You want to see the best of India in just nine days? The Golden Triangle is one of the country’s most popular tourist routes, highlighting the main attractions of its three biggest cities.
Discover ancient India in Delhi, take a selfie in front of one of the seven wonders of the world in Agra and walk the streets of the Pink City – Jaipur.
This route is also great for those looking for their roots in India, as well as a great starting point in the north if you are doing a longer jaunt across the massive country.
READ: The Window Seat: India by rail
Things to know before you go
How far in advance should you book: For peak season book accommodation about three months ahead, which runs from October to mid-April for mild temperatures. If you go in the hot low season you can book hotels closer to the time for better deals.
Visa: You need to apply for an e-visa online and is free for South Africans for a 30-day tourist visa. Apply no less than four days and no more than 30 days before date of travel.
Medical information: Be vigilant with mosquito repellent and check the pollution levels of the cities in case you need to bring a mask with – however this is mostly only in the low season when temperatures are high.
Budget: Flights range between R7 500 and R9 500 for a return flight between South Africa and Delhi – there are no direct flights.
For meals and accommodation, according to Budget Your Trip, the average daily cost per person for mid-range travel style is R437, which would be almost R4 000 for the whole nine-day itinerary.
For local transportation, expect to spend around R51 a day, depending on whether you use taxis or public transport. For the long train rides, if you opt for the more luxurious classes (which is recommended) you can pay between R300 and R350 for a one-way ticket.
The average price for tourist attractions is R115 and the total to budget for this itinerary for all the attractions is just over R1 000.
MAPPED: Veg out in India along this vegetarian foodie route
People milling about inside of Amer Fort. (Photo: Pixabay)
What to be mindful of: The Golden Triangle is one of the most popular routes in India, so expect crowds at the main attractions. Markets are closed on Sundays and many monuments are closed on Mondays, so try to plan accordingly, swapping out days on the itinerary.
India is also unfortunately known for hustlers, scams and people asking for money – try to book tickets in advance online as far as possible and only buy tickets from official stands. Pickpocketing is also rife so be aware of your surroundings.
Food is really cheap in India, but take some medication with you in case anything disagrees with you and only drink bottled water.
Whenever you're visiting a place of religious significance, make sure your shoulders and legs are covered, and pack a head scarf for mosques.
WATCH: Spirituality, ancient practices and rituals in India
See our 9-day itinerary to see the best in the Golden Triangle.
Day 1: Delhi
Arrival: Land at Indira Gandhi International Airport.
Accommodation: Depending on your budget, look for accommodation around India Gate in Rajpath. There are hotel, backpacker and Airbnb options, and this is your best endpoint for each day of your stay in Delhi.
Activity: You will need some rest and time to acclimatise to your surroundings, so take it relaxed and – if you have the energy - wander around your accommodation past important government buildings in this area like the Supreme Court and Parliament or pop into the National Gallery of Modern Art.
If you want don't want to think too hard about dinner head to 16 Pandara Road - there's a cluster of restaurants around there with sit-down tables and variety of food.
India Gate. (Photo: Pixabay)
Day 2: Delhi
Morning: Hop on a bus from the Mehrauli Terminal on the 502 to Qutub Minar to start your day.
The tall 73-metre tower was built in 1194 and is an early example of Indo-Islam architecture. It forms parts of a complex that also includes the first mosque built in India and tombs of two Delhi sultans and an Islamic cleric.
Afterwards walk to Mehrauli Archaeological Park, which is made up of over 100 buildings where there has been continuous occupation for over a thousand years. Lal Kot is the oldest fort in Delhi and there are other remnants of important Indian dynasties and empires.
Afternoon: Walk to Ahinsa Sthal bus stop and take the 717A from Badarpur Border to Saidulajab. Walk to Saket train station and take the Yellow Line to Jorbagh, take the Sunehri Pulla Depot bus at SJ Airport to Lodhi Garden.
This city park provides a reprieve from the urban landscapes with its green landscapes peppered with tombs and buildings that have a combination of Islamic and Hindu architecture styles. There’s also a beautiful eight piers bridge that overlooks a small pond. This park is a favourite walking spot for locals.
Evening: In the late afternoon walk to the Mausam Bhawan bus stop and take the Munirka line to RK Khanna Tennis Stadium.
Walk through Deer Park – a green space filled with animals like deer – past the lake and ancient monuments to Hauz Khas Village to see the modern, artsy side of the city.
The neighbourhood is designed for walking filled with galleries, eclectic shops for unique fashion and Bollywood ware and fusion restaurants perfect for dining. This is also a big party destination in the city and the perfect place to end of your day before heading back to your accommodation.
Lodhi Garden. (Photo: Pixabay)
Day 3: Delhi
Morning: If you haven’t checked it out on Day 1 yet, take a walk to India Gate – one of the country’s largest war memorials. It commemorates the 70 000 soldiers of the British Indian Army who died in the First World War and the Second Anglo-Afghan War – just check if any protests are going on as this is a popular spot for that.
To save time grab a taxi to Akshardham – a Hindu temple that’s the nexus of Hindu and Indian culture and spirituality. Its name means ‘the divine abode of God’ and is a national symbol of peace. While it might seem ancient, it was only opened in 2005 but remains a stunning sight.
Take another taxi to Gandhi Smriti, a special monument to Mahatma Gandhi – the lawyer who helped India gain independence from the British. This house is where he spent the last 144 days of his life before being assassinated in 1948, and has been preserved as it was when he was alive.
Afternoon: Head into Old Delhi by walking to Dr Ambedkar Stadium Terminal, take the 348 to Lal Quila and walk to Chandni Chowk Market.
This is the heart of the city’s old part as a busy shopping area selling everything you can think of. In-between the shops you’ll spot the Red Fort and Jama Masjid mosque, but this part of Delhi is quite chaotic – if you think you’ll be overwhelmed you can opt to pre-book a short guided walking tour.
Walk through the streets to take in the sights and smells all the way to Gadodia Market on Khari Baoli Street – the biggest wholesale spice market in Asia.
Evening: Head back to your accommodation and take it easy for the next travel day to Agra.
WATCH: This street in Delhi is famous for its flatbread
Traditional Indian street food. (Photo: Pixabay)
Day 4: Delhi to Agra
Travel: Head to the Delhi Railway Station to catch a train to Agra. If you want to get there quick take the 12002 New Delhi Habibganj Shatabdi Express which is just under two hours, but for a cheaper option go with the 12280 Taj Express Superfast with takes almost three hours.
Accommodation: Look for accommodation near the Taj Mahal to minimise your transport costs – again there are all kinds of options from budget to luxury.
Morning: Because you get to Agra early in the morning you can dive straight into a day itinerary for the city. Head to Agra Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site built during the reign of Akbar and was the main residence of the Mughals until 1638. It’s most distinctive feature is its massive wall of redstone, encircling palaces and halls.
Take a quick walk to Jama Masjid, another massive mosque of India, also known as the Friday Mosque. It was built in 1648, overlooks the Agra Fort Railway Station and is surrounded by the great Kinari Bazar.
Afternoon: Grab a taxi to head to the Tomb of Akbar the Great in Sikandra. He was the third Mughal emperor at a very young age and grew his empire to cover most of India. Akbar shaped India’s political, religious and cultural identity by embracing both Muslim and non-Muslim subjects under his rule. His tomb complex includes architectural marvels including a harem quarter, an unknown Lodi tomb and a gallery.
Evening: Head back to your accommodation for a refresh and relaxation. Agra is a quiet city at night, but if you’re keen on a foodie night out head to Sadar Bazar which is the city’s centre of entertainment. Here you can chow down on Agra specialities like aloo chaat (potatoes and chutney) and golgappa (deep-fried crepe with a filling). However, you need an early night’s rest for Day 5 so it would be better to leave this for tomorrow night.
Agra Fort. (Photo: Pixabay)
Day 5: Agra
Morning: Start your day early and head to the Taj Mahal to catch it at sunrise – one of the best times to see one of most the famous attractions in the world. It opens at sunrise so after your photos head inside before it gets too crowded. Note that it’s closed on Fridays so make sure your itinerary accounts for this.
Also make sure you check out the small but impressive Taj Museum, which houses original Mughal miniature paintings and other interesting historical artefacts relating to the Taj Mahal’s construction.
Afternoon: After your fill of the Taj Mahal, head to Agra Fort train station and take an hour-long ride to Fatehpur Sikri – once the stunning capital of the Mughal Empire, its many historically significant buildings remain standing today. Buland Darwaza, the main entrance to the mosque, is a massive gateway that leads to the white marble tomb of Sufi saint Salim Chishti. Then head to the stunning Jodha Bhai Palace, once home to Akbar’s main wife.
Evening: Head back via train before it gets dark to your accommodation in Agra. If you didn’t opt to see Sadar Bazar the previous evening you can do it now.
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Day 6: Agra - Jaipur
Travel: There are 12 direct trains from Agra to Jaipur from either Agra Fort station or Idgah Agra Junction. Travel time averages less than four hours with super early trips and later evening trips – so depends if you want more time in Agra or Jaipur to see anything you might discover on your stay.
Accommodation: Look for accommodation in Bani Park close to all of Jaipur’s old sights.
Activity: This all depends on which train you managed to get, but it’s a good idea to just relax on this day and give yourself some time to breathe.
Day 7: Jaipur
Morning: Your first stop should be the iconic City Palace, part of the reason why Jaipur is called the Pink City. From your Bani Park accommodation, the quickest way is to go via taxi to the City Palace, but if you want to see the streets it’s a 40-minute walk. The City Palace is one of India’s most beautiful architectural marvels and the complex includes gardens, courtyards, a temple and museum.
Walk next door to Jantar Mantar – an interesting old astronomical observatory designed according to geometric forms and is home to the world’s largest stone sundial.
Walk a little further to Hawa Mahal, the Palace of Winds. Another pink monolith, its honeycomb windows allowed women of the royal family to watch the daily lives of those in the streets below.
Afternoon: Walk to the Badi Chopar bus station all the way to Galta Gate. From here you’ll enter Galtaji, a series of temples surrounded by sacred water tanks where pilgrims cleanse themselves. The main temple is known as the Monkey Temple where hundreds of rhesus macaques live in the abandoned buildings. After wandering through this complex, ensure you make it back to Galta Gate to see the sunset over the city from the Sun Temple, which is normally around 17:30 (make sure you start heading to Galtaji latest at 14:00 to make it for sunset).
Evening: Return to your accommodation to freshen up, then head out to Johri Bazar – the best place to find exquisite Indian jewellery. The area is also full of great restaurants where you have to try the most famous Rajasthan dish – dal bathi churma made of lentils, stuffed baked bread and sweets.
Palace of Winds. (Photo: Pixabay)
Day 8: Jaipur
Morning: Take a bus from Pital Factory on the 1 Mini route and hop off at Badhi Chopar, to take the AC 1 bus straight to Amer and its 16th-century fort. It’s a fascinating marvel with mirror mosaics, a coral-Ganesh and other artistic elements.
Beyond Amer Fort, take a walk through the town to Jagat Shiromani Temple. This Hindu place of worship is dedicated to Meera bai, Krishna and Vishnu and was built by a queen in memory of her son.
Afternoon: Take a longer walk or grab a taxi to Jaigarh Fort just around the corner. From here you’ll get another spectacular view of the Amer Fort – which it was built to protect - as well as Maota Lake. Besides its beautiful architecture, the fort is also home to the world’s largest cannon called Jaivana.
Evening: Head back to the Amer bus station and head back the way you came. The evening is yours to explore or relax before travelling back home.
Amer Fort. (Pixabay)
Day 9: Jaipur - Delhi
Travel: If you have a return flight from Delhi, you can get back the fastest by flying on an hour flight or you can take a five-hour train trip which will be a lot cheaper.
From Bani Park to the airport it takes an hour and a half by bus, but the main Jaipur Railway Station is a 20-minute walk from Bani Park.
*Disclaimer: Pricing an estimated recommendation at the time of publishing.
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