Experience India’s most iconic sights and luxury hotels on this two-week tour of the popular Golden Triangle region. A great option for a honeymoon, this…
So you want to see the Taj Mahal, and, while you’re in India, tick off the country’s other iconic sights? And maybe experience life in a Rajput palace or two, with a detour into the desert for a walk with a camel?
This tour ticks all those boxes, and more. In essence, it is our recommended itinerary for first-time visitors to India, or anyone wishing to revisit the country’s most famous sites. Tried, tested and refined by us over three decades of designing holidays in the region, it includes stays in some of our all-time favourite properties, and a broad range of different experiences, from walking tours in Jodhpur’s warrenous ‘Blue City’ to sundowners on hilltops surveying miles of idyllic countryside.
You’ll get to taste life in the villages as well as the towns and cities, visit cave temples in the middle of nowhere, ride on an Indian passenger train and see the region’s arts and crafts in action.
Starting in an exquisite walled mansion at the heart of Old Delhi, the route follows the ‘Golden Triangle’ clockwise to the Rajasthani capital, Jaipur, then veers west to the desert citadel of Jaisalmer before ending at the ‘Lake City’, Udaipur.
Throughout you’ll be staying in 4- and 5-star hotels, travelling in a chauffeur-driven car, with English-speaking guides to accompany you at every stage. And you’ll get to visit the Taj – twice!
✓ Experience sunset and sunrise at the Taj Mahal
✓ Visit Old Delhi’s great Mughal mosque and fort
✓ Explore Amber Fort and the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur
✓ Travel across the Thar Desert to India’s remotest town, Jaisalmer
✓ Discover the hidden gems of Jodhpur’s blue-painted old quarter
✓ Relax in a luxury rural hideway in southern Rajasthan
✓ Marvel at Udaipur’s fairy-tale palaces from the water
✓ Shop for souvenirs in some of the country’s finest emporia
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Fly overnight from London Heathrow to Delhi.
On arrival in Delhi, you’ll be met at the airport by your TransIndus representative and driven to your hotel in the old city. Having checked in, spend the remainder of the day recovering from your journey. Depending on the location of your hotel, you might also be able to visit a nearby tomb garden at sunset time.
Formerly known as Shahjanabad, ‘Old Delhi’ is the warren of twisting, narrow streets immediately west of the Red Fort, where the Mughal emperors founded their walled capital in the 17th century. It is among the most densely populated, labyrinthine and extraordinary urban areas on the planet, and one full of fascinating reminders of past ages. If you’ve just got off a plane, a short stroll down the ‘gulli’, or ‘alleyway’ around your hotel will leave you in no doubt about where you have arrived! Your guide will lead you through lamp-lit markets where local people queue at stalls selling tasty hot jalebis and other freshly made snacks, and tiny hole-in-the-wall shops with a bewildering array of goods on offer, from hand-made books to milky sweets and silver jewellery.
We recommend you make the most of your hotel's rooftop this evening, and enjoy dinner with the splendid profile of the Shah Jahan’s Jama Masjid as a fabulously exotic backdrop, followed by a performance of Kathak dance (Fri, Sat and Sun only).
After breakfast, your guide will escort you on a walking tour of Old Delhi, followed by a visit to the Red Fort and wonderful Jama Masjid in the afternoon.
Our walking tours of Old Delhi are designed bespoke for each client, and so begin with a chat to establish your interests and levels of stamina. Most, however, include a mix of noteworthy temples, historic havelis and famous food stalls or cafés where you can sample popular local treats, such as Amritsar-style lassi laced with saffron and rose water, or a plate of hot ‘puri’ (deep-fried flat breads) in the legendary ‘Puri Gulli’ lane. Sooner or later, you’ll emerge from the labyrinth on the old city’s main thoroughfare, Chandni Chowk, which once formed a central square, but is now a hectic shopping street lined with shops specializing in wedding attire, spices, dried fruit and nuts, as well as crumbling havelis and numerous Hindu, Jain and Sikh shrines.
At its western end, the beautiful Fatehpuri Masjid is an obligatory stop. Your guide will lead you through a wholesale flower market to a rooftop from which you can watch morning prayers – one of the old city’s defining spectacles.
The greatest surviving building of all from the Mughal period, however is without question the Red Fort, which you’ll visit in the afternoon. Much of its finery was obliterated by the British after the revolt of 1857, but enough remains to give a sense of the grandeur that characterized the era. From the ramparts you can look across the old city to the white marble and red sandstone domes and minarets of the Jama Masjid, the mosque built by Shahjahan as the centrepiece of his capital. Its courtyard accommodates over three-thousand worshippers for Friday prayers.
Before leaving Delhi this morning, you’ll visit the atmospheric Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, the capital’s largest Sikh temple. Arrive in Agra in time for an afternoon’s sightseeing, culminating with a sunset visit to the Taj Mahal.
Made of white marble and crowned by a gilded onion dome, the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib and shimmering pool inside it are places of great sanctity for Indian Sikhs and offer the most atmospheric introduction possible to the capital. The complex in its present form dates from the late-18th century and was constructed at a place associated with the eighth Sikh Guru, Har Krishnan. At a Langar, or ‘canteen’ in the temple, pilgrims are fed nourishing, free meals of chapatis and black dal by volunteers. If you’re lucky, you may see groups of Akalis, members of a Sikh warrior sect, dressed in traditional ceremonial garb.
Having checked in to your hotel, first stop on your tour of Agra’s historic highlights will be its great Mughal Fort, where Shah Jahan was imprisoned at the end of his life by his son, Aurangzeb. Legend has it that the emperor spent his final years gazing wistfully at his wife’s tomb from a gilded marble apartment high on the ramparts, from where you’ll gain your first glimpse of the Taj, rising serenely from a bend in the Yamuna.
On the opposite bank, not far from the Fort, the exquisitely decorated Itimad-ud Daulah tomb is the next stop. The mausoleum’s inspired inlay work foreshadowed that of the Taj itself, which you’ll visit towards the end of the afternoon, when the changing light transforms its marble surfaces from a pale ochre to orange and crimson.
Performances of puppetry and Classical Hindustani music can be enjoyed this evening in your hotel.
Photographers will want to rise early to see the dawn light work its magic on the Taj – a spectacle best savoured from the Mehtab Bagh gardens on the north bank of the Yamuna. After breakfast back at your hotel, re-join your driver for the onward journey to the Rajasthani capital, Jaipur.
Nahargarh – aka ‘the Tiger Fort’ – occupies a flat-topped spur of the Aravalli Hills, overlooking the northwest fringe of the old walled city. It was erected in the 1730s and boasts ramparts that undulate over the surrounding ridges all the way to Amber Fort, to the north. During the 1857 uprising, Jaipur’s British residents were moved here for safety, but the fort was never besieged. Reachable via a surfaced road, it is now a popular spot from where to watch Jaipur’s legendary sunsets, when the ‘Pink City’ looks at its most pink!
After a leisurely breakfast on the garden terrace of Samode Haveli, drive north to visit Amber Fort – the piece de résistance of Rajput fortress-palaces. Later, head into the heart of the Pink City for a tour of its monuments and dazzling bazaars, accompanied by a specialist guide.
Perched on the rim of a dramatic escarpment to the north of Jaipur, Amber Fort retains some of the finest interiors surviving from the 16th and 17th centuries in India, notably a glittering ‘Hall of Mirrors’, or ‘Sheesh Mahal’, where the Maharaja and his consorts used to enjoy music and poetry recitals. Anyone interested in traditional Rajasthani textiles will also enjoy a visit to the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing, located in a beautifully restored haveli in Amber village, at the foot of the fort.
Jaipur itself is a swirl of life and colour, and its numerous monuments and markets provide the focus for the rest of the day. You’ll begin at the famous City Palace complex, which includes the much photographed ‘Hawa Mahal’, or ‘Palace of Winds’, a five-storey façade of elaborately screened windows from where the women of the royal household used to watch processions in the streets below.
In the evening, enjoy a walking tour of the textile bazaar – a wonderfully vibrant spectacle.
In the morning, drive west beyond the Aravalli Hills to the fringes of the Thar Desert at Nagaur – one of our favourite destinations in Rajasthan, thanks to its beautifully restored fort and gorgeous little boutique hotel, Ranvas.
In centuries past, the town of Nagaur used to be an important waystage on trade routes across the desert. Although little visited today, it retains some spectacular vestiges of its former prominence, foremost among them a sumptuous fortress-palace of ‘Ahhichatragarh’, ‘Fort of the Hooded Cobra’. The palace itself comprises a series of interlocking havelis, each with its own walled courtyards overlooked by frescoed halls, collonaded walkways and pleasure gardens grazed by peacocks and cooled by fountains and babbling water channels. Some of the prettiest wings are occupied by heritage hotel you’ll be staying in, Ranvas, whose rooms once formed part of the ladies’ portion of the palace, or ‘zenana’.
Spend the evening exploring the adjacent bazaar, ending up on the fort ramparts at sunset time, when one of the staff feeds the local eagles and buzzards (an old royal tradition). The walk around the walls culminates at a high platform where guests may enjoy a sundowner, served in regal style by liveried retainers in red turbans and long white frock coats!
The longest drive of the tour takes you deep into the Thar today, and the great desert citadel of Jaisalmer – one of the most romantic sights in all of Asia.
Admirers of early Islamic architecture may wish to wander around the backstreets of Nagaur to see the town’s Sufi shrine and antique mosques before embarking on the long journey across the Thar Desert to Jaisalmer. You’ll arrive around late afternoon, when the bastions of the famous citadel glow ochre in the low sunlight and troupes of local Manganiyar Gypsies sing on the flat rooftops of hotels up in the citadel, accompanied by tabla and harmonium – a perfect soundtrack to the expansive views.
Explore the narrow alleyways, walled havelis and medieval Jain temples of Jaisalmer Fort on a guided walking tour after breakfast. In the afternoon, you’ll drive out to the Desert National Park for an evening walk on the great sand dunes at Sam.
Begin your tour of Jaisalmer with a wander around the stone-paved alleyways of the citadel, which wind through a series of small squares to elaborately carved temples and fortified gateways, eventually converging on the main Chowk, where the Palace of the Maharawal is adorned with some of the finest carved stonework in the region. More painstakingly sculpted jarokha balconies and windows line the streets of the town below, where some of Jaisalmer’s wealthiest merchant families erected their havelis (courtyard mansions).
Most of today will be spent covering a long drive across the desert to Jodhpur, the fabled ‘Blue City’, where you’ll be spending two nights.
Passing through a string of small market towns and villages, the drive to Jodhpur from Jaisalmer yields a vivid impression of life in the Thar Desert. You’ll see herds of camels at the roadsides, tended by luxuriantly moustachioed men in voluminous turbans, and groups of women dressed in vibrant saris carrying water and firewood on their heads.
With its awe-inspiring fort and labyrinthine, blue-painted old city, Jodhpur is without doubt one of the great highlights of this region. With luck, you’ll arrive in time to freshen up and sample its unique atmosphere before supper.
In the morning, visit Mehrangarh Fort and the old city at its foot. In the afternoon, you can either relax at your hotel – one of the best situated and most stylish in India – head out of town to the imposing Umaid Bhavan Palace on the outskirts, or explore the delightful Jodha Rao Desert Rock Park, a botanical garden in the lee of the fort.
Photographers may wish to make the short detour up to the Jaswant Thana, a white-marble cenotaph next to Mehrangarh, shortly after breakfast, when the great fortress is bathed in warm morning light. We generally allow at least a couple of hours to tour the palace, museum and temples, and to soak up the amazing views over the old city from the ramparts. The afternoon will be free for more leisurely ambles around the old city – and endlessly fascinating jumble of blue houses, havelis and temples, where the atmosphere has changed little in centuries.
Alternatively, head out of town to visit the vast Umaid Bhavan Palace – among the largest and most extravagant royal seats anywhere in Asia. Conceived in grandiose Art Deco style, it now serves a five-star hotel run by Taj Group; the present Maharajah of Jodhpur and his family still occupy one wing of the building.
The Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park is a must for plant lovers. On a patch of former scrub just below Mehrangarh Fort, it holds an array of rock-loving species introduced by a team of dedicated volunteers in order to re-green the desert. There are now over 80 species present, including some rarities, all grown from seed.
Early birds may wish to experience sunrise over Jodhpur from one of our favourite viewpoints in the region. Your TransIndus guide will help you pick your way through the narrow, dark streets of the old city before dawn, climbing up the Mehrangar escarpment below the fort to reach a rock spur where a small Hindu temple provides a 360-degree panorama over the sea of blue- and white-washed houses below. Later, continue on to Deogarh village and a two-night stay at a heavenly rural retreat run by old friends of ours, Bhavana and Shratrunjai Singh.
After a string of large towns and cities, sleepy Deograh comes as a welcome respite. The property itself, a modern mansion blending traditional and contemporary features, is beautifully situated on the shores of a lake teeming with birds. The spacious lawned gardens hold plenty of shady spots to relax in, as well as a splendid pool and sun terrace. Expect to be whisked away on arrival by Shratrunjai in his Jeep to a viewpoint overlooking miles of undulating scrub and desert hills. If you’re lucky, on the way back you might catch sight of a leopard. Shratrunjai dispatches staff to watch for signs of a cat emerging from its lair for the evening hunt, and will divert if one is spotted. On our last visit, we had an incredible sighting of a large female, literally 20 yards from the Jeep – an unforgettable experience.
Spend the day relaxing or exploring the area under the guidance of your hosts. Dev Shree is both a perfect place to unwind, and somewhere you can delve deeply into a traditional, unspoilt corner of Rajasthan. A range of rewarding experiences have been devised by Bhavana and Shratrunjai, from cookery classes and visits to a local holy man, and a ride on a local train. And the pool is hard to resist!
Lots of our clients return from Dev Shree saying they could have spent another week there. Hosts Bhavana and Shratrunjai offer a selection of authentic local experiences to keep their guests inspired; we recommend you try to cram in as many as possible!
For those who didn’t backpack around India in their youth, a ride on a passenger train accompanied by Shratrunjai is a must. You’ll travel in the ‘unreserved’ class, enjoying cups of sweet, milky tea at station stops, experience some rugged desert scenery and get to feed a troupe of langur monkeys in the forest before re-joining your car and driver for the return trip to Deogarh.
Deogarh village itself holds lots of interest. Join a walking tour and meet the locals at a chai stall, visit a pottery workshop and traditional flag maker, or head around the lake next to the property in search of migratory birds.
Drive across the Aravalli mountains in the morning, pausing to see the elaborately carved white marble temples at Ranakpur and eagle’s nest fort of Kumbhalgarh en route. You’ll arrive in time for an evening boat ride around the lake.
‘The most romantic spot on the continent of India’ was Colonel James Tod’s description of Udaipur in the 1820s, and even today, despite the many visitors who come here each winter, his assessment still holds true. Set against a hinterland of bare brown hills, the city is spread around the shores of shimmering Lake Pichola. Tiers of ghats (sacred steps), whitewashed havelis and temple towers rise to the pale-ochre walls and domes of the City Palace, whose high terraces gaze west across the water to one of the most spellbinding sights in India: the Jag Mandir and Jag Niwas palaces seemingly afloat on the surface of the lake.
The best way to experience these magnificent buildings is from the water, and on arrival in Udaipur, you’ll be transferred directly to the boat jetty in time for a sunset cruise.
Begin your day’s sightseeing with a tour of Udaipur’s City Palace, followed by a visit to the nearby Jagdish Temple. Spend the rest of the day relaxing back at your hotel, venturing out later to watch the sunset from the hilltop ‘Monsoon Palace’, a half hour’s drive out of town.
Lording it over the eastern shore of Lake Pichola, Udaipur’s ‘City Palace’ was built over a period of 400 years, beginning in the 16th century. Its façade towers over 800ft (250m) above the water, capped with rows of domed cupolas and cusp-arched windows from where generations of Maharanas and Maharanis have gazed across the water to the distant desert hills. A selection of the treasures the rulers of Mewar amassed is displayed in the palace’s excellent museum, set in its most exuberantly decorated women’s apartments. The palace hotel you’re staying in, Fateh Prakash, houses an exhibition of solid crystal furniture and a huge, jewel-studded carpet commissioned by Maharana Sajjan Singh, but which he didn’t live long enough to see. Legend has it that the parcels from London containing the treasures lay unopened for over a century after his death!
The Monsoon Palace, or ‘Sajjan Garh’, crowns the summit of Bansdara peak (944m/3100ft) on the outskirts of Udaipur. Accessed by road, it affords a spellbinding view of the city and lakes, and is a great place to watch the sun set.
The final day of your tour is at leisure. Enjoy a last relaxing session by the hotel pool, and browse the numerous souvenir shops clustered in the streets to the north of the City Palace. Alternatively take a day trip to Kumbalgarh to trek some of India's Great Wall, discover hidden Udaipur on a walking tour or for a magical end to your stay, enjoy afternoon tea on the lake.
Udaipur is a paradise for souvenir shopping. You’ve everything from traditional silver jewellery to miniature paintings, Kashmiri carpets and shawls, antiques, embroidered and mirror-inlaid patchwork quilts, hand-woven textiles, collectable vintage garments and much more. Your TransIndus guide will be able to help you find whatever you’re looking for.
Crowning a pinnacle in the Aravalli Mountains, Kumbalgarh is the loftiest of the region’s many fortress-palaces, and a prominent landmark in the anals of Rajasthan. Its creator, Rana Kumbha, who ruled in the mid-15th century, is something of a legend for his resistance to Mughal invasion, which the ramparts encircling the citadel perfectly epitomize. Undulating around the edge of a rocky plateau, these battlements are often likened to the Great Wall of China – and although they only extend for 25km, the resemblance is uncanny.
Time to bid farewell to India as you transfer to the airport ahead of your return flight to the UK, via Delhi.
✓ International flights from London
✓ 15 nights accommodation
✓ All road travel and transfers by private chauffeur-driven vehicles
✓ English-speaking guides
✓ Breakfast daily
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
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