The North of India is by far one of the most beautifully diverse places I have had the pleasure of visiting. India’s so-called Golden Triangle is perhaps the first, and most obvious, sightseeing tour many people think of when contemplating a trip to India, and in my opinion, it is one that should absolutely not be missed.
The Golden Triangle refers to three areas situated in the North of India which (funnily enough) resemble a triangle shape if you were to join the dots between them. Delhi, India’s bustling, vibrant capital, forms the northern-most tip of the triangle, with Agra, home to the ivory-white Taj Mahal, situated to the southeast. The capital of India’s Rajasthan state, Jaipur, also known as the Pink City, makes up the southwest point and rounds off the tour known by travellers far and wide as: The Golden Triangle.
This tour made up the first leg of my India journey, and was a fantastic introduction to the breathless pace and beauty of this crazy, intriguing country. My best friend and I spent just under a week navigating through Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, and while we could have happily spent far longer exploring these places we felt that this was still enough time to see the best of the sights on offer, and sample some pretty special cuisine, too.
India’s capital, Dehli is a bustling metropolis which seamlessly blends the ancient and the modern; an absolute must-visit if you’re planning a trip to India. There’s so much to see and do in this city, and you could spend hours simply people-watching as the locals go about their daily lives.
If you’re here to sight-see, then don’t miss a trip to the Qutab Minar, the tallest brick marinet in the world towering at 72.5 metres. Commissioned by the first Muslim ruler of Delhi, the detail and design in the brickwork is incredible. If architecture is your gig then Delhi won’t disappoint, as there are hundreds of buildings across the city serving as hallmarks left behind by Delhi’s multiple rulers of the last millennia.
You should also check out Humayan’s Tomb commissioned in 1562, the first garden tomb built in the Indian sub-continent which used red sandstone on a large scale. Although visitors can’t stop there for long, make sure you drive by the iconic India Gate and President’s House. The Red Fort, which served as residence for the Mughal Royal Family, is also worth a look, as is Rajghat, the memorial to Mahatma Ghandi.
If you want to get in and amongst the hustle and bustle of Delhi, then there is no better place to go than Chandni Chowk; home to the busiest market in Old Delhi. Tour around the noisy, busy streets in a cycle rickshaw – super cheap, this is the best way to get around and experience the inner twists and turns without getting lost or haggled at every turn.
After wandering through the stalls full of spices, dried fruits and jewelry, stop in along Paranthe Wali Gali, a street famous for its incredible Parathas, an Indian flatbread served with multiple toppings and Dals (soups and dips made from dried, split pulses and flavoured with a multitude of spices). Street food is incredibly cheap here, with parathas and a cup of Lassi setting you back less than 80 rupees (£1). Soak up the buzz and craziness of the market from here, and you’ll start to get a real feel for everyday life in Delhi.
Accommodation can be pretty cheap across the city, with a dorm bed in one of the many backpacking hostels in New Delhi available for between 400 and 900 rupees (£5-10) per night. Hostelworld or Booking.com are good places to start your search. If you would like a little more luxury on your trip, then a decent hotel will set you back around 5,000-7,000 rupees (£50-£70) per night.
The next stop on the Golden Triangle Tour is Agra, known mostly for being the setting of the world-famous and UNESCO world heritage site, the Taj Mahal. One of the most famous landmarks not just in India, but the across the world, you can understand why some might worry the Taj will be underwhelming when you see it in the flesh (or marble…). But from my experience, it was truly one of the most breathtaking sights I’ve ever seen.
To catch the Taj in it’s best light, go just before dawn on a clear day. As the sun starts to rise, its rays dance across the white marble making it shimmer and sparkle in the early morning sunlight. It really is ethereal.
The story behind the Taj is one of love and loss; Emperor Shah Jahan had the mausoleum built as a symbol of his devotion to his beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal, after she died giving birth to their 14th child. The Taj took 21 years to complete, and is now the resting place of both the Emperor and his queen.
Travellers flock from all corners of the globe to visit the Taj Mahal, the place symbolic what many deem the ultimate love story. But if tales of love and romance don’t float you boat, the beautiful architecture and sheer scale of the Taj warrants a visit in itself.
The Taj is open from 6am-7pm every day except Fridays, when it is closed for prayer. It is also open for night viewing every full moon from 8pm-12:30am, plus the two nights before and after.
If you would like to hear all about the history and story of the Taj, I would definitely recommend hiring a guide – they can also take that picture-perfect photo of you and your fellow travellers! But if you would rather take in the beauty of the Taj while wandering round on your own, then you won’t find a more powerful, reflective place to be alone with your thoughts (save from the crowds).
The entry fee for foreigners is 1,100 rupees (around £12) which can be purchased at the gate but be prepared to queue. If you’re planning to go before dawn, get there at least half an hour before the opening times, or you will miss the magical sunrise moment while queuing for your tickets!
Agra isn’t just home to the Taj Mahal, though. The Red Fort, commissioned in 1565, is a handsome example of Mughal architecture and definitely worth a trip to. Also not to miss is Fatehpur Sikri, another UNESCO world heritage site, home to many historical buildings and also to the Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti which enshrines the burial place of the Sufi saint who used to live there.
Also known as the ‘Pink City’ Jaipur’s picture perfect architecture can be found featured across many celebrities’ Instagram accounts, famous for its colourful culture, forts, palaces and lakes.
Set in the traditional state of Rajasthan, Jaipur is the must-see third stop on the Golden Triangle Tour.
Take a trip to the Old City of Jaipur, painted completely pink, to walk through the endless winding markets to practice your bargaining skills and sample some of the delicious street food on offer.
If you want to find out more about the history of Jaipur (and discover who chose to paint an entire city pink), you can hire a guide to show you around the nooks and crannies, alternatively just wander through the narrow streets to take in the pretty decor of the facades and the general hustle of everyday life here.
Jaipur’s Amber Fort is also worth a visit. Built in the 16th century and a named UNESCO world heritage site, the fort is constructed from a mixture of red sandstone and marble and lies on the top of a hill just outside of Jaipur. The main way of getting to the top is on elephant back, however the hill is easily scalable so you can walk to the top instead, if you’d prefer to avoid riding the elephants.
Side note: When I went, our guide had booked us on to the elephant rides without us knowing – although they looked as if they were fairly well looked after, you never quite know how the animals are actually treated. If animal welfare is something that concerns you, the walk to the top is steep but not very far, and you get to see some truly beautiful scenery on the way up!
Other sights not to miss while you’re in Jaipur include the beautiful Hawa Mahal, also known as ‘Palace of the Winds’, and a trip around the City Palace where you can take a look in the armoury, browse traditional dress worn by ruling families of Jaipur dating back hundreds of years, and other cool parts of the palace. If you have time, stop in at the Jantar Mantar Observatory, home to huge traditional geometric devices used to measure time.
Booking a Golden Triangle tour is a great way of seeing some of India’s most famous sites in a short space of time, and is perfect for travellers who don’t have a lot of time, or are embarking on a trip for the first time. There are lots of tour companies out there which will offer you different variations of the tour, as well as different add-ons such as flights, guides and extra excursions, so make sure you do your research before booking. We booked with a local travel agent who put together a private all-inclusive tour to suit exactly what we wanted, at a good price – we were travelling other areas of India after this under our own steam, so booking a tour to get the ball rolling made perfect sense to us. Also, it meant this was one less thing for us to organise.
Alternatively, you can go it alone and follow the route as you see fit – the distance between each destination is relatively little and there are a number of different transport options available to get you from A to B. This can be an exciting, freeing way to travel as you’re not restricted by timings, and can choose to do however much sightseeing, relaxing or partying you like. If you’re an experienced traveller or are looking to get off the beaten tourist trail, then this a great way of experiencing the best that Delhi, Agra and Jaipur have to offer.