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India's Golden Triangle: The highlights and hidden gems

by Martha Hales

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If you trace a line from Delhi via Agra and Jaipur and back to Delhi you will see where the Golden Triangle gets its name. It earns its ‘golden’ status because the cities along the route are stuffed full of sumptuous cultural and artistic treasures which are among the finest and most beautiful in India. For many, the Golden Triangle is the perfect crash course in Indian culture and history, and it makes an inspiring introduction to the wonders of the subcontinent.

Old Delhi Jama Masjid

Much of the Golden Triangle is well trodden by curious visitors and it is one of the most popular areas of India with a highly developed tourist infrastructure to match. It’s a fact that some sights are almost always busy with tourists - for example the Taj Mahal which is India’s most famous site. But that doesn’t mean that solitude is an impossibility. There are plenty of lesser known stops on the route, so if you want to escape the crowds there are lots of options. Here’s our introduction to the highlights and hidden gems of the Golden Triangle.

Taj Mahal Agra India

Delhi

India’s exciting capital is the gateway to the region and the jumping off point for most Golden Triangle tours. Diving headlong into the thrilling maelstrom of the metropolis can seem like a bit of a baptism of fire, but Delhi will reward you with its captivating street life and magnificent Mughal monuments. Absorb the character and exuberance of the capital’s historic heart, known locally as Old Delhi, as you meander through the thronging Chandni Chowk or explore the imposing Red Fort.

Red Fort India

New Delhi, by contrast, is home to broad boulevards and the ceremonial avenue of Rajpath which leads to India Gate, an impressive city landmark. Delving into Delhi’s enticing food scene is an unmissable experience - from fine dining to street food there are endless possibilities.

India Gate Rajpath

Jaipur

The ‘Pink City’ is the undisputed jewel in the crown of Rajasthan, basking in the reflected rosy glow of its many elegant palaces and forts. One of the most important examples of Rajasthani architecture can be found overlooking Moata lake just outside the city centre: the Amber fort straddles a large area and incorporates tranquil gardens, extravagant palaces, temples and mirrored halls.

Jaipur

Much of Jaipur’s heritage owes its magnificence to the wealth of its historic rulers, who used their substantial resources to create the masterpieces you see today. While the Amber Fort is constructed from pink and yellow sandstone with white marble embellishments, the contrasting City Palace shows off the considerable treasures collected by Jaipur’s royal family through the centuries. The complex is wonderfully evocative and a delight to explore with a guide.

Amber Fort Jaipur

Agra

The harmonious architecture of the Taj Mahal is Agra’s most legendary sight, making it a compulsory stop on any Golden Triangle tour, but this is one destination that lives up to the hype. Exquisitely proportioned and delicately carved, the Taj Mahal is an eloquent love letter from Shah Jahan to his favourite wife on her death, and this testament to his enduring devotion is still spellbinding nearly 400 years later.

Taj Mahal from the river

Once you have seen this epic monument to love up close, consider crossing the river to the Mehtab Bagh gardens which offer a much calmer viewpoint and a fresh perspective. While in Agra you must make time for one of India’s most important and impressive forts, constructed from red sandstone in the 16th century under the direction of Emperor Akbar.  

Taj Mahal from Mehtab Bagh gardens

The Golden Triangle's hidden gems

If you feel like leaving the throngs behind, take a break en route from Agra to Jaipur and stop at Fatehpur Sikri, a beautiful Mughal ensemble of abandoned monuments which were built in the late 16th century under orders from Emperor Akbar. One of the reasons that the town remains so well preserved is that it was only inhabited for three decades before it was abandoned.

Fatehpur Sikri in Agra, India

Other off the beaten track rural towns along the route also beg further exploration, such as Karauli with its stunning City Palace and tempting bazaars, or Bundi, home to the impressive Taragarh Fort.

Taragarh Fort India

Veer away from architecture for a while when in Jaipur and indulge in some retail therapy. Jaipur has a fabulous array of bazaars where you can poke around to your heart’s content among the merchandise. Look out for excellent textiles, Rajasthani handicrafts and locally made jewellery.

Traditional Rajasthani painted puppets

Another magical place within striking distance of the Golden Triangle is Amritsar, the spiritual home of Sikhism and location of the spectacular Golden Temple which is a site of pilgrimage for devout Sikhs and appears to float on its ‘pool of the nectar of immortality.’

Sikh gurdwara Golden Temple Amritsar India

Amritsar is a great place to sample Punjabi cuisine, and in fact a cookery course is another way to add a fresh dimension to your Golden Triangle tour. Rajasthani cuisine is one of the most delectable in all of India and learning its authentic secrets from a local cook is a great way to bring your holiday home with you.

kachori being cooked in Jodhpur

Make it happen

Your Golden Triangle tour itinerary can be tailor made to make it perfect for you. There are all sorts of activities you could consider alongside the classic treasure trove of Indian monuments and cities, and who better to organise them than our trusted local experts who are right there on the ground with up to date and insider knowledge? Send a few details over to our partners in India and they will take the strain out of planning your dream Golden Triangle tour. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.

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