The Golden Triangle is one of India’s most popular travel destinations, thanks largely to the presence of the magnificent Taj Mahal.
However, there are plenty of other highlights of a visit to the region. The three points of the Golden Triangle are the capital Delhi, the city of Agra (home to the Taj) and the city of Jaipur — the flamboyant capital of Rajasthan. Between these three densely populated urban centres, you’ll discover a wealth of historic forts and palaces dating back to the Mughal empire of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
Despite the vast numbers of tourists that visit the Golden Triangle, you can still expect a very raw and often confronting experience. The poverty is distressing; the rubbish is staggering. Yet all is forgiven as you lay eyes on the next exquisite Mughal monument.
Here are ten top things to do in India’s Golden Triangle.
This may seem like a strange highlight, but navigating the insane traffic in Delhi is an adventure in itself. It’s a real life dodgem car ride and everyone’s playing to win. I’m cheerfully told by our driver you need three things to survive India’s roads: a good horn, good brakes and good luck. May the force be with you.
Send your senses into overdrive at India’s bazaars and medieval-era markets, including Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi. Markets like this one are a stage on which the trials, tribulations and triumphs of many of India’s 1.3 billion citizens are played out. Park yourself at a teahouse, order a steaming glass of sugary chai and try to make sense of the drama unfolding before you.
Delhi’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed Red Fort is a shell of its former self, but it’s still a must-see. Established by Mughal emperor Sha Jahan in the mid 1600s, the Red Fort was later commandeered and gutted by the British for use as military barracks. Today the soaring 18-metre-high ochre-coloured parapets and guard towers have lost none of their power to impress. They stand like silent sentinels watching over the seeming chaos of Chandni Chowk.
Escape the hectic hubbub of Delhi in the walled gardens around Humayun’s Tomb — a Mughal mausoleum of Persian-inspired design. It’s said to have been the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. Monuments to deceased rulers like this one grew grander and more opulent over the centuries, as each generation sought to outdo the one before. Today the peaceful grounds are popular with tourists and locals alike for an early evening meander.
Agra Fort in the city of Agra is one of the best preserved royal fortresses in the Golden Triangle. Here, you really begin to appreciate the perfect architectural symmetry that the Mughal emperors insisted on. A number of them called the Agra Fort home, and each one left their own mark on the complex — including Sha Jahan — best remembered for the construction of the nearby Taj Mahal. Somewhere along the line Sha Jahan clearly developed a liking for white marble, which seems strangely incongruous next to the red stone used throughout the rest of the fortress. He was later imprisoned in the Agra Fort by his own son, and could only gaze at his prize creation — the Taj — from afar.
While in Agra, make sure you pay a visit to Emperor Akbar’s mausoleum on the outskirts of town at Sikandra. Again, expect perfect balance and symmetry. The marble in-lay work is incredibly intricate.
No-one leaves the Taj Mahal the same person they were when they arrived. The monument will cast its glorious spell over you, just as it has done over millions of visitors since it was completed in 1653. If only Mumtaz Mahal could have seen the extraordinary edifice that would immortalise her name and watch over her beloved India for the next millennia. The Taj Mahal is the ultimate highlight of any visit to India’s Golden Triangle — and a piece of human endeavour that everyone should have the opportunity to see.
Constructed from scratch in the late 1500s by Emperor Akbar, the sprawling walled city of Fatehpur Sikri served as the capital of the Mughal empire for just over a decade before it was abandoned by the court. Today the atmospheric World Heritage-listed site offers extraordinary photo opportunities. It’s located 40 kilometres west of Agra.
The famous pink city of Jaipur was first painted mauve to welcome the Prince of Wales on a royal visit back in 1876. Presumably everyone liked it so much that they kept the tradition going. Stroll through the gorgeous City Palace, visit the petite Hawa Mahal palace, or delve into the secrets of the universe at the Jantar Mantar observatory. The compound houses 20 large instruments that were used in the 18th century to track the course of the sun and other celestial bodies.
It’s hard to choose a favourite from the stunning collection of historical monuments, forts and Mughal mausoleums around India’s Golden Triangle, but the Amber Fort outside Jaipur has to be right up there. On a sunny day the reflection of the golden walls in the lake below is quite something.
Love them or loathe them, the elephant rides up to the fort are also a highlight. The sight of these gentle giants with their gorgeous livery entering the main courtyard through the Sun Gate is a sight that will stay with you forever. This is the India of maharajas and magic.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of ten top things to do in India’s Golden Triangle? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a Melbourne-based travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. Adam has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. He worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. Adam also appears regularly as a travel commentator on Sky News Business Class. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.