To tour the Golden Triangle is to observe colour, opulence, hardship, and get right to the core of the country's multifaceted history, writes Kate Ford.
Delhi is a giant mouth. It can chew you up and spit you out. It can swallow you whole. It has tooth decay. It has porcelain veneers and wears crimson lipstick.
It gulped us down for three days and we settled in for the ride.
In the first five minutes of leaving the airport we saw cows, monkeys, and pigs going about their day on the side of the road.
We saw poverty and it felt uncomfortable to be voyeurs in a place where many people face horrific struggles to make a living.
We travelled around India for nearly three weeks; a blink of time to visit such a vast and varied country.
Our first leg was the Golden Triangle — the popular tourist route taking in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.
Delhi's riches are in its history. Our rickshaw driver, Bunty, expertly wove us around the city as we crammed in as many sights as possible. The Laxminarayan and Lotus temples; Jama Masjid mosque; and the Sikh house of worship, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, are all beautiful attractions that represent India's diverse religions.
Gandhi Smriti, the site where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, is now a fascinating museum dedicated to the life story of one of the world's most influential people.
The crowning attraction, in our opinion, was the temple Swaminarayan Akshardham. This complex has beauty, grandiosity, and an all-encompassing feeling of peace. It is the largest temple complex in India, constructed by more than 8000 volunteers. Made of sandstone and marble, the building follows Hindu tradition and does not use steel or concrete, which creates a striking look.
After 72 hectic hours in Delhi, we made our way to Agra, about a three-and-a-half hour drive south.
It is home to 1 million people, who rely on the tourism industry to keep them afloat. Virtually all tourists who visit Agra come for the mother-of-all attractions, the Taj Mahal.
The Taj is incredible, but you already know that.
The mausoleum's appearance changes depending on the time of day. At sunrise there are soft red tones, in the middle of the day it is at its whitest and brightest, then in the evening the rays make the Taj look like another bright orange burning sun.
If you choose the middle-of-the day option, as we did, your eyeballs will not thank you if you leave your sunglasses behind. I'm speaking from experience. The sun glowers and reflects off the marble making it near impossible to marvel at the building
Jaipur is the corner that completes the Golden Triangle. It is 240km from Agra and it is accented in shades of pink.
Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan state, is India's first planned city. Founded in 1726 by Jai Singh II, the Raja of Amer, its aesthetics and layout greatly benefited from his keen interest in architecture.
The walled city is split into nine areas, which have entrances through seven gates. The pink tinge came later, in the 19th century, when Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh had the city painted in this colour of hospitality to welcome the Prince of Wales.
Jaipur is an attractive city. Hazy with dust kicked up from the streets, it is constantly bustling with street vendors selling sweets. Camels and elephants walk past your car window and children play cricket down side streets.
And like most things in India, the main attractions are ancient and awe-inspiring.
The City Palace is a hulking beauty. A blend of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture, this complex of courtyards, gardens, and buildings takes a good few hours to explore. The palace itself stands proud in shades of pink.
Inside there's an armoury, galleries, and possibly one of the world's most ornate courtyards: Pitam Niwas Chowk, where there are four beautiful gates (which are really doors) with coloured detailing representing the different seasons.
Just when you think you've seen enough palaces and forts to last a lifetime, along comes Amer Fort (sometimes referred to as Amber Fort).
A series of courtyards and palace rooms, its opulence in its glory days is easy to imagine. The details are still exquisite, with mosaics, ceilings with tiny mirror patterns, and carved marble panels. A wander through Amer Fort certainly makes for a memorable day.
Jaipur is not shy on imposing buildings and Hawa Mahal — which translates to Palace of Winds — is yet another palace to be captivated by.
It got its name because of its high facade built with honeycomb latticework, which enabled women in the royal family to watch street festivities from within the palace walls.
Built in Jaipur's red and pink sandstones, the five-storey Hawa Mahal is striking; its beauty reflective of the colour and history that surges through India's streets.
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