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Golden Triangle Tour: Top Must-Visit Destinations

Author: David Pettitt

The Golden Triangle is a collection of three northern Indian cities – Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Commonly grouped together due to both their proximity but also their cultural similarities, this union of historic Mughal towns is a perfect introduction to India for a first-time visitor.

It is eminently possible to solely visit the Golden Triangle – the location of the cities and the good transport connections between them make it an ideal circuit perfect for those with a limited holiday window. However, more commonly, the three cities tend to form part of a wider tailor-made itinerary, serving as a gateway to northern India, the Rajput cities of Rajasthan, lesser-visited Gujarat or even the wildlife parks of central India. Indeed, the Golden Triangle can even be combined with Kerala and southern India with multiple daily flights between Delhi or Jaipur and the southern cities of Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi and Trivandrum.

Although possible to visit the Golden Triangle year-round, the optimal time to embark on this journey is during the winter months, from October to March. During this period the weather is cooler – the heat begins to increase from February through to April – and the risk of rainfall low. Later spring and summer can be very hot and from July to September monsoon rains arrive.

Focusing on the historical significance, cultural splendour and iconic landmarks of each of the three cities that form the Golden Triangle, this blog highlights the key places to see when visiting Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. From the bustling streets of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi to Agra's majestic Taj Mahal and the regal grandeur of Jaipur's iconic palaces, each destination holds a unique charm that encapsulates the essence of India.

Delhi

Delhi, the capital city of India, serves as the gateway to the Golden Triangle. Steeped in history, Delhi is a city of two halves and boasts a rich cultural heritage dating back to ancient times. Seat of empires, melting pot of religion and driver of advancement, there is an incredible amount to see and do and your time here can always be tailored to any particular interests you may have. In essence Delhi can be split into two distinct parts – the crowded medieval district of Old Delhi with its grand mosques, majestic forts and crumbling monuments and the stately tree-lined avenues of neighbouring New Delhi purpose-built in the 1930s and today still the centre of Indian political power.

Red Fort

The enormous Red Fort dominates Old Delhi’s network of narrow bustling lanes, colourful markets, homes, temples and mosques. Commissioned by Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century, the fort was the centre of the Mughal government, used as a garrison during British rule and where Indian independence was formalised in 1947. Considered a pinnacle of Mughal architectural design, the Red Fort is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site and houses palaces, audience halls, pavilions, imperial apartments and gardens.

Qutub Minar

The Qutub Minar, located to the south of New Delhi, is a 12th century minaret which forms part of a wider complex within what is considered to be Delhi’s oldest fortified area. Decorated with elaborate and intricate geometric carvings and religious inscriptions, the Qutub Minar is significant in that it features elements pertaining to both Islamic and traditionally Asian architectural influences and design. UNESCO protected, the Qutub Minar stands 73 meters tall and have five separate stories.

India Gate

Located in the heart of New Delhi, India Gate is a war memorial designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and formally completed in 1931. Built to commemorate the soldiers of Brtish India who fought and died during the First World War, then subsequently expanded to include later conflicts, the structure is a simple classical arch reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe. Surrounded by lawns that lead to Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official residence of the President of India, names of over 13,000 soldiers are inscribed on the monument and it is also the setting for India’s tomb of the unknown soldier.

Chandni Chowk

A highlight of a visit to Delhi, the famous markets of Chandni Chowk are a joy to explore. A warren of lanes and alleyways radiating from one of Old Delhi’s main commercial thoroughfares, the markets of Chandni Chowk date back to the 17th century and, although at first glance may appear chaotic, are in fact largely ordered by occupation with areas dedicated to gold, jewellery, food and spices, fabric and embroidery, sculpture, metalwork and handicrafts. Travelling by cycle rickshaw is the best, and popular way, of exploring the busy streets.

Sikandra

If travelling by road between Delhi and Agra it is well worth stopping en-route at Sikandra to visit the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. Completed in 1613 by Akbar’s son, Jahangir, this impressive and ornate sandstone mausoleum is surrounded by a white marble courtyard and set within large well-tended gardens. Akbar’s tomb can be seen and is located below ground level in the centre of the monument.

Agra

Agra was once the most important city in the Mughal Empire. Serving as the imperial capital until the Emperor Aurangzeb shifted the seat of government north to Delhi, Agra was the archetypal Mughal city, flourishing under the patronage of a series of rulers who instigated an ambitious building programme that, in turn, made Agra a centre for learning, arts and commerce. This collection of remarkable monuments is the city’s greatest legacy for modern times with the Taj Mahal, in particular, an instantly recognisable architectural wonder of the world.

Taj Mahal

Immediately recognisable and universally admired, the Taj Mahal is, undoubtedly, Agra, and India’s, most iconic monument. A testament to eternal love, the Taj Mahal was commissioned by the Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Rightly considered the zenith of Muslim art in India, the monument was restored during British rule under the guidance of Lord Curzon. Showcasing outstanding craftsmanship, the play of light on the marble surface at different times of day only adds to the building’s ethereal beauty.

Agra Fort

Guarding the wide expanses of the Yamuna River, the imposing Agra Fort was once the main residence of the all-powerful Mughal emperors. Building of the fort began in 1565, instigated by the Emperor Akbar, with the structure further enhanced by his successors. Built of red sandstone, this grand imperial fortress dominates the city with its curtain walls enclosing a vast area that houses palaces and mosques, audience halls, imperial apartments and gardens.

Baby Taj

Officially titled the Tomb of Itmad-ud-Daula, this beautiful monument is better known by its colloquial name, the ‘Baby Taj’. Architecturally different to the Taj Mahal, there is no grand central dome and surrounding precincts are considerably smaller, the Itmad-ud-Daula still bears more than a passing resemblance to its more illustrious neighbour, constructed of white marble and adorned with intricate pietra dura and carvings. Built by Nur Jahan, the wife of Emperor Jahangir, in memory of her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg, the Itmad-ud-Daula predates the construction of the Taj Mahal.

Fatehpur Sikri

Located midway between Agra and Jaipur lies the now abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri. Serving as capital of the Mughal Empire during the reign of the Emperor Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri was the empire’s first planned city and was designed with no expense spared. A series of magnificent religious and administrative buildings remain including palaces, monuments and temples including one of India’s largest mosques – the Jama Masjid. Rumours abound as to why Akbar moved his capital north to Lahore but the lack of a consistent water supply is considered the most likely reason.

Jaipur

The third and final city that completes the Golden Triangle is Jaipur – the modern day capital of the State of Rajasthan. Similar to Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur was also conceived as a planned city, constructed by Maharaja Jai Singh II in 1727 using mathematics, science and astrology to design a grid layout based on Hindu representations of the universe. Famously known as the ‘pink city’ – the city was painted in this particular hue as a sign of welcome to Queen Victoria’s son, Albert Prince of Wales in 1876 – Jaipur is known for its forts, palaces, havelis and markets.

City Palace

The seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur, the vast City Palace complex is located in the heart of historic Jaipur. Built in a blend of traditionally Rajput and Mughal architectural styles, since its completion in 1732 large portions of the City Palace have been enlarged and improved with the result that today the complex showcases a range of buildings encompassing multiple different eras. Highlights include the three principal entry gates, the Sabha Niwas audience hall, armoury museum and Peacock Gate.

Hawa Mahal

Actually forming part of the wider City Palace complex, the Hawa Mahal is Jaipur’s best known, and arguably most beautiful, building. The Hawa Mahal, or ‘Palace of Winds’ was completed in the early 1800s with its distinctive honeycomb façade that rises five stories from the street below built for the ladies of the harem. The design, with its hundreds of windows, allowed the inhabitants to witness everyday life and is best viewed from the street outside the City Palace.

Amber Fort

Perched high on a ridge overlooking Maota Lake on the outskirts of Jaipur, the impressive Amber Fort dominates the wider region. Amber Fort has been a Rajput capital for more than seven centuries and is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fort's imposing sandstone walls house grand palaces and temples, pretty courtyard gardens, audience halls and the opulent private chambers of the Maharaja. From Amber it is also possible to visit the nearby 18th century Nahargarh Fort.

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