Arjun smiled as he nodded to the four pasty Brits snuggled on a single mattress, swaying side to side with the movement of the train. With a slight look of trepidation and uncertainty, me and three friends were heading to Agra, the second stop in our Gold Triangle route.

“Where are you from?”, Arjun, who was sitting opposite, said through a warming smile.

Britain, London , Nottingham, Spalding – the answers all spurting out in typical English accents, twisting necks and raising brows around the carriage.

“Where are you going”, he asked, with a smooth and well spoken soft Indian accent.

“Agra – to see the Taj Mahal”, we replied in unison.

His smile dropped as he rocked his head back and placed his hand on his forehead. “You English jokers”, he chuckled, wrapping his arm around and scruffling the hair of his son who sat beside.

Despite having recovered from jet lag, acclimatised to 45-degree heat and experienced Indian curry 24 hours later, our first error was getting on the wrong train, of course!


Discovering New Delhi: Stop 1 of the Golden Triangle

Delhi had been magnificent – everything we had expected and more. Arriving first thing on a Saturday morning we jumped on the orange metro line taking tourists and commuters alike direct into the heart of Delhi. It was in fact, perhaps one of the easiest airport transfer I’ve ever done. The equivalent of 20p took us straight to Patel Chowk, where our Hotel, [eafl id=”1640″ name=”The Metropolitan Hotel & Spa New Delhi” text=”The Metropolitan Hotel & Spa New Delhi”] , was just a short walk away.

Tuk-tuks chased us down the street as shopkeepers and traders barraged our way with fruits, clothing and the finest of tacky goods. Often for hundreds of metres, we’d find a new friend who would tell us all about his skills as a tour guide, or about his mate who had a brilliant shop just a two-minute walk. This was Indian Direct-Marketing. But, unlike many other parts of Asia, the people in New Delhi were gentle, polite and thoroughly charming. Our new friends accompanied us as we walked down Chandni Chowk – New Delhi’s major high street – towards the Red Fort.

10 Rupees to enter, this massive complex is surrounded by a 2km wall towering high, looking thwarting and entirely impenetrable. I picked up a straw hat from one of the souvenir stores, not bothering to barter with the price of £1.50. Walking through the thick gates the area opened out into small grassy patches with locals (who can enter for 1 Rupee) enjoying a picnic and the fine weather. Rich red buildings spotted the grounds, all as intricate as the other, and the museum inside housed numerous fascinating ancient relics, scriptures, weapons and clothing of the old empire. Home to historic Moghuls, this was, without a doubt, a palace of all palaces and a great introduction to the India to come. Magnificently royal, and nuclearly protected from every side.

We boarded tuk-tuks at the exit and head next to India’s Gate – the iconic arching structure at the centre of the city. The promenade was packed and my personal opinion is to get the picture and get out. You need the evidence you were there, but there’s not a huge amount to see!

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The next day we head south to Delhi’s Lodi Gardens and Budda’s home which was just a short stroll. We were first struck by the amount of wildlife surrounding us. Beautiful scuttling chipmunks, hawks of all types wafting threateningly around smaller edible birds, and insects of the most vivid colours.

We took a slow gander, weaving in and out of trees and down small pathways. Every so often we’d come across another tomb, lurching into view from around weeping trees and large bushes. During the period that these tombs were built (1451 – 1526) both square and Octagonal Tombs were constructed. Ironically the gardens were never part of the original plan – just the tombs which are dotted around in the area. It wasn’t until 1936 that the gardens were built around them, by the British. With no entry fee and in heat not too intensive, you can spend a whole day here. It’s peaceful and quiet and there is a feeling of great spirituality – an enjoyable respite from the abuzz of Delhi.

Temple at the Lodi Gardens India golden triangle route lodi gardens

humayuan-tombThe next day was our time to move on, but not before visiting Humayun’s Tomb. 250 Rupees to enter, it’s structure is immaculate, as are most sites here. 500 years old and still as impactful as it was designed to be. It’s situated just around the corner from the southern railway station where we would (wrongly) depart, but it’s quite a walk to the main event from the entrance – around 700 metres or so. It’s size and grandeur meant the journey felt longer than it was, as the structure fails to grow larger with each step.

It was a fleeting visit though as Agra and the Taj awaited, the key element of the Golden Triangle route. We’d pre-booked our rail tickets on Cleartrip.com but failed to get on the right carriage. Going merely by the platform information (how silly of us), we didn’t see the slight difference in train name on the side of the carriages to that on our confirmation. Luckily though, we were heading north, meaning a chance to get off at New Delhi Central station. A four-hour wait accompanied by beer, a new train ticket (in standard class, however), and we were on our way.

Agra: Stop 2 of India’s Golden Triangle

Home to the Taj, our visit to Agra was all about an early 6 am start at India’s most famous tomb. Commissioned in 1632 by Mughal Emporer Shah Jahan, it was constructed to house the body of his beloved wife. If there was ever a gesture of love!

Following the web’s advice, we set off at 5.30am from the stunning The Grand Imperial Hotel. The queue was just a few people deep. Under instruction from our tuk-tuk driver, we pottered to the small ticket booth across the way, handing over 1000 Rupees in return for a ticket and free bottle of water. Security was relatively easy, though ensure you don’t take a back pack! Shoulder bags are fine regardless of size it seems, but anything with two straps is a no go.

The sun was rising and a shimmer of orange was cast across the grounds. We walked down the main promenade and turned left through huge red brick gates – the vision of the Taj now straight ahead of us.

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It felt almost as though we were completing a pilgrimage. This is an iconic monument that is world-renowned. You see a thousand pictures before you go, know the stories, the myths and its association with India. It’s only when you’re there, that you actually see the Taj Mahal.

An essential element of the Golden Triangle route, it doesn’t disappoint. New eyes to this view are inspired every time. I hadn’t realised you could actually walk right up to the Taj, and touch it with your hands. Unlike many attractions across the world there are few barriers here, and while organised and steered, you have the feeling of little restriction.

Before we left we turned back one last time. The sun had risen and the shadows had faded. Shimmering rays were cast upon the white marble and reflected back out. It was glowing.

Before leaving Agra we popped into to Agra Fort. While similar in style to Delhi’s Fort, it’s still well worth a visit for incredible views of the Taj in the distance.

Jaipur: Final stop of India’s Golden Triangle – searching for Tigers

With a successful train journey in the bag, we arrived into Jaipur’s bustling city and the last stop of our Golden Triangle route. Ancient architecture contrasts with new high-rise buildings here, and narrow alleyways used as motorbike shortcuts veer off from booming flyovers. While Agra was quieter, relaxed and comfortable, Jaipur was a lived in the city which was unforgivingly real. Our tuk-tuks shuttled us from the station to the [eafl id=”1643″ name=”Jaipur Marriott Hotel” text=”Jaipur Marriott Hotel”] where a lovely receptionist upgraded us all to suites.

The next morning our driver arrived around 5am, ready to whisk us 170km south to Rathanborne National Park. For ease, we’d booked a two-day Rathanborne Tour through [eafl id=”1642″ name=”Viator India Safair” text=”Viator”]. At around $150 it included overnight accommodation and both afternoon and morning game drives.

Rathanbore National Park

Kipling’s jungle book came alive. Unlike landscapes I’d previously seen, Ranthambore changes around every corner and undulation of the reserve. In the highlands, it’s dry, barren and desolate, with just a few wandering birds preying on the landscape. Deer roam picking up shoots squeezing through the dry soil, and we were also lucky enough for a rare sighting of a black bear. Once

Once over the hills and down into the valleys we were in tiger territory. Small streams sooth the thirsty soil and lush greenery sprout high, forming a rainforest style canopy above the jungle floor. Banyan trees are many, with their roots flailing down from high branches, earthing themselves in the moist soil. Those not quite reaching, or disconnected by roaming wildlife, form vines much like those you would imagine a young Mowgli would swing from.

While we were looking to the ground for mysterious tigers, really the magic and the wildlife was in the trees above. Birds flew below the rooftop of the canopy and, mellowly chilling in the rafters, were Langoors – the only monkey species in the reserve and very dominant in terms of their numbers.

Black Bear Rathanborne National Park

The elusive tigers alluded. It wasn’t to be and for me, the uncomfortable element of any safari experience comes where you go from merely looking, to almost hunting in your attitude to sighting wildlife. India is known for its tigers and people will continue to search for them. I hope only those who are lucky enough to visit Ranthambore open their eyes to the experience beyond orange and black strips – as the landscape and animal life here is like no other in the world.

Our time travelling along India’s Gold Triangle route had come to an end. Our driver drove us back Jaipur and we made our way to the airport where we’d fly next for four relaxing nights on the beaches of Goa. It had been brief, and yet India’s northern cities and wondrous sites and friendly people would leave a lasting impression on us all.


India Travel Resources

This particular experience was part of a wider journey, starting in Delhi and Ending in Mumbai. During the trip, I stayed in Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Mumbai and Goa. Flights cost from around £400 – though if you’re on a reall budget go indirect – [eafl id=”1645″ name=”Expedia India Flights” text=”search for flights here >”]

Hotel Accommodation In India: Reviews

metropolitan-hotel_delhiDelhi: [eafl id=”1640″ name=”The Metropolitan Hotel & Spa New Delhi” text=”The Metropolitan Hotel & Spa New Delhi”]
Perfectly comfy but don’t arrive early! We were an hour early and asked if we could check in early – which don’t go down very well. This is nicely located though close to the old town area, and short tuk-tuk rides to the top attractions such as the Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb and Lodi gardens. 

grand-imperial-agraAgra: [eafl id=”1641″ name=”The Grand Imperial Hotel.” text=”The Grand Imperial Hotel”]
My favourite hotel along the entire journey, this hotel is an old colonial building with original wooden doors and beautiful architecture. Being low season we were upgraded to a suite and what a suite it was! 

Jaipur: [eafl id=”1643″ name=”Jaipur Marriott Hotel” text=”Jaipur Marriott Hotel”]
A relatively fleeting visit as we head out on Safari to the Rathanborne National Park – however, this gave us a quick glimpse of luxury after travelling on the trains. Sweet talking the lovely lady on reception we got a room upgrade and free airport transfers! India in low season isn’t all that bad!

Mumbai: Ibis Mumbai Airport
Notice I have not put a link! This was the worst experience in the whole trip. Damp bed-sheets, our rooms were ready – at 10pm!!!! They have overbooked so we had to have twin rooms not single. If you know of a good hotel in Mumbai please mention it in the comments! [eafl id=”1644″ name=”Hotels in Mumbai” text=”Click here”]  for other hotels options in Mumbai. 

viator-ranthambore-safariRanthambore Safari

From Japiur we organised a two-day safari to Ranthambore National Park. The Tigers here are the biggest pull but there is such a diverse amount of wildlife in the park I’d urge you to go with an open mind – and not solely focus on the Tiger else you may be disappointed. You can find a range of tours [eafl id=”1642″ name=”Viator India Safair” text=”here on Viator”] .

Trains in India

All of our trains were booked through cleartrip.com – one of the easiest ways to book Indian train tickets.

India Travel Guides