The Golden Triangle map & highlights

India can be overwhelming, but the Golden Triangle is a perfect introduction to its magical menagerie. Donít be put off by the notion of Ďtick boxí tourism, because it all lives up to expectations. The Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, the pink city of Jaipur, palaces, desert forts... the Golden Triangle is like picking out the favourites from an exquisite box of handmade chocolates. You canít eat them all at once anyway, and thereís a reason why certain ones are always in there. Because they are irresistible. Responsible holiday companies always find ways to take you to the next layer anyway, with local flavours and spices unexpected delights.
Agra Fort

1. Agra Fort

This was the emperorsí main residence during the years when Agra was capital city, and like so many of the forts along the Golden Triangle, has a whole city of mosques, palaces and pavilions inside its red sandstone walls. Just 2.5km from the Taj, donít let the Taj upstage this one; it is a beautiful sight to behold. Also known as Lal Qila, Fort Rouge and Red Fort of Agra, it is not to be confused with the Red Fort in Delhi.

2. Delhi

New and Old, itís the latter, built in the Mughal period, that has the golden touch. Bursting not only with food (Chandni Chowk market is a must) but also no less than three UNESCO World Heritage Sites Ė Humayun's Tomb, the extraordinary Qutub complex with its elegant 12th century 72.5m minaret, and Red Fort. Take your pick from a range of museums too, including the Toilet Museum. No s**t.
Fatehpur Sikri

3. Fatehpur Sikri

This fortified city just outside Agra is sometimes known as a Ďghost towní, though it isnít actually spooky at all. Itís just spectacular. Particularly at sunset when the red sandstone lights up with all the grandeur this architectural achievement merits. Once the Mughal capital, from 1571 to 1585, it still has a working mosque, Jama Masjid (one of Indiaís largest in fact), a bazaar and stunning gardens which are all full of life.
Heritage hotels

4. Heritage hotels

Rajasthan, the former princely state, does heritage rather brilliantly; its royal residences and forts now proffering some of the regionís most elegant hotels. You donít have to be travelling on a five star holiday either, with most trips to the Golden Triangle incorporating at least one night in some of these palaces or historic buildings in Jaipur, Agra or Delhi. Itís all very Marigold.

5. Jaipur

It feels like a magical mix of Hollywood and Bollywood sets. Already a cultural gem, its starry status went through the roof after the success of 'Best Exotic Marigold Hotelí, set among the flower markets, bazaars, Amber Fort and Palace of the Winds, just one of the old cityís palaces. A city that is completely pink, part sandstone, part paint but making a very pretty whole.

6. Karauli

A town in Rajasthan which is sometimes added onto a Golden Triangle itinerary, although off the main tourist trail. It is on the pilgrim trail, however, as it was home to Shri Madan Mohanji, an incarnation of Krishna, and has important temples. Stroll around the Old Quarter, market or surrounding hills for a much quieter view of Indian life. There are aso impressive heritage hotels nearby.
Rail Journeys

7. Rail Journeys

The rail network is no longer the overcrammed, people-hanging-out-of-carriages scene that it used to be. Take the Shatabdi Express between Delhi, Agra or Jaipur; Delhi to Agra, for example, takes two hours. Or take an AC sleeper train from Agra to Varanasi and wake up to pilgrims heading to bathe in the Ganges. More luxurious still, the Maharajasí Express and Palace on Wheels trains are golden links within this glistening triangle.
Ranthambore National Park

8. Ranthambore National Park

The Golden Triangle is culture vulture heaven, but for real vultures and a hit of Attenborough-itis, donít miss this home to over 60 Bengal tigers, sloth bears, nilgai antelope, sambar deer and jungle cats. One safari is good, but if you can fit in two, to really immerse yourself and take in the fact that this cocoon of conservation may be one of the last places on earth to see tigers, you wonít regret it.
Red Fort

9. Red Fort

Built by the same Mughal Emperor asthe Taj Mahal, this red sandstone structure is impressive in scale as are its gardens, which offer respite from the urban chaos of Delhi outside. An Indian icon, it was where independence was first celebrated and still is, every year. Stroll through majestic colonnades, admire artisan skills and elegant mosques, and visit War Memorial and Archaeological Museums.
Shekhawati region

10. Shekhawati region

Shekhawati is like a movie set in the desert. It is the place where Rajasthanís rich and famous chose to build magnificent houses, with famously beautiful murals all around the rooms and courtyards. Built between 17th to 19th centuries, they were the homes of Marwari merchants, and while many have now gone to a place of much more faded glamour, others have been restored to their original glory.
Taj Mahal

11. Taj Mahal

Most people canít fail to fall in love with this white marble mausoleum, built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a tribute to his late wife. It is one of the finest things to come out of the Mughal architectural period, as is nearby Agra Fort Ė a marriage of red sandstone and white marble, set majestically on the Yamuna river.

12. Varanasi

You are stretching the triangleís points by heading south to Varanasi, but you only need to extend your trip by a couple of days to visit this very sacred and vibrant spot. It also stretches you out of the crumbling heritage world into one of living culture, where thousands of Hindu pilgrims immerse themselves in the sacred Ganges River every day. Seeing this at dawn, in particular, is a very special experience.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about India Golden Triangle or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Golden Triangle journey times

The following times give you a rough idea of the driving and train times between the main attractions within the Golden Triangle.
New Delhi to Agra: 2 hours by train New Delhi to Jaipur by Ajmer Shatabdi Express: 4 hours 40 mins Jaipur to Karauli: 5-6 hours by car Agra to Ranthambore National Park: 5 hours by car Delhi to Varanasi on Holy Ganges Express: 13 hours
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner:] [Map intro: The Wandering Angel] [Agra Fort: A.Savin] [Delhi: Russ Bowling] [Fatehpur Sikri: Sanyambahga] [Heritage hotels: Archit Ratan] [Jaipur : strudelt] [Karauli: Pratyk321 ] [Rail journeys: tjabeljan] [Ranthambore National Park: bjoern] [Red Fort: Travis] [Shekhawati region: Saurabh Chatterjee] [Taj Mahal, Agra: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble] [Varanasi: CC BY-SA 2.0] [Journey times: John Haslam]