Popularly known as the Golden Triangle, this tour takes in the most popular sights of the country and is a true introduction to India. Start…
Focusing on Rajasthan’s royal heritage, including the Taj Mahal and other great monuments of the ‘Golden Triangle’, this popular two-week tour follows a classic route around northwest India’s more regal and opulent locations: from the Mughal wonders and packed bazaars of Delhi to Akbar’s ghost city at Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur, the ‘Pink City’, Khimsar Fort and the fairy-tale desert citadel of Jaisalmer. From there, you head back across the sand flats of the Thar to Jodhpur, known as the ‘Blue City’ via Dechu, before dropping south to end the trip in high romantic style, with a spell beside the shimmering waters of Lake Pichola at Udaipur. Along the way, you’ll get to spend time in some rural locations as well as cities, staying in elegant period palaces that give a flavour of the lifestyles enjoyed by India’s Maharajas before Independence.
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Greeted on arrival in Delhi and transferred to the Suryaa Hotel or similar for two nights. The remainder of the day is at leisure. There will be a welcome dinner at a local restaurant.
Delhi, the vibrant capital of India, is steeped in a rich history spanning millennia. Its origins trace back to the ancient Indraprastha, mentioned in Hindu epics like the Mahabharata. Over centuries, Delhi evolved through various dynasties, each erecting magnificent structures like the Qutub Minar, symbolizing Islamic architecture's zenith in India.
The Mughals, starting with Babur, further embellished Delhi with grand edifices like the Red Fort and Humayun's Tomb, establishing it as a symbol of power and opulence. The city reached its zenith under Shah Jahan, who built the majestic Taj Mahal in nearby Agra.
British colonial rule marked a relatively new chapter, making Delhi the capital of British India in 1911. Post-independence, it became the seat of the Indian government in 1947, witnessing rapid modernization and urban development. Today, Delhi is a testament to India's diverse cultural heritage, blending ancient legacies with modern aspirations.
Explore Delhi on a full-day sightseeing. Start with a tour of Old Delhi in the morning: enjoy a cycle rickshaw ride in the bustling lanes of Chandni Chowk, followed by a visit to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, and the Raj Ghat, a memorial built for Mahatma Gandhi, a prominent figure in India’s struggle for freedom. Drive through Lutyen’s New Delhi in the afternoon. Visit the tomb of Humayun and the lofty Qutb Minar, an early Mughal structure made of red sandstone and white marble.
Cycle-rickshaws are a relaxing, and eco-friendly, way to explore the lanes of Old Delhi. Different streets are to be given over to different trades in this atmospheric district, which formed the hub of the former Mughal city. Dominating its skyline is the massive white dome of the Jama Masjid mosque, the next stop on your tour. After admiring the extraordinary view from its minarets, enjoy lunch at one of the famous kebab restaurants below, before driving past the Raj-era capital to Humayun’s Tomb, one of the India’s greatest early Mughal buildings. Older still is the iconic Qutb Minar victory tower on Delhi’s southern outskirts, the day’s final stop.
Drive to Agra (4-5 hours) for an overnight stay at Grand Mercure or similar. In the afternoon visit the impressive Agra Fort whose buildings, made of red sandstone and marble, are a mix of Hindu and Islamic architecture. This is followed by a visit to the ornate tomb of Itamud-ud-Daula, and a heritage walk of Agra.
Agra’s great Mughal Fort, on the banks of the Yamuna River, was where Emperor Shah Jahan, creator of the Taj Mahal, was imprisoned at the end of his life by his rather fanatical son, Aurangzeb – the old man is said to have wiled away his days gazing at the tomb through the windows of a gilded rooftop pavilion. On the opposite bank, the exquisitely decorated Itimad-ud Daulah tomb provides the next stop on today’s tour. The mausoleum’s inlay work foreshadowed that of the Taj, which you’ll visit towards the end of the afternoon, when the changing light transforms the marble surfaces from a pale ochre to orange and crimson.
Visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise. After breakfast back at your hotel, continue to Jaipur (6-7 hours) with a stop at Fatehpur Sikri, the red sandstone city built by Emperor Akbar that was abandoned after just 14 years. Closer to Jaipur, stop to see the impressive 9th Century Chand Baori step well at Abhaneri. Stay Narain Niwas or similar, for two nights.
Fatehpur Sikri, the former capital of Emperor Akbar, was built at lavish expense at end of the 16th century but only occupied for sixteen years, when the court decamped moved to Lahore. Today, the finely carved, dark-red sandstone buildings remain in fine condition and vividly evoke the opulence of the Mughal era. Among many highlights are the Diwan-i-Khas audience hall, with its richly carved throne pillar, the beautiful Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti (a revered Sufi mystic) and Buland Darwaza gateway.
Today’s other sightseeing stop, the famous Chand Baori stepwell, lies just off the main Agra–Jaipur highway at Abhaneri. Its ornately carved steps provide a fine photo opportunity, and welcome chance to stretch your legs!
Visit the 17th century hilltop fort of Amber and the sparkling Mirror Palace. In the afternoon visit the City Palace complex including its museum and the 18th century Jantar Mantar astronomical observatory, a UNESCO World Heritage monument. Drive through the busy bazaars for a photo stop at the recently restored Hawa Mahal, one of the most famous buildings in Jaipur.
Perched on the rim of a dramatic escarpment, 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’, lined with intricate mirror mosaics where the Maharaja and his consorts would 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.
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.
Leave the “Pink City” in the morning and head towards rural Khimsar (5-6 hours). Arrive and check-in to traditionally decorated rooms at the Khimsar Fort hotel for an overnight stay. The afternoon is at leisure to relax by the pool or explore this 16th century fort and village. Bikes are available or a camel cart ride can be arranged.
One of our favourite heritage properties in Rajasthan, Khimsar is a richly decorated, authentic Rajput fortress-palace set in 11 acres of lawns, walled courtyards and orchards to the southwest of Nagaur. Guests have the option of sleeping in the main wing, or out in the nearby dunes, in specially constructed thatch-roofed chalets. Village visits (usually conducted by camel cart), cycle rides out into the surrounding desert, and black buck safaris are optional extras as well as a sunny doze beside the hotel’s gorgeous open-air pool.
Drive west for 5-6 hours towards the lone city of Jaisalmer, at the edge of Thar desert. The old part of the city was built almost entirely of yellow sandstone, lending to the settlement being affectionately termed “The Golden City”. Stay at the Rawal Kot or similar for two nights.
Jaisalmer is the undisputed jewel of the Thar - a honey-coloured fortress town surrounded a huge expanse of parched scrub and sand. It lies a long journey west of Rajasthan’s main transport hubs, but once the iconic bastions have appeared on the horizon, you’ll know the effort has been worthwhile. For centuries an important stop for merchants’ caravans crossing the desert, the citadel and its surrounding streets hold a unique collection of beautifully carved, ochre-hued havelis and palaces, whose intricate stonework turns a striking molten colour in the light of late-afternoon. Its handicraft boutiques are particularly good for puppets and traditional textiles.
In the morning, visit Jaisalmer Fort, which dominates the local landscape. This impressive structure comprises a maze of alleyways and narrow lanes that lead to various Havelis or merchant homes and Jain temples, all enclosed within the fort. Also visit the Gadisar Tank, once the sole water supply of the city and now a repository of small temples and shrines.
Begin your tour of Jaisalmer with a wander around the narrow, 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). A scattering of exquisite domed pavilions and shrines surround the Gadisar Tank, which used to be the area’s only source of water.
Drive towards Dechu (5 hours) for a royal experience complete with dining under the stars and unwinding as local folk musicians play out the night at the Samsara Tented Camp.
Passing through a string of small market towns and villages, the drive to Dechu 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.
Set amid a cosy depression in the dunes, Samsara consists of 21 individual Rajasthani hunting tents, each with their own en-suite bathroom and tiled verandah. The interiors are fitted with gorgeous block-printed textiles in traditional Indian hues, offering great luxury for such a wonderfully far flung location. Dinner will be served under the stars, with dozens of lanterns lighting the surrounding sand and a troupe of local folk musicians and dancers to add ambience.
Turning eastwards, the morning’s drive (2 hours) brings us to ‘The Blue City’ of Jodhpur. Stop here for a visit to the imposing Mehrangarh Fort. Drive on to the village of Narlai (3 hours) for a two-night stay at the Rawla Narlai.
Capital of the former Kingdom of Marwar, Jodhpur owes its prominence to the trade route that once passed its gates, connecting the ports of Gujarat with the cities of the northern plains. The resulting wealth enabled the Marwari rulers to construct one of India’s most fabulous forts – Mehrangarh – on top of a near-vertical escarpment. The cuboid houses of the old town sprawling from its base are painted a hundred shades of blue – a practise said to denote the homes of local Brahmins (but which actually derives from attempts to discourage termites by adding copper sulphate to limewash). Also visible, to the south, is the enormous bulk of Umaid Bhavan, a palace built in 1929 by the local Maharaja.
Today is free to explore this authentic Rajasthani village which is dotted with curious temples. There is also the option of a jeep safari or a dinner on the edge of the 1100-year-old step-well.
A Maharaja’s former hunting retreat, Rawla Narlai offers an all-encompassing, magical experience of rural Rajasthan. It lies in a small village where you can be sure of leaving the tour circuit well behind. The backdrop is the strikingly domed “Elephant Hill”, which guests are invited to climb for tea and sunset views over a serene boulder landscape. Signature experiences here include dining inside a 1000-year old baori stepwell, its layers lit by flickering oil lamps, and riding Merwari thoroughbred horses through the enchanting countryside beyond the village. Alternatively, simply relax in the hotel’s heavenly walled courtyard, against a backdrop of pink bougainvillea and medieval stonework.
Heading south, traverse the Aravalli Hills to Ranakpur, home of an intricately and painstakingly carved Jain Temple complex. Continue to Udaipur where we stay for two nights at Fateh Vilas or similar.
The first half of the day’s journey takes us across a vast, dusty plain studded with giant boulder hills and old-fashioned market towns populated by semi-nomadic Rabari herders and other traditional Rajasthani castes. In the west, the shadowy wall of the Aravalli Mountains gradually grows more distinct. Before climbing into the range, you’ll pause at Ranakpur to visit a cluster of richly sculpted Jain temples. From there, the road ascends steeply then follows an undulating course through a rural hinterland inhabited mostly by Bhil farmers. Having checked into your hotel in Udaipur, you should have time to wander down to the lakeside to see the city’s great Rajput palaces in the sunset light.
A morning city tour takes in the City Palace, a complex of 11 palaces, all with intricate stonework and interiors featuring glass mirrors and ornamental tile. Also visit Sahelion Ki Bari, the old city, and the Jagdish Temple. The afternoon is at leisure to browse through the markets. Enjoy a sunset high tea cruise on the lake in the evening.
Udaipur’s City Palace, seat of the Sisodia Dynasty, holds a feast of Rajput architecture and yields magnificent views over Pichola Lake to the Aravallis. After visiting its palaces, wander down to the Jagdish Temple nearby before heading into the old city to explore the markets. Late afternoon is the time to be at the water’s edge, soaking up the sunset colours and unique atmosphere of this romantic city. Enjoy a sunset high tea cruise on the lake in the evening.
Fly back to Delhi for overnight at the Lemon Tree Premier or similar.
Today you will be transferred to Delhi International airport for your onward flight.
✓ 14 nights accommodation
✓ Arrival & departure transfers. Internal travel by road and one internal flight
✓ English-speaking accompanying guide throughout
✓ Breakfast daily. Lunch on days 2, 4, 5, 10, 12. Dinner on days 1, 9
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
Take a set of flights via Mumbai to Goa, arriving mid afternoon. Transfer to the Hyatt Centric Calangute or similar (upgrades available) for three nights.
Transfer to the airport for your onward flight.
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