The bustling capital city of Delhi with its unusual blend of old and new, the Mughal splendour of Agra and the Rajput resplendence of Jaipur is one of India's most travelled circuits. Called the Golden Triangle and rightly so, the three cities will blow your mind away with its architecture and diverse culture.
A short 5-7 day trip to the Golden Triangle is enough to explore the three cities. I managed to see some fantastic sights in Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra in just 5 days, while sampling local foods, gazing at the wonder of the Taj Mahal, and making some brilliant new friends from all around the world. There is so much to see in and around these cities, you could also extend your trip to cover other places.
This was my second visit to India's capital city. I stayed at a hostel in the Paharganj area of the city, which was a short 5-minute walk from the New Delhi Train Station. The best way to get a taste of authentic Indian food is to try the delicious street foods in Delhi. Delhi is said to be a food lovers haven. I met a German traveller in the evening and we began our quest to sample some tasty Indian food. We walked around the fancy area of Connaught Place and then stumbled upon a gem - Main Bazaar. What a great street it is! Bustling with life, it is chaotic and noisy with vehicles, people, animals and inexpensive shops selling souvenirs, food, books, music, jewelry, bags, clothes, shoes, textiles, and handicrafts. At the end of the street is a square with some delicious rooftop restaurants and sweet stalls. We went to each stall and sampled a bit of everything!
Once you're rested from your journey to Delhi, the second day would be a great day to explore some of Delhi's cultural heritage sights such as The Red Fort, Jama Masjid mosque, which is the 3rd largest in Asia, and India Gate. There are hundreds of different markets to suit every budget too, so get on your feet and get exploring! Since this was my second trip to Delhi and I was short on time, I skipped this and got on the train to Jaipur.
Paint the town red? No, in Jaipur they paint the town pink. Jaipur is India's Pink City and rightly so. In 1876, Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh painted the city pink to welcome Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria as pink is considered the colour of hospitality. Even today, the walls of the buildings in the old city area of Jaipur are painted pink. It is enforced by local law.
On day three, I set out to explore Jaipur with a few others staying at the hostel I was. The hostel had a trusted local rickshaw driver called Daniel who took us out. Our first stop was the pink Hawa Mahal or Wind Palace. The palace was named so for the great desert breeze you get from the top. It was built in 1799 so that the royal women could watch and enjoy the processions and other activities on the street below. The Maharaja's women were not allowed to be seen by others so they had to watch the happenings in the street from the 953 ornate little windows in the Hawa Mahal! The Hawa Mahal, City Palace and Janta Mantar all lie within the walls of the Old City painted in pink. The City Palace is a blend of Mughal and Rajasthani architecture and one of the oldest attractions in Jaipur. Sprawling courtyards, gardens and hundreds of rooms to explore. I would recommend getting a guide for the palace to understand the history better. Next, we visited the Jantar Mantar, which is a park full of giant sundials built around 1730. The instruments were used to study the movement of constellations and stars. The largest construction is 146ft deep and 90ft tall, still provides time to an accuracy of 2 seconds!
After a quick bite at a street stall, we visited Amber Fort. We went right in the middle of the afternoon, but if you have more time I would definitely suggest visiting the fort first thing in the morning as it's a bit of a hot walk to the top of the hill otherwise. However, there are optional elephant rides to the top of the fort. This massive construction is steeped in history. We didn't take a guide, but once inside a security guard showed us some secret underground water tanks and explained how cattle were used to pump water up five floors to the top of the palace from the river. There is so much to see in Amber Fort. The magnificent grandeur of the architecture and view across the valley are a sight to behold. The Sheesh Mahal is the most beautiful part of Amber Fort. It is a place made of glass and stones!
On the 4th day, I took a rickshaw to Nahargarh Fort in the morning. The fort stands atop the Aravalli Hills. It was a steep climb to the top and took about 30 minutes from the main road, but it was totally worth it! The view of the entire city of Jaipur from the fort at the top made the climb bearable. On my way back, I went past Jal Mahal (Water Palace). This palace was built over 200 years ago by a Maharaja who previously enjoyed the forest for hunting. He then cut the forest down and created a massive artificial lake with his own private palace in the middle to provide a summer retreat for himself and friends during the scorching desert summers. You can't visit the lake, but it's a great place to stop and take pictures on the way.
I arrived in Agra on day 5 and after only 4 hours of sleep, I joined the queue for the Taj Mahal at 5 am. Since I was staying at a hostel less than 5 minutes walk from the eastern gate ticket office, I was the 15th person in the queue! Depending on your ticket type, you can also get a free shuttle from the ticket office to the entrance, which saves another 10-15 minute walk. I waited at the gate until sunrise and got in by 7 am. Wow! The Taj Mahal was incredible at sunrise. It really is a magical world wonder and somewhere everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime!
At sunset, I visited the Tomb of Itimad-Ud-Daulah, also known as Baby Taj. This was Shah Jahan's inspiration for the Taj Mahal and a hidden gem in the city. We were almost the only people there. Next, we dashed to Mehtab Bagh, the 'Moonlight Gardens', to watch the sunset. It was a lovely tranquil place and had great views of the Taj Mahal across the Yamuna River.
I spent the morning of my last day at Agra Fort. I hired a guide to tell me the history of the fort and palace. He showed me the place where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son for 8 years and later died, for spending too much money on the Taj Mahal. I would recommend a visit to the Fort, not only for its magnificent architecture but also the great view of the Taj Mahal. The Agra Fort is still a working army fort! I explored the local markets of Agra in the afternoon and visited Sheroe's Hangout, which is a cafe run entirely by victims of acid attacks. If you're in Agra, you must visit Sheroe's Hangout. It is a great way to support the victims and they serve delicious food and drinks too.
I spent a fantastic week discovering beautiful architecture and cultural heritage of Northern India, meeting lots of new people from all over the world all on a traveller's budget. India's Golden Triangle is a great trip to make alone or with a group of friends. I highly recommend it!
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