Better known for what it represents than what it portrays, the Taj Mahal is a universal icon of love; to visit India without seeing this monument would be a great sin. The best way to visit the Taj and other attractions close by is through the Golden Triangle circuit, the country’s most popular tourist route. This is a scenic tour that covers some of the most important attractions in India and most visitors travel to India just for this fascinating tour and claim to have seen India.
However, the Golden Triangle route is not India in a capsule; it’s just one of the many popular itineraries that take you to the highlight attractions of the country. This said the Golden Triangle is also one of the most convenient routes to take when you wish to explore the country, with good luxury train connections and decent road services; this course is also cost-effective and since it has been trodden so often, has excellent guides and tour agents. In short, if you are pressed for time on your visit to India, this is an easy course to take.
So, what is the Golden Triangle?
The three destinations, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur comprise the Golden Triangle and this route is named so because the three places form a triangle when marked on a map; not only this, a wealth of cultural attractions and fascinating monuments are concentrated in this route, making it a glorious circuit.
The route also showcases different aspects of India; while Delhi represents a chaotic mix of traditional with modern, Agra is the typical Indian small town that houses THE TAJ, the most popular gem of Indian architecture and Jaipur is a colorful carnival of culture with excellent hospitality.
This is usually the starting point of the triangle because plenty of international flights land here. The capital of India is a sprawling metropolis with deep roots in history. Here’s a list of activities and attractions that encompass the best of Delhi.
- Stroll through the impressive Red Fort, a monument that has been important to India from the past till today. Walk on to the Jama Masjid Mosque, the largest mosque in India and explore the impressive place of worship that was built by Shah Jahan in 1644. And while you’re here, don’t forget to walk around Chandni Chowk, the bazaar area that surrounds these two historical attractions. Ancient in its own way, yet functioning today as a place for authentic local goods and bargain shopping, the Chandni Chowk is an integral part of Delhi.
- Visit the Rashtrapathi Bhavan and make your way on the Rajpath to the National Museum, India’s largest museum. Close by is the India Gate, a 42 meters tall structure built in memory of World War I.
- Take the metro to Jantar Mantar to see the 18th century astronomical observatory that’s fascinating to understand. Close by is another historical attraction, Agrasen ki Baoli, a fourteenth century stepwell.
- Next on schedule is another piece of history, the Qutab Minar and its surrounding monuments; constructed between the 12th and 14th century AD, the Qutab Minar is a 73 meters high tower that was built to celebrate victory of Muslim rule.
- The Lotus Temple, with its enchanting design, Humayun’s Tomb, yet another fascinating Mughal monument, Nizammudin Dargah, the tomb of a famous Sufi saint and the Lodi Gardens, a natural and historic landmark are other places to see in Delhi.
- Make sure you allocate enough time to experience the splendor of India’s culture in its best cultural theme park, the Swaminarayan Akshardham complex. It’s much more than a place of worship; the exhibits here showcase the best of India’s history and culture.
A far cry from the sprawling hustle-bustle of Delhi, Agra is typical small-town India with narrow lanes, friendly people and the atmosphere of a city that basks in its past. The main attraction here, is of course the Taj Mahal, but Agra also has other historical sights that are definitely worth a visit and if possible, a day’s stay to explore.
The Taj at Dusk
- The magnificent Taj Mahal lives up to all the hype it is subject to. With the Yamuna River as its backdrop and fine, manicured gardens as its entrance, the beautiful monument has perfect settings along with a touching history that makes it all the more romantic. In spite of the crowds here, the beauty of the Taj reaches out to you and makes you feel for it. A single trip here may not be enough because the colors of the Taj keep changing depending on the time of the day; try to see the monument under a full moon to get an ever-lasting memory of this symbol of love.
- Though it’s always given the second rank after the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Agra Fort is nonetheless a stunning attraction with significant historic events ever since it was built in 1573 by Emperor Akbar. This was where Shah Jahan was imprisoned during his last days from where he could see his beloved Taj. This was where Jahangir installed the “chain of justice”, a bell that could be used by any citizen who wanted to meet the emperor. The sprawling structure housed almost an entire city in its heyday.
- The deserted Fatehpur Sikhri seems to have been built for the sole purpose of showing future generations the marvel of Mughal architecture. Emperor Akbar built the site to honor a Sufi saint who had helped him, but he had to desert Fatehpur Sikhri soon after it was completed due to several reasons. The site stands deserted, but well preserved till date and is definitely worth a visit especially for the tidbits of history it stores.
- Other places to visit in Agra include the Mehtab Bagh from where you get a good view of the Taj, Akbar’s Sikandra and Itmad-Ud-Daulah’s tomb.
Yes, it’s called the Pink City, but in contrast to diplomatic Delhi and nostalgic Agra, Jaipur is a burst of colors, more in line with the rest of India. From vibrant markets, decorative buildings and people dressed in vivid hues, Jaipur’s personality is definitely lively. Now, let’s see what to do in Jaipur.
Interior of Amber Palace
- Ride an elephant to see the Amber Palace located on a hillock, 11 kms from the city of Jaipur. Though a part of the palace is in ruins, this monument is a fine example of Rajput architecture and is full of history. There’s also a sound and light show here that explains the history of Jaipur and entertains visitors with folk performances.
- The City Palace is a perfect example of Pink City’s architecture with its sandstone façade that gives it a pink hue. The complex is huge and houses several structures; the royal family of Jaipur still lives in a palace here, the Chandra Mahal. There are plenty of exhibits and historic artifacts to view when you are here.
- The Hawa Mahal is yet another fascinating palace, exclusive for women royalty. With cute small windows that facilitated natural air-conditioning, the palace has been built in such a way that the royal women of those days could see what was happening around them, in the city from the privacy of their rooms.
- If you’ve had enough of palaces and monuments, get into the street markets and enjoy the myriad colors of Rajasthan on display. The color scheme is overwhelmingly bright, yet it seems to blend with the culture of the location and doesn’t seem odd. The Johari Bazaar is where you can haggle to your heart’s content even if the rates seem already cheap and get a good bargain on souvenirs, handicraft articles and jewelry.
- Jaipur also has its own Jantar Mantar, said to be the largest among the five astronomical observatories in India. Take your pick between the Jantar Mantar here and the one in Delhi.
Hidden Gems in The Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle is the most trodden path in Indian tourist circuit; yet, there are hidden gems that make the tour all the more interesting. Here are a few off-beat ideas –
- Hauz Khas – while many people know this place as an affluent neighborhood with boutiques and cool hangouts, few are aware of the fact that the historic Hauz Khas complex at the heart of this locality had its origin in the 13th century and the water tank here that has given the area its name was built by Alauddin Khilji. The water tank and several Madrasas still exist here and are surrounded by newer, yet quaint boutiques and art galleries that make this place fascinating to visit.
- Delhi is dreamland for lovers of street food; Old Delhi, in particular, has plenty of options for authentic local dishes to be eaten on the go. While Chandni Chowk is famous for its chaat, there is a paranthewala gali that specializes in paranthas, Indian style flat bread and the Dilli Haat for cuisine from all corners of India. Don’t miss dishes like kulfis, faloodas, butter chicken, lassi and chole batura when you visit Delhi.
- An hour’s ride from Agra is the Wildlife SOS, an NGO organization located inside a bird sanctuary. This facility has done a remarkable job of rescuing animals from labor and giving them shelter in natural surroundings. This place is definitely a hidden gem in otherwise chaotic Agra.
- Take a ride on a helium balloon in Agra and get a unique vantage point from where you can view the beauty of the Taj and the river Yamuna. Called the Air Safari, this isn’t a hot air balloon that will take you around; instead, this is just a balloon tied to the ground that can take you to a height of 250 m.
- The Birbal Bhavan in Agra is dedicated to Birbal, Emperor Akbar’s favorite minister, known for his wit and wisdom. A good guide can fill you in on anecdotes on the relationship between Akbar and Birbal and make your visit here interesting.
- The Elefantasy in Jaipur is a nice place to get in close contact with elephants and watch the gentle giants go about their daily routine. Get to know how important elephants have been through Rajasthan’s history and have fun with the animals here.
- The Galtaji Temple in Jaipur, better known as the monkey temple, is another interesting place to visit. Plenty of monkeys loiter here, get close to visitors and create havoc; yes, this can be a nuisance, but it’s also hilarious to watch the continuous struggle between humans and monkeys. This place is also known for its natural springs, collected in tanks and considered as holy water by pilgrims here.
- For an authentic Indian experience, make a trip to Jaipur’s Choki Dhani, a culture theme-park that offers excellent hospitality with activities like camel rides, horse rides, puppet shows, folk dance, music and magic shows along with real Rajasthani cuisine.
- Lassi is a simple enough drink made of yogurt, but locations across India compete with each other over the best tasting lassi. Jaipur has its own variation and plenty of shops that exclusively sell lassi. Some vendors even creatively use a top-loading washing machine to churn curd for the drink; definitely worth a try.
While the Golden Triangle is accessible by road on hired cars or buses, trains are probably the best way to explore this circuit; if cost is not a factor, opt for luxury trains that offer a complete package of transport, accommodation, food and sightseeing services. It’s also important to avoid traveling during peak summer because the weather can be quite harsh.
There are several excellent tour operators who can arrange your complete Golden Triangle package that includes stay, food and travel; you could even look out for private operators who could book home stays or personalized tour program to make your holiday experience in India more authentic and enjoyable. So get on the tourist track and enjoy the Golden Triangle of India.