The Best Things to Do in India’s Golden Triangle

Some of the sights have always been a part of your dream travel list: the white marble of the Taj Mahal, the stunning tower that is the Qutub Minar, the sandstone exterior of the Red Fort. But India’s Golden Triangle--Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur--offers so much more. The region has museums both grand and small (one with a focus on block printing), layers of history, and, even on the busiest of streets, the always surprising appearance of that most treasured of animals, the cow.

City Palace, Gangori Bazaar, J.D.A. Market, Kanwar Nagar, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302007
Spread out over several acres in the heart of Jaipur’s old town, the rose-hued City Palace complex reflects the influence of several rulers, starting with the 18th-century Maharajah Jai Singh II, who planned and built the outer walls, and ending with additions made as late as the early 20th-century. As a result, the complex—which includes former palace residences and ceremonial areas, armories, gardens, and decorated courtyards—features a mix of architectural styles, from Mughal and Rajput to classical European. Today, this is one of the first stops of any visit to the Pink City as it provides a good overview of the regal history and culture, as well as a look at lots of priceless artifacts. Start in the Mubarak Mahal (Welcome Palace), where you’ll pass under arches and colonnades to check out the collection of royal clothing and textiles, then continue on to the former Maharani’s Palace, now housing a vast collection of armor and weaponry, including intricately adorned ceremonial swords. Other collection highlights include a series of miniatures of sacred Hindu texts (found in the Diwan-i-Am Gallery) and the famous pair of silver vessels In the Diwan-i-Khas courtyard—which, at about 62 inches tall each, are thought to be the largest pieces of pure silver in the world. If the sun’s not too strong, stroll through courtyards like the Pitam Niwas Chowk, where each of the four decorated gates represents a different season.
Dharmapuri, Forest Colony, Tajganj, Agra, Uttar Pradesh 282001, India
The Taj Mahal is referred to as “the jewel of Muslim art in India,” by UNESCO in its listing on the World Heritage Site registry. The Mughal ruler Shah Jahan had the truly magnificent white marble mausoleum built in 1632–1648, in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. For its construction, artisans from all over the empire, Central Asia, Iran, were summoned and the final result of their stonework, calligraphy, carvings, gardening, woodwork, and soaring domes remains one of the universally admired masterpieces of world heritage. Allot ample time to tour the site—besides the mausoleum, there is a mosque, a guest house, cloisters, courtyards, gates, and vast gardens. In addition to being stunningly beautiful from afar, the iconic site is evocatively romantic and up-close, the intricate details in its architecture, ornamentation, and history, are revealed.
Krishna Nagar, Brahampuri, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302002, India
When Maharajah Jai Singh II—the founder of Jaipur—built this hilltop fort in 1734, he did so both to create a royal retreat and to further fortify the burgeoning city below, connecting the complex with other structures like Jaigarh Fort via an extended defense wall. The complex (which is said to have been named for a dead prince whose spirit disrupted initial construction), was extended again some 130 years later, but that first connecting wall still exists today—though now the primary function of the fort is to offer stunning views of the surrounding Aravalli Hills and now-vast Jaipur. Make the steep, 1.2-mile trek up (or take a longer detour by car) to take in the vistas, and to wander through the fort’s temples, open-air pavilions (where the kings would hear from subjects), and former royal apartments—including the two-story structure built for one King and his twelve queens.
Hand-printed textiles are one of Rajasthan’s signature artisan crafts, and the Anokhi shops—found all over India—are some of the best places to stock-up on rolls of printed fabric and clothing, home furnishings, stationery, bedding, and more made from the beautiful textiles. But as with many traditional crafts, hand-printing is in danger of disappearing, replaced by modern technology, so Anokhi created this center in Jaipur both to showcase the art form and provide education and opportunities to those wanting to learn the trade. Now among Jaipur’s more popular tourist attractions, the museum (which is located a short walk from Amber Fort, in a historic haveli, or mansion), houses a permanent collection of antique, vintage, and contemporary block-printed textiles, as well as traditional outfits, wooden tools used in hand-printing, and more. Rotating exhibits focus on specific materials or types of printing, while the education center offers demonstrations and classes, including workshops for tourists. Naturally, there’s also a shop where you can stock up on goodies, including limited-edition items.
Rashtrapati Bhawan, President's Estate, New Delhi, Delhi 110004, India
As befits the presidential residence of the largest democracy in the world, the Rashtrapati Bhavan complex houses an inspiring collection of spaces, from the private residence and public ceremonial and performance halls to acres of gardens laid out in various styles. Visitor access is separated into three circuits, each open on specific days: Circuit 1 includes tours of the main building and central lawn; Circuit 2 features the museum complex and garages; and Circuit 3 (offered seasonally) takes you to the gardens, including the Mughal Gardens, with its lush terraces and flower-framed fountains. Tickets must be reserved in advance; visit for more info.
Janpath Rd, Rajpath Area, Central Secretariat, New Delhi, Delhi 110011, India
What began as an exhibit of Indian art in London in 1947 grew to become this New Delhi museum, now one of the largest in India. The pieces in the permanent collection (which stretches to some 200,000 items) span the globe—don’t miss the section on pre-Colombian art from the region that spans Central and South America—but the museum’s main focus is on representing thousands of years of Indian art and culture. The galleries showcase a wide array of topics, from coins, armor, and textiles to miniature painting, musical instruments, sacred texts, and tribal artifacts. Start at archaeology and work your way through.
Netaji Subhash Marg, Lal Qila, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi, Delhi, 110006, India
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Red Fort, located in New Delhi, is a treasure trove of cultural history. You can spend hours wandering among the various buildings, learning much about the history of India. Tucked away within the walls of the Red Fort is the Hall of Public Audience. Don’t be fooled by the modest red exterior, for once you cross the threshold you are greeted by intricately detailed inlaid-paneled walls that run from the floor to the canopy-ceiling. It is within this chamber that the emperor would receive people from the community and hear their complaints. (I entered this building to whine about the 104-degree heat, but alas, there was no emperor available, as it was far too hot.)
Mandir Marg, Near, Gole Market, New Delhi, Delhi 110001, India
The Laxminarayan Temple (also called the Birla Mandir) is an elaborate Hindu temple of red and white columns, artificial mountains, and waterfalls. The temple was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi with the condition that the site would be open to all castes and faiths. “Laxmi Narayan” refers to the Hindu God Vishnu, the Preserver, with his consort Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity. There are also three side-temples dedicated to Buddha, Shiva, and Krishna. The temple is illuminated during two important holidays: Diwali, the Festival of Lights, and Janmashtami, Krishna’s Birthday.
Gangori Bazaar, J.D.A. Market, Pink City, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302002, India
Janta Mantar, a Jaipur park for the space-and-time-inclined, was built in the early 1700s by the Maharaja Singh. The UNESCO World Heritage site, located in the old city, contains 20 large stone astronomical instruments designed to assist scientists who were observing the heavens with their bare eyes. The huge tools monitor celestial happenings and are still in used today for agricultural predictions. One can walk between the impressive apparatuses and imagine the 18th-century scientists of the royal court plotting and charting impossible distances and paths.
Hawa Mahal Rd, Badi Choupad, J.D.A. Market, Kanwar Nagar, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302002, India
One can only imagine the royal gossip exchanged behind the pink sandstone screen of Jaipur’s Hawa Mahal when women of the royal household gathered on the upper floors of the five-story palace to watch street festivals below while they remained invisible to the outside world. Built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh as an extension to the Royal Palace, the iconic structure reflects the maharaja’s devotion to Lord Krishna as its honeycomb pattern resembles the Hindu god’s crown. Intricate stone inlays and filigree work reminiscent of Islamic architecture blend with floral patterns and fluted pillars to make it one of the finest examples of Rajput design. Named “Palace of Winds” for a clever cooling system that sent breezes through the inner rooms during the intense Rajasthan summers, the Hawa Mahal remains the Pink City’s most distinctive landmark even lacking the winds for which it was named. (In modern times, the clever cooling design was lost when a renovation added windows behind each of the lattice openings.) A small museum offers small paintings, ceremonial relics, and other souvenirs evocative of Jaipur’s royal past.
Seth Sarai, Mehrauli, New Delhi, Delhi 110030, India
Delhi’s Qutub Minar, at 72.5 meters or 238 feet tall, is the tallest tower in India. Built as an Islamic monument in the early 13th century of red sandstone and marble, the minar is not without controversy. Some believe the tower was built to celebrate Muslim rule in the country, and others claim it was erected to call the devoted to prayer. The surrounding complex houses the first mosque to be built in India, tombs, a madrassa, and an iron pillar that is mysteriously resistant to corrosion, even after being exposed to the natural elements for centuries. Until 1981, visitors were able to climb the 379 stairs to the top of Qutub Minar, but the interior is now closed.

The Qutab Minar is notable for being one of the earliest and most prominent examples of Indo-Islamic architecture. It is surrounded by several other ancient and medieval structures and ruins, collectively known as Qutub complex. Within the Qutab complex, amidst the ruins of the Quwat-ul-Islam Mosque, stands one of the legendary Ashoka Pillars. This large iron pillar has withstood the ravages of Delhi’s weather (and recent pollution) and has not rusted in over 1500 years.
Near Birla House, 5, Tees January Marg, Tees January Road Area, Motilal Nehru Marg Area, New Delhi, Delhi 110001, India
Gandhi Smriti, previously called Birla House, is now a museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, the man many consider the “Father of Indian Independence.” Gandhi lived in the house during the last several months of his life and was assassinated here in January 1948. View the modest rooms where he spent his days, and stroll the same prayer grounds where he held a nightly congregation. A visit to Gandhi Smriti offers insight into the last 144 days of Gandhi’s life, during one of the greatest periods in Indian history.
Kaccha Bagh Area, Old Delhi, New Delhi, Delhi 110006, India
Rickshaw rides are common in Chandni Chowk, the vast and crowded market in the Old Delhi quarter, but book a comprehensive rickshaw tour for an immersive experience that lasts longer than 15 minutes. Witness the architectural marvels, multicolored facades, beautifully decorated shops, and the fragrances emanating from the potpourri of eateries that line the historic alleys. The tour covers 20 main sites—palaces, mansions, elegant shrines, and colorful bazaars—and finishes at an 1860 haveli (mansion) where you’ll visit a gallery of photos depicting the lifestyle of Mughals, as well as a small lounge where you can relax and try some typical snacks.
Jama Masjid Rd, Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi, Delhi 110006, India
Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque, was commissioned by Shah Jahan, the same emperor who built the iconic Taj Mahal for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Completed in 1656, the courtyard of Jama Masjid can accommodate 25,000 devotees. Visitors must comply with a dress code; traditional robes can be rented at the northern gate. The mosque is located in Old Delhi near other notable sites, including the Red Fort and Chandni Chowk market, so schedule extra time to explore the area. Note: No visitors are allowed during prayer hours.
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