India's Golden Triangle is a fantastically varied introduction to the sights and sounds of the country. From busy bazaars and hurtling tuk-tuks to tranquil temples and majestic mosques, this is the country at its noisiest and most chaotic. Chances are its colourful exuberance will leave you wanting to return again and again. Here's a first-timer's guide to the famous Golden Triangle in India.
The information in this article is inspired by the Rough Guide to India, your essential guide for visiting India.
Golden Triangle in India is the route between Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. It's named for the almost-equilateral triangle that the three cities make when plotted on a map. Starting in the capital, Delhi, and taking in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, it’s India’s most well-trodden tourist track. Why “Golden”? Well, for the extraordinary religious and historical sights that the three stops offer.
From Dehli's bustling dusty streets to 'the pink city' of Jaipur and Agra's Taj Mahal, this tailor-made trip from the Ganges to the Golden Triangle ensures you experience all of India's Golden Triangle highlights. You'll visit sacred Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges and Khajuraho's famous temples too.
On the first day of your exploration of the Golden Triangle, begin by immersing yourself in the modern area of New Delhi. Its wide, tree-lined avenues and solid colonial architecture, have been the seat of the central government since 1931.
At its hub, the royal mall, Rajpath, runs from the palatial Rashtrapati Bhavan, in the west, to the India Gate war memorial in the east. Its wide, grassy margins are a popular meeting place for families, picnickers and courting couples.
North of the Rajpath lies busy Connaught Place, one of the city’s most important hubs for dining and drinking; further south, Khan Market is a more chilled-out version of the same, with some great sights on its periphery.
On this tailor-made Essential Golden Triangle trip, you will explore India’s dusty capital Delhi, taking in the Qutab Minar, crowded bazaars and opulent temples before venturing forth to Agra to see the venerable Taj Mahal. Then decamp to the pink city, Jaipur, for an intoxicating introduction to Rajasthan.
On the second day of your exploration of the Golden Triangle in India, venture into the captivating world of Old Delhi, also known as Shahjahanabad.
Though it’s not in fact the oldest part of Delhi, the seventeenth-century city of Shahjahanabad, built for the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, is known as Old Delhi. It boasted a beautiful main thoroughfare, Chandni Chowk; an imposing citadel, the Red Fort (Lal Qila); and an impressive congregational mosque, the Jama Masjid.
Today much of the wall has crumbled, and of the fourteen gates only four remain, but it’s still a fascinating area, crammed with interesting nooks and crannies, though you’ll need stamina, patience, time, and probably a fair few chai stops along the way to endure the crowds and traffic.
Find more accommodation options to stay in Delhi.
On the third day, prepare to be awe-struck as you make your way to the magnificent Taj Mahal, Agra's premier sight and one of the most romantic places in the world.
Nothing can really prepare you for the sheer scale and regal splendour of the structure up close. Try to time your visit with sunrise or sunset, when the Taj is at its most majestic. Nearby Agra Fort is also well worth a visit. You can spot the Taj Mahal rising up in the distance from its walls.
Stay in the most beautiful hotels, and have a knowledgeable private tour guide by your side all throughout this unique tailor-made trip to the Gems of India & Taj Mahal. Visit highlights like the Taj Mahal but also unknown areas like the villages in Rajasthan for nature, wildlife and cultural encounters unique to India.
The ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri, the former imperial capital of the great Mughal emperor Akbar, straddles the crest of a rocky ridge on the Agra–Jaipur highway. The reasons for the city’s abandonment remain enigmatic. The more likely explanation is that the city was simply the victim of the vagaries of the empire’s day-to-day military contingencies.
Shortly after the new capital was established, the empire was threatened by troubles in Punjab, and Akbar moved to the more strategically situated Lahore to deal with them.
These military preoccupations kept Akbar at Lahore for over a decade, and at the end of this period, he decided, apparently for no particular reason, to return to Agra rather than Fatehpur Sikri. You, on the other hand, might decide to do the opposite: an increasing number of tourists are using Fatehpur Sikri as a base and travelling into Agra on a day trip.
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You might want to spend 2 days in a flamboyant showcase of Rajasthani architecture. Jaipur has long been established on tourist itineraries as the third corner of India’s “Golden Triangle”, along with Agra and Delhi. At the heart of Jaipur lies the Pink City, the old walled quarter, whose bazaars rank among the most vibrant in Asia, renowned for their textiles, jewellery and Rajasthani handicrafts.
Wander around the centre to stumble across historical highlights such as Hawa Mahal and the impressive City Palace. Jaipur is well known for traditional crafts and designs, so it’s the place to shop for fabrics and presents to take home.
On the second day of your visit to Jaipur, venture into the leafier and less hectic area south of the Pink City. This area is home to the Ram Niwas Gardens and Central Museum. The city’s outskirts are dotted with a string of intriguing relics of royal rule, most notably Nahargarh Fort, the cenotaphs at Royal Gaitor, and the temples (and monkeys) of Galta.
Additionally, forts, palaces, temples and assorted ruins from a thousand years of Kachchwaha history adorn the hills and valleys near Jaipur. The superb palace at Amber provides the most obvious destination for a day trip, easily combined with a visit to the impressive fort of Jaigarh.
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A great way to end your Golden Triangle journey would be to return to Delhi, specifically to explore South Delhi. Most of the early settlements of Delhi, including its first city at Qila Rai Pithora are to be found not in “Old Delhi” but in South Delhi, the wide area south of Lutyens’ carefully planned boulevards.
The rapid expansion of suburban Delhi has swallowed up what was previously the countryside, with whole villages being embedded within it. The area is now home to some of the city’s newest and most happening locales, most pertinently Hauz Khas Village, a lakeside area filled with shops, bars and restaurants.
Throughout the Golden Triangle in India, the best way to escape from the throng is often to step into one of the many Hindu, Sikh and Muslim buildings scattered around the cities. Inside, you will find oases of calm, as well as some of the circuit’s most beautiful structures.
In Delhi, just a short drive away from the city centre, visit Swaminarayan Akshardham. This Hindu temple was built in 2011 using traditional methods, but it's grandness and intricate decoration evoke a far older era. It’s a huge complex, and photography is banned. This gives a welcome opportunity for peaceful reflection away from the selfie sticks and smartphones snapping away in most of the city’s monuments.
The Taj Mahal and Agra Fort are invariably jam-packed, so consider taking a day trip to nearby Fatehpur Sikri if you really want to get away from it all. The small city was once the capital of the Mughal Empire. It's an hour from Agra, and the grand, red sandstone Jodha Bais palace buildings and imposing Jama Masjid mosque remain comparatively less visited.
Jaipur is the least hectic of the Golden Triangle’s cities. Just wandering around the backstreets you’ll be able to find yourself off the main tourist track. Outside the city, Nahargarh Fort gives the best viewpoint over the sprawling streets. A visit to Galtaji is an entertaining opportunity to admire the hundreds of rhesus macaque monkeys that have taken over the ancient temple complex.
The Golden Triangle in India is well connected by public transport. If you’re on a strict budget, the cheapest way to travel is by bus. Indian bus journeys are an experience in their own right, as people tumble in, perching on armrests and sitting in the aisle.
Far and away the best way to travel around India's Golden Triangle is by train. You’ll have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of rural India as you roll through the countryside. Book your ticket in advance, either online or at a train station.
Otherwise, if you only have a few days, consider hiring a taxi from a government-approved company to take you around, allowing you to see as much as you can in the time available.
Within the cities, take an autorickshaw (or tuk-tuk) between destinations. Thick traffic makes these small vehicles the most effective way to travel, as they dip and dive between taxis and trucks. They can be hair-raising, but also fast, inexpensive (make sure you agree on a price beforehand) and a fun way to see India's Golden Triangle at its most chaotic.
Not everyone gets ill while touring the Golden Triangle in India, but it can put a downer on your holiday. The so-called “Delhi belly” comes from drinking unsafe water. The cheapest and most environmentally friendly strategy to avoid it is to use water purification tablets. If you struggle with the taste, bottled water is also readily available (just ensure that the lid is sealed).
Make sure your food is always hot and freshly cooked. Avoid raw fruit and vegetables, which may have been washed in unfiltered water. Finally, don't worry too much and you’ll be able to make the most of the delicious curries and Indian snacks on offer.
Deciding when to travel to the Golden Triangle in India can be complicated, due to its extremely varied weather. India’s seasons are split into the wet, humid monsoon season, and the dry, cool season.
The best time to visit the Golden Triangle is November to March when the majority of the country is at a comfortable temperature with good weather. Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan and Varanasi are perfect for a visit in this period.
October and November are suitable times to visit Delhi and the Golden Triangle, as there are more bearable temperatures, similar to February and March. However, during October and November, you may encounter a lot more tourists at popular sites and landmarks. Crowds can become a nuisance for places like the Red Fort or the Taj Mahal. Both domestic and international tourists visit the capital at this time.
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Top image: Agra downtown with Taj Mahal, India © turtix/Shutterstock