The Perfect Week in India’s Golden Triangle

Take a deep breath. Accept that you can’t see every last wonder of India’s Golden Triangle without rushing through the region. For your Golden Triangle tour, start with a long weekend in Delhi, before heading to Agra for your date with the Taj Mahal. The last few days, head to Jaipur, the “Pink City,” the nickname becoming clear with your first sight of Hawa Mahal or City Palace.

National Highway 8, D Block, Samalka, New Delhi, Delhi 110037, India
Designed by Thai architect Khun Lek Bunnag—who has garnered a reputation for building luxury resorts that highlight the natural beauty of southeast Asia (Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai; Phulay Bay, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve)—the centerpiece of this peaceful boutique property is a 330-foot swimming pool that’s anchored by four massive gold-leaf columns and meanders through a forest-backed eight-acre garden. Vast domed and wood-covered rooms are controlled with iPads and express a fusion of modern Thai and Indian aesthetics—think sleek marble surfaces, whimsical panelled walls, and silk throw pillows. Guests are mostly couples and child-free travelers unfazed by the freestanding bathtubs that sit next to king-size beds and showers separated from sleeping areas by glass sliding doors. The many unfenced walkways over the swimming pool and other water features make the hotel unsuitable for very young children, though older kids might appreciate outdoor movie screenings.
Amber Fort Road, Jal Mahal, Parasrampuri, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302002, India
Set on pristinely manicured grounds, the Trident Hotel offers a modern alternative to the traditional properties found throughout Jaipur. One of its biggest selling points is its prime location—across from the stunning Jal Mahal and just a short drive from the majestic Amber Fort—but rooms offer plenty to love, from the Rajasthani archways and rich upholstery to the beautiful views across the property’s expansive lawns. In addition to two restaurants and a handful of event spaces, the Trident offers a sleek fitness center, luxurious spa, and quiet courtyard with a swimming pool, not to mention a kids’ club with activities like arts and crafts and cooking classes.
Taj East Gate Rd, Paktola, Tajganj, Agra, Uttar Pradesh 282001, India
If the Taj Mahal were a performance, The Oberoi Amarvilas would be the front-row seats. Just a few steps from the eastern gate of India’s most iconic monument, this luxury hotel—which is often ranked as one of the world’s best—is full of Mughal-inspired design, from the arched walkways and marble accents to the inlaid-wood furnishings and gold leaf–embellished frescoes that appears throughout the common areas. Things get even more beautiful at night, when the hotel illuminates its numerous fountains and terraces and serves romantic, candlelit dinners by the pool. Rooms here are as elegant as you might expect, with teak floors, deep soaking tubs, and unobstructed views of the Taj Mahal.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Lodhi Gardens, Lodhi Estate, New Delhi, Delhi 110003, India
New Delhi is a bit of a concrete jungle, and the chance to start each morning in the green space that is Lodhi Garden was a welcome way to find balance amid the hustle and bustle. The gardens were built around the tombs of Sayid and Lodhi rulers, and you’ll see hints of the architectural style that was later used in the construction of the Taj Mahal. These 90 acres of gardens are situated between Khan Market and Safdarjung’s Tomb on Lodi Road. This is the perfect place if you’re a jogger to get some running in, while you’re in Delhi.
Explore 10,000 years of India’s history, culture, architecture, and spirituality on over sixty acres of manicured grounds. Akshardham is an elaborate Swaminarayan temple complex that features an IMAX theater, musical fountains, sunken gardens, and the Mandir with over 20,000 statues of India’s religious personalities. The main shrine of the temple houses the statue of Lord Swaminarayan. Be sure to experience the 12-minute boat ride that highlights over 10,000 years of India’s heritage, including inventions, discoveries, and the world’s first university of Takshashila. The musical fountain echoes Vedic sentiments and prayers, and the Hall of Values features an audio animatronic show. Note: Akshardham is closed on Mondays.
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.
Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
Many mysteries surround the Jal Mahal or “Water Palace,” one of Rajasthan’s most ethereal palaces. Constructed in the 18th century by Jai Singh ll, the pale sandstone pavilion stands in stark contrast to the deep blue waters of Mansagar Lake, which it seems to float on, 4km north of Jaipur. A magnificent blend of Mughal and Rajputana craftsmanship, it was allegedly a pleasure palace for royal families, especially in the hot Rajasthani summers. But what did the royals do there? Was the Jal Mahal a site for royal picnics and lavish banquets? Did ladies of the court gossip the day away while their princes hunted game in the Nahargarh Hills that border the lake? Scholars can only speculate. What we know is that the enchanting palace is part of a massive renovation project that aims to preserve its magic for future generations. Combine a visit with one to the Amber Fort, also on the main Amer-Jaipur road.
Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India
So grateful was Mughal Emperor Akbar to the saint he believed blessed him with three sons that he built a City of Victory 40km west of Agra with Salim Chishti’s tomb as its centerpiece. Constructed in the mid-16th century, Fatehpur Sikri was the short-lived capital of the Mughal Empire at the height of its glory. A scarcity of water led to the abandonment of the fortified city after just 10 years. Nearly five centuries later, Fatehpur Sikri is a World Heritage Site that testifies to the extravagance of the Mughals. To enter their ancient world, you’ll need to fend off an army of souvenir hawkers and rupee-seeking guides. Once past their persistent flanks, pass through red sandstone fortifications into an opulent complex that encompasses three palaces for each of Akbar’s wives, one a Hindu, one a Muslim and one a Christian. The emperor’s taste for diversity also is reflected in Fatehpur Sikri’s masterful blend of Hindu and Muslim architecture—particularly evident in its most important building, the Jama Masjid. The white marble Indi-Islamic structure is one of India’s largest mosques. Still in use today, it houses the tomb of Salim Chishti, the Sufi saint who predicted the birth of Akbar’s heirs. Accessible by car and bus, Fatehpur Sikri is on the main Agra-Jaipur road. A visit can be easily combined with a trip to the Taj Mahal in Agra.
Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India
Known as The Blue City for its many homes painted to denote them as Brahmin residences, Jodhpur is a chaotic hodgepodge of blue blocks at the foot of mighty Mehrangarh Fort. Interspersed with the sacred color associated with Lord Shiva, the city projects a galaxy of shades ranging from the jewel-toned saris of traditional Rajasthani women to muted tones of the 16th-century wall that protected Jodhpur in medieval times. Long before Mark Zuckerberg used blue for its soothing effect on Facebook users, Jodhpur’s citizens apparently knew of its psychological impact on a city.
1st Floor, Rambagh Palace, Bhawani Singh Rd, Rambagh, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302005, India
Formerly the residence of the Maharajah of Jaipur, and now one of Jaipur’s most elegant luxury hotels, the 19th-century Rambagh Palace has had a front-row seat to history—and has hosted a long list of royals, dignitaries, and celebrities along the way. As an homage to those regal roots, the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant spotlights the cuisine of four of India’s former princely states: Rajasthan, Awadh, Punjab, and Hyderabad. In what used to be the palace’s banquet hall—still dripping with gilded mirrors and Italian frescos—enjoy dishes like laal maas (a Rajasthani spicy lamb curry), chicken cooked with raw mango and saffron, skillet-grilled lobster, and apricot-stuffed cheese dumplings simmered in tomato gravy. Cap off the night with a drink in the nearby Polo Bar, which serves fine spirits and cocktails inspired by the royal equestrian sport.
Surrounded by acres of manicured gardens, marbled colonnades, and flower-filled pools, the complex of the Taj Rambagh Palace hotel—once the home of the Maharajah of Jaipur—is one of the most serene spots in the Pink City. Even if you’re not staying here, come soak up the history—and escape the city bustle—with a lunch, afternoon tea, or a light supper at the al fresco Verandah Café, where the tables are arrayed under archways and out onto the lawn. Come during the day and you might catch a glimpse of the hotel’s signature VIP guest welcome ceremony (performed by colorfully painted elephants), or call ahead to find out if there will be a dance or musical performance on the lawn in the evening. The menus feature both Indian and international dishes, with choices ranging from sampler thali platters and ratatouille-topped potato pancakes to charred German bratwurst and Caribbean chicken salad. Afternoon tea harkens back to the royal days with traditional English scones, finger sandwiches, and a tower of freshly-baked sweets; go for the Champagne add-on for an extra-regal experience.
295 Chowk Fatehpuri, Chandani Chowk, New Delhi, India
After a day spent exploring the bustling Chandni Chowk market, or other Old Delhi sites like Red Fort, make like a local and cool off with a thick, refreshing lassi from this popular purveyor. Opened in 1974, and included in every list of the best lassis in Delhi ever since, Amritsari earns raves for both the way it crafts the yogurt-based drink (which can be ordered sweet or salty), and for its seasonal menu of flavors. Don’t miss a swig of fan-favorites like the malai flavor—made with hand-churned cream, and so dense you may not have room for much else—or rose-badam, a sweet combo of rose milk and almonds. If you’re feeling salty, the namkeen-jeera, which combines cumin and rock salt, should do the trick. Note that the stand is located in the market, and is take-out only.
319, MI Road, Panch Batti, C Scheme, Ashok Nagar, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302001, India
Today’s Jaipur buzzes with plenty of modern restaurants serving international cuisine, but that wasn’t always the case—when Niros, which first opened in 1949, started serving Chinese fare in the 1960’s, for example, it was the first place in town to do so. Now, going on its seventh decade, the place is still a favorite for its classic décor, attentive service, and extensive menu, which takes you from northern Indian standbys like chicken tikka masala and veggie curries to dumplings, stir-frys, omelettes, and even mushroom stroganoff, as well as Indo-Chinese items like fried paneer in Sichuan sauce. There are extensive choices for both veg and non-veg diners, while the kids should like the old-school sweets like American Ice Cream Sodas and Knicker Bocker Glory sundaes.
ITC Maurya, Sardar Patel Marg, Akhaura Block, Diplomatic Enclave, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, Delhi 110021, India
Global celebrities like Bill and Hillary Clinton and Bruce Springsteen have all been spotted at Bukhara. Ranked as one of New Delhi’s top (and priciest) restaurants since 1977, the legendary spot—now located at the ITC Maurya hotel—celebrates India’s rugged North West Frontier region in both its décor and menu. Though the faux-rustic design seems a bit like that of a theme restaurant (think cracked stone walls, low seating, lots of wood beams and clay pots), the cuisine is legit. So legit, in fact, that there’s no cutlery, so guests eat with their hands. (You are issued an apron for protection.) The dishes of the Frontier region tend towards the warm, hearty, and comforting, crafted using tandoor clay ovens and wood fires, so expect staples like marinated kebabs, rich lentils, fluffy bread, and lots of meat; the signature Sikandri Raan mutton leg, burrah (lamb) kebabs, and off-the-menu Chicken Khurchan are particular favorites, along with overflowing shareable platters. Reservations are recommended as the place does gets packed.
Shop No. 348, MI Road, Jayanti Market, New Colony, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302001, India
For centuries, Rajasthan—and Jaipur in particular—has served as the epicenter of India’s gemstone industry; as far back as the early-1700’s, the skilled craftsmen of this region were cutting, shaping, and polishing about 90 percent of the stones used by the country’s jewelry makers. This legendary Jaipur shop has been witness to nearly all that history, with the founding Kasliwal family serving as jewelers to the Maharajas of the Mughal empire—followed by a long list of international royalty, presidents, and celebrities; they’ve even been granted honors by the British Crown, and their pieces have been exhibited at London’s Somerset House and New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Stop in to ogle the glittering goods—which are available in traditional, modern, and vintage-inspired styles—and learn a bit about the expert artistry and craftsmanship that goes into creating them. Prices run the gamut, so there’s something for most budgets, but be warned that most of the pieces are designed to dazzle. There are also Gem Palace outposts in luxury hotels throughout India (including some Oberoi and Taj locations), as well as a few partner boutiques outside of the subcontinent.
Agra Fort, Rakabganj, Agra, Uttar Pradesh 282003, India
Dating back to 1080, the Agra Fort still holds much of its original splendor.
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