Experience the splendour of India’s Golden Triangle – including the Taj Mahal, ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur and Udaipur, location of the recent Best Marigold Hotel…
This 12-day itinerary covers all the signature sights of India’s Golden Triangle’ region and Rajasthan state, from the Taj Mahal and bazaars of Old Delhi to the colourful palaces and markets of Jaipur. You’ll also visit the ‘Blue City’ of Jodhpur – surely one of the most photogenic locations in Asia – and venture out to its surrounding desert villages, home of the fascinating Bishnoi minority, before driving over the Aravalli mountains to the lake city of Udaipur, with its chimeric Rajput palaces and temples.
The route has been tried, tested and refined over three decades by our team and offers the most balanced mix of sights and experiences currently available in the time frame. You’ll be staying in some of the loveliest heritage properties in the country and accompanied by expert guides hand-picked by us.
Fly overnight to Delhi.
On arrival in Delhi, you’ll be met by your TransIndus guide and driver and transferred to your hotel for a two-night stay in the Indian capital. Spend the remainder of the day recovering from your journey with a swim in the hotel pool. Depending on the location of your hotel, you might also be able to visit a nearby tomb garden at sunset, or go for a stroll at the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, a Sikh temple near Connaught Circus.
Made of white marble and crowned by a gilded onion dome, the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib and shimmering pool inside it are places of great sanctity for Indian Sikhs and offer the most atmospheric introduction possible to capital. The complex in its present form dates from the late-18th century and was constructed at a place associated with the eighth Sikh Guru, Har Krishnan. At a Langar, or ‘canteen’ in the temple, pilgrims are fed free meals of chapatis and dal by volunteers. If you’re lucky you may see groups of Akalis Sikh warriors dressed in traditional ceremonial garb.
A full-day’s sightseeing today starts with a cycle-rickshaw ride or walking tour of Old Delhi, typically including the Jama Masjid mosque, the spice and silver bazaars of Chandni Chowk and Red Fort. In the afternoon, visit Lutyen’s imperial capital, Humayun’s Tomb, and the spectacular Qutb Minar complex on the southern outskirts.
The narrow lanes of Old Delhi once formed the hub of the Mughal capital, formerly known as ‘Shajahanabad’ after the Emperor Shah Jahan. Different streets are given over to different trades in this atmospheric district and before setting off, your guide will quiz you on your interests in order choose the sights most likely to inspire, whether street-food hot spots, crafts workshops or hidden architectural gems. Whatever your chosen itinerary, an obligatory stop should be the Jama Masjid, whose giant white domes dominate the skyline of the old city.
After admiring the extraordinary view from the mosque’s minarets, enjoy a home-cooked lunch in a traditional Mughal-era haveli before heading across town to see the landmarks of the former British capital, inaugurated in 1931. Humayun’s Tomb, one of the India’s greatest early Mughal buildings, stands in manicured gardens a little further south and may be visited en route to the iconic 13th-century Qutb Minar victory tower on Delhi’s southern fringes – the day’s final stop.
After breakfast, transfer to New Delhi Railway Station to catch the fast train to Agra, arriving in good time to visit the city’s Mughal Fort and nearby markets, followed a sunset tour of the Taj.
An early start is required to catch the Gatimaan Express, which takes a little over an hour to reach Agra from Delhi. On arrival, you’ll be driven to the city’s great Mughal Fort, where Shah Jahan, the emperor who created the Taj Mahal, was imprisoned towards the end of his life by his son, Aurangzeb. Through the finely carved pillars and cusp-arched windows of the royal apartments you’ll be able to savour the same romantic views across the Yamuna River as the ailing ruler enjoyed. On the opposite bank, the Itimad-ud Daulah tomb encloses the remains of his Prime Minister, or ‘Wazir’. The mausoleum’s famously intricate inlay work foreshadowed that of the Taj, which you’ll visit towards the end of the afternoon, when the changing light transforms the marble surfaces from a pale ochre to orange and crimson.
Drive in the morning to Fatehpur Sikri, the deserted former capital of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, then onwards to Jaipur, pausing en route to visit one of India’s most impressive stepwells. You’ll arrive in the Rajasthani capital around mid-afternoon.
First stop on the fifth day of your tour is the once splendid palace complex built at lavish expense at end of the 16th century to accommodate the Mughal emperor and his court. The finely carved, dark-red sandstone buildings were only inhabited for sixteen years and remain in superb condition, vividly evoking the opulence of the Mughal era, during which time India ranked among the richest and most culturally sophisticated countries in the world.
During his sojourn here, Akbar gathered the finest artists, poets, calligraphers, musicians and dancers in the land, as well as representatives of its major faiths, whom he engaged in philosophical debates. Among many architectural highlights are the Diwan-i-Khas audience hall, with its ornately carved throne pillar, the beautiful white marble Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti (a revered Sufi mystic) and imposing Buland Darwaza gateway.
Just off the main Agra–Jaipur highway, the magnificent stepwell at Abhaneri is your second stop of the day. Comprising 3,500 carved steps spread over thirteen storeys, the well is the deepest and most intricate of its kind in India.
Most clients prefer to spend the rest of the day relaxing by their hotel pool on arrival in Jaipur, but when suitably refreshed we recommend you make an acclimatising visit to the city’s atmospheric market area or a drive up to Nahargarh Fort – one of India’s greatest sunset viewpoints – followed by a meal at a rooftop restaurant in the old city.
Enjoy a full day exploring Jaipur today, beginning with an early morning tour of the Pink City on foot or by rickshaw, followed by a trip out to Amber. A visit to the world-famous City Palace museum, home of the iconic Hawa Mahal, concludes the day’s sightseeing.
There’s really no better way to get a sense of life in the Rajasthani capital than a walking or cycle-rickshaw tour of the old walled quarter. We recommend starting at first light, with a visit to a typical Jaipuri tea shop for chai and hot ‘jalebis’. Afterwards, watch local gem cutters, jewellers, perfumiers, flower vendors and sweet makers beginning their day, pausing at a local Hindu shrine or two along the way.
Perched on the rim of a dramatic escarpment, Amber Fort, which you’ll visit next, retains some of the finest interiors surviving from the 16th and 17th centuries in India, notably a glittering ‘Hall of Mirrors’, or ‘Sheesh Mahal’, where the Maharaja and his consorts would enjoy music and poetry recitals.
Jaipur itself is a swirl of life and colour, and its numerous Rajput monuments and markets provide the focus for the rest of the day. You’ll begin at the famous City Palace complex, which includes the much photographed ‘Hawa Mahal’, or ‘Palace of Winds’, a five-storey façade of elaborately screened windows from where the women of the royal household used to watch processions in the streets below. Treasures from the royal household are proudly displayed in the pillared assembly halls below, and include jewels, weapons and regalia from Jaipur’s heyday.
Drive from Jaipur to Jodhpur today, breaking the journey at the city of Ajmer, if desired, to visit the tomb of India’s most revered Muslim saint. YoDrive from Jaipur to Jodhpur today, breaking the journey at the city of Ajmer, if desired, to visit the tomb of India’s most revered Muslim saint. You’ll arrive in Jodhpur in time for a sundowner at your hotel.
Despite being one of India’s most historically significant and culturally vibrant cities, Ajmer attracts relatively few foreign visitors – which is one of the reasons we love it so much! The big draw here is the white-domed tomb of the saint Khwaja Moin Uddin Chishti, which rose to prominence in the Mughal era. Like Catholics visiting Lourdes or Fàtima, pilgrims come to the shrine in fulfilment of a vow. The atmosphere is unique. On any given day, thousands of people stream through the towering arched gateways carrying offerings of flowers, incense and squares of gilt-edged cloth in baskets on their heads. Unlike in mosques elsewhere in the world, the women wear bright colours. The mood is joyful and inclusive, in keeping with the culturally tolerant and ecstatic brand of worship promoted by Sufis.
Visit Mehrangarh Fort first thing after breakfast, before exploring the blue-painted old city below in the company of your guide. Spend the afternoon relaxing back at your hotel or visiting a Bishnoi minority village on the outskirts, then return to town later for a very special sunset view.
Capital of the former Kingdom of Marwar, Jodhpur owes its prominence to the trade route that once passed its gates. The resulting wealth enabled the Marwari rulers to construct one of India’s most fabulous forts – Mehrangarh – on top of a sheer cliff. The cuboid houses of the old town below are painted a hundred shades of blue – a practise said to denote the homes of local Brahmins, but which actually derives from attempts to discourage termites by adding copper sulphate to limewash.
Whatever its roots, the custom has created a unique spectacle – best appreciated from the ramparts and royal apartments of Mehrangarh, whose projecting balconies and finely scalloped windows frame wonderful views.
The flat desert outside Jodhpur is the homeland of the Bishnoi minority, a strict Hindu religious sect that forbids its adherents from killing any creatures, and who are famous for their passionate protection of the environment. Join elders in a family compound as they brew opium tea; try your hand at throwing pots and weaving on a handloom; and head into the neighbouring scrubland in search of blackbuck antelope.
After breakfast, drive across the plains of Marwar and over the Aravalli range to Udaipur, stopping for lunch at Ranakpur, site of some intricately carved white marble temples. You’ll arrive in the lake city in time for a sunset cruise and supper at a haveli overlooking the ghats.
The first half of the journey from Jodhpur to Udaipur takes you across a vast, dusty plain studded with giant boulder hills and old-fashioned market towns where, if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a Rabari herder or two in their characteristic voluminous red turbans. In the west, the shadowy wall of the Aravalli Mountains gradually grows more distinct. Before climbing into the range, you’ll pause at Ranakpur to visit a cluster of richly sculpted Jain temples. From there the road ascends steeply then follows an undulating course through a rural hinterland inhabited mostly by Bhil farmers.
Having checked into your hotel in Udaipur, you should have time to wander down to the lakeside to see the city’s great Rajput palaces in the late-afternoon light or head out on to the water for a sunset cruise.
Tours of the city’s royal palaces and nearby temples, ghats and royal gardens take up most of today.
Udaipur’s City Palace, seat of the Sisodia Dynasty, holds a feast of Rajput architecture and yields magnificent views over Pichola Lake to the Aravallis. After visiting its museums, apartments and courtyard gardens, wander down to the nearby Jagdish Temple before heading to the lakeside to see Gangaur Ghat’s ornately carved Hindu shrines. From there, your guide will lead you to a series of hidden temples, stepwells and narrow bazaars in the old city, eventually arriving at a traditional haveli where you’ll pause for tea and samosas in a family home decorated with centuries-old murals. Later, try your hand at pot making and shop for embroidered camel-leather shoes and jewellery in the silversmiths’ quarter.
Late afternoon is the time to be back at the water’s edge, soaking up the sunset colours and unique atmosphere of this romantic city, which is also one of the best in the country for shopping.
Spend the final full day of your holiday relaxing and browsing the lakeside boutiques for last-minute souvenirs. In the afternoon, you might consider taking high tea at the Jagat Mandir, one of two whitewashed island palaces on Lake Pichola, or travelling out to the sublime Monsoon Palace, perched on a hilltop overlooking the city.
Jagat Niwas was built by the royal family in the 17th century as a summer retreat and once accommodated Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor responsible for the Taj Mahal, while he and his family were in exile. Travel out there by launch for afternoon tea, when the afternoon heat has subsided and the views across the water to Udaipur’s magnificent waterfront are at their most magical.
Transfer to the airport promptly after breakfast to catch the early morning flight back to Delhi, where you’ll pick up your onward flight to the UK.
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