Written by Michelle Lyn
Photos courtesy of Oberoi Hotels and Pete Santa Maria
If you’ve never been to India, imagine a sensorial overload. Vibrant colors, horns honking, animals in the streets, motorbikes whizzing past you on all sides, scents of street food in the air and the occasional elephant are all commonplace.
A country of more than one billion people, India certainly has its fair share of economic challenges, yet there’s an underlying beauty that resides within its soul. Visible through the sights, sounds, smells and people, India is worth the lengthy journey it takes to discover it. The country’s Golden Triangle is particularly popular with tourists as a circuit that connects the cities of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur in Northern India, namely because of the triangular shape these locations form on a map. Here, the best of each city.
DELHI With approximately 25 million residents, Delhi is one of the most populous cities in the world. Luxury hotels abound, and the Taj Palace is a great base when exploring Delhi for the first time. Set on six lush acres in the prestigious Diplomatic Enclave, this hotel is removed from the hustle and bustle of the city, allowing for the perfect respite after long days spent discovering Delhi. TajHotels.com
Book a walking tour of Old Delhi with Dhruv Gupta, the founder of Old Delhi Bazaar Walk and Haveli Visit. This affable travel industry vet has reliable guides, or friends, as he calls them, who take you off-the-beaten-path for street food in Chandni Chowk and other routes less traveled, ending up in his Haveli (home), a restored private mansion where you are served a traditional Indian meal. MasterjiKeeHaveli.com
A chic spot to find gifts is Fabindia, a 50-year-old lifestyle store that features products derived from traditional crafts sourced from villages across India. Though the majority of products are textile-based, they also include home furnishings, jewelry, clothing and an organic line of artisanal food items. FabIndia.com
After a busy day of exploring Delhi, treat yourself to dinner at what is touted as the best restaurant in India: Indian Accent. Chef Manish Mehrotra’s contemporary Indian menu combines fresh seasonal produce with unusual ingredients from around the world. Start with the Tandoori Bacon Prawns and take advantage of the bread service by sampling traditional Indian breads like roti, naan and paratha. IndianAccent.com
AGRA The road to Agra is a long, eye-opening one, but upon arrival, behold one of the seven wonders of the modern world—the Taj Mahal. Hire a private driver for the smooth, four-hour journey on the newly completed Yamuna Expressway that connects Delhi and Agra.
Check into the Oberoi Amarvilas hotel in Agra and head straight to the Lounge in preparation for your first look at the iconic marble mausoleum that is the Taj Mahal. Brightly lit from above by a crystal chandelier hanging from a gold domed ceiling, the Lounge is decorated with handpicked brass figurines that sit on ornate gold fretwork shelves, sparkling mirrors and wood washed in a vibrant turquoise. OberoiHotels.com
The property is also the perfect place to plan your visit to the Taj Mahal, as it is less than 2000 feet from the monument. Built as a memorial of Shah Jahan’s love for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, this majestic and breathtaking work of art is best seen in the early hours of dawn or at sunset. (The Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays.) Two other lesser-known but still noteworthy sights in Agra are Akbar’s Tomb, a stunning creation of red sandstone with a crown of white marble, and the Tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah, said to be Agra’s hidden gem, with stonework and inlay work similar to the Taj Mahal, also referenced as the “Baby Taj.” TajMahal.gov.in
After a day of sightseeing, indulge in a three-hour spa treatment back at the Oberoi, inspired by the Ayurvedic principles of health and well-being. Called the “Spirit of Ayurveda,” the experience combines a series of traditional Indian therapies that start with a massage, followed by a hot herbal pouch massage and a Shiirodhara therapy, in which a fine steady stream of warm oil flows onto the third eye to clear the mind and sooth the senses.
JAIPUR Four hours from Agra (five from Delhi, depending on your itinerary), Jaipur—also called the “Pink City of India” for the color of the stone used in the construction of every building within its historic center—is contained by three gates facing east, west and north.
Another five-star property, The Oberoi Rajvilas is a good home base to explore Jaipur’s many shops hawking traditional fabrics with block printing from vegetable dyes. OberoiHotels.com
Where to spend your rupees? Two shops certainly: Anokhi, a haven for high-quality hand block prints where you can pick up a traditional quilted bedspread and jewelry hand made by local artisans, and Hot Pink. A whitewashed bungalow located in the garden at Narain Niwas Palace, Hot Pink is where the best of Indian contemporary textile design and fashion come together. Housing work by designers like Abraham and Thakore as well as Manish Arora, this concept store is full of whimsy and color. Anokhi.com, HotPinkIndia.com
And finally, make your way to Rambagh Palace, where camels and elephants may very well greet you when arriving for dinner on the Verandah cafe. Sunset is swoon-worthy as you take in a folk show with dancers and peacocks sharing the stage on the Rambagh Lawns, and the Maharaja-appointed palm reader reads your future over dessert. TajHotels.com
Traversing the globe to experience India may take awhile, but the memories will certainly leave an indelible impression. Allow enough time in each city to fully immerse yourself in the culture, and when in doubt, ask the locals for recommendations on their favorite sites. But above all, enjoy the journey!