India’s Golden Triangle and Beyond: a 3-week itinerary

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Our 3-week itinerary in India took me and my friend from the capital of Delhi to Agra and Jaipur on the Golden Triangle route. From there, we continued on to three other cities in the state of Rajasthan– Udaipur, Jodhpur, and Jaisalmer.

3-week golden triangle itinerary

3 weeks isn’t a long time, but our itinerary was jam-packed with so many amazing experiences that I simply cannot fit them all in one post! I have split the itinerary into two posts.

Continue on reading for an itinerary of the Golden Triangle cities– Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Then, round off our 3-week Golden Triangle and Rajasthan itinerary with an itinerary of Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer

Firstly, this itinerary wouldn’t have been possible without my friend, William, who did the research and went through the troubles of booking everything. For my part, I just had to pack my bags and go without knowing what to expect at all.

As it turned out, keeping an open mind was exactly what I needed. 

Initially, my plans were to travel much more extensively in India. I wanted to do it all, starting north in Delhi until I reached Kerala in the south. But then came the coronavirus, and soon I had to make the decision to abort the trip and fly home while I could. 

Having to cut the trip short sucked, but it is what is, I suppose.

Travel often goes against the grain of what we know and are used to. Even the most meticulously planned trips can go awry, and that’s ok. Over time they simply become happy accidents that we look back on, the same way that a flat tire on the way to work can ruin the day, but in retrospect is just a little surprise in an otherwise ordinary day.

Having said that, I’m having such a FOMO moment right now going through the photos from our incredible trip!

What is the Golden Triangle?

The Golden Triangle, encompassing the cities of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, represents some of India’s most famed cultural and historical sights. It is a well-trodden track for first-time travellers in India. However, that doesn’t mean that you’ll just be dipping your toes. Stretching 720 KM in distance on the road, the Golden Triangle is both a cultural exploration and an intense sensory experience. 

It is an experience just being there, and your full attention is warranted. Tucked inside bendy nooks are monuments that command respect. Furthermore, inside the homes of the locals, are stories and hospitality like no other. And yes, there is no Indian wedding too big or flashy, just as there is no such thing as too much curry.

In this 3-week itinerary of the Golden Triangle and Rajasthan, you will find useful tips to make your trip a memorable one. For each city, I have provided recommendations for the length of stay, transportation, and places to check out, among other tips that I can share from my personal experience or as recommended by others. 

A 3-Week Itinerary of the Golden Triangle and Rajasthan

Delhi: 3 days

For most international travellers, Delhi is the point of entry and gateway to the 3-week Golden Triangle itinerary. It’s good to plan for a day just to get the errands out of the way. Set up your SIM card and exchange for the local currency, then allow for a couple of days of sightseeing in the capital city. 

Wondering what is the best way to get around the city? Want to know all the best places to visit? I have written all about Delhi in this post. Go check it out!

Places to Visit in Delhi

Delhi in a nutshell

New Delhi and Old Delhi feel like parallel worlds with distinct energies. Each is fascinating for the experiences it offers. New Delhi’s youthful vibe will draw you to try out belly dancing and hit up the assortment of shops. On the other hand, Old Delhi is where traditions and everyday customs can be observed at Chandni Chowk.

Aside from Chandni Chowk, my favourite exploration would have to be Majnu ka Tilla, a community known as Little Tibet. It stands apart from the rest of the city and I was intrigued by the juxtaposition. It’s unique to hear about the migrant story in a city seemingly built on traditions. There is definitely a lot of history to uncover in Delhi and thanks to the many convenient transportation options available, we were able to squeeze in many sights in a day. I enjoyed exploring by ourselves but to get the most out of your stay,  you can also opt for a street walking tour. In my Delhi post, I have provided some options for ethical walking tours, which directly benefit the communities that you visit. 

Where to stay in Delhi

The address was a headache to figure out but once found, this Airbnb apartment is conveniently located behind the Deshbandhu College campus. This means that there’s an assortment of fast food and budget-friendly eats available right outside on Kalkaji Main Road. We also made use of the shared kitchen for some much-needed greens to supplement our carb-heavy meals. Overall, it was a comfortable stay to kickstart our whirlwind trip.

While in Delhi, I also stayed with a couple of local families. I highly recommend it for solo travellers as they truly opened their homes to me and gave me a great entry into life in the bustling city.

Agra: 1-3 days

Agra is synonymous with the Taj Mahal. Affectionately nicknamed the jewel of India, the Taj is known around the world as a new wonder and a timeless beacon of love. Aside from a visit to the monument itself, many places around the city are also ideal for viewing the Taj Mahal. Since the Taj Mahal is the main attraction in Agra, however, the general impression is that the rest of the city can feel like it pales in comparison to the world wonder. With all that said, Agra can be done in a day. And if you want to stay longer, be sure to make use of this time to check out all the best spots to view the Taj Mahal.

 

Getting to Agra from Delhi

GATIMAAN EXPRESS (12050)

This train operates every day of the week except for Friday and covers the 188km distance between Delhi and Agra Cantt in under two hours. It is a comfortable ride with upright seats and a meal. 

Getting around Agra

Agra is conveniently served by both taxis and autorickshaws. I recommend hiring one from a ridesharing app like Ola or Uber for transparent pricing and an easier time with the communication. Another way to avoid dealing with traffic is to stay in the city centre. From most hostels and hotels, the Taj Mahal is just a short stroll away. 

We hired a driver from the street once and had an exhausting experience. Long story short, although we had already settled on a price, he insisted that it wasn’t enough and tried to get us to stop at half a dozen factories and shops along the way to earn his commission.

Points of interest in Agra

If you are on a time crunch and want to experience the best of Agra in a day, definitely check out the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. To save on transportation time and get more out of your experience, I recommend splurging a little to get a driver and guide. I’ve found a budget-friendly package here

A must-visit in Agra…

  • Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal goes without saying is a must-visit when in Agra. There is a reason why it remains one of the most visited monuments in India, and a highlight of our 3-week Golden Triangle itinerary.

Its beauty and grandeur can only be fully appreciated in person. What’s more, the stonework and the sheer scale of the mausoleum will leave you stunned for words. It’s recommended to go there early in the day. Sunrise is the best time to beat the crowd and enjoy an uninterrupted photo session with the iconic monument.

Once the crowd arrives, you will find yourself lining up for a photo. And sometimes, you’ll even be asked to take selfies with other tourists and become the subject of their photos!

History and story…

Agra Fort is a historical fort that offers a glimpse of the Taj Mahal from across the Yamuna River. The fort was also once home to Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who commissioned the Taj Mahal for his beloved wife. Agra Fort holds true to the saying that there is more than meets the eye. Behind its fiery sandstone walls are glistening marble palaces and a moving story about a grieving husband. You can even see the marble tower where Shah Jahan was said to lay on his deathbed, looking over at the Taj Mahal once more. In both architectural beauty and history, Agra Fort is sure to leave an impression. 

Not far from Agra Fort, Sadar Bazar offers a taste of local fare, but I would only recommend it if you are in the area. We found another bazaar on Rakabganj Road while on the way to Fatehpur Sikri. It’s a bit removed from the tourist track, so plan for a stop here if you are going to Fatehpur Sikri. This marketplace offers an interesting glimpse into the day to day life of the locals. There are lots of food options and local businesses here as well.

A day trip from Agra…

Fatehpur Sikri was a city built to honour the great Sufi saint, Sheikh Salim Chisti. Unfortunately, it was abandoned in just a few short years and fell into decline. Two hours away from Agra, this ghost city has preserved a sense of ceremonial calm and tranquillity, save for the flocks of birds that graze the sky from time to time. When booking a ride to Fatehpur Sikri, be sure to ask around for a fair price. We were able to get a much better deal (around Rs 1100 roundtrip) by negotiating with our Ola driver than booking with our hostel. 

Watch for pestering hawkers and imposter tour guides at Fatehpur Sikri. Authorized guides can be found at the entrance and always have their license on hand. If you find someone hanging around inside the compound and charging much less, then they might just be an imposter. To make sure that our imposter friend really knows the history of the place, William and I had a fun time quizzing him on trivial questions (while googling the answers). Turns out, he really does know a lot!

Where to eat in Agra

Bob Marley Cafe is good for its patio view and bhang-infused lassi, if you are into that sort of thing. Next door, Bamboo Restaurant cooks up some excellent homestyle dishes. Further down the street, we enjoyed Chicken Corner for its many varieties of spicy options. Saniya Palace, also mentioned in the Taj Mahal post, makes it onto the list for its unparalleled rooftop view of the Taj Mahal as you enjoy your meal.

Where to stay in Agra

Madpackers boasts a rooftop with a sweeping view of the city and the Taj Mahal. It also has an open lounge on the ground floor where you can comfortably work on your laptop, or chill with some Netflix and karaoke. However, the experience is mixed as their communal kitchen was limited to a few dishes and a water kettle. Furthermore, our room felt unusually humid, and the ceiling even had a leak one evening…


Jaipur: 4 days

Of the entire 3-week Golden Triangle itinerary, Jaipur is without a doubt the most fun and eventful city. In fact, Jaipur stands out as the city where everything happened. This was where we popped our Indian wedding cherry, had our first homecooked Indian dinner and even attended one of Asia’s largest literature festivals. The Pink City certainly lives up to its reputation in beautiful sights, and our experience was made even more unique by the people we met there.

 

Getting to Jaipur from Agra

AF AII SUPERFAST (22988)

This 4-hour train ride took us from Agra Fort Station to Jaipur Junction by early evening, just in time for dinner. Keep in mind that Agra Fort is a different station than the one we arrived in, as we almost went to the wrong one! 

Getting around Jaipur

There is so much to see and do in Jaipur that you would be hard-pressed for time. The most efficient way to travel is perhaps to plan out an itinerary for the day and negotiate a price with the auto or taxi driver. For example, the driver might charge Rs 300 to go to five sights in one day. Our driver charged per car so we were able to save some money by having other friends join. Jaipur has a metro line as well, although we didn’t get to experience it. In the case of reaching the textile town, Saganer, we took a local bus following the directions on Google Maps.

Points of interest in Jaipur

Start your day bright and early with Amber Fort because there is going to be a lot of walking and photo-taking. This beautiful and opulent hillside fort boasts room after room of extravagance from floor to ceiling. You might just get carried away with time. Aside from that, Amber Fort is also popular for its evening light and sound show and kathputli puppet show. We happened to catch a kathputli performance in a hotel and definitely recommend that you check it out! 

Walking downhill from Amber Fort, we followed the sounds of hymns until it led us to Panna Meena ka Kund, a 16th century stepwell. There are now guards in place to keep you from going down the steep stairs, but if you ask nicely, they are more than happy to point you to the best angles and take photos for you!

P.S. At sunset, walk up to Nahargarh Fort for a view of the city veiled in gold. Bring a jacket though as it can be chilly!

Visit Sanganer for the hand block prints…

Sanganer is a town known for its textile prints. It’s best to have a local take you there. After getting off a crowded bus, we got lost on the side of the road. Thankfully, a kind stranger came to our aid and arranged for his friends to take us to a textile factory.  It was cool to see artisans swiftly and precisely place the blocks on long pieces of fabric. Afterwards, we were taken back to their shop. Be prepared to make a purchase when you are in the shop. I didn’t buy anything and the shop owner wasn’t too happy about it…

And right after the shop visit was when we stumbled upon our first Indian wedding! We saw a colourful display across the street and asked if we could pop in and check it out. The groom’s uncle was so welcoming and we ended up staying for the entire evening’s festivities. We received blessings from an elder, ate, and even joined the dancing party on stage. Afterwards, we were also invited to some locals’ homes. A truly wonderful experience that we will remember for sure! The cooler months from January to March are popular for weddings. It might be worth a try to ask around and experience one for yourself!

If you happen to be in town in January…

The 5-day events at the Jaipur Literature Festival might be of interest to check out. The festival takes place at Diggi Palace Hotel and hosts literary sessions as well as a bookshop. It attracts more than 100,000 attendees and hundreds of speakers and prolific authors annually. In between sessions, you can also head across the street and visit Albert Hall Museum.

There’s no sight as iconic as Hawa Mahal in Jaipur. The Palace of Winds’ 953 windows were designed for the royal ladies to observe the streets outside while being masked behind the ornate latticework. The best view is at sunset, from the rooftop cafes across the street. Nearby, Jantar Mantar is an observatory with instruments that preceded their time. I suggest hiring a guide to better understand how the instruments were used!

Places we don’t recommend…

While we loved visiting many places in Jaipur, there were some misses as well. Bapu Bazar is popular for souvenir shopping. However, as inexperienced as we were in bargaining, we felt coerced into buying something by pushy salesmen (and didn’t get a bargain anyway). Also, when separated from my friend, I was ushered into a fabric store and then kept inside by two men, with the door locked. Not a pleasant experience to say the least! 

Galta Ji, the monkey temple, has so much potential as a beautiful and sacred place of worship. Unfortunately, it didn’t feel that way when a monk demanded donations from us. The place was also quite filthy and we didn’t feel like the tickets we paid for actually went towards taking proper care of the monkeys or the place.

Where to eat in Jaipur 

We had an absolute feast at Moti Mahal. Both the meat lovers and vegetarians at our table were satisfied with the finger-lickin’ good curry dishes. So delicious, in fact, that we devoured everything before photos could be snapped. We found Handi Restaurant to celebrate a new friend’s birthday, and its Afghan chicken did not disappoint. 

We were also spoiled for choice as there were bazaars all around our accommodation. Lucky for us, our new friends were amazing cooks. After grocery shopping in the bazaar, we had a cooking party in the common kitchen. We got to enjoy homemade dishes, including kutti as pictured on the bottom right, which is a Sindhi sweet dessert.

Where to stay in Jaipur

From the outside, Jaipur Jantar looks like a beautifully terraced country home. Inside, cushions fill up the common areas and the kitchen became a favourite hang out spot for us. I also recommend Zostel based on a friend’s experience, who said they had lively events like bonfires and music every night. 


Itching to pack your bags? Read part 2 of our 3-week Golden Triangle and Rajasthan Itinerary!
24 comments
  1. You weren’t kidding when you said that you packed a lot into three weeks! I’d love to visit Amber Fort and check out the kathputli puppet show. And how lucky that you bumped into that person in Sanganer, whose friend helped you get to the textile warehouse!

    1. Hahaha yep! It was amazing to meet so many friendly people on our trip. I feel like the culture in general is just very warm and welcoming. We were so lucky to play guests in their weddings and homes!

      1. This is such a detailed guide, thanks for print it together. I didn’t really know where I should go when I visit India so this is the perfect start

  2. I have wanted to do the Golden Triangle for several years now. Your trip sounds awesome. Sorry to hear that you had to cut it short. Yes, I would want to end up in Kerala at some point as well.

  3. What an amazing trip!! We’ve never been to India and it is definitely on our bucket list. Loved your photos and details. The food pictures alone are making me hungry! Thanks for sharing.

  4. I have never been to India but it is something I would so love to do! This seems like the ideal itinerary, thank you for sharing!

  5. Wow, you never need to hire a guide in India. Just follow this very detailed itinerary. I like the slow travel of seeing it all at leisure so I appreciated seeing a few days for the different places.

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