After being burned to the ground at the end of Asterix and Son
, the Gaulish village has been rebuilt exactly as it was before (though Geriatrix might have liked a bit of modern architecture), and a celebratory banquet is being held. However, it is interrupted by Cacofonix' dreadful singing as he tests the acoustics of his new hut, causing a sudden downpour, and the enraged Vitalstatistix begins chopping down the tree with the bard's house in it to make him stop.
Suddenly, a man in a turban and a loin cloth falls out of the sky and lands next to the bard's tree. He introduces himself as Watziznehm, an Indian fakir, and apologises for (literally) crashing their party after he lost control while flying over their village. His carpet has landed between the houses of Vitalstatistix and Geriatrix, whose wives both lay claim to the carpet and begin fighting over it, a fight that quickly spreads to the male villagers as well. Cacofonix, unaware of the goings-on below, begins singing again, triggering another shower. Watziznehm is delighted - as he explains to Asterix and Getafix, he has been looking for "the village of madmen, where a voice makes rain". Before explaining himself further, he retrieves his carpet after first taking a terrified Impedimenta and Mrs. Geriatrix for a wild flight to get them to stop fighting over something that isn't theirs anyway.
Watziznehm explains to Vitalstatistix and the other Gauls that he is from the Ganges valley in India, where a terrible drought has left the river dry, and he has been given 1001 hours to find a solution, or the guru Hoodunnit will order the sacrifice of Orinjade, the daughter of the local Rajah, Watzit. He believes the bard's voice may hold the key to breaking the drought, and Vitalstatistix allows him to "borrow" the offended Cacofonix, and sends Asterix, Obelix, and Dogmatix along as well.
The journey gets off to a rough start, as Obelix is unable to bring any provisions on the voyage, while Cacofonix is forbidden from singing, and then falls off the carpet and lands in a tree after Asterix tries to lighten the mood by looking at the wild boar playing below, causing an eager Obelix to upset the carpet's balance. A stop at a Gaulish restaurant terrifies the proprietor and customers, but satisfies Obelix' hunger for a while.
The next day, the carpet is flying over the Tyrrhenian Sea, and the Gauls make another stop for provisions on the ship of their old friends, the pirates (Baba the lookout, convinced they mean to scuttle the ship, does so himself first). As they fly over Rome, they pass Caesar's palace as an ill Caesar steps onto his balcony to get some air; he and his doctor are both taken ill, believing the sight of the Gauls on the carpet to be a fever dream.
Intercut with the journey of the carpet are scenes back in the Ganges valley. Princess Orinjade has faith that Watziznehm will return with the voice that makes rain to end the drought; her father is less certain, and Hoodunnit taunts them with the fact that the time to her sacrifice is running out. Hoodunnit's henchman, the fakir Owzat, asks what will happen if Orinjade's sacrifice is not enough to make it rain; Hoodunnit replies that the Rajah will be the next sacrifice, and if that doesn't work either, it won't matter, as Hoodunnit himself will be Rajah then.
Tempers begin fraying on the carpet as it flies toward Greece, with Cacofonix bristling ever more at being forbidden from singing. An argument breaks out between the bard and Obelix, and finally Cacofonix defies the moratorium on his music, causing another downpour during which the agitated Watziznehm falls off the carpet, leaving the Gauls to plunge into the sea. They are rescued by Greek merchant Onthepremises, and find the fakir in a jar of wine on his ship, dead drunk. Cacofonix tries singing again to bring him round, and although the resulting storm causes the ship to run aground, the fakir regains consciousness. Asterix and Obelix push the boat back to sea, and the hungover fakir finally manages to get the carpet airborne again.
The carpet is greeted with a volley of arrows as it flies over Tyre; one hits Obelix in the backside, causing him to fall off the carpet, though Watziznehm is able to fly under him and catch him. As they continue toward Persia, it begins pouring with rain, and for once, Cacofonix has nothing to do with it. Suddenly, the carpet is hit by lightning and catches fire; Watziznehm crash lands in a river, and as the carpet now has a huge hole in the middle, they must find a replacement. They run across a Persian carpet merchant, but he says that he only repairs carpets he makes and sells himself, even after being threatened by Obelix, and his own carpets are out of their price range. Fortunately for the Gauls, a band of Scythian raiders descends on the village, and Asterix promises that if the merchant will give them a carpet, he and Obelix will repel the invaders. The merchant agrees, and after a banquet to celebrate their victory, Watziznehm and the Gauls hurry on to India.
They finally arrive in the Ganges valley with thirty hours, thirty minutes, and thirty seconds to zero hour, to Hoodunnit's chagrin. However, Cacofonix has lost his voice after flying through the freezing Hindu Kush mountains, and cannot sing to break the drought. The Rajah summons his doctors, who declare that Cacofonix must soak overnight in a bath of elephant milk, elephant dung, and elephant hair. Watziznehm takes the Gauls to the elephant keeper Howdoo for Cacofonix' treatment.
However, Hoodunnit sends two thugs to kidnap Cacofonix and leave him for dead in the elephant graveyard; when Asterix, Obelix, and Dogmatix are taken by Watziznehm to retrieve him, they are stopped by Owzat on his carpet, and as the two fakirs fight a battle of wills, the Gauls make their way to Howdoo's on foot. Finding Cacofonix and Howdoo's favourite elephant gone, they let Dogmatix follow the bard's (now very powerful) scent. After a few close encounters with the local wildlife (none of whom are a match for Obelix), they find the thugs riding Howdoo's elephant, and find Cacofonix alive and well in the elephant graveyard; his scent led the elephants to believe he was one of them.
Watziznehm finally outwits Owzat and retrieves the Gauls; zero hour is upon them, and Orinjade is about to be sacrificed. The Gauls decide they're not giving up without a fight, and Asterix even gives Cacofonix some of his magic potion. The sacrifice is interrupted literally at the last second as Asterix punches the executioner sky high, while Watziznehm grabs Hoodunnit and drops him from a great height to land near the unconscious Owzat. As the fight continues, Cacofonix notes that the magic potion really works wonders - and realises his voice has returned. He begins singing, and a torrential downpour finally begins, restoring the waters of the Ganges. Everyone is delighted - except Hoodunnit and Owzat, who fly off on the latter's carpet.
The Gauls are rewarded with a celebratory banquet, but Obelix is still not content; he believes the Gauls back in their village are having a banquet without them. And sure enough, they are; as Fulliautomatix, who misses having Cacofonix to beat up, sits forlornly under the tree to which the bard is usually tied, Geriatrix and Getafix note that they haven't had rain in their village for a while, and perhaps they ought to hope Cacofonix returns soon.
- Anachronism Stew: Various influences of Islam appear, such as fakirs, clothing such as niqabs, and certain architectural styles, despite Islam not being introduced to India until the 11th century or even existing in 50 BC.
- Better to Die Than Be Killed: Or, in this case, better to sink than be sunk. When the magic carpet lands on the pirate ship, Baba decides to scuttle the ship to prevent the Gauls from getting there first... unaware that they were just stopping for food.
- Continuity Nod: The book starts up from where Asterix and Son left off (with the village being repaired from Brutus' attack), and mentions of past adventures are made as the Gauls go on their journey.
- Every Episode Ending: Subverted; Cacofonix is not gagged and bound for the final banquet in the Gaulish village, as he is halfway round the world as a guest of honour at the banquet in India. Instead, Fulliautomatix the blacksmith is sitting under the bard's usual tree, holding his hammer and looking depressed at not having Cacofonix around to thump.
- Language Barrier: Somehow averted.
- Magic Carpet: But of course! Here, they're fakir-powered.
- National Stereotypes: The Indians are able to use magic spells that enable carpets to fly and ropes to rise erect. Watziznehm is able to go without food for days and sits on a bed of nails. Some local Indian fauna is seen too: tigers, Indian rhinos and Indian elephants.
- New Powers as the Plot Demands: Cacofonix's bad singing starts summoning rain, just as a country is suffering a drought.
- Not Me This Time: Every time there's a rainstorm, Cacofonix is usually the source. But when the group fly through a downpour over Persia, and everyone gives Cacofonix the evil eye, he swears that it's got nothing to do with him this time.
- Orphaned Etymology: The word "pachyderm" was not invented until the 19th century.
- In one panel, the guru Hoodunnit mentions that, like his cousin Iznogoud, he will become Rajah instead of the Rajah. The Iznogoud series was originally written by Goscinny, like Astérix, and the title character aspired to be "Caliph instead of the Caliph".
- In the original French version, Cacofonix begins singing a song which a caption notes is not to be confused with another comic strip. The song is the "Jewel Song" from Charles Gounod's opera Faust, the trademark aria of Bianca Castafiore from The Adventures of Tintin.
- In the English translation, when Cacofonix regains his voice, he begins singing "With a hey, ho, the wind and the rain", the closing ballad from Twelfth Night. A caption credits the song to "a famous British bard". In the French version, Cacofonix's rain-bringing song is "I'm singing in the rain", the narration calling it "an old Celtic song on rain".
- There are several references to Arabian Nights. In the original French, the princess is named Rahazade, and the book is entitled Astérix chez Rahazade, a play on the name "Scheherazade"; in the English translation, meanwhile, Owzat jokes that even a thousand and one nights, never mind hours, would not be enough to save Orinjade from the executioner's axe.
- The scenes where Rahazade asks her sister whether she sees anyone coming yet and especially the standard answer the sister gives are a reference to Bluebeard.
- Snake Charmer: Some snake charmers are seen when Asterix and company visit India.
- Spoofing in the Rain: Cacofonix' song that makes the sky start raining is "Singin' In The Rain" in the original version.
- Wacky Wayside Tribe: Everyone who appears before the Gauls arrive in India.