If you’re short on time and want to see some of India’s most iconic sights then the Golden Triangle is the route for you, taking in the hustle and bustle of Delhi, the majestic Amer Fort in Jaipur and legendary Taj Mahal in Agra. This route is undoubtedly a cultural extravaganza for anybody wanting to explore the architectural marvels, delve into the medieval history and taste the scrumptious cuisines that these physically close yet culturally diverse cities have to offer. But if you do have some more time, then why not consider extending your trip and head off the beaten track to discover some of India’s lesser-known sites and beyond, such as holy Varanasi.
Here’s a lowdown on the places I went exploring when I embarked on a tour of the famous Golden Triangle and the spiritual capital of India, Varanasi.
The Heart of India – Delhi
Delhi, the capital city and the heart of India, is renowned for a number of things, which I discovered when I took a week-long tour. It is home to the powerhouses of our nation such as the President’s House (Rashtrapati Bhawan), Parliament House and the Secretariat Building.
Apart from the powerhouse, Delhi also has a quaint cultural side that offers many attractions to those willing to explore the true essence of Delhi. The city mainly comprises 2 parts – Old and New Delhi. Some of the prominent tourist points include the Akshardham Temple, the Red Fort, India Gate, Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah and many more.
If you are up for something off-beat, then go for soulful Sufi concerts taking place in Nizamuddin Dargah, the resting place of one of the world’s most famous Sufi saints, Nizamuddin Auliya, which attracts Sufi devotees from around the globe. On Thursday evenings, its courtyard erupts with the soulful sound of live qawwalis (Sufi devotional songs) accompanied by traditional Indian instruments, which serenade the audience into a trance. One of the performing families has been singing there for hundreds of years.
From the famous streets of Connaught Place to magnificence of the Parliament House, from towering India Gate to the iconic Rashtrapati Bhavan (Presidents Residence) visit Delhi to watch history slowly unfold.
Delhi is also a foodie’s delight. Indulge in lip-smacking curries and try some authentic Indian bites. From homemade ice cream to fruit beer and dumplings, Delhi’s food scene is thriving and surprising. Tantalize your taste buds with some of Delhi’s best local food, including shawarma, and kulfi-falooda.
Jaipur – The Embodiment of Royalty
Famously known as the Pink City of India, Jaipur is the city of princes and princesses, of tales of valor and courage, of romance and chivalry. Regal forts, luxurious palaces, lively temples, colorful bazaars, and vibrant streets have given the city a unique and unmatched character that immediately endears itself to every visitor.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Jaipur, the elephant ride to the historic Amer Fort is a very interesting and thrilling activity which you can get to do as part of this 2-week long Golden Triangle itinerary throughout the northern part of India. The fort itself, built by Raja Mana Singh I, is an architectural symbol of the royal times. The fort is a mix of Hindu and Rajput influences, and like other forts of Rajasthan, you can feel the ornate aura here too.
Also, a one-of-a-kind, magical experience is a hot air balloon ride over the cosmopolitan city of Jaipur. This gives you a bird’s eye view of the entire landscape of the Pink City, comprising the palaces, forts and natural beauty. Most balloon rides start from the Jal Mahal, Amer Fort, Shiv Vilas or the Delhi-Jaipur Road. If you opt for early morning rides, then you can watch the sunrise from the balloon.
Along with a number of reasons, the biggest reason for Agra’s popularity in the world is the Taj Mahal. This place in Agra is the most visited tourist attraction in India. From witnessing some of the amazing and beautiful creations of nature to shopping at different points and enjoying the mouth-watering flavors of the city, there is a lot more to explore here in Agra. This majestic monument and the sign of love, this beautiful construction by Shah Jahan was built in the memory of his third wife Mumtaz.
The Taj Mahal is also recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the World which attracts a huge number of tourists throughout the year. Also renowned is the majestic red stone residence of the Mughals, the Agra Fort. This UNESCO World Heritage Site sits few kilometres from Taj Mahal alongside the Yamuna River.
Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan’s son declared Shah Jahan incompetent to rule the kingdom and put him under house arrest in Agra Fort. Shah Jahan’s only wish was to be imprisoned in his room from where he could see the Taj Mahal. While you visit Agra Fort, as I did on this guided tour, you can see Shah Jahan’s room where he spent all his time overlooking the Taj Mahal. Besides, Agra also makes a great pit stop if you are visiting Fatehpur Sikri.
Varanasi – The Spiritual Capital of India
Colorful and spiritual are the two words that best describe the charm of Varanasi. This Indian travel destination is famous for its bathing Ghats that line River Ganges. Considered to be one of the holiest places around the world, it is visited by millions of Hindus and travelers each year. The magical Indian destination will captivate you with its Ghats and endless lines of Sadhus and Saints. The mystic charm of the city calls people to dip into the holy Ganga River which descends from Devprayag. The locals believe that it’s a tirtha, a crossing point between heaven and earth. You can be a part of the auspicious evening Ganga Aarti that can be witnessed from the building balconies and the boats across the Dasaswamedh Ghat. For someone like me who is charmed by spirituality and mysticism, this tour was the perfect plan to undertake as it helped me know in-depth about this vibrant holy city.