One of the most popular and exciting experiences for travellers in India is the spectacular Golden Triangle. India’s Golden Triangle is made up of the three most-visited cities in the north of India – Delhi, Agra and Jaipur – and is so called because of the triangular shape formed by the three cities on a map. One of the things that makes the Golden Triangle so grand is the extraordinary wealth of cultural and historical splendour. It is a truly exceptional journey, with so many iconic sights that will quite literally take your breath away. India Specialist Ellis tells us why anyone who ventures to this crazy, colourful country simply has to visit the Golden Triangle in all its glory…
Agra and the Taj Mahal
We started our Golden Triangle journey in Agra, home to the iconic Taj Mahal. Sometimes described as the ‘8th Wonder of the World’, the Taj Mahal is the Indian Holy Grail and is a must see for anyone who makes a trip to India. Whilst we were in Agra we were keen to take in all the other beautiful things the town has to offer. We didn’t want to come all this way and see the big ticket item first, so decided to build up to the Taj Mahal by visiting the smaller tombs and monuments in the vicinity, of which there are many. One such treasure was discovering the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, also known as the ‘Baby Taj’. This structure in any other part India would have been a gem in itself, with beautiful inlaid marble walls and an intriguing history. However, I probably remember it best as where I saw my first up close sighting of the Taj Mahal from across the river, at sunset – a truly memorable moment. The stunning white marble surrounded by the orange glow of the sky setting on another magical day in India. What a wonderful way to end a day, with great excitement for the next.
The following day we decided on a morning visit to the Taj Mahal and enjoyed a morning of wandering around this magnificent marble building with the warm sun on our heads and the cool marble underfoot. This it is definitely a memory I will cherish forever. Once inside the grounds, the short walk along the approach to the Taj itself reveals how it glitters in the sun, and it is almost certainly an experience that requires sunglasses! The marble is blinding when the sun hits it and there is a lot of white marble to gaze at in amazement. Once over the initial astonishment at so bright and glorious a building, there are several spots in the grounds where you can sit and enjoy the shade, take in the view and ambiance, and just bask in the glory of one of the world’s most spectacular structures. Certainly one for the bucket list.
Another big highlight of Agra is the Agra Fort, which exceeded every expectation as to what we would find inside. The Agra Fort is similar in style to the Taj Mahal, divided up into lots of different rooms, gardens and walkways. On the outside, the red stone is imposing and foreboding, but inside the fort is decorated in marble and intricately carved and designed. Having a private guide is so key, as their knowledge of the fort is unsurpassed and truly brings it to life. When wandering around, make sure to head to the viewing ports, overlooking the surrounding town and countryside. There is a spectacular view of the Taj and it’s a great chance for a few photos. Another great view can be found by heading back into the town and having a rooftop terrace lunch. If you’re like me you may find yourself extending lunch into afternoon tea in order to truly soak up the experience!
Next on the Golden Triangle agenda was Jaipur. Also known as the Pink City, Jaipur embodies the very idea of India and colour. There is so much to see and do here, from historical tours, to touring the bustling bazaars, to trying your hand at the local crafts. Although I was on a tight schedule, I did manage to squeeze in as many sights as possible and, according to my teacher, became quite proficient at carpet weaving! You can get stuck into the local crafts at the City Palace, which is a must see in its own right, but Jaipur offers opportunities for other activities as well, such as pottery and culinary classes.Aside from the City Palace, one of the main sights is the Hawa Mahal, known as “The Palace of the Winds”. From the outside this grand palace resembles a bee hive, with a myriad of symmetrically placed windows and balconies which will take your breath away. I spent a long time admiring the palace before heading off to the Amber Fort, following the slow incline up the winding paths to the pinnacle, and enjoying the occasional refreshment along the way. Rather like the Agra Fort, the outside is as foreboding as the inside is grand. There is a maze of rooms to discover here, and I whiled away most of an afternoon exploring as much of it as I could.
Whilst I only had limited time in Jaipur, I would not hesitate to go back and I would sample many other experiences such as visiting the Jantar Mantar (an old observatory with some intriguing scientific equipment), taking on a culinary class, visiting the elephants at Dera Amer and maybe even flying a kite with a local. Needless to say if I had known at the time I could do all these fabulous extras I would have spent more time there!
The last part of my Golden Triangle experience was the hustle and bustle of Delhi. Arriving in Delhi, it instantly felt different to the previous stops on my journey through India, not least for its size. One thing that really struck me about Delhi was the people. You meet a tapestry of people all with their own story to tell, and every one very eager to tell it! Most people are very curious as to your story as well, and trying to explain who you are and where you come from is always great fun. Although at first you might feel a bit taken aback by people’s interest in you, you will find more often than not there is no hidden motive or agenda; people have a genuine interest in getting to know you and simply want to welcome you to their country and entertain you.
The history of Delhi is deep and winding, and I came to learn that you just never knew what you might find. One of the most famous sites is the Red Fort, which is stunning from the outside with its iconic red stone walls. The inside is a different story and gives away some of the darker history of the city, as much of the grand architecture has been cleared away in place of modern barracks.In the environs of the fort you can visit the Jamma Masjid in Old Delhi, a beautiful and historically important mosque, then walk down the Chandhi Chowkh and discover how easy it is to get lost and found in the winding alleys teeming with life. Just off of Chandhi Chowkh is Paratha Alley, where you can taste the best parathas in Delhi, if not the world. Parathas are a thick type of chapatti stuffed with veg and spice. Street food is such an important part of Indian culture; in Old Delhi you will find that the smell of spice follows you everywhere and really plays with the senses. I urge everyone who visits Delhi to sample these delights!
The Golden Triangle was a huge highlight for me and is certainly not to be missed by anyone travelling through India. What’s more, there is no better time to travel to India! The Indian Government have just introduced a new e-Tourist visa, meaning you can obtain your visa online ahead of your travels. This is a total game changer and makes it so much easier to get the formalities out of the way! So, what’s stopping you?!