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Our 3 day itinerary for exploring India’s Golden Triangle; Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur

Exploring India’s Golden Triangle

Jason and I spent ten days in India and fell in love with it. We’ve both vowed to return and continue exploring this country which offered us amazing hospitality, delicious food, and non-stop stimulation. 

We began our trip with five days in Vizag, a city located in Southern India on the West Coast, but I won’t be writing about that here. Instead I’ll focus on our final few days in India touring some of the country’s best known sites. Our tour of the Golden Triangle was a whirlwind that I’ll never forget. In hindsight I can’t believe how much we did in three days. 

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A street vendor in Old Dehli

Day One–Delhi

We arrived in Delhi late at night after a seriously delayed flight from Vizag. Fortunately our lovely guide, Pushpendra, was waiting for us outside the airport and greeted us with a flower garland. He quickly led us to a waiting car and we were whisked away to a nearby airport hotel. 

After a good night’s sleep we began our day of sightseeing in Delhi at 8 a.m. 

If Delhi was your introduction to India it could be overwhelming. The traffic is awful, horns never stop honking, cows and dogs roam the streets, and the air pollution can be awful. Fortunately, we had been in a smaller Indian city for a few days, so we felt reasonably prepared. In addition, there had been a rain storm during the night and the air quality was much improved for just one day. 

We began our day in Old Delhi, a hotbed of markets, rickshaws, beggars, street food, and tourists. I know that doesn’t sound enticing, but somehow it was.

Wendy and Jason in front of the Jama Mosque in Old Dehli
Wendy and Jason in front of the Jama Mosque in Old Dehli

Jama Masjid

Everything in India felt oversized to me and Jama Masjid–the second largest mosque in India–was no exception. Built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan between 1644 and 1656 this mosque can accommodate up to 25,000 worshipers. It was constructed of red sandstone and white marble.

We started by removing our shoes and purchasing the optional slippers. Since it was a chilly and rainy morning, the slippers were essential. Women are expected to rent a loose fitting wrap for modesty. Then Pushpendra  guided us through the complex. 

There are three gates or entrances to the mosque; the western one was reserved for the emperor and other royalty while the north and south gates were for regular folks. The prayer hall lines the eastern portion of the mosque. 

After discarding our slippers and returning my gown, we were ready for the highlight of our time in Old Delhi.

A rickshaw in Old Dehli
A rickshaw in Old Dehli

Rickshaw ride through Old Delhi

When I first reviewed Pushpendra’s itinerary for us I was doubtful about a bicycle rickshaw ride through Old Delhi. Not only did it sound touristy, but I was concerned about safety and air quality. Fortunately I trusted our guide and had the time of my life experiencing the crazy streets of Old Delhi from our vantage point a few feet above all the pedestrians, motorcycles, dogs, and carts.

Our rickshaw ride was really a two hour tour through Old Delhi with frequent stops to explore specific markets and food stalls. After a short ride, we stopped and took a stroll through Khari Baoli, Asia’s largest spice market. Giant barrels and boxes of whole spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, and cloves were everywhere and their pungent scents surrounded us. Slender men carried massive bags of spices on their heads up and down stairs and through narrow allies. 

Embedded into our Golden Triangle tour was Push’s mini tour of his favorite chai tea spots. Our first stop on this mini tour was up a dark staircase in the spice market and to the end of a dingy corridor. This was not a spot intended for tourists, but for the workers of the market. Here we had our first chai tea of the trip; a bit thick, spiced with ginger, and sweetened with condensed milk. 

Samosa in Old Dehli
Samosa in Old Dehli

Then we hopped back into the rickshaw and rode to a popular samosa stand. Push purchased us each a samosa hot out of the oil in which it had been fried. In case you’re not familiar with samosas, they are a triangular-shaped fried, savory pastry. I’ve had many delicious samosas in my life, but this was the best; loaded with peas and potatoes and just a touch spicy.

Our next stop was for paranthas–or stuffed bread–at a shop that has been in business since 1872. Also deep fried, these are relatively flat and can be topped with a variety of chutneys, a popular condiment in India.

For the final twenty minutes or so we just rode through some of Old Delhi’s narrowest streets and watched as the flower market, silver market, and colorful market streamed past us. I was disappointed when the ride was over and ever so grateful for this experience.

Pro-tip: Jason and I often eat street food while traveling, but do so within certain food safety guidelines. First, a long line is usually the sign that locals approve of the spot and that food is made and sold quickly so it doesn’t go bad. Secondly, I trust the recommendation of a guide or other local. We managed two weeks in India and never experienced “Delhi belly.” 

Kitchen of the Dehli Sikh Temple
Kitchen of the Dehli Sikh Temple

Sikh Temple

Our final stop in Delhi before heading to Agra was at Gurdwara Sri Bangla Sahib, one of the most important places of worship for Sikhs in the city. It’s named after Guru Harkishan Sahib, the eighth Sikh guru. 

Before entering the temple, shoes must be removed and heads covered with the provided orange scarves. No pictures are allowed inside since it is an active place of worship at all times.

After the temple we toured the massive dining hall and kitchen. Sikhs around the world provide daily free meals, or Langar, for anyone and everyone. It’s an important tenet of the Sikh faith. At this Gurdwara it’s estimated that 10,000 meals are served each day. Immediately upon entering the hall we were invited to dine, but declined due to our recent street food fest. Then we toured the kitchen which is run entirely by volunteers. It might have been the cleanest commercial kitchen I’ve ever seen. Like the meal, anyone and everyone is invited to participate in preparing and serving the food.

The Gurdwara was our final stop in Delhi and I was surprised how disappointed I was to leave the city so quickly. We didn’t even spend a full 24 hours here. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes of India’s largest city will stay with me for a long time.

Wendy, Push, and Jason at the Taj Mahal
Wendy, Push, and Jason at the Taj Mahal

Day Two—Agra

The drive from Delhi to Agra took about four hours. We arrived around dinner time and checked into the nicest Marriott Courtyard I’ve ever seen. We enjoyed a tasty dinner nearby and slept soundly after a terrific day of sightseeing.

Pro-tip: There is train service from Delhi to Agra which is a much faster way to go, but the timing didn’t work for our itinerary. If I had to do it over, I would have rearranged the itinerary to accommodate the train so we would not have to spend so much time on the road.

Taj Mahal

I originally asked Push if we could see the Taj Mahal at sunrise and he agreed. All my online research said this was the way to go. The night before he encouraged us to wait until later in the morning due to the expected morning haze. I trusted the advice of our experienced guide and didn’t regret it. We arrived at the Taj around 9 a.m., found the crowds to be manageable, and the sky pretty clear blue. Push had pre-purchased our tickets making our entrance quick and easy.

Some famous sights live up to, or even exceed, expectations while others fall short. The Taj Mahal most certainly exceeded our expectations. Visitors enter through the gate built for the emperor and that initial view of the Taj, framed by the pointed arch of the gate, took my breath away. 

A little background. The Taj Mahal was built between 1631 and 1648 by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It took a quarter of the Indian treasury to finance this immense structure made of white marble and originally decorated with precious and semi-precious jewels (the Brits removed all the precious stones when they occupied India, so today only semi-precious stones remain). Thousands of artisans worked on this structure day and night for seventeen years. The emperor planned to build a black version of the Taj Mahal across the river from the original, but was prevented from doing so when he was imprisoned by his son.

We spent over an hour strolling the grounds, walking through the mausoleum, and taking photos. Seeing this wonder of the world is among my greatest travel memories.

Wendy and Jason at the Agra Fort
Wendy and Jason at the Agra Fort

Agra Fort

Before heading to the fort we stopped at Push’s favorite chai tea spot in town, this time served in the classic brown, clay cup. After drinking the tea, these single use cups are tossed on the ground where they quickly dissolve into dust.

Then it was time to explore Agra Fort, home of several Mughal emperors, including Shah Jahan. Some sort of fortification has been located on this site for centuries. Originally built of bricks and red sandstone, Shah Jahan destroyed some of the original buildings and replaced them with his preferred building material, white marble. And similar to the Taj Mahal, much of the white marble is inlaid with semi-precious stones. 

With just a few days in Northern India, our time at Agra Fort was short. We walked away awed by its massive size and exquisite details. But it was time to move on to our next adventure.

Demonstration of how gems and stones are inlaid into marble
Demonstration of how gems and stones are inlaid into marble

Shopping for local handicrafts

Typically I’m not a big shopper when I travel. I often view shopping as a distraction from sightseeing. However, I found plenty of time for shopping in India.

We had two shopping stops in Agra; carpet making and inlaid crafts. At the first stop we learned all about carpets made in the Persian method. I even had the opportunity to try a bit of weaving. 

Next up was a shop dedicated to inlaid crafts. After a demonstration of how these intricate items are made, we did some shopping. I purchased a small marble box inlaid with lapis lazuli. It sits on my desk and reminds me everyday of our trip to India.

If you’re coming to India, come prepared to shop. There are many unique artisan crafts that you won’t find at home. The prices aren’t cheap, but considering the craftsmanship, they are fairly priced. Do expect pushy salespeople. We found this tiresome, but still loved the opportunity to buy unique souvenirs.

Pro-tip: If you’re visiting India, you may want to bring an extra bag to take home all of your souvenirs. We do this on many of our longer international trips and find its really useful.

Jason holding Push's daughter, Imani.
Jason and Push’s daughter

Lunch in the countryside

On our drive to Agra the previous day Push invited us to lunch at his family’s home. This wasn’t on our original itinerary, but was a lovely surprise. So we departed Agra and drove to his home village.

The village was a collection of a few dozen, multi-story homes and a couple of small shops. With few cars around, the kids felt free to run around the streets playing with their friends. In the distance we could see livestock and crops. It was a peaceful and quiet scene that gave us a glimpse of India outside its mega cities and suburbs.

Push is married to Kavita and they live with his mom and their three young children. We met everyone, toured their home, and then sat down to a delicious, homemade lunch.

We were visiting the day before Diwali or Festival of Lights, so after lunch we exchanged gifts. Push presented us with a lovely paper mache bowl and a Taj Mahal snow globe. In turn we gave his family a box of sweets (between the invitation and appearing in the village Jason had quickly researched the appropriate gift, discovered that sweets are common, and we were able to purchase a nice box at our hotel). As we were returning to the car, the village elder appeared and thanked us for coming. He also invited us to return and stay with him next time.

In all my years of travel, I have never before been invited to a guide’s home. On a trip full of great memories, this was our favorite. We left feeling such joy and gratitude for this experience. 

Day Three-Jaipur

Jaipur is a well-off city, popular with both Indian and foreign visitors. And after spending a day here, I see why. We arrived at night and experienced the city lit-up for Diwali. If you’re American, imagine something akin to New York City before Christmas. It was magical. We checked into a Hilton, enjoyed a light dinner and then quickly went to sleep. It was hard to imagine anything better than the day we had just experienced, but we knew there was more to see the next day.

Chai tea stop in Jaipur
Chai tea stop in Jaipur

Amber Fort

We began our morning with my favorite chai tea stop of the trip. Since it was officially Diwali, hundreds of people of all ages were enjoying chai tea and snacks. We grabbed a small table, ordered tea and bread and enjoyed the holiday vibe. Despite Jaipur being a very popular tourist destination, we were the only non-Indians in the vicinity. Once again, Push was sharing a truly local experience and we loved it.

Amber (or Amer) Fort is located about thirty minutes outside the city and even the drive there was impressive. As our driver negotiated the narrow and busy road to the entrance we could see this massive structure appear in the distance, sprawled along a slope. 

The fort was built in 1592 by Raja Man Singh and is constructed of red sandstone and marble. There are six sections of the fort, each with a specific purpose. Visitors begin in the vast first courtyard where the raja’s armies would gather to celebrate victories. Both the exterior and interior walls are adorned with inlaid jewels forming intricate patterns. 

Wendy and Jason in the first courtyard of the Amber Fort
Wendy and Jason in the first courtyard of the Amber Fort

We continued into the fort and were continually impressed by the beauty, both of the artwork and the views of the surrounding countryside. While it reminded me of palaces I’ve visited in Europe, I found it even more stunning.

Push gave us some time to explore on our own. We were in the fourth courtyard which was the home of the women of the royal family, both wives and concubines. Here it was easy to get away from the crowds and just wander through this remarkable structure. Each twist and turn led us into a different room, many with jeweled bedecked walls. 

I can understand why Amber Fort is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most popular attraction in Jaipur. We definitely enjoyed our time exploring it.

Jason posing with a guard at the Jaipur City Palace
Jason posing with a guard at the Jaipur City Palace

Jaipur City Palace

Did you know that India still has kings? While no monarchies remain, several royal families still reside in their ancestral homes in India and that’s the case for His Highness Maharaja Padmanabh Singh of Jaipur. He and his family live in the Jaipur City Palace. Portions of it are open to visitors during the day, and it’s another top site in the city.

Like many royal buildings in Jaipur, the palace is pink. Jaipur became known as “The Pink City” when, in 1876, Maharaja Ram Singh had most of the buildings painted pink—the color of hospitality—in preparation for a visit by Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales. It’s made the city a popular destination for influencers and Instagram, so be prepared for loads of photo shoots.

I’ll admit by the time we reached this palace, I was a bit tired of sightseeing and no longer interested in taking photos. We had been in India for almost two weeks and the noise and crowds were getting on my nerves. I also knew we had a long drive back to Delhi. I do hope to return to Jaipur someday and explore it further.

Shopping for jewelry

Jaipur is known as the city of jewels thanks to all the precious and semi-precious stones that are mined in the area, most notably emeralds, rubies, and sapphires. With Christmas around the corner, I had requested a stop at a jeweler. Needless to say, this was our largest purchase of the trip, both for myself and family members. After a demonstration of gemstone cutting and polishing, we spent the next forty-five minutes shopping. And while this was mostly about shopping, we also learned quite a bit about the gemstone market in Northern India. If you’re in the market for jewelry and visiting India, there are good deals to be had in Jaipur. 

Street stall in Jaipur selling floral garlands for Diwali
Street stall in Jaipur selling floral garlands for Diwali

Tips For Your First Visit To India

The drive back to Delhi was long, but gave us ample opportunity for conversation as well as a few naps. We spent one final night in India and early the next morning caught our flight to Singapore. The final day also gave me some time to reflect on what we learned during our trip, what I’d share with others, and things I might do differently next time. 

I’m not claiming to be an expert on travel to India. Instead, I’m sharing personal experiences and recommendations.

  1. Many Americans have a negative perception of India and I find that unfortunate. If you’re visiting, come with a willingness to understand the country’s remarkable history, enjoy its delicious food, and get to know the people. Keep in mind, whatever your home country is, it has plenty of problems as well.
  2. Some practical tips for enjoying the food; ask your doctor for a prescription of Cipro (a broad spectrum antibiotic) and bring Imodium. We didn’t need either, but in the event of stomach issues, these should solve them quickly. Also, it’s best to stick with cooked foods for the most part. If you’re eating fresh fruits and veggies, be sure to eat items with a peel that you can remove before enjoying.
  3. Hotel buffets are a great place to try new foods. If you don’t consider yourself an adventurous eater and are unlikely to try street food, then use the hotel buffets as a way to sample new Indian foods. We ate at five hotel buffets during our two weeks in India and the food was always delicious. In addition, we found the hotel staff eager to explain each dish and make recommendations. Don’t leave India having only eaten Western foods–you will have missed the entire point of traveling.
  4. I will admit that the noise, crowds, trash, and prevalence of cows and stray dogs felt overwhelming at times. Here’s how I dealt with it; we had action packed days of sightseeing, conversation, and eating and retreated to our Western style hotels at night to rest and regroup. Then we woke up the next morning eager to see more of India.
  5. Hire a private guide and driver. I can’t say enough good things about our guide, Pushpendra, and our driver, Mr. G. Not only were they both experts at their jobs, but the private experience gave us so much flexibility. Feel free to send me an email through our contact page and I can put you in touch with them.
  6. You will run into beggars in India–especially Delhi–and they are likely to be children. This is really hard to see, but it’s strongly recommended that you not give them money. Most of these children are part of gangs, organized by adults, and giving them money will not improve the quality of their lives. If you’d like to help improve the lives of children in India, I encourage you to find a reputable organization like zoeempowers.org.
  7. For smaller shops and tips, always have cash on hand, and make every effort to have small bills. The ATM’s will give large bills, so early on in your trip find a vendor to break up the bills.

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Meghan

    This looks amazing! I really want to visit India at some point and this gives such a great overview. Love all the tips at the end of this post for visiting too. India is a more challenging trip to plan and that makes it easier!

  2. Jasmina

    This is a great guide with some helpful tips. I really want to visit India but I was really wondering about some things and you’ve explained it really well, thanks!

    1. Wendy

      I hoped to put some people’s minds at ease. I think there is too much negative press about India.

  3. Alanna

    Fantastic itinerary! I definitely want to visit, especially to see Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. Both look incredible.

  4. namaskarindiatour

    Hey ! We like that you visited our India and wrote such a beautiful blog. Visiting India and cultural heritage sites is the most fascinating experience ever for the visitors as India is best known for it’s history and customs. It becomes more memorable when tourists can visit more places and utilise full time effectively and efficiently and it happens when planning is right . Namaskar India Tour provides tour and travel packages which best suits your budget and time.

  5. Whitney

    This was so interesting to read! A friend and I are looking to go to the Golden Triangle in June. I’d love to get your guide’s contact info! Please and thank you!

    1. Wendy

      I’ll send that info to you shortly!

    2. Wendy

      I just emailed you our guide’s information. Have a terrific time in India!

  6. Whitney

    Hello! Lovely reading your page! I’d love your travel company and guide info for our trip this June! Please and thank you.

    1. Wendy

      Whitney, I just sent you an email with all the information. Hope you enjoy your trip to India! We sure did.

  7. Seven Safar

    Your India tour site is a visual treat, showcasing the country’s cultural splendor and natural beauty brilliantly.

  8. Sanam

    This blog beautifully captures the essence of India’s rich culture and natural beauty. It’s inspiring to see how the author embraces and reflects upon their first days in this incredible country.

  9. Saim

    Thanks for sharing your incredible adventure with us – can’t wait to see where your travels take you next! 🌟

  10. Cami

    Hello,
    I would love to get your contact for your quick tour. Something like that is exactly what I’m looking for!
    Thank you.

    1. Wendy

      Just sent you an email with our guide’s contact information. Enjoy India!

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