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The Tailor-Made Guide to India’s Golden Triangle



Author: Barry Pickard

Contents

India’s Golden Triangle
Lodhi Gardens, Delhi

India's Golden TriangleDelhi, Agra, Jaipur – is a triumvirate of cities and popular tourist circuit. The Golden Triangle is adorned with royal legacy, vibrant culture, and breathtaking architecture. It beckons travellers with the promise of history etched in sandstone, the intoxicating aroma of spiced cuisine, and the kaleidoscope of life unfolding on bustling streets. If you’re an independent traveller who wants to explore India on your own terms, the Golden Triangle is an excellent place to start.


India’s Golden Triangle
Taj Mahal, Agra

In this blog post, I’ll provide you with a comprehensive guide to travelling the Golden Triangle independently. I’ll cover everything from transportation and accommodation to food, sightseeing, and shopping. I’ll also give you tips on how to stay safe and respectful of local customs.


India’s Golden Triangle
Lotus Temple, Delhi

We'll navigate the intricate tapestry of traditions, unravelling the knots of history at Delhi's Red Fort, marvelling at the Taj Mahal's ethereal testament to love, and losing ourselves in the vibrant chaos of Jaipur's Pink City. No two journeys will be the same, for the Golden Triangle, like India itself, is a kaleidoscope of experiences, ever shifting and endlessly fascinating.


India’s Golden Triangle
Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Don’t forget that Tailor-Made Itineraries delights in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if visiting any of the Golden Triangle appeals to you, reach out to me by email. I would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements incorporating the fascinating attractions of India’s Golden Triangle, or indeed, just those of Delhi, Agra or Jaipur.



Guide to India’s Golden Triangle


Best Time to Visit


Weatherwise, the best time to visit the cities of the Golden Triangle is from September to February, when the rains have finished, the land is lush and green, and the temperature is cooler. However, this is the most popular time to travel this route and attractions like the Taj Mahal get especially crowded at this time. I visited during August, when it was still very hot and humid, but if you can tolerate this, it can be a great time to explore the city without the hassles of too many tourists.



How Long Should You Stay in Each City


Delhi is the arrival point for many visitors, but most only spend a cursory amount of time in the city, before moving on to the likes of the Taj Mahal. However, this is such as shame, since Delhi is packed with interesting attractions and is full of history. You should aim to have at least two full days of sightseeing in Delhi, but in fairness, you could easily spend a week here and you wouldn’t run out of interesting places to visit.




The Taj Mahal and Agra Fort can be visited comfortably within a day, but to get the best out of Agra, aim to have two full days. Plenty could be included in a third day, but after that, attractions would be running thin in Agra.

 


Jaipur has much to see, with two days required to see its best attractions. If time is not of the essence, then an extra two days or more on top of that could easily be filled with the city’s fascinating attractions and experiences.

 


Depending on the transportation option you choose for getting between the cities, you should expect to take up to a day travelling between each city, especially if you want to stop off at places like Fatehpur Sikri.




Getting to the Cities


New Delhi:

By Air – There are extensive links within India and internationally, with six USA routes, two Canadian, two UK, as well as to Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and a number of other European, Middle East, SE Asian and Australian airports.

 

By Rail – The New Delhi Railway Station, Old Delhi Railway Station and Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station connect Delhi to all major cities of the country.

 

By Road – Delhi is well-connected by a network of roads and national highways across the major cities of the country. Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT) at Kashmiri Gate, Serai Kale-Khan Bus Terminals and Anand Vihar Bus Terminus are the main bus stands of Delhi. It takes approximately 4 hours by car to get to Agra and 5½ hour to Jaipur.

 



Agra:


By Air – There is a small domestic airport just outside the city, with direct flights from six Indian cities, including Jaipur and Mumbai.

 

By Rail – Agra is well integrated into the extensive Indian rail network, and there are regular departures to and from Delhi.


By Road – Agra is connected via regular bus services to New Delhi, Jaipur, Gwalior, Lucknow and Kanpur. It takes approximately 4½ hours by car to get to Jaipur.

 



Jaipur:

By Air - Jaipur has regular flights to almost 30 Indian cities, including New Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai, and has an international connection with Dubai.

 

By Rail – There are trains from major Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Agra etc. There are also trains running between Jaipur and Udaipur, Bikaner and Jodhpur.

 

By Road – Jaipur can be reached via the extensive state and national highways of India. New Delhi is 260 km away. Buses, with AC and non-AC, operate from all major cities of Rajasthan.

 



Hire a Driver:

Hiring a driver is a more economical and personalised way of travelling the Golden Triangle than booking with a bus tour operator.


This is my own preferred mode of transport when travelling in India, and the Golden Triangle in particular. I used the excellent services of Vivek at Just To Travels to organise this for me – website & email.


Read on to discover the attractions of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur.




Top Five Attractions in Delhi


Qutub Minar

The Qutub Minar is a 73-meter-tall minaret and victory tower that stands as a testament to the rich history and culture of Delhi. It is the tallest minaret in the world made of bricks and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built between 1199 and 1220 by Qutb-ud-din Aibak, the first Muslim ruler of Delhi, the minaret was originally intended to be a victory tower to commemorate his victory over the last Hindu ruler of Delhi.


Qutub Minar, Delhi

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Look out for the Iron Pillar of Delhi near the base of the minaret. This 7-meter-tall iron pillar dates back to the 4th century AD and is remarkable for its resistance to rust. The pillar is believed to have been made using a special technique that is now lost.




Red Fort

The Red Fort, also known as Lal Qila, was built between 1638 and 1648 as the new imperial residence of Shah Jahan. The fort was constructed of red sandstone and marble, and it is decorated with intricate carvings and inscriptions. The fort is surrounded by a moat and has a high wall with 13 gates.


Red Fort, Delhi

Tailor-Made Top Tip: There are also interesting museums within the fort, such as the Museum On 1857- India's First War of Independence and the Archaeological Museum, so you can easily spend half a day exploring this historic site. There is plenty to see!



Lotus Temple

The Lotus Temple is a Bahai House of Worship, and, as its name suggests, it is known for its unique lotus-shaped design. The temple was designed by Fariborz Sahba and built between 1978 and 1986. This stunning temple is made of white marble, and it is surrounded by a nine-pool complex.


Lotus Temple, Delhi

Tailor-Made Top Tip: On the walk towards the temple, you will find a shoe depository, where you place your shoes into a bag, give to the attendant and then you will get handed your receipt.




Humayun’s Tomb

Humayun's Tomb was one of the first garden-tombs on the Indian subcontinent and is considered to be the precursor to the Taj Mahal. It was built in the 16th century by the Mughal emperor Humayun's first wife and chief consort, Empress Bega Begum. Construction began in 1565 and was completed in 1572. The tomb was designed by Persian architects chosen by her.


Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Make sure to visit Isa Khan’s Tomb, which is on your right soon after you enter the complex and before you arrive at the main gateway to Humayun’s Tomb. Isa Khan’s Tomb is much smaller than Humayun’s, but I would argue that it is more appealing.



Lodhi Garden

Lodhi Garden is a sprawling 90-acre urban park located in the heart of New Delhi. It is home to several well-preserved tombs and monuments of the Sayyid and Lodi dynasties, which ruled over Delhi from the 15th to 16th centuries. The garden is also a popular spot for locals and tourists alike to enjoy a picnic, go for a walk, or simply relax and enjoy the natural beauty.


Lodhi Garden, Delhi

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Surprisingly, the garden does not have a café, so maybe take a picnic if you are wanting to spend a few lazy hours enjoying Lodhi Garden.




Other Attractions in Delhi

Wander through Chandni Chowk, one of the oldest and busiest markets in Delhi. Or discover the colourful murals of the Lodhi Arts District (LAD). For more culture, visit the National Museum which boasts a vast collection of over 200,000 artifacts. The India Gate is also a most impressive sight, being 42 meters high and was heavily influenced by the Arc de Triomphe.



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Top Five Attractions in Agra


Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is a masterpiece of Mughal architecture, blending Islamic, Persian, and Indian styles. Its symmetrical design, intricate carvings, and delicate pietra dura work create a mesmerizing visual experience. The Taj Mahal was commissioned by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. Construction began in 1632 and employed over 20,000 artisans and labourers. The mausoleum was completed in 1643.


Taj Mahal, Agra

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Aim to visit early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid the crowds and capture the best light for photography. The site opens 30-minutes before sunrise.




Taj Mahal Viewpoint ADA

Nestled across the Yamuna River from the iconic Taj Mahal, the viewpoint offers a breathtaking perspective of this architectural marvel. This location provides an unobstructed view of the Taj Mahal's grandeur, allowing visitors to capture the monument's beauty against the backdrop of the city and the river.


Taj Mahal Viewpoint ADA, Agra

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Similar to when visiting the Taj Mahal itself, aim to arrive for sunrise (the viewpoint is open from 6:00 am) or sunset.



Agra Fort

Construction of the Agra Fort began in 1565 under the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar, and it was completed in 1573. The fort served as the primary residence of the Mughal emperors until 1638, when the capital was shifted to Delhi. Over the years, the fort witnessed numerous historical events, from the coronation of Mughal emperors to the imprisonment of their rivals.


Agra Fort, Agra

Tailor-Made Top Tip: There are a number of beautiful buildings and palaces within the fort, and it is difficult to know how you should visit them, so as not to miss anything. I found that by starting at the Jahangir Palace, then working northwards, you should get the best experience.




Itmad-ud-Daulah

On the banks of the Yamuna River in Agra, India, stands a gem of Mughal architecture, often referred to as the "Baby Taj" for its resemblance to its grander counterpart. Itmad-ud-Daulah, a mausoleum commissioned by Nur Jahan, the powerful wife of Mughal emperor Jahangir, is a testament to the exquisite craftsmanship and artistic sensibilities of the Mughal era.


Itmad-ud-Daulah, Agra

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Pay attention to the interiors of Itmad-ud-Daulah, which is a marvel of pietra dura, a technique of inlaying semi-precious stones into marble to create intricate patterns and designs.



Akbar's Tomb

On the outskirts of Agra amidst a lush green garden, lies the majestic tomb of Akbar, the third Mughal emperor. This grand monument, constructed in a unique blend of architectural styles, stands as a testament to the emperor's legacy and the artistic brilliance of the Mughal era. The construction of Akbar's Tomb commenced in 1605, under the reign of Akbar himself, and was completed in 1613.


The gate to Akbar's Tomb, Agra

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Akbar’s Tomb is housed in a vast site, so be prepared to spend a couple of hours here to enable you to see all the buildings.




Other Attractions in Agra

Visit the Gurudwara Guru Ka Taal, a sprawling centre of Sikh worship with historic artifacts, ornate architecture & gardens. For peaceful surrounds in the bustling city of Agra, stroll around the beautiful Persian influenced gardens of Mehtabh Bagh or Aram Bagh. Agra has many more impressive monument tombs that you can visit, such as the Tomb of Mariam-UZ-Zamani.


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Top Five Attractions in Jaipur


Amber Palace 

The Amber Palace was commissioned by Man Singh I, the general of the Mughal emperor Akbar, in the late 16th century, and is a mesmerizing blend of Rajput and Mughal architectural styles. Its sandstone and marble walls gleam under the warm Indian sun. The fort complex is divided into four courtyards, each with its own unique architectural features.


Amber Palace, Jaipur

Tailor-Made Top Tip: If you are feeling adventurous, you can ascend the hill to the palace on one of the elephants that ply their trade up and down the path. Quite a memorable experience.




Jaigarh Fort 

Sitting imperiously above the Amber Palace, with views stretching out over the city of Jaipur, lies Jaigarh Fort, an imposing defence, with architectural brilliance. Built in the early 18th century by Maharaja Jai Singh II, this formidable fortress served as a strategic stronghold outpost for the Kachwaha rulers of Jaipur.

 

Jaigarh Fort, Jaipur

Tailor-Made Top Tip: There is a once-secret open-air passageway that winds its way up from the palace to the outer defences of the fort. Take this path for an interesting journey to the fort. 



Hawa Mahal

Standing gracefully amidst the bustling Pink City, the Hawa Mahal, or "Palace of Winds," is a mesmerising five-story structure that stands out for its unique honeycomb-like façade and intricate latticework. Built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, the Hawa Mahal served as an extension to the royal City Palace, allowing the royal ladies to observe street processions and festivities without being seen from outside. Its unique design also allowed for natural ventilation, keeping the palace cool during the hot summer months.

 

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Tailor-Made Top Tip: The best way to see and appreciate the Hawa Mahal, is by having a meal on the Tattoo Café and Lounge terrace. The café is situated directly across the road from the façade of the awesome structure.




The City Palace

The City Palace stands in the heart of the vibrant "Pink City." This grand palace complex, built between 1729 and 1732 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, served as the seat of the Kachwaha rulers of Jaipur until the early 20th century.


City Palace, Jaipur

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Take note of the beautiful gateways that line the Pritam Niwas courtyard.



Galta Ji Temple 

Galta Ji is a revered pilgrimage site, with natural springs, sacred kunds (water tanks), and intricate architecture, and has been revered for centuries by Hindus. The origins of Galta Ji Temple can be traced back to the early 15th century when Payohari Krishnadas, a Ramanandi saint, established a hermitage at the site. Today, the site is often referred to as the ‘Monkey Temple’ since the surrounding hills are home to a variety of monkeys, which are often seen frolicking around the temple complex.

 

Galta Ji Temple, Jaipur

Tailor-Made Top Tip: There are east and west approaches to the temple. It is the western approach that you will need to take if driving there, with the road taking a long loop out of the city, before arriving at the temple.




Other Attractions in Jaipur

Pay a visit to the Albert Hall Museum, which stands as a testament to the region's artistic prowess and historical significance. You can also admire the iconic Jal Mahal palace, which emerges gracefully from the shimmering waters of Man Sagar Lake. Jaipur is dominated by a series of forts, and the Nahargarh Fort will provide you a panoramic view of the sprawling city below. You can also discover the magnificent astronomical prowess of an era long past, by visiting Jantar Mantar and its 19 massive fixed astronomical instruments.

 



Read on to discover the places you can visit between the three cities, how to get around the cities and where to stay.

 



Things to Do Between the Cities


The three cities of the Golden Triangle hold an abundance of impressive attractions and fascinating experiences, but there are also several places worth visiting on your travels between them.


The trip from Delhi to Agra is relatively short, and you may wish to hurry on to the home of the Taj Mahal, but on the approach to Agra, there is the opportunity to stop at the Wildlife SOS - Elephant Conservation and Care Center.



An hour’s drive from Agra, on the road to Jaipur, is the must-see abandoned capital city of Fatehpur Sikri. Founded by the Mughal emperor Akbar in 1569, Fatehpur Sikri contains many early Mughal structures, including the colossal gateway Buland Darwaza and the palace of Jodha Bai.


Buland Darwaza, Fatehpur Sikri

Before arriving in Jaipur, there is also the opportunity to view what is perhaps India’s most impressive step well. The Chand Baori Step Well, in the village of Abhaneri, is massive construction from the 8th & 9th centuries, containing an amazing 3,500 steps.


Chand Baori Step Well, Abhaneri

A slight detour from the route between Jaipur and Delhi is the Sariska Tiger Reserve. It is well worth adding a day or two to your itinerary to stay near the reserve and enjoy a safari tour, with the chance of seeing these majestic felines in the wild.



Getting Around the Cities


If you have chosen to hire a driver and car to take along the Golden Triangle, ensure that they are booked to drive you between the attractions in each city. This would be the easiest way to get around.


Please note that if you have never driven in an Indian city before, do not even contemplate hiring a car or scooter. It takes a special set of skills to drive here which are only learned if you have grown up on these roads!



Uber is an easy way of getting around all three cities. Aircon is standard (don’t be scared to ask them to turn it up!), its comparatively cheap (if you are from Europe/America), and there is always one just a couple of minutes away.



For short journeys, the auto-rickshaws are a handy alternative, and an exciting experience that you need to have at least once on your trip.


New Delhi has a metro service. If there are metro stations close to where you are and where you want to go, this is an excellent, modern, efficient, and cheap way of going long distances.




Where to Stay


There are plenty of options for accommodation in all three cities, ranging from budget to luxury hotels and guesthouses, with all the main global hotel brands well represented. The popular accommodation aggregators like Expedia and Hotels.com are also full of options.



One type of accommodation I would advise staying at is a haveli. A haveli is a traditional townhouse or mansion, and many have been converted into hotels. Staying in a haveli can be an unforgettable experience, offering a chance to become immersed in the local culture and history.


Heritage hotels are similar to havelis but tend to be larger converted palaces and often more expensive. Another great experience all the same. 


Read on to discover what to eat and buy.



What to Eat


The cuisine of northern India, as in the rest of the country, is diverse, tasty and relatively cheap. Vegetarian meals are at the forefront of many menus, especially in Jaipur and the rest of the Rajasthan state where it can be difficult to get meat dishes (unless you go to a Muslim restaurant). Beef will never be on the menu, but buffalo is a good alternative when available.

 

The cuisine uses lots of spices and the dishes can be hot, however, if this is not to your taste, restaurants are very happy to reduce the heat if you ask when ordering.



One interesting culinary experience is to have a free communal meal at a Sikh Gundwara. The kitchen, or langar as it's known, is open to everyone, regardless of religion, caste, or creed. It is a great way to experience Sikh culture and to learn about the importance of community service. Food is served in steel thalis with dal, chapati, vegetable, and kadha prasad which is cooked in pure ghee. I attended the langar at Gurudwara Sri Bangla Sahib in Delhi, and it was a memorable experience.



What to try in Delhi:

Chaat - bite-size puffed up fried bread filled with potatoes and tamarind water.

Nihari - a stew that consists of slow cooked meat and bone marrow.

Biryani - basmati rice, with Indian spices, a hint of saffron, and meat.

Kebab - minced meat, flavoured with aromatic Indian spices.

Paranthas - stuffed flatbreads that are cooked on a flat-surface tawa.

 

Rainbow Restaurant, Pushkar
What to try in Agra:

Bedai - deep fried puffy bread, which is accompanied by a spicy potato gravy and a helping of yoghurt.

Dal Moth - a savoury snack made with fried lentils (moth lentils).

Petha - a candy made with ash gourd (or white pumpkin). Prepared with vegetable, water, and sugar.

Jalebi - flour paste, deep-fried in swirls and dipped in a sugary syrup.

 


Chia Taj View Cafe, Agra
What to try in Jaipur:

Kachori – flatbread stuffed with a spicy, sweet, and savoury filling of potatoes, onions, and spices.

Kadhi – curd-based curry with fried gram flour and fritters called pakoda.

Safed Maas – mutton-based dish, with fresh cream and yoghurt.

Laal Mass – spicy mutton made with lot of red chilli.

Ghevar – a traditional fried dessert made with maida (refined flour) and ghee (clarified butter).

 


The Tattoo Cafe & Lounge, Jaipur



What to Buy


India has a rich history of making amazing handicrafts, with each city and region specialising in certain types.

 

New Delhi: 

Go to Dilli Haat market and choose from the brassware, metal crafts, gems, beads, silk and wool fabrics, embellished footwear, sandalwood, and rosewood carvings. Also visit Chandni Chowk market, especially the Khari Baoli area, which is the largest spice market in Asia, and the Dariba Kalan area, a glittering silver market.

 

Agra: 

Marble inlay work, leathercraft, mirror work (sheesha), and zardozi embroidery (metal thread embroidery)

 

Jaipur: 

Blue pottery, leathercraft, kundan jewellery (jewellery with precious gems), tie-and-dye fabrics like leheriya and bandhej, and bagru wooden block prints.

 

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Etiquette


When visiting sites of any religion, it is respectful to keep your shoulders and knees covered. You are normally asked to remove your shoes as well. Additionally, Sikh temples require you to wear a head covering if you are a man. Many sites will provide suitable clothing so that you can enter, but not always. Note that you might not be allowed to visit mosques during prayer times.

 


Safety


Like any big cities, be aware of your surroundings and act confident, staying within the main tourist areas. With this mindset, you will be able to meet some of the friendliest people in the world. Always agree a price with your taxi or rickshaw driver before getting in.



Conclusion


This is your independent odyssey, a heart-to-heart with India's Golden Triangle, tailor-made for the intrepid explorer. Go and enjoy the bustling bazaars where vibrant sarees whisper stories, crumbling forts echoing whispered histories, and streets pulsing with the intoxicating chaos of a culture a billion threads strong.



Related Blog Posts


If you would like more information on The Golden Triangle and how to visit these locations, please view the Tailor-Made Itineraries posts below:



Comment below and let me know which Golden Triangle attraction is on your bucket list.



Don’t forget that Tailor-Made Itineraries delights in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if visiting any of the Golden Triangle appeals to you, reach out to me by email. I would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements incorporating the fascinating attractions of India’s Golden Triangle, or indeed, just those of Delhi, Agra or Jaipur.


Join me next time on my adventures when I discover the delights of Jodhpur, India. Tailor-Made Itineraries posts every two weeks, and you can subscribe to the latest blog and newsletter here. Until then, happy reading and safe travels.

 

Barry

 

 

Tailor-Made Itineraries creates one-of-a-kind bespoke self-guided travel itineraries for adventurous and curious travellers.


These self-guided tours deliver a personalised and exciting holiday experience that takes the effort out of trip planning.





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