When planning a luxury tour of India, it is difficult to know where to start. India offers so much, from the grand Taj Mahal, to the sandy beaches of Goa, to the backwaters of Kerala. It is of course impossible to explore all of India’s beauty in just one trip, and to really soak up the rich culture and heritage of each city it is better to concentrate on one or two regions at a time.
India’s Golden Triangle refers to Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. These cities make up a triangle on the map, and are a fantastic first taste of India. Delhi will introduce you to bustling markets, Agra is the home of the Taj Mahal, and Jaipur is the capital of the colourful state of Rajasthan, filled with ancient forts and beautiful palaces.
India is home to some of the most luxurious resorts in the world, and certainly deserves a place on your travel wish list. In Delhi, experience modern India, in some of the sub-continents freshest and most luxurious hotels. In Agra, look out onto the Taj Mahal from the privacy of your own luxury suite. In Jaipur, stay in a converted palace, for a true taste of royal Rajasthan. There are hundreds of fantastic resorts to choose from, each with their own charm and character.
North India is a fantastic introduction for any first time traveller to the sub-continent, as it offers an insight into the many facets of India, including the holy Ganges and the breath-taking Taj Mahal. The majority of north India tours will begin and end in New Delhi, which is then in easy reach of colourful Rajasthan, spiritual Varanasi and colonial Himachal Pradesh. India’s Golden Triangle can be extended by flying out to Varanasi, Shimla or Kerala.
India’s Golden Triangle would begin by exploring the bustling capital – New Delhi. When you arrive in Delhi, it is recommended that you spend you first day at leisure in your luxury hotel, to recuperate from your international journey and to enjoy a spot of luxury in your lavish surroundings. Luxury hotels to choose from include; the Oberoi Delhi, the Leela Palace, the Imperial and the Taj Mahal Delhi, to name a few. The Leela in particular is a fantastic choice; this iconic hotel is inspired by royal Indian palaces, and makes a grand statement in terms of architecture and opulence.
Delhi has a rich history with many stories to share. Both Old and New Delhi can be covered in a day. Old Delhi will introduce you to the grand Red Fort and the Jama Masjid mosque. A rickshaw ride through the narrow streets of Old Delhi will really awaken your senses! In New Delhi, you may like to explore India Gate, Humayun’s Tomb and the Qutab Minar. At the centre of New Delhi stands the 42m high India Gate, a grand archway in the middle of a crossroad. India Gate commemorates the 70,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the British Army during World War I. The memorial bears the names of more than 13,516 British and Indian soldiers killed in the Afghan war of 1919. The foundation stone of India Gate was laid by His Royal Highness, the Duke of Connaught, in 1921 and it was designed by Edwin Lutyens. The monument was dedicated to the nation 10 years later by the then Viceroy, Lord Irwin. The eternal flame burns day and night under the arch to remind the nation of soldiers who laid down their lives in the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971.
The entire arch stands on a low base of red Bharatpur stone and rises in stages to a huge moulding. The cornice is inscribed with the Imperial suns, while both sides of the arch have “India” along with the dates “1914” and “1919”. The shallow domed bowl at the top was intended to be filled with burning oil on anniversaries but this is rarely done. During the night, India Gate is dramatically floodlit; the fountains nearby make a lovely display with coloured lights. India Gate stands at one end of Raj-path, and the area surrounding it is generally referred to as “India Gate”.
After Delhi, depart by a private chauffeured vehicle to Agra; home of the Taj Mahal. Upon arriving in Agra, you may like to settle into your hotel and enjoy lunch before exploring the grand Agra Fort and Taj Mahal at sunset. As the sun goes down, a warm amber glow lights up the white marble of the Taj – a breath-taking sight.
Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal in memory of his beloved, late wife, Mumtaz Mahal. To construct the Taj, it is estimated that nearly 20,000 workers consisting of labourers, carpenters, craftsman, artists and engineers worked incessantly for almost 22 years (1631 – 1653). The Taj Mahal is a total package of tomb, mosque, gardens, gateways and fountains. Over the centuries, it has become a symbol of undying love and flawless beauty.
The Oberoi Amarvilas is the finest hotel in Agra, and offers private views of the Taj Mahal from each room. You may like to opt for a “Premier Room with Private Balcony”, to enjoy a glass of wine whilst looking out onto the Taj Mahal from the comfort and privacy of your own balcony; an impossibly romantic experience.
You may also like to visit the Taj Mahal a second time, at sunrise, the following morning. However, one visit should be sufficient, and you may prefer to spend a leisurely morning at the Oberoi Amarvilas, where of course you can watch the sunrise from your very own room.
If you decide that you’d like to explore more of Agra, depart earlier from Delhi and arrive before mid-day, where you can then visit both Sikandra and I’timād-ud-Daulah.
Sikandra is the mausoleum of Akbar. Akbar himself started construction of this beautiful monument. The mausoleum has a perfect blend of Hindu, Christian, Islamic, Buddhist and Jain themes. Sikandra is named after Sikandar lodi, the Delhi ruler who was in power from 1488 to 1517. Sikandra Fort is located in the western periphery of the city at a distance of about 10Km’s from the city centre.
Akbar was the greatest of the Mughal emperors and one of the most secular minded royalties of his time. He was the heir to a long tradition of oriental refinement, a great patron of the arts, literature, philosophy and science. Akbar himself planned his own tomb and selected a suitable site for it. To construct a tomb in one’s lifetime was a Tartary custom, which the Mughals followed religiously. Akbar’s son Jahangir completed the construction of this pyramidal tomb in 1613.
I’timād-ud-Daulah tomb is a Mughal mausoleum in the city of Agra. Often described as ‘jewel box’, sometimes called the ‘Baby Taj’, the tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah is often regarded as a draft of the Taj Mahal. Located on the left bank of the Yamuna River, the mausoleum is set in a large cruciform garden criss-crossed by water courses and walkways. The mausoleum itself covers about 23m². On each corner are hexagonal towers, about 13m tall.
The walls are white Rajasthani marble, encrusted with semi-precious stone decorations - cornelian, jasper, lapis lazuli, onyx, and topaz formed into images of cypress trees and wine bottles, or more elaborate decorations like cut fruit or vases containing bouquets. Light penetrates to the interior through delicate screens of intricately carved white marble.
Many of Nur Jahan’s relatives are buried in the mausoleum. The only asymmetrical element of the entire complex is that the cenotaphs of her father and mother have been set side-by-side, a formation replicated in the Taj Mahal.
Following Agra, depart to Jaipur – the capital city of the state of Rajasthan. Agra to Jaipur is rather a long journey, and will take four hours approximately. The drive will pass by much sooner than you imagine, and there is plenty of interesting daily life to observe along the way. When travelling in your luxury private vehicle, you may like to stop to stretch your legs or to photograph an interesting scene.
When you arrive in Jaipur, check-in to your luxury resort for a two night stay. The best spots to stay would be either the Oberoi Rajvilas or the Taj Rambagh. The Oberoi Rajvilas is the perfect base from which to explore one of India’s most exotic and vibrant cities. This luxurious and idyllic retreat evokes princely Rajasthan, with luxury villas and royal tents in a fort-like setting, situated amongst acres of lush gardens, flowering trees and cascading fountains. A highlight is the 280 year old Shiva temple on the hotel grounds, which has been carefully restored. There is also an old Rajasthani haveli (mansion) on the grounds, which has been extensively renovated and restored, and now serves as the Oberoi spa, offering traditional Ayurveda treatments for beauty and relaxation.
When arriving at your luxury Jaipur hotel, rather than spending the afternoon at leisure, you may like to experience a private cooking class for two, to learn the secrets of mouth-watering Indian cuisine. Alternatively, head to Dera Amer, to ride elephants through the rural forests. At Dera Amer, you can also bathe the elephants and paint their trunks! A lovely way to get close to these magnificent creatures.
For your day of sightseeing in Jaipur, visit Amer Fort early in the morning. It’s best to visit early, to beat both the crowds and the heat. The fort was constructed in 1592, by Maharaja Man Singh, the Rajput commander of Akbar’s Army. From the bottom of the fort, you can take an elephant ride up and through to the ancient courtyard. While riding through the forts path, the view of the city below is phenomenal!
After lunch, head to the beautiful Hawa Mahal. ‘Hawa Mahal’ literally translates to ‘Palace of Winds’. The Hawa Mahal, part of the City Palace complex, is a familiar landmark and looks like a series of pierced windows placed in tiers to overlook the street below. Its purpose was simply to allow the royal women a view of ceremonial processions whilst seated behind the small windows, allowing them to look out without themselves being seen.
On your tour of Jaipur, you may also visit the Jal Mahal, City Palace and Jantar Mantar observatory. The Jantar Mantar is an open air observatory which was designed by Maharaja Jai Singh in 1728. Before commencing the observatory, he sent scholars abroad to study other foreign observatories so that he would have one that would satisfy his passion for astronomy. In order to achieve accuracy, the instruments were made from stone and marble. Each of these curious sculptures has a specific purpose, such as; measuring the positions of stars, altitudes and azimuths and calculating the times of eclipses. The most striking instrument is the sundial with its 27m high gnomon (rod).
There is then a lesser-known luxury spa resort on the outskirts of Jaipur known as the Tree of Life. You may like to add a third night in Jaipur, to be spent relaxing and pampering at the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life has a fantastic infinity pool, with amazing panoramic views of the Aravali Mountains; arguably one of the best pools in Rajasthan.
After exploring Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, you may wish to take a one hour flight back to Delhi, where you’ll then depart back home. Alternatively, spend another night in Delhi, or extend your luxury India trip to visit the holy river Ganges in Varanasi, live the Jungle Book in Bandhavgarh National Park, or spend a night on board a luxury private houseboat through the tranquil backwaters in Kerala. The possibilities are endless…
Madeleine Hann is CEO and Co-Founder of Indian Excursions Co.