14 June 2016 by Alison Nicolle
The fabled Golden Triangle is a compact trio that packs in three of India’s premiere destinations – Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. It’s the perfect introduction to the subcontinent’s culture and rich history. And – staying in colonial mansions and palatial forts – it’s also an ideal luxury travel destination. To help you plan your trip, we’ve put together this mapped guide to help you get the best out of this enthralling part of the world.
Fly into the Indian capital of Delhi, where grand tombs and imposing citadels hint at long lost empires and now serve as a majestic counterpoint to backstreets that burst in atmospheric bazaars. Then, move south from Delhi to Agra, home to the Taj Mahal. However, while its world wonder centrepiece grabs the headlines, there’s plenty more UNESCO-listed sites to explore before moving west to Jaipur.
As the capital of Rajasthan – literally translating as the state of kings – Jaipur’s hilltop forts and bustling old town recall a Mughal dynasty that once ruled from Kabul to Calcutta. And, while the best time to visit is the temperate shoulder seasons – October to November and February to March – it’s a near year round destination outside of the subtropical, monsoon-troubled summer.
Most first impressions of India are made in its capital and what an introduction it is. Start with the highlights: In Humayun’s Tomb – a 16th century mausoleum – you’ll be able to familiarise yourself with the graceful arches and white marble domes that are the hallmarks of Indo-Islamic architecture while the Red Fort’s rubble masonry and red sandstone imposition will set the tone for the region’s warlike past.
Don’t miss out on graceful Jama Masjid – India’s largest mosque and sometimes, perhaps optimistically, billed as a peaceful respite from frenetic Delhi. However, it’s in the spaces between sights that the capital really comes alive. Stop for steaming cup of sweet chai in Connaught Place, a fragrantly spiced curry served with paratha bread fresh from the tandoor oven, or at one of its many markets. Our favourite is Chandni Chowk; a shopping district dating back some 400 years, its narrow alleyways are lined with everything from spice sellers and food stalls to silversmiths and sari shops. Just prepare yourself for crowds.
The ultimate monument to love took tens of thousands of craftsmen nearly 20 years to construct. Its marble is set aglow in rosy tints by lazy sunrises and spectacular sunsets while – by day – it gleams in its natural white. We are of course talking about the Taj Mahal.
While no trip to India would be complete without walking through its hallowed tomb, we recommend heading over to the north bank of the Yamuna River. Here, you’ll find the foundations of the proposed Black Taj where you’ll be treated to a quiet, uninterrupted view of this famous monument. However, linger longer and you’ll find that there’s much more to this ancient capital. Cross over its crocodile infested moat to Agra Fort as you swap imposing battlements for a luxurious royal palace – the gilded cage that imprisoned the Taj’s author. You’ll also find the 17th century jewel box tomb of Mirza Ghiyas Beg. Known affectionately as the Baby Taj, its finely detailed marble latticework is a delicate juxtaposition to its younger sibling’s grandeur.
The Pink City is the gateway capital to the state of Rajasthan where forts and palaces are a reminder of a royal past. It’s fitting, then, that Jaipur features no less than two citadels. Make your way out into its verdant hills to the spectacular Amber Fort where pale sandstone walls track carpeted contours, the watchful guard to a palatial interior. Take some time to lose yourself among its courtyards, hideaway screens and kingly quarters. Then, head to the 18th century Nahargarh Fort whose hilltop position commands views across the entire city. It’s ideal for a sunset tipple.
Once you’ve got your bearings, make your descent into Jaipur’s walled Old Town. Here, dusty bazaar-lined streets lead you to pink palaces and past fortified gateways to Hindu temples, royal households and World Heritage observatories. It’s a fitting end to your Golden Triangle tour or a perfect springboard to Rajasthan’s desert towns, floating palaces and fortified cities.