India Travel Guide: Backpacking the Majestic Golden Triangle

INDIA

Calling India overwhelming is an understatement. Being home to 1/6 of the world’s population, and having a rich history, a vast geography, and a diverse culture, exploring the country can be both exhilarating and exhausting.

If part of your bucket list is to see the Taj Mahal, and to experience “India” – its food, transportation system, and then some – then the country’s Golden Triangle, consisting of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, is the best and easiest itinerary.

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Welcome to India – it’s unlike any place you’ve ever seen
HOW TO GET THERE (VISA REQUIRED)

Filipinos need to apply for an e-tourist visa prior to arriving in India. eTV is valid for 30 days and can only be used once. Application for eTV should be at least one week before your flight. The process is quick and simple. Here are the steps:

  1. Go to the eVisa website of the Indian government and select eVisa Application.
  2. Upload a scanned photo of your passport’s bio page (page that has your photograph, complete name and other details) in PDF. Make sure your passport is valid at least 6 months from your date of arrival.
  3. Upload your square photo with white-background. This is where it gets technical and may need multiple tries. It must be a JPEG file, from 10KB to 1MB only. There must be no shadow on the face or on the plain white background. Photo should also “present full face, front view, eyes open, and without glasses”.
  4. Pay visa fee online using your credit or debit card. Filipino passport holders will have to pay 50 USD. For other countries, you may check out the rates here. Note that the visa fee is non-refundable and is not dependent if your visa is approved or not.
  5. Receive eVisa via email. It may take up to 4 hours but you may also check the status in their website; just select the Visa Status tab.
  6. Print the eVisa and carry it at all times when going around India.
  7. When arriving in the airport, present the eVisa, together with your return ticket and copy of your hotel booking as the immigration officers sometimes ask for it.

We booked our Kuala Lumpur – Delhi – Kuala Lumpur flights via AirAsia (P12,500 round-trip) five months in advance. We then waited for Cebu Pacific seat sales for Manila – Kuala Lumpur – Manila flights. We scored ours for only P4,900 round-trip. Other options are Malaysian Airlines stopping over also in Kuala Lumpur or Thai Airways stopping over in Bangkok.

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India Gate, air pollution, and lots of people
WHEN TO GO TO INDIA

Best time to visit the Golden Triangle is from November to March. It starts to get warm in April but May-June gets really (as in R E A L L Y) hot with temperature exceeding 40 degrees celsius. Monsoon season starts in July and lasts until early October.

Jaipur can get really hot during summer
India can get really hot during May to June
WHERE TO GO IN INDIA

The Golden Triangle is the most popular itinerary for tourists. Visitors to the triangle-shaped circuit usually start in Delhi, the nation’s capital, because of the array of flights to and from Indira Gandhi International Airport.

Delhi (4 days)

Delhi’s charm is in its chaos. It has an overwhelming amount of life that a couple of days is not enough to get to know the huge, overpopulated city. Delhi is big in culture, history, and food; pretty much India summed up in a city. Each place of interest is unique and is worth a visit. Its transportation system is a mess but thanks to Uber, it’s easy and safe to go from one destination to another. It is also convenient to go to your next city (either Agra or Jaipur) because the backpacking district is situated beside the main Railway Station.

Places of interests: The Red Fort, Qutb Minar, Lotus Temple, Akshardham, Jama Masjid, India Gate, Humayun’s Tomb

Lotus Templte
Lotus Temple is an architectural wonder and a place of worship for ANY religion.

Agra (2-3 days)

Commonly visited solely for Taj Mahal, the city of Agra has more to offer than the iconic mausoleum complex. Coming from Delhi, you’ll immediately notice the stark difference in pace and amount of people. Agra has a much, much slower pace than Delhi. And sprawled around the city are tombs and mausoleums from the Mughal empire – best of which is Agra Fort, an elevated red-walled city with incredible architecture and breathtaking view of Taj Mahal and the holy Yamuna River.

Places of interests: Taj Mahal complex, Agra Fort, Mehtab Bagh, Yamuna River

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Sunset from Yamuna River, behind Taj Mahal

Jaipur (3 days)

Jaipur is the Golden Triangle’s most charming and colorful stop. It’s easy to fall in love with the city; just a trip to Amber and Nahargarh Fort, towering over the city, will give you one of the best sunsets you’ll ever see. Aside from forts, the grandeur of the opulent City Palace, Rajathan royal family’s residence, and other places of interest near the palace makes up for the city’s mayhem. Jaipur is also the best jump-off point if you want to expand your itinerary to the golden city of Jaisalmer and the blue city of Jodhpur.

Places of interests: Amber Fort, Nahargarh Fort, City Palace and Hawa Mahal, Jal Mahal, Jantar Mantar

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Pink City’s highlight is Hawa Mahal, where royal women used to observe street parades
WHERE TO STAY IN INDIA

If you’re into budget accommodations, then you only need to remember one hostel chain – Zostel. Zostel is India’s largest hostel chain, with accommodations in Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, and more than 20 other cities. Zostel offers private and dorm rooms, for solo, couple, or group travelers. There are other options in Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur that you can check out and compare prices through Booking.com and Agoda.

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Crowded streets of India
TIPS AND FAQS
  • How long should I stay in India to go around the Golden Triangle?

Stay in India for at least 7 days. The loop is best explored slowly and in your own pace. One thing to note about India – the beauty is in the details, literally. So take as much time as you can and don’t pack your itinerary with more than 2 places of interest in a day.

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Beauty is in the details
  • How much do I need to explore the Golden Triangle?

Good news: cost of living is extremely cheap in India. A decent meal only costs $2-6, and Uber rides to get from one destination to another is around $2-4. Zostel dorm bed costs $10/night, while private rooms can only reach $30/night, good for 2-3 people. Overall, we only spent P40,000 or roughly $800 for the whole trip, including airfare (around P17,500 round-trip).

  • How do I get from one city to another?

Surprisingly, train is the best and fastest option when going from one city to another. Don’t worry, it’s completely different from the videos of packed trains in India. First class trains, taken mostly by tourists, only costs $20-30 or P1,500 at most. Don’t bother getting lower class trains if you’re not used to long trips with no air-con or comfortable seating. It is very important to book train tickets weeks or even months in advance specially during peak season.

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Qutb Minar in Delhi
  • Is Delhi-belly real?

Yes! We haven’t met anyone who experienced it during our stay in India but locals repeatedly advise us not to eat food from street vendors (specially fruits), drink sealed bottled water, and only eat hot and freshly-cooked meals.

  • Is it safe to go to India alone, specially for women?

We can’t give a straight yes, but best to travel to India in groups, specially for women. While we met a lot of kind Indians, some can get unintentionally rude towards tourists.

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Take as much time as you can and spend an afternoon reading a book in this courtyard in Amber Fort
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