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29 Best things to see & do in India’s Golden Triangle

  • India

Last updated: 15 June, 2024
Expert travel writer: Amar Grover
  • Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India

Taj Mahal

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Taj Mahal

One of the world’s most beautiful buildings is not merely an exquisite tomb but a monument to love. The Taj Mahal was completed after two decades’ labour in 1653 by the great Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to entomb his wife, Mumtaz.

It stands at the head of formal gardens by the Yamuna River. The combination of milky-white marble (much of it inlaid with semi-precious stones, a technique known as pietra dura), a great bulbous dome and four slender minarets lend the mausoleum an astonishing almost ethereal beauty.

Admire it at your leisure – its well-kept gardens coax lingering, relaxed visits.

Good for age: 8+

  • Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan, India

Few other animals have quite captured the imagination as the Bengal tiger. India’s national animal since 1973, it’s one of two subspecies that once roamed widely from eastern Russia and Turkey to Indo-China. India’s 3,000-odd tigers are scattered among around 50 reserves and, for visitors, Ranthambore in Rajasthan is among the most famous and popular.

Formerly a royal hunting ground, Ranthambore’s pretty forests and appealingly rugged hillsides also boast water bodies and a picturesque 13th-century fortress. Game drives are particularly enjoyable and sightings are reliably good – but not guaranteed.

Adult price: £25

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 3 hours

  • Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Amber Fort

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Amber Fort

Pre-Independence Rajasthan, or ‘Land of the Princes’, comprised an intricate patchwork of princely states. Numerous maharajas’ palaces and forts still dot the landscape and among the most famous is 16th-century Amber (also known as Amer), a huge fortress-palace cresting a stark ridge above Amer village near Jaipur.

Enclosed by kilometres of walls snaking across the surrounding hills, at its heart the huge complex comprises audience halls, pavilions, royal ‘apartments’ and courtyards that collectively blend Hindu and Mughal motifs and architecture. Part-marble interiors boast decorative paintings, mirrored-glass mosaics and coloured glass. It’s a great place to wander and explore.

Good for age: 13+

  • Delhi, India

Red Fort

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Red Fort

Delhi’s largest historic monument was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the 1640s, and the massive sandstone walls still bristle with crenellations between the elegant cupolas. Within lies a 250-acre complex of gardens, audience halls, pavilions, royal apartments and a small white-marble mosque.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fort personifies the scale and power of the dynastic Mughals whose three-century reign profoundly influenced the history and culture of North India.

Adult price: £5

Good for age: 13+

  • India

India’s Mughal Empire

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India’s Mughal Empire

Founded in the 1520s by Babur, a warrior chieftain from present-day Uzbekistan and a descendant of Timur (or Tamerlane), the Mughal Empire quickly dominated most of north, central and even a swathe of south India for two centuries, before limping into terminal decline for a third.

At its height, the Mughals effectively ruled most of India, from present-day Pakistan all the way east to Assam, and from Kashmir in the north to parts of Tamil Nadu in the south.

Its military prowess, efficient administration and generally outward-looking embrace of existing elites and cultures helped generate prosperity, while its emperors patronised painting, literature and textiles.

But it’s their grand architecture, including some of India’s most iconic monuments such as the Taj Mahal, that have proved their most enduring and tangible legacy.

Its capital shifted between Delhi, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri and Lahore (Pakistan), and it is these destinations which today boast virtually all of the Mughals’ finest monuments.

Good for age: 18+

  • Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

City Palace

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City Palace

When Maharaja Jai Singh II shifted his capital from Amber in around 1727, he laid the foundations for a meticulously planned city – Jaipur. City Palace lies at the heart of the Old City, a stirring complex of palaces, halls, courtyards and pavilions embodying the power and stature of one of Rajasthan’s leading royal families.

The glitz and glamour are tempered by various displays, from a quirky collection of carriages and palanquins to an astonishing armoury.

Adult price: £2

Good for age: 13+

  • Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India

Agra Fort

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Agra Fort

Completed by the Mughal emperor Akbar in 1573 on the site of a ruined fortification, Agra Fort bears a striking resemblance to Delhi’s Red Fort.

Massive, rust-red sandstone walls of around two and a half kilometres enclose 94 acres, its eastern flank overlooking a bend in the Yamuna River and within sight of the Taj Mahal.

It’s the south-eastern section, behind the Amar Singh gate entrance, that holds the most interest: gardens, open-sided audience halls, pavilions and royal apartments plus a couple of dainty mosques.

Infamously imprisoned by his own son, it was from here that emperor Shah Jahan spent his final days gazing across at his beloved Taj.

Adult price: £8

Good for age: 18+

  • Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Palace of the Winds

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Palace of the Winds

The intricate lattice-screened and salmon-pink facade of the Hawa Mahal, or the ‘Palace of Winds’, is probably the most iconic image of Jaipur, Rajasthan’s capital.

Constructed in 1799 as an extension of the maharaja’s City Palace, it was designed to permit ladies of the royal court to see the comings and goings of the outside world without themselves being seen by strangers. This tradition of purdah – essentially female seclusion – was strictly observed by the royals.

Its hundreds of tiny arched windows and niches with decorative dome-like mouldings and balcony-like brackets are rather fetching. The entire mahal is reputedly shaped like the god Krishna’s crown. Surprisingly, there’s not much to see behind the facade.

 

Adult price: £1

Good for age: 13+

  • Delhi, India

Exterior view of Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi, is the official residence of the President of India

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Raj history in Delhi

The ‘Raj’ refers to Britain’s formal rule over India from 1859 until independence in 1947. Yet Britain’s involvement dates back to the East India Company’s (EIC) first toehold in the subcontinent in 1608, when its ships docked in Surat (in Gujarat state), followed by more trading posts in Chennai and Kolkata.

Gradually eclipsing their Portuguese and Dutch rivals, King Charles II granted the EIC powers to acquire territory, form armies and essentially become a colonial government.

By the 1770s the EIC had financial troubles, and its controversial bailout by the British government converged with a realisation that its power and influence was underpinned by corruption, cronyism, plunder and greed. Things came to a head with the so-called Indian Mutiny of 1857, when its own Indian soldiers rebelled.

In the wake of this disastrous episode, the British government stepped in, bringing much of the EIC’s holdings under Crown control. In 1877 Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India; the legacy of her rule endures India’s legal and administrative systems.

Rather more tangible for visitors is its public, often grand, architecture. New Delhi was a Raj creation, many cities still have ‘cantonments’ (or garrison neighbourhoods) and the Himalayan foothills are dotted with ‘hill stations’ where the Brits could escape the worst of the pre-monsoon heat.

Good for age: 18+

  • Fatehpur, Uttar Pradesh, India

Fatehpur Sikri

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Fatehpur Sikri

In the late 1500s, the Mughal Emperor Akbar constructed a new capital near Agra – Fatehpur Sikri.

The Mughals’ first planned city was monumental in scale and design, and notable for the mastery and finesse of its predominantly red sandstone architecture. The city’s rather abrupt abandonment after fifteen years remains a mystery, though a lack of water is usually cited as the cause.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the atmospheric ‘ghost city’ provides a fascinating and unique insight into the Mughal court. Huge colonnaded courtyards, lofty audience halls, a treasury and royal apartments skilfully blend Muslim and Hindu traditions – in keeping with Akbar’s enlightened perspective.

Good for age: 13+