Golden Triangle and Rajasthan
India is a massive country and though it is much smaller than USA or Australia, it is still impossible to see everything in one visit. Infact, the country has so much cultural, geographical and historical variety, it would take a few lifetimes to really get to know all these Indias.
The best way to see India is by covering one or two regions in a trip. This ofcourse depends on the duration of your trip. Most travellers can only manage 2 to 3 weeks but a lot can be covered in this time. And for most, this is adequate. India is like an amazing sensory overload, what with the colours, crowds, street scenes, monuments, flavours, smells and sounds. Tourists are happily exhausted by the end.
My personal recommendation is to start with north India if you have about 2 weeks. This is where you will find the most iconic and most famous monuments (The foremost being the Taj Mahal). The most typical, colourful images of India that are circulated are from this region---turbaned men, women with brilliant sarees, painted elephants and Mughal arches.
This route includes Delhi, Agra and the state of Rajasthan. Rajasthan was the land of many wealthy princely states. Numerous picturesque towns still abound with magnificent fortresses and palaces.
Read on to see the routing and how much time you need everywhere.
Delhi is a great place to start. It is a modern metropolitan city which softens some of the culture shock that one may find on the onward journey. And although it is a modern city, it is a treasure trove of amazing and ancient history. Delhi is one of the few cities which has an astounding number of structures, museums, galleries and gardens for the tourist to visit. Three World Heritage Sites can be found here alone.
Although there is lots to see here, 2-3 days will allow you to cover the must-see places and check out the modern hang-outs where city slickers can be found socializing and shopping.
A 4-hour car drive from Delhi on an excellent highway, Agra is home to the Taj Mahal. One of the most visited sites on the planet, it is on practically every traveller’s wish list. Usually 1 to 2 days suffice here. In this time, you will be able to cover the Taj Mahal and the mighty Agra Fort close by. Agra itself is a small provincial town with little else going for it.
Together, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur are known as the Golden Triangle. It’s the sweetest short trip for those with very little time as it can be done in 5 days. Romantic hilltop forts, luxurious palaces, and stories of a bygone era of royalty will charm any tourist.
Most travel agents will suggest 2 nights here, which is not bad but I like to recommend 3-4 days. Jaipur is a lovely city with so much life and vibrancy. If you like to walk around exploring, taking pictures, shopping in colourful markets (this is the place where people, especially women, go crazy shopping!! It is truly a shopper’s paradise) and gazing at incredible architecture, you will certainly appreciate the extra time.
Located deeper westward in Rajasthan is Jodhpur, a charming little town. The arid landscape is broken only by the bright colourful dresses of the people. The Mehrangarh Fort, which rises like a giant over the town, is the main attraction here. Stories of war, valour and romance will enthral you as you walk through the intricately carved palaces. Two nights are sufficient here although three are even better if you like the relaxed pace of Jodhpur.
Udaipur is known as the City of Lakes and is a quaint, picturesque town located in southern Rajasthan, where the landscape is dramatically different from that in the west. Lake Pichola is the largest and most beautiful lake here, and the world-famous and very romantic Lake Palace Hotel is located in the middle of this lake. Two nights are good here to relax, browse local markets and to visit the massive, labyrinth like City Palace complex.
After Udaipur, you could head home via a short visit in Mumbai or return to Delhi for your flight. A night or maximum 2 are enough for the modern cosmopolitan city of Mumbai (unless you want to hang out in the bars and discs to enjoy Mumbai’s nightlife). The well preserved colonial era architecture is very impressive here as are its famous high-end and very serious art galleries.
Ofcourse, this is just one routing that works really well. See my next article, "Where to Travel In India For The First Time - Part 2" to get to know some other regions of interest.