Responsible tourism in the Golden Triangle

Don’t join in with the ‘giving pens to children’ trend. Although people do it for the right reasons, the country is now coming down with plastic pens. Always talk to your holiday company about genuinely useful donations.
Keeping the Golden Triangle golden is probably the biggest responsible tourism issue for most people, as these busy areas are notorious for pollution, overcrowding and a quite a few negative fallouts from the impact of mass tourism. Some of the overcrowding issues are out of the individual’s control, of course. However, by travelling with a responsible holiday company, you will at least ensure that your money is directed to small, local enterprises, that you walk instead of taking diesel taxis, and that you avoid unethical tourist traps such as elephant rides. You will also aim to preserve one of the most golden aspects of the Triangle: its culture.

People & culture in the Golden Triangle

Respecting culture

The Golden Triangle is made up of the three busiest points on the Indian tourist trail. We wouldn’t be offering holidays there if we didn’t believe in their cultural importance. There are good reasons why millions of people flock to see the Taj Mahal, Jaipur and Delhi, but part of being a responsible tourism is also about learning to be calm, patient and respectful of local people when visiting them. You may be on a tourist trail, but these are still people’s homes. Most importantly, they are also home to many sacred places. There are working mosques at the Taj Mahal and Red Fort, for example, and so it is important to respect these sacred, places of worship. Not just somewhere that Princess Diana famously posed alone for a photo on a bench.

What you can do
Put cultural sensitivity at the top of your ‘to do’ list, before selfies and Twitter posts. Especially when it comes to dress sense. For women, in particular, showing bare legs, shoulders and wearing low cut tops are a faux pas. And, in fact, if you cover yourself with light cotton, it is actually cooler as the sun isn’t hitting your skin. Women should also have a shawl to cover their head in a mosque. Being intimate with a partner in public is not really welcomed in India.

Communication divide

Rajat Kumar, Managing Director of our supplier ExplorIndya:
“We Indians are not communicative enough when it comes to what we offer. Western tourists are used to having every detail being spelt out clearly. They never second guess the experience, because they know every detail, read every book and Googled everything before they come. And when they don’t get what they expect, it messes with the system.”
Rajat has an interesting point and, indeed, the cultural divide when it comes to communication in tourism is an issue in many destinations. But on a tourist trail as busy and famous as the Golden Triangle it is of particular significance. Domestic tourism is now a hug market, but this is a relatively recent thing with the boost in its economy over recent years. There is, of course, a different understanding of what a holiday means to a Western traveller. There is more of a tendency to leave things until the last minute in India, be a bit more laissez faire about arrangements. And there is certainly less attention given to detail when it comes to hospitality in some places. In others, such as in the heritage hotels of Rajasthan, where hospitality has always played an important role in Rajput culture, it is the opposite. This is something that will change with time in India, but in the meantime it is good to remember that if things are communicated in a less disciplined or organised way, you shouldn’t make too much of a judgment. You are here, after all, to experience Indian culture.

What you can do:
Do ask questions, and do ask for the quality that you paid for or were promised. But do so with kindness and respect. Be prepared to ask more questions of a local supplier than you think you need too, or than you are used to doing in other destinations where mass tourism is the norm. If you are not clear about something, seek further clarification and don’t take anything as read.
Also, and this is another tip from the wise Rajat Kumar above:

“Don’t be afraid to be direct. Indians are equally direct and open but rudeness is not really part of our culture. We have things to work on as a country and we can take criticism, but most of the time we don’t know that there is something wrong. We are not a precise nation, so if you want that, you need to ask us to be so.”

Wildlife & environment

Elephant trekking, riding and performing are not on our list of top things to do in the Golden Triangle, and they are on offer in places such as Amber Fort in Jaipur and at Agra Fort. The mistreatment of these wild animals to titillate tourists is not something we endorse in any way. Elephant polo, popular in Rajasthan, wouldn’t be one of our favourites either, with elephants being trained at a young age using methods that compromise their welfare, such as shackling, the use of a bull hook and hours of unnatural tricks. We do make some exceptions at national parks in India where elephant rides are carefully monitored and the money earned from them is funnelled back into conservation. However, Ranthambore National Park which features on many Golden Triangle itineraries has seen the light, and doesn’t offer them anymore.
In Rajasthan, camels are sometimes used in processions which we regard as unethical. The same goes for camel races, such as at the annual Pushkar Fair where they see which camel can carry the most people – sometimes they carry up to 10. There are even camel beauty contents, which involve piercing the camel and shaving or dying their fur into intricate designs.
What you can do:
In this case it is all about not doing something, rather than doing something. Just stay clear of elephant rides or take photos from a distance and share on social media copying in the Ministry of Tourism @tourismgoi, saying what you think of this outmoded and outrageous practice. As we mentioned above, communicating clearly is often the best way to create change in India. Also, do read our ‘Elephants in tourism’ guide for more details on our stance on this issue.


Tragically, tourism honeypots attract criminal activity and the trafficking of children for sexual exploitation is one of the horrors of tourism in the Golden Triangle, particularly in Delhi. Just to be clear, these children are not ‘sex workers’ or ‘child prostitutes’ but victims of rape. Always report any suspicious activities to your hotel manager or, if they are turning a blind eye, to local authorities and also ECPAT, who will then report it to their global network of contacts and law enforcement agencies.
This is a real letter on TripAdvisor “My wife and I are travelling to India from UK in October. On every holiday we have been to, we have always gone to an orphanage and made a donation. On this trip we would like to again visit an orphanage but this time to feed the children… Can anybody recommend an orphanage that will allow us to go and feed the children?” This is not an unusual request, and of course is well meant. Sadly, in some cases, orphanages can become businesses rather than places of care and cash in on the kindness of strangers. Orphanage visits are sometimes offered on holiday itineraries in the Golden Triangle (though never on ours). Visitors may watch a short performance or dance by the children and then be asked to give a small donation. This is known as orphanage tourism and has evolved into an entire industry of its own. Read our stance on this, and please think long and hard before you contribute to such causes.
Always talk to your tour operator about where and how to offer donations.
Beware of bhang, an ingredient that is added to sweets and drinks which is actually made from cannabis. You can buy bhang lassis or biscuits, but beware of these as they really can have an impact on the body and mental state if consumed in large quantities. They also cause dehydration, so it is advised to drink plenty of water if you do consume it. It is legal in some government approved cafes.
Gemstone scams are not uncommon in Jaipur, whereby you are sold gemstones at a certain price, being told they have a huge re-sale value. Always buy from a certified vendor, who provides the right certificates for the gems.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner:] [Crowds at Taj Mahal: bjoern] [Respecting culture: Laura Gogia] [Elephant riding: Guldem Ustun] [Children: Michal Huniewicz]