Similar to my trip to Egypt, India was modified in large part because of Covid-19. I traveled to Dubai in February 2020, with plans to spend time in India for Holi, a bucket list item for the past decade. At the end of February, my brother had a meeting in Delhi and with Covid becoming an issue in Iran and other neighbouring countries, I made the decision to meet him in Delhi, crossing off my big must-dos for India, in the event I won’t be able to go for Holi (which was mid-March). It turns out I made the right call because by the time Holi came, it wasn’t safe to travel anywhere.
My bucket list for India included visiting Jaipur in Rajasthan and the infamous Wonder of the World- the Taj Mahal. Inadvertently, I did the golden triangle in 4 days i.e. Delhi, Jaipur and Agra.
Because plans were made very last minute ( I decided hours before I was traveling here), flights and hotel were more expensive and not as available as I previously anticipated.
I left Dubai on a red eye flight, arriving in Delhi at the crack of dawn. The flight I wanted from Delhi to Jaipur was sold out and since I wanted to maximize my time in India, I drove from Delhi to Jaipur (as opposed to waiting for the next connecting flight). I hired a driver through my hotel, paying a pretty penny but it was worth it. I was very determined to go to India on this trip. My travel companions couldn’t join me and I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity. It was the first time in all my travels I made a decision and felt extremely on edge. In fact, I was so nervous about my decision I was in tears. I had this feeling like something bad was going to happen, but I wasn’t sure if because plans were falling apart and I was going there alone, against everyone’s advice.
I will say a disclaimer that my opinion on India is based on my experience, and I think I would have loved it more had I gone at a different time and had travel companions. I personally do not recommend going to India alone. At least for me, it was the only country in the world (I’ve been to 65) that I felt very unsafe and nervous. I was living in a bubble in Dubai, only paying attention to carona news. I had no idea that the day before I arrived in Delhi were the riots, where over 50 people were killed. I don’t want to get into the political or religious reasons in this post, but I believe the riot certainly impacted the energy of the city. From the moment I landed, I experienced severe hostility, groping, anger, harassment, swearing, aggression etc. I was literally in tears at the airport as even the staff working there refused to help give me direction and proceeded to swear at me and make a scene. Fortunately a bi-lingual local came to my rescue and he explained that there was much hostility towards Americans and to some level women because of the riots (I was shocked to later find out a number of women were raped during the riots). I had multiple encounters outside the airport while looking for my driver (to my horror a group of men came at me, laughing and started pulling at my clothing vying for attention, and when I asked them to leave me alone they intensified their behaviour while a ton of onlookers stood by not offering help, including the police. Fortunately some tourist men had to come to my rescue and pushed them off me). I have been told by MANY that this is not the norm and this was an unfortunate time. Likely I won’t be returning to India (ironic as it was my #1 dream destination for over a decade) BUT I am grateful for the experience I had while there.
While this set the tone for my trip and influenced what I did for the rest of my time there, I will share that things definitely took a turn for the better. And I want to emphasize that my experience is not a representation of the culture or people, so I hope it does not discourage you. I merely wanted to share that it influenced my plans, making my itinerary very limited.
DAY 1– Delhi to Jaipur
As mentioned, I arrive early morning in Delhi and then drove (approx 4 hours) to Jaipur, Rajasthan. This was a great way to see part of India by ground. I asked my hotel to organize it and it costed approximately $300 Canadian. Yes it was expensive but based on my experience above, it was worth the safety. Plus I was able to nap a bit in the car ride. I was told by some friends who are from India that Uber and other shared ride apps are available but I didn’t trust it at this point.
WHERE TO STAY
The group of friends I was supposed to be travelling with for Holi booked Raj Palace Hotel, so since I was already familiar with this place, I decided to book it for 1 night. I did not bother to research other hotels especially because I was booking it hours before getting on the plane.
I HIGHLY recommend staying here. The experience was incredible and the service impeccable. The hotel was fairly empty- I didn’t really encounter many other guests while there.
I booked the most basic room which was the premier room and I also got it at a discount rate. The room was more like a suite- kitchen area, living room, whirlpool bath, all with the elegance fit for a King and Queen- it used to be a palace, after all.
I decided to spend the full day on the property. I enjoyed walking around the palace grounds, checking out the other amenities including the pool. I also ate my favourite dish at the restaurant- lamb briyani. The food was authentic and did not disappoint! And the staff were humble and friendly, reminding me not to base my impressions of this country on my unfortunate airport encounter.
I spent the evening in my hotel suite watching Bollywood films on Netflix and enjoying room service – Masala Chai tea and the local fruit Chiku (we know it as sapodilla in the Caribbean- I haven’t had it since I was a child and it is one of my favourite fruits). I was too nervous to leave the property and I figured I may as well enjoy the suite.
Day 2 – Jaipur to Delhi
I had an amazing breakfast at Raj Palace Hotel (it was included in the room booking) before checking out. The driver from the day before gave me a private tour of Jaipur. I gave him a list of places I was keen to check out, and he included some additional ones he thought I would be interested in. I had to be at the airport for 6pm for a return flight to Delhi, so I set out at 8am for a full day of touring this Pink city. According to my driver, it was unusually quiet – I hardly saw any tourists or large crowds, so it made it much easier to see the city in a day. I personally feel like I got a taste of Jaipur and that 1 full day was sufficient.
The highlights of Jaipur, also referred to as the Pink City, included:
- The City Palace
This is a must see for Jaipur. You have to pay an entrance fee and if you aren’t a local, you have to take a tour guide with you. You are also not allowed to take a tripod with you. I had one but I didn’t mind leaving it behind as my tour guide was a university student eager to help take photos for me and practice his English. He was getting married in a few months so he was saving the money to buy his soon-to-be bride a special gift. The way that he spoke of her melted my heart so I was more than happy to pay him to show me around.
The City Palace continues to be the home of the Jaipur Royal Family. In the tour, I was privy to see their dining room seating table and surrounding area. The attention to details and elaborate decor was definitely a sensory overload. There was beauty in every flutter of the eye.
I was super keen to see the Blue Room as well as the doors of the palace square. I didn’t extensively explore the property due to time constraints, focusing only on the main items I wanted to see, but I would recommend if you have time, spend a few hours exploring more of the palace grounds and various rooms. Of note, this location is perfect if you want to do a photo shoot. There were a few doing engagement shoots in the traditional wear (the saris were next level gorgeous!).
- Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal, also known as the “Palace of Winds”, was one of the places I had seen on Instagram. It is a little difficult to snag a photo of the entire palace as there is a main road directly in front of it , and the traffic and pedestrians make this a challenge. There is a local restaurant that you can go to the rooftop to get a good view, but I wasn’t super keen to do so.
This palace actually sits on the edge of the City Palace, so it isn’t a far distance if you wanted to check them both out back to back. Fun fact- the structure is made of red and pink sandstone.
- Amber Fort
The Amber Fort is a fort located in Amer in Rajasthan. While I have heard of it, it wasn’t on my list until my driver convinced me to add it on my list. It overlooks Maota Lake, giving the perfect backdrop for this UNESCO World Heritage site.
One has the option of climbing the stairs up the hill to the fort. I chose to enjoy the view from the bottom of the hill.
- Jal Mahal
Jal Mahal, meaning Water Palace, is located in the middle on the Man Sagar Lake. This was another recommendation by my driver. It is located near the Amber Fort so you could easily visit both these locations on the same day.
- Patrika Gate
Patrika Gate is a location I sought out thanks to Instagram. It is a series of gates at Jawahar’s Circle entrance. It is near the airport, so you can easily do a pit stop on route. This was my final stop in Jaipur before flying back to Delhi.
I arrived in Delhi late at night, and on the advice of friend, used one of the driver apps. It was significantly cheaper and safer. My brother was already in Delhi so I was able to share my live location with him. I checked in to Lodhi Hotel and immediately organized for a driver to take me to Agra the next day (pick up time of 4am, so I can get to Taj Mahal in time for sunrise).
Day 3 – Agra & Delhi
Taj Mahal , Agra
With a 4am pick up from Lodhi Hotel, I was able to make it to Taj Mahal just after 7am. I did not do much research for Taj Mahal in terms of entrance fee, distance walking to the actual entrance (about 1km from where cars are allowed), tour guides, hours of operation etc. I got really lucky coming here. I did not know that the Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays. Thankfully I went on a Saturday. Also they say you can’t enter without a tour guide. This is incorrect (I found out after) but my driver had a friend who was a guide there and I decided for time sake, as well as needing someone to take my photos, to take him up on the offer and hire him (it was not expensive- approx $20 CAD). It should also be noted that tripods are not allowed, so as a solo traveler in a place known for high theft rates, I would personally recommend getting a guide. Also he was able to bi-pass all the lines which was a mega bonus!
I knew the spots I wanted to snap photos and I was keen to get it just before the sunrise. I managed to get the photos I wanted just shortly after the sun came up, and before the crowds got crazy. By 7:30am, inside the Taj was PACKED! Donald Trump has visited a few days before so there was lots of cutout figures of him and locals were trying to sell memorabilia of this visit. I also got lucky in that VIP guests were visiting the Taj the same day I went so by 8:30am they were closing entrance and trying to clear out the property. Fortunately I saw what I wanted. Even if they weren’t closing, I likely would not have stayed to explore more as the crowds were insane and I was becoming a little overwhelmed.
My guide was incredible with taking photos and videos for me. He was able to help me bring my vision to life of what I wanted. The first shot was with the fountain view, and the second main shot I wanted was inside the mosque with the view of the Taj (and just as the sun was coming up).
The driver I hired was waiting for me and was able to return me back to Delhi by 1pm.
After I returned from Agra, I went to explore a bit of Delhi with a friend. We went “shopping” through the markets but as it was pouring rain, we decided to return to the hotel and enjoy our private pool, order room service, and hang out with my brother.
Lodhi Hotel exceeded my expectations for India. I did not select or know anything about this hotel prior to coming as I was invited to stay here, but I am definitely grateful that we got to enjoy some family bonding time in a beautiful suite. The outdoor private pool was a highlight.
Day 4– Delhi
We had a mid day flight out of Delhi, so we spent the morning enjoying breakfast at the hotel before heading out. You could book an evening flight out of Delhi, opting to spend the day to explore more of this city. For me, I was content that I saw all the “absolute must see” items I had for India given the time frame. Granted I had anticipated exploring more but given the circumstances, I am grateful I got to see what I did and I would recommend as such.
Thank you for reading my 4 day travel guide for the Golden Triangle, India.