POST UPDATED ON 17 MAY 2018
Golden Triangle and Rajasthan
Which places should you visit when you travel to India? India is a massive country and though it is much smaller than USA or Australia, it is still impossible to see everything in one trip. 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.
Where to stay in New Delhi:
The best luxury hotels in Delhi are The Oberoi and The Taj Mahal Hotel. Part of the two most known hotel chains in the country they offer top quality service, food and stay. Locations of both are great, in posh areas of the city, which are also well-connected.
If you prefer luxury with some old-world charm and heritage, then The Imperial is the best hotel in the city and is located conveniently in the city center. The Claridges is also a colonial era heritage hotel which is an excellent alternative to The Imperial.
If your budget is not too high or you prefer more personal experiences while traveling, go for a bed and breakfast called Colonel’s Retreat. Located in a posh south Delhi neighbourhood, it is an elegant, cozy and comfortable experience. Another bed and breakfast option is Lutyens Bungalow which will give you a first-hand experience of staying in a real British era bungalow that was built in the 1930s. With sprawling gardens, old trees, chirping birds and a swimming pool, this is a small and very friendly property.
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.
Where to stay in Agra:
The Oberoi Amarvilas is THE best place to stay in Agra, and that makes it the most luxurious and
expensive hotel too. Every room and common area has a view of the Taj Mahal which is just a stone’s
throw from there.
A less expensive but still a luxury option is the ITC Mughal which is still established as one of the best in Agra. It has one of the best specialty restaurants in town called Peshawari. The Trident Agra is also excellent choice in the 5-star range.
There is hardly any choice in terms of heritage hotels in Agra although there is a multitude of other business chain hotels like Four Points by Sheraton, Radisson etc.
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.
Where to stay in Jaipur
Jaipur, like the rest of Rajasthan, has no shortage of heritage hotels. These are palaces or mansions of erstwhile rulers, now serving as hotels.
Sujan Raj Mahal Palace is another address for luxury but has a rather boutique style to it, being a smaller property. Very beautiful interiors.
The Trident Jaipur is not as opulent, is more modern yet blends into the traditional look and feel of Jaipur. It is located at an elevation overlooking Jal Mahal palace in the Man Sagar lake. Excellent service and a very pleasant atmosphere.
If you want something traditional, heritage, yet smack in the city centre, then go for Samode Haveli. This is a charming mansion with open courtyards, hidden gardens and an understated style of luxury.
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.
Where to stay in Jodhpur
Taj Umaid Bhawan Palace is by far the most opulent accommodation in Jodhpur. The art deco palace was the residence of the royal family and offers a supremely comfortable stay in one of the most beautiful palaces in the country.
Ajit Bhawan is a lovely heritage hotel that is much-sought after. It has a more personal atmosphere and offers all modern amenities.
Raas is a new construction bang in the middle of the old city. It offers amazing up-close views of the Mehrangarh fort, which is especially lovely at night when it is illuminated.
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.
Where to stay in Udaipur
Taj Lake Palace is perhaps the most famous address in Udaipur. Located in the middle of Lake Pichola it is as fantastic a hotel as it is picture perfect to look at.
Oberoi Udaivilas is located on the banks of the lake and is also a luxury hotel with lots of splendour.
HRH Fatehprakash Palace is part of the City Palace complex and is located overlooking Lake Pichola. It is full of charm and offers lovely terraces and sit outs to get amazing views.
Amet Haveli is a much more simple and quaint hotel at the lake’s edge. It is small and intimate, and the service is quite good.
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.
Where to stay in Mumbai
The Taj Mahal Palace located right across the historic Gateway of India, facing the Arabian Sea is the undisputed number one hotel in the city. Located in poshest part of Mumbai, the hotel is always busy but has incredible charm and energy.
Hotel Marine Plaza is another property located at the waterfront which is also a really great choice in south Mumbai.
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.