Exploring India: The Golden Circle

Delhi

Delhi is the capital city of India, and one of the busiest cities in the world. However, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I was told by almost every traveller I met to avoid it like the plague, but I ended up loving it! Plus the public transport system is incredibly modern and reliable, with trains taking you all over the city and women-only carriages which make it safer to travel alone, even at night. You can buy tokens at the station, or save time and buy a Delhi Metro Smartcard.

Depending on your budget, there are hundreds of options for accommodation, food and shopping. If you want a bit of westernised luxury then head to Connaught Place. If you’re on a tight budget then head to the grimy but vibrant backpacker streets of the Main Bazar. If you want tranquil parks and quieter streets then head to the southern suburbs of Hauz Khas or Sat Bari. Wherever you end up, you’ll get a taste of ‘real India’.

There is so much to see in this crazy city that even the two weeks I spent there wasn’t enough. You can end up spending a lot of money if you choose to do and see everything, so if you are on a budget then choose carefully. Here’s a list of the top attractions, and what you can expect to pay for each one.

Mehrauli Archaeological Park – This massive 200-acre archaeological area is one of the top attractions in Delhi. You can easily spend an entire day here wandering around the forest dotted with over 440 monuments. The best part? There’s no entrance fee! To get here, take the Yellow Line to Qutub Minar station and follow the main road north.

The Red Fort – entrance is 500R (£5.60) and you’ll pay extra for audio or guided tours. Honestly, I didn’t think it was worth it. The walls are the most impressive part and you can see them from outside. The inside is just open grass and a few buildings that don’t seem too impressive after seeing some of the other stuff Delhi has to offer. To get here, take the Violet Line to Jama Masjid Station.

Delhi, India, 2017

Qutub Minar Complex – Lonely Planet says “If you only have time to visit just one of Delhi’s ancient ruins, make it this”.  Entrance is 500R (£5.60) but you can easily spend a few hours here wandering through the peaceful monuments and admiring the 73m high tower of Qutub Minar. To get here, take the Yellow Line to Qutub Minar station and follow the main road north past Mehrauli Archaeological Park.

Jama Masjid – India’s largest mosque is absolutely worth a visit. It’s free to enter but you have to pay a ‘camera fee’ of 300R (£3.40), and there’s an extra cost of 100R (£1.15) to climb one of the 40m-high towers, giving you unbeatable views over the Red Fort and the surrounding city. This is right next to the Jama Masjid Station on the Violet Line.

Delhi, India, 2017

Akshardham Temple – I tried to get here and failed miserably because it just happened to be the same day as a religious festival and there were literally thousands of people queuing to get in. It’s definitely worth visiting if you get it on a quieter day as the magnificent temple has an Indian fairytale vibe about it! Yet again, the entrance fee is 500R (£5.60) but I think it would be worth it. To get here, take the Blue Line to Akshardham Station.

Humayun’s Tomb – If Delhi is your first stop in India then you will be as impressed as I was by the glorious architecture of Humayun’s Tomb, said to be the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. It’s another 500R (£5.60) entrance fee but it’s worth it, especially if you arrive later in the day, the sunset makes this red tomb glow. To get here it’s a short walk from Jangpura Station on the Violet Line.

Delhi, India, 2017

Rajpath – This vast pathway links India Gate to the grand offices of the Indian Government. It’s packed with tourists and locals selling snacks, ice cream and even a few tattooists inking people on the street. It’s got a great vibe, especially in the evening when it’s cooler and the sun is setting. It’s a free area to explore, just hop on the Violet or Yellow Line to Central Secretariat Station.

Lodi Gardens – one of my favourite areas of Delhi, this peaceful park is a wonderful getaway from the craziness of the city. Take a gentle stroll through forests and gardens, around lakes and tombs. It’s another free experience, to get here take the Yellow Line to Jorbagh Station.

Delhi, India, 2017

I’ve only listed a tiny portion of things to see and do in Delhi, and I can’t wait to go back to this hectic city and see more of it. I was so nervous when I first arrived that I spent the first few days hiding in my hostel, eating all the parantha and making the most of the high speed Wifi! Once you get out and about, you’ll realise how easy it is to navigate and how fun it is to explore.


Agra

Agra is home to the world-famous Taj Mahal and a trip to India wouldn’t be complete without admiring its perfect symmetry, shining marble walls and impossible crowds. You can easily take a taxi, bus or train to Agra from Delhi and there are plenty of choices for accommodation and food. There are some pricier hotels and restaurants with views of the Taj, or you can choose one of the hostels on Taj East Gate Road, a short walk from the entrance gate and some great cafes.

Getting around Agra isn’t anywhere as easy as Delhi, and there’s a lot to see here so it’s recommended to hire a tuk-tuk and driver for the day. We paid 800R (£9) which got us from our hostel all the way to Akbar’s Mausoleum and back through winding streets to visit the main sights, listed below. You’ll need at least two days to explore, but spend more time if you can!

The Taj Mahal – Without a doubt one of the most famous and beautiful buildings in the world, this mausoleum is a monument to lost love, built by Shah Jahan as a memorial for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Pictures don’t do it justice, it has to be seen to be believed. The intricate detail of the marble and precious stones, the scale and symmetry of it is incredible.

Entrance is 1000R (£11.25). You’ll want to be up well before sunrise to get your ticket and be ready to queue for a while, even at that time. Lonely Planet has some great information on which gate to use. Once inside, you’ll be able to roam around but be prepared to push and shove your way to get to the best photos spots, like the Princess Diana bench (that’s not it in the photo, the queue for it was bonkers even just after sunrise).

Agra, India, 2017

Agra, India, 2017

Agra Fort – For the entry price of 550R (£6.20) this is one of the finest Mughal forts in India, but we didn’t want to spend the money to go inside. If you’ve already seen the Delhi Red Fort then this one is similar, and you can just admire the impressive red sandstone walls from outside the fort.

Agra, India, 2017

Akbar’s Mausoleum – Even if you’ve already seen the Taj, this grand red sandstone and marble tomb shouldn’t be missed. The small entrance fee of 210R (£2.35) is well worth it, the impressive gardens are a relaxing place to get away from the busy city streets, and the interior is beautifully decorated.

Agra, India, 2017

Agra, India, 2017

Itimad-Ud-Daulah – Known as The Baby Taj, this gorgeous tomb shouldn’t be missed either. With another 210R (£2.35) entrance fee, it won’t break the bank. Being built entirely by marble makes the finely carved lattice even more impressive, and it’s another peaceful spot with its wonderful gardens along the east bank of the Yamuna River.

Agra, India, 2017

Mehtab Bagh – This park across the river from the Taj Mahal was built to stop the sands blowing across and slowly eroding the marble. The views are incredible and it gives you a great panorama of the Taj in all its glory. They say it changes colours multiple times during the day, and if you time it right you can watch it glowing red in the setting sun. There’s a 200R (£2.25) entrance fee but it really is worth it.

Agra, India, 2017


Jaipur

Also known as “The Pink City”, it’s the third and final stop on your Golden Triangle tour. Once you arrive and start exploring you’ll realise it’s more of a “Terracotta City” but it’s no less beautiful because of this. There are some great options for accommodation, from budget backpackers to the luxurious Fairmont Jaipur, which will make you feel like a princess, especially if you visit for the MTV Music Summit festival like we did.

Once you’re in the city centre it’s easy to navigate by foot. There are endless streets of bustling markets selling tradition clothes, shiny jewellery and delicious street food. There is a lot to see in this city and the cost can add up if you want to visit everything so choose carefully.

Also, the internet will tell you that certain attractions are either free or very cheap, but in reality you have to pay much higher fees. I’m not sure how legit it is, but there’s no avoiding it. You can apparently get a Composite Ticket for 400R (£4.50) which would be well worth it, but I think they charge much, much more than that in real life.

City Palace – Right in the centre of the Old City, this gorgeous pink palace is fun to explore. The entrance fee is supposedly 150R (£1.70) plus 50R (55p) for a camera, but they tried to charge us 500R (£5.60) so we avoided it.

Hawa Mahal – This is definitely Jaipur’s most distinctive landmark. The website says the entrance fee is 50R (55p) but we were made to pay 200R (£2.25), it’s still not expensive but it adds up when it happens at every attraction. It was fun to explore inside and you get a nice view from the top, but the iconic wall of windows is actually easily visible, for free, at the rooftop bars across the road.

low angle photography of brown concrete building
Photo by Mrudula Thakur on Pexels.com

Jah Mahal –  This dreamlike palace floats on the calm waters of Man Sagar. Take a relaxing stroll along Amer Road to view it for free, as entrance to the palace has been restricted after being declared a protected area by the government, but the pathway outside is still accessible and free to all.

Amber Palace and Fort – This dramatic sandstone fort perched on a hilltop to the north of the city is a great day trip from Jaipur. Take a tuk-tuk or the local bus to the shores of Moatha Lake and climb the hill to the gateway. There’s a lot you can see without paying the 550R (£6.20) entrance fee, but if you want to get inside and see the impressive carvings and paintings of the interior walls and ceilings.

brown and multicolored concrete building
Photo by Ankush Rathi on Pexels.com

Galtaji – This ancient Hindu pilgrimage was definitely the highlight of Jaipur for me. What started as a quick climb up Monkey Hill to watch the sunset at the Sun Temple ended up with us finding the hidden temple complex of Galtaji in the throes of an incredibly vibrant and busy festival. Even without the festival, it would be an impressive sight.

There were thousands of people, fireworks going off on the hill, music and dance everywhere, food and drink being sold, it was an infectious atmosphere and I’m so glad we decided to follow the crowds, even though we were nervous about being there and making our way back to the hostel at night.

Jaipur, India, 2017

Jaipur, India, 2017

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