The Golden Triangle not just about the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort. It’s a chance to witness the many identities of India through the iconic destinations of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.

From the towering Qutub Minar to the formidable Amer Fort, visiting the Golden Triangle is also an insight into India’s architectural history. But beware — overtourism and overcrowding can be a real problem. Avoid unethical elephant rides and big tour groups, and make sure you’re respectful of local customs and dress when visiting sites like the Taj Mahal. Let’s keep the Triangle golden.

Agra

Golden Triangle routes

Plan for a minimum of five days to see the Golden Triangle — but more is always better. Most Golden Triangle tours will start with a couple of days in Delhi to acclimatise and view the big city sights. The most logical route is to then travel to Agra (four to five hours by road/three hours by train). Here, most trips opt for two days and one night, allowing you to view the Taj Mahal early in the morning.

The journey from Agra to Jaipur takes four hours by road and three and half by train. For most, Jaipur is the introduction to Rajasthan and from here you can explore the rest of the state to the west. However, should you choose to complete the Triangle by returning to Delhi from Jaipur, the journey time is approximately six hours by road and four hours by train.

Highlights

The Golden Triangle cities of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur are all located within 250km of each other and can be covered by road or rail. This is a trail filled with history and laced with stories — you get to see forts and palaces, mosques and mausoleums.

The iconic Taj Mahal is on everyone’s itinerary but there is also the Red Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Old Delhi is more fascinating with its monuments and markets, while colourful Jaipur offers palaces and forts.

Delhi

India’s capital is a riot of cars, noise and sights — from the iconic India Gate built in 1917 to commemorate first world war soldiers to the stately Rashtrapathi Bhavan (President’s residence). For an authentic experience of Delhi past, head to Shahjahanabad, the Old Delhi city created by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century. Founded when the emperor moved his capital from Agra in 1639, the walled city was shaped like a quarter circle with the elegant Red Fort (Lal Qila) towering over the citadel as a focal point.

Wander down vibrant Chandni Chowk, once the city’s main street and now one of India’s busiest markets, serving up famed Delhi street food like stuffed parathas (flatbreads) and crisp jalebis (fried sweets). Meaning ‘moonlight square’, Chandni Chowk got its name from a large pond of water that existed in front of the Town Hall — now long lost to the mass of vendors.

The elegant Jama Masjid, built at a cost of 1 million rupees between 1644 and 1656, sits across the road from the Red Fort at Chandni Chowk’s end. The last of Shah Jahan’s architectural wonders (he commissioned the Taj Mahal and Red Fort, but fell ill shortly after the Masjid’s completion), the mosque once housed almost 25,000 worshippers and is still in use today. Look for its minaret towers and domes and dress conservatively if you plan to visit.

Away from Shahjahanabad, visit the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Humayan’s Tomb, dedicated to the Mughal emperor, and Qutub Minar, a soaring 73m tower built in 1193 after the sacking of Delhi’s last Hindu kingdom.

With five distinct stories built from red sandstone and marble, the purpose of Qutub Minar is still shrouded in controversy. Some say it was built to celebrate the beginning of Muslim rule in India, while others argue it is simply a minaret used by muezzins to call the faithful to prayer.

Agra-2

Agra

The Taj Mahal is clearly the showstopper here, but as the monument becomes ever more popular, make sure you are aware of the drawbacks of visiting, such as the heat and crowds. Try to visit early in the morning to beat the rush, avoid the south gate as it doesn’t open until 8am and read up on the list of items you can’t take in to avoid disappointment. Please note that the Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays.

Agra was the Mughal capital and was previously known as Akbarabad under the leadership of Mughal emperor Akbar. In 1565, he built the Agra Fort from red sandstone, making it the seat of the Mughal Empire until his grandson Shah Jahan moved the capital to Delhi in 1639.

Today, you can visit the fort by entering the Amar Singh gate to its south, taking in the various palaces, pavilions and courtyards along the way. Don’t miss the Mathamman Burj, a marble tower where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb until his death in 1666. From his window, he could view the Taj Mahal, built as a tomb for his wife Mumtaz.

A visit to Agra is not complete without visiting the Mughal architectural masterpiece and forgotten town of Fatehpur Sikri. Its magnificent Bulund Darwaza (Gate of Victory) commemorates Akbar’s victory at Gujarat. Standing 54m tall, the gate to Fatehpur Sikri guards its southern entrance and is made of red sandstone with marble decorations. Inside, you can see the intricately marbled tomb of the sufi saint Sheikh Salim Chishti, who foretold the birth of Akbar’s son Salim.

Jaipur

The Pink City retains its royal touch with the elaborate architecture of its many palaces and forts. In the Old Town, you’ll find the City Palace (still home to Jaipur’s royals), the Hawa Mahal and Jantar Mahal. But it’s the old Mughal capital of Amer where three magnificent forts — Amer, Jaigarh and Nahargarh — watch over the city, that is Jaipur’s best attraction.

See our full Jaipur guide.

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