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It was hot. Like 45 degrees hot and not a breeze in the sky. We’ve been driving across Rajasthan in the north of India in an air-conditioned bus. Every time the doors opened, it felt like we were stepping out into a brick furnace. Our driver and his assistant wore woolly jumpers and scarves like they were on a Nordic adventure.

Admittedly, it didn’t feel great to step out of air-conditioned comfort and see people working in the fields with their bare hands. India was, and is, one of the most confronting travel experiences I’ve ever had. And yet it is my favourite. My Indian yoga teacher, who took our gang of 8 on the trip told me once that everything we are taught to supress in the West is lived out loud in India: pain, joy, terror, abundance, despair, vibrancy is all expressed and consumed minute by minute in India.

Our destination for this leg was the Lake Palace in Udaipur. The story goes that in 1743 a young prince wanted to live in the biggest island palace with his harem of wives and concubines. His Dad said, “No way – go build your own love nest on an island”. So, the young prince did just that. The palace was eventually converted to a hotel and rose to fame when it was featured in the movie “Octopussy”, where it was the love lair of the film’s eponymous Bond girl. Good location scouting! This showcase of marble-bound love and pleasure is opulence personified. And we were up for it.

My friend Michael and I decided to leave the seclusion of the palace on the first night. He and I had a habit of escaping the safety of the group and getting out amongst the action. That night, we went to a spectacular outdoor dance performance in a beautifully lit, disused fort. I can still remember the hypnotic music and bright, flashing colours as the dancers balanced gold plate after gold plate on their heads at the same time as swaying and swirling.

Our Tuk-Tuk driver had waited for us. He was a lovely, chatty guy who offered us some gunja for the ride home (we said no). I just happened to make a passing comment that it looked like a wedding was taking place down a side alley. Our driver asked us if we wanted to have a look.

We respectfully poked our heads around the doorway taking in the incredible field of celebration. Within seconds we had been spotted and invited/dragged in; there were over 3,000 people at this event.

We stayed until 4am. At one stage I looked down and I had 10 little girls dancing with me – all holding on to a finger. The bride and groom were laden with 26kg of gold costume, but we met them and even gave a speech for the video.

Then we were invited to eat, it would have been so impolite not to, and thank goodness we did. Row after row after row of Rajasthani food was on offer – the banquet was due to go on for three days and I was told the food would never stop.

I chose some vegetable curry. My mouth is watering now thinking about it. I almost cried because it was so authentic and Indian, and I was there, and this was big…and I was a tad tired and emotional.

The curry was rich and buttery without being oily. I couldn’t quite make out all the vegetables; I think there was pumpkin, spinach and tomato in there. There was also a mystery ball of goodness – someone once told me it was probably fried balls made of chickpea flour (besan). The standout though were the spices; perfectly balanced but full of tang and flavour at one end but also deep and mellow at the other. It was honestly like a beautiful choir was singing in my mouth. There was plenty of flaky roti bread on offer and I soaked up every single drop of that sauce.

Hundreds of people watched us eat and were proud, pleased and thrilled with every smile and thumbs up from us. So of course, I hammed it up. Towards the end of the dish, I was actually applauded, and the crowd cheered, for every mouthful I took. I’ve never felt so happy eating!

I also never thought I would fall in love with vegetable curry.

And I fell in love with India.

At 4am we retired – much to the teasing of our new best friends. Not a drop of alcohol was consumed and nothing but pure joy and love of life was expressed. Our Tuk-Tuk driver had, again, waited for us. We gave him a huge tip, paid him for his time and thanked him profusely.

Of course, I couldn’t sleep for hours. I tossed and turned all the while laughing, singing and smiling. It was such a joyous, warm and welcoming experience. And that curry – I’ve spent my life trying to recreate it; I know I never will – but that won’t stop me from trying.

PS – I am known for having a delicate stomach when I travel. That doesn’t stop me from giving everything a try. I have been ill in the tummy department in over 42 countries – except one: India. Over the course of our 6-week trip, not once did I have a single upset in the tum tum. Thank you, India.

If you would like to submit your own travel food story from any country and any cuisine please send it to us at hello@dlitefood.com.au

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