Ever-increasing numbers of travellers come to India to
experience the unique blend of headiness that the subcontinent so effortlessly
brews, and the “Golden Triangle” route between Delhi, Agra and Jaipur in northern India has, for many years, been a classic introduction to
the country. Although the trail is undeniably well-trodden, there are plenty of
lesser-known attractions that are well worth seeking out.
the Mughal legacy
From Delhi, head southeast by car (about four hours) or by train (about two
hours) to Agra, Uttar Pradesh, home of the wondrous Taj
Mahal – a resounding tribute to a lost love and undoubtedly the most
brilliant manifestation of the Mughal dynasty’s design aesthetic. The
glistening white marble and the swirling, minaret-like towers never fail to
While the Taj Mahal was built to honour the dead, the
magnificent fortified ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri, located just
40km west of Agra, was once very much a place for the living. This was the
short-lived capital of the Mughal empire during the reign of Emperor Akbar
between 1571 and 1585, and the grand human scale is captivating. It is impossible
not to feel haunted by the ghosts of the emperor, princesses, valets and
concubines that once roamed the hallowed courtyards.
Once you have finished exploring the forts and
palaces, take some time to relax at the exquisite Kaya Kalp, a 99,000sqft spa located in
the ITC Mughal
hotel, which takes guests on a sensorial journey back to an era of excess and conquest.
The Mughal elite enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle, with gardens, feasts, harems,
sweeping palaces and many other ostentatious manifestations of wealth. At the
ITC Mughal you will find a sumptuous reproduction of that bygone era – in fact,
the hotel is so precise and true to the Mughal period that it received the Aga
Khan Award for architecture.
After pushing through the massive wooden doors, the
spa’s cardinal design element becomes immediately apparent: a ruby red
pomegranate. It is commonly believed that Babur – the first Mughal emperor –
came to India from Ferghana (in present-day Afghanistan), a lush kingdom with plenty of fruit trees. When Babur decided to
stay, he instructed his architects to recreate his elaborate gardens and plant
a variety of orchards, including the pomegranate – his favourite. The coveted
pomegranate also features in the spa’s signature treatment, an exfoliating
scrub made from pomegranate peel, orange rind, pomegranate seeds and brown sugar.
temples in the city of forts
From Agra and Fatehpur Sikri, head westward to Jaipur
(about three hours by car), where further Mughal spoils await. Known as the
Pink City for its ribbon of walls (the city does not actually look particularly
pink), Jaipur is the gateway to Rajasthan’s cache of rugged landscapes,
photogenic cities and elaborate palaces.
Most visitors make a beeline for Jaipur’s surrounding
hills dotted with parched trees – a hint that the great Thar desert sits not
too far beyond. Here lies one of the city’s great attractions, the Amber
Fort; yet another great legacy of a long-lost empire. While most
tourists mount the ramparts on a regal-robed elephant, try driving around to
the back of the fortress and start your journey in the simple hamlet of Amber, which
dates back to the 11th Century. Here you will find the Shri Jagatshironmani
Temple, built between 1599 and 1608, and a particularly rare specimen as the
Hindu deity Krishna is not depicted with his usual consort Radha. He is instead
accompanied by Mira Bai, a princess who became a mystic and Krishna’s lover. During
your visit you may spot the groundskeeper watering the plants and gently
sweeping the stairs – his family has been caring for the temple for more than 20
A second and equally fascinating temple sits just a
short walk from the popular City
Palace Museum within Jaipur’s city centre. Shri Govind Dev Ji Temple, also a place
for worship for Lord Krishna, houses an image of the deity that is believed to
be more than 5,000 years old. The temple is unusual because it is only open for
or glimpses, per day. During each viewing, devotees gather in front of the
gates to sing preparatory hymns, and then pray before statues that are
fastidiously decorated in different clothing for each viewing.
From Jaipur, it is about a four-and-a-half hour drive
back to Delhi by private vehicle; domestic flights are also available on Air
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly named the first Mughal emporer as Barbur. This has been corrected to Babur.
The article 'India’s alternative Golden Triangle' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.