Alexandra Potter's latest novel, The Love Detective, is about Ruby Miller, a romance writer who has has rather disastrously lost her faith in love. Ruby ups sticks, jumps on a plane and travels to Goa to escape her troubles. Amid fortresses and fortune tellers, and a whirlwind of weddings, she uncovers plenty of adventures and fascinating stories of love, lost and found ...
Here, Alexandra explains why India is the perfect place to rediscover romance. Dipping into her own personal photo album from her month-long research tour, she takes us on an expedition around the bustling cities and spiritual villages she found so inspiring.
By Alexandra Potter
I was inspired to write my latest novel, The Love Detective, after spending an incredible month in India. Beginning in the lush south of Goa, with its swaying palm trees, endless beaches and lazy days in a hammock, I took an unforgettable train journey to Delhi, in the north.
Nothing could have prepared me for Delhi. It's seriously loud, terribly polluted, and utterly chaotic. But it's also brighter, faster and more crazy than anything I could have ever imagined. I loved it!
From there, I travelled to Rajasthan, otherwise known as The Land of the Kings. This region of India is truly mesmerising. Filled with ancient history, beautiful palaces and lavish fortresses, amazing colourful cities and stunning scenery, it oozes romance.
My first stop was Agra and the Taj Mahal. One of the seven wonders of the world, it was built by the Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan in 1631 in memory of his wife who died giving birth to their fourteenth child. Her dying wish to him was for a symbol of their love. The result was the Taj Mahal. Made of white, almost translucent marble, there's something magical about it. Something you don't get from looking at a photograph, or seeing it on TV. It's not just a building, it represents the power of love. It's truly awe-inspiring.
From there I travelled to Pushkar, a small town which curls around a holy lake. Despite its size, this is one of the most sacred Hindu towns in India and the air hums with the sounds of temple bells ringing and prayers being chanted. Legend has it that the lake appeared when the god Lord Brahma dropped a lotus flower from the sky – push means lotus flower, and kar means hand – and it was there I was blessed by a holy man in the lake. I'm not religious, but it was an incredible, almost mystical experience.
Leaving Pushkar behind I journeyed into the desert, passing small tribal villages and the occasional herd of camels. It was a million miles away from my fast-paced life in London and LA. That night I camped out in the desert and witnessed one of most amazing sunsets I've ever seen, a blazing kaleidoscope of pinks, reds and oranges. Afterwards I sat around a campfire with other travellers, feasting on the most delicious Indian food and watching a dancer in traditional tribal dress perform a desert gypsy dance. It was both haunting and exhilarating.
My final destination was Udaipur. It's immediately recognisable from the Bond movie, Octopussy, with the shimmering lake and the Lake Palace Hotel floating, like a fairy castle, on the water. This has to be one of the most romantic places on earth and as it was wedding season in India I witnessed several incredible weddings here.
Everyone should attend an Indian wedding once in their life. It's an explosion of dazzling lights and colour and extravagant costumes. Turning a corner one night I found myself accidentally in a wedding procession led by a white horse, embellished in coloured plumage and a bejewelled saddle, on which rode the groom in a flaming red turban. He was followed by an incredible marching band, a fantastically decorated elephant and hundreds of revellers. Fireworks exploded above us and lit up the sky. It was like being in the opening scene of an Indiana Jones movie!
For anyone who has never been, India is completely intoxicating. It will work its magic on even the hardest cynic. If it's not the wedding season, or the Taj Mahal, it's the dazzling colours and seductive scenery. The mix of silks and spices. The incredible food. The fortune-tellers and the mystics. The rainbow-coloured pashminas and perfumed oils. The chocolate-eyed children with smiles that will melt your heart and lift your soul.
It's a land in which to escape, to dream, to find yourself and fall in love. With the people, the scenery, the cuisine and the magic that is unique to India.
I cannot wait to return.