Caroline Quentin tells TV Times magazine how her 50th birthday turned into a programme documenting her epic journey through India.

So how did the programme ‘A Passage Through India’ come about on the eve of your 50th birthday?
“A big party was more what I had in mind. But when ITV got in touch to ask if I fancied marking my half-century by making a programme about a place I’ve always wanted to visit, India immediately sprung to mind. I’ve always hankered to go there, but I never had the chance.”

Are you glad you did it though?
“Yes, at one point, for example, I found myself riding a camel – very fast – over sand dunes, and on another I went to the dance festival at Navratri, decked out in full costume by the teenage girls in the family that I was staying with. On both occasions I thought, ‘What am I doing? I’m making an absolute arse of myself, and I’m 50’. But I’m so happy that I was given the chance to have such a wonderful adventure at this stage of my life. It really was the trip of a lifetime.”

And your view of India as a country?
“I just feel in love with the place. The colours, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the food and especially the people. Everybody that I met was just so clever and funny and well educated. I couldn’t believe how welcoming and friendly everyone was.”

And what was it like staying with families along the way?
“All the families I met were terrific and all of them were different. One was a family of musicians, another ran a bed and breakfast in Jodpor. They welcomed me into their homes and allowed me to see how real families live. I loved the women although things are so different for them in India. If you’re a woman, then, once you’re married you go and live with your husband’s parents. To us, living with your mothers-in-law is a great British joke, but, in reality, it can’t be easy. Before I went to India, I thought, ‘Who on earth would want to do that?’ And yet they do it uncomplainingly and in many ways the large extended family that they move into is a very supportive one. You can see that there could be some major benefits.”

What other things came out of the journey for you?
“The fact that the country is so much more rich and varied and downright large than you ever imagine it to be. It’s about 17 times the size of the UK and within it there are the huge densely populated cities, like Mumbai, that we are used to seeing on film. But, at the same time, there are stunning stretches of rural beauty, including the Kanha National Park, which we also visited. It really is the ultimate land of contrasts. Those contrasts were even reflected in the country’s delicious cuisine. In the North the food is spicier, hotter. But then coming down to Kerala in the South it’s much softer, more coconut-y. They use different spices according to the region, so India tends to smell different according to where exactly you are.”

So you enjoyed the food as well?
“While I was out there I abandoned all hope of sticking to any kind of diet or exercise routine. It was all aerobic curry eating and a lot of sweating. I told myself I’d deal with the fall-out when I got home.”

Even so you must have been homesick?
“Yes, but fortunately, I did get to see them half way through filming or I’d never have coped. We had a change of film crew but when they flew back to the UK I didn’t join them. I thought, ‘If I go back to Sam and the kids now, I’ll never come back out again.’ So, instead, they came out to me and we had a wonderful holiday together. Mind you, I howled when they arrived because I was so happy to see them and I howled again when they left because I couldn’t bear to see them go. But at that stage there was just another few weeks of filming left and I was determined not to waste the experience.”

How else have you celebrated turning 50?
“It’s lucky that for me hitting 50 seems to have coincided with a lot of work offers. While my forties are over now I’m certainly glad that my life and career are not.”

Caroline Quentin: A Passage Through India starts on Tuesday March 8 at 9pm on ITV1