Delhi, Agra, Jaipur: The Golden Triangle

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Delhi, Agra, Jaipur: The Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle is a place of vibrant energy, as cultures and religions have mingled over centuries. Explore the political and historical pomp of Delhi, the enchanting pink-stone palaces of Jaipur, and the mesmerizing serenity of the Taj Mahal.
By Neha Puntambekar , AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Victoria Sterling
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    Delhi's Architectural Landmarks
    To understand the complexity that is Delhi, it is essential to experience her landmarks. Each red stone, intricate carving, and royal turret speaks of a different era, a different dynasty, a different religion, and together they anchor this sprawling city. Walk along Rajpath (the Kingsway) and take in the pre-independence era architecture: the Rashtrapati Bhavan (president's residence), India Gate, and Victory Square. At the other end, Old Delhi has the city’s best-known Mughal-era sights, such as the Red Fort and Jama Masjid. (Qutub Minar, also famous, is in Mehrauli.) Both sides manage to be quintessentially Delhi.
    Photo by Victoria Sterling
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    Delhi: Seat of Power
    To watch India’s power center at work, head to Rajpath. It runs from the Rashtrapati Bhavan (the President’s residence) to India Gate, a WWI memorial for fallen soldiers of the British Indian Army, now dedicated to the unknown soldier. Rajpath is known across India for the Republic Day parade that takes place here on January 26—there are themed and state floats, as well as a show of military strength. In addition to its colonial-era architecture, Rajpath is also known for the landscaped lawns that frame the ceremonial boulevard on either side. These green spaces are a favorite picnic spot amongst locals. Come here late in the evenings and people-watch while enjoying a popsicle from the small carts plying the route.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Delhi's Iconic Places of Worship
    Delhi is a multi-faith city with many functioning houses of worship. Start with the Lotus Temple, a Bahá'í temple known as a spiritual and physical oasis. Next, visit the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, a Sikh house of worship in Connaught Place, where you are welcome to partake in langar (community kitchen), serving wholesome food to all. The iconic Jama Masjid in Old Delhi is India’s largest mosque; if you want to explore the historic complex at leisure, avoid Fridays. Not far off is the St. James Church, built in 1836 and resembling London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. Complete the circuit with the Hindu Akshardham temple complex on the banks of the River Yamuna. Visit during Diwali (mid-October to mid-November) to see it in all its glory.
    Photo by Neha Puntambekar
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    Delhi's Urban Villages
    There isn't one Delhi; there are many. New Delhi is the smartly tailored part, with tree-lined avenues and important addresses. Old Delhi is the scruffy, eccentric uncle who has entertained emperors and immigrants alike for centuries. Then there is the contemporary Delhi that is showing up in the city’s forgotten spots and blurred corners, redressing them as vibrant urban villages—like Hauz Khas Village, Lado Sarai, Shahpur Jat, and Khirki Village. It’s easy to spend entire days here, walking the small lanes and taking in the graffiti, the art galleries, and the bohemian studios and boutiques, before grabbing refreshments at one of the many quirky cafés, pubs, and restaurants.
    Photo by Walter Bibikow/age fotostock
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    Delhi's Museums and Galleries
    The National Museum on Janpath is one of the country's most important museums, with 200,000 pieces of Indian history, including carved stone panels, miniatures, and colonial-era landscapes. Also visit the Gandhi Smriti on Teese January Marg. Set up in the house where Mahatma Gandhi spent his last days, the museum displays photos, paintings, and personal effects from the time. It was here that Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist on January 30, 1948; the Martyr’s Column marks the spot where Gandhi fell. If you're interested in art, visit the city’s flagship gallery, the National Gallery of Modern Art, near India Gate, or head to the Delhi Art Gallery at Hauz Khas Village for a look at contemporary Indian artwork.
    Photo by Neha Puntambekar
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    Jaipur's Palaces and Forts
    Jaipur was founded in 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. It is a fascinating combination of palatial mansions and stately buildings sharing lanes with bustling bazaars, computer repair shops, and tutorial institutes. Start at the old capital on Amber Fort. If you go early, scale the fort on elephant-back, much like the maharajas. Back in the old city, encased within the pink walls, watch the day go by from the lattice windows of the Hawa Mahal, as the women of the royal household used to do, without being seen. End your day at the stately City Palace complex, which includes the ancient observatory, Jantar Mantar. It continues to be the official residence of the erstwhile royal family, even today.
    Photo by Matthew Keesecker
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    Jaipur's Performing Arts
    The state of Rajasthan is known for its folk arts, particularly music and dance. These are showcased across Jaipur at hotels, restaurants, and cultural sites. Of particular interest is the local puppet theater. Puppetry is one of India’s oldest art forms, passed on through generations of artist families. Handcrafted puppets take on the form of historical figures (like Emperor Akbar, or Alexander the Great), Bollywood stars, or even Michael Jackson, and dance to local beats. Performances last 15 minutes, and puppets can be purchased as souvenirs. At the other end of the spectrum, you can dress up in finery and spend the day watching polo at the Rambagh Polo Ground. A sport that found royal patronage, it continues to draw in Jaipur’s finest.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Jaipur's Market Scene
    Jaipur has one of the largest bazaar networks in Asia. Be prepared to see streets lined with vendors, craftsmen, and color. Most of the markets lie in the old walled city, around landmarks such as the Hawa Mahal. Of the popular markets here, head to Johari Bazaar for jewelry and fabrics; Bapu Bazaar for textiles, leather work, metals, and footwear; Badi Chaupar for handcrafts (like puppets and wall art), mojaris (traditional shoes), and antiques; Tripolia Bazaar for traditional lac (resin) bangles, carpets, and other handcrafts; and M.I. Road for the state emporia, an excellent place to find crafts and textiles sourced from across the state. Make it a point to bargain at the bazaars; it is only expected.
    Photo by Lucas Vallecillos/age fotostock
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    Jaipur's Festive Calendar
    Celebrations, like everything else here, tend to slip out onto the streets. There’s music, laughter, and color, be it weddings—and if it’s possible, try to get yourself invited to one of these opulent affairs—or national festivals. Holi, the festival of color, is celebrated in February or March with much pomp across the state. The entire city, from the palaces to the bazaars, is lit up for Diwali (mid-October to mid-November). In addition to cultural celebrations, one of the city’s signature events in recent years has been the Jaipur Literary Festival, the largest of its kind in the Asia-Pacific region. Held at the Diggi Palace Hotel every January, the festival draws big-ticket talent like Jhumpa Lahiri, Junot Diaz, and Jonathan Franzen.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Agra's UNESCO World Heritage Site
    The Taj Mahal was built on the banks of the River Yamuna on the orders of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth. It took over two decades to build and required approximately 20,000 craftsmen from across India, and a few from as far away as Syria and Turkey. The Taj is a mix of white marble, ornate lawns, and watercourses, each bringing an air of serenity to the setting despite the large crowds. It’s best to come early in the morning or close to dusk, when the sky changes color. Be sure to ignore the many hawkers, touts, and beggars on the way in; once inside the complex, you can soak in the beauty of both the monument, and the landscaped gardens surrounding it, in peace.
    Photo by Colin Roohan
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