humble Gandhi's Smriti, a museum at the place where the Mahatma spent his last days before being assassinated on January 30, 1948. We could take the path Gandhi had walked on that day when he was shot on his way to prayers.
The highlight in Delhi was the least grand of these things – the traditional old Delhi rickshaw ride. It was like a roller coaster without suspension and with the added frisson of a spider's web of low hanging power lines.
That ride took us to Khari Baoli, one of the largest spice markets in the world - an Indian postcard in action.
Massive sacks were piled up 10 feet high on trolleys being hauled by a single man. There were the ubiquitous marigold garlands – offerings for the gods - multiple varieties of dates, a rainbow of fruits, and mounds and mounds of spices.
There were men with deft fingers weaving fishing nets, trucks packed with chickens, jalebi, goats, and men to shine your shoes if required. Incense burned in shrines, and sweetened the air despite the squalor beneath our feet.
But we were glad to leave Delhi for Agra. We were heading there mainly to see the Taj Mahal, the monument to love in marble built by the Shah Jehan for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to his 13th child. The shah is also entombed there.
The Taj Mahal is among the most photographed and described buildings in the world. But, like Central Otago landscapes, it is something you actually have to see with the naked eye to appreciate.
The first glimpse comes as you edge your way in with the throngs at the gate. There it floats, almost ethereal in the haze, a white mirage.
But the Taj is not the only wonder of Agra. The city was founded as the capital of the Mughal empire - and that brings with it palaces and forts.
There is the vast, majestic Red Fort where Shah Jehan was put under house arrest by his own son for eight years prior to his death. But the place it was easiest to conjure up the court life of the Mughal emperors is Fatehpur Sikri.
The emperor Akbar reigned from this sprawling red sandstone-walled palace and gardens in the 16th century. He was religiously tolerant and famously entered diplomatic marriages – as well as his Muslim wife, he had a Hindu wife and some also believe a Christian wife from Portugal.
Each had their own palace – the largest reserved for his Hindu wife, who was the only one to deliver him a son.
He had a large courtyard for public audience, with latticed windows on the floors overlooking it so the women could peek out at the goings-on without being seen.
We saw Akbar's shower, and his bedroom with its massive raised bed platform and a small door nearby for his chosen lady to sneak into the chamber.
There was even a life-sized parcheesi board for the emperor to play the game using his harem as his game-pieces.
Perhaps the most startling feature in the palace was a large ring for tying up elephants. Piyush told us the justice system of the time was to sentence people to death by elephant.
Another punishment was a rather grim consumer protection measure; if a trader rigged his scales to cheat a customer, he would have the same weight of skin torn from his body.
The Hindu wife's summer palace had a courtyard with holy basil, believed to ward off disease, planted in the centre.
Piyush noted that this theory was discounted now, and no longer practised. Perhaps it is best to stick to the onions.
runs the 12-day Indian Opulence tour of the 'Golden Triangle' - Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Udaipur or Jodphur.
Trips include all travel in India, excursions, most meals, and guides.
Air NZ flies to Delhi with its code-share partners via Hong Kong, Singapore or Tokyo. Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines also fly from NZ to Delhi with stopovers.