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12 Days in India – The Golden Triangle and Varanasi

Trip Highlights: New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Varanasi

In my 12 days in India, I explored a land of contrasts and wonders. From Delhi’s historic streets to Varanasi’s sacred ghats, every day was a new adventure. The journey was a vibrant mix of culture, history, and spirituality. I navigated through bustling cities, marveled at ancient monuments, and soaked in the serene rituals by the Ganges. This trip was not just a travel experience; it was a deep dive into the heart of India’s rich and diverse life.

How to Get Around India

Traveling in India is an adventure. Taking the train from Delhi to Agra and Jaipur is both convenient and affordable, though expect some delays. Be patient, really. 😂 I’d recommend booking your train tickets ahead because it sells quickly. However, I recommend flying for the Jaipur to Varanasi stretch. Within cities, tuk-tuks and rideshare apps like Ola or Uber are great for short trips, offering a quick, cheap, and easy way to hop between sites.

Join a Tour in India

If the intense heat of Indian cities isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of city tours to choose from. I often go for tours through Get Your Guide, as they offer easy 24-hour cancellation. Sometimes, I prefer avoiding the hassle of haggling with taxi drivers or navigating public transport, so these tours are a great alternative.

The Golden Triangle, featuring New Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, can be a compact 5-7 day adventure with a group tour. If you’re considering trains, remember that delays are common and can disrupt a tight schedule. It’s best to review available tours to see if they align with your budget and travel style. Choose one that fits your pace and preferences for a hassle-free experience of India’s iconic Golden Triangle. And if you have time, add Varanasi to the Golden Triangle itinerary.

12 Days in India: Golden Triangle and Varanasi delhi, jama masjid, tower-4867634.jpg
12 Days in India: Golden Triangle and Varanasi (Jama Masjid in New Delhi)

Upon arrival, start by exploring nearby areas. India offers a feast for the senses, especially for first-timers. So, take it easy on your first day. Chat with the hotel receptionist for local recommendations about where you stay in New Delhi. Remember, there’s no rush. Enjoy your time and immerse yourself in the vibrant culture at your own pace.

Day 2: Exploring Old and New Delhi

  • Morning (8:00 AM): Start your day at Jama Masjid, one of India’s largest mosques. Witness its grandeur and enjoy the peaceful ambiance.
  • Late Morning (10:30 AM): Head to the iconic Red Fort. It’s a short ride from Jama Masjid. Explore this historic fort’s majestic architecture.
  • Afternoon (1:00 PM): Visit nearby Purana Qila. This ancient fort offers a glimpse into Delhi’s rich history.
  • Evening (4:00 PM): Relax at Lodi Garden. It’s perfect for an evening stroll among greenery and historical tombs.
  • Dinner (7:00 PM): End your day with a delightful meal at Pandara Market, known for its various Indian cuisines.

Day 3: South Delhi’s Heritage

  • Morning (8:00 AM): Begin at Qutb Minar Complex. Marvel at this towering minaret and the surrounding ancient ruins.
  • Late Morning (10:30 AM): Next, visit Mehrauli Archaeological Park. It’s a short drive from Qutb Minar. Discover the hidden gems and historical ruins here.
  • Afternoon (1:00 PM): Explore the artistic neighborhood of Hauz Khas. Enjoy its unique blend of modern cafes and historical sites.
  • Evening (4:00 PM): Visit the serene Hazrat Nizam-ud-din Dargah. It’s a peaceful place for reflection.
  • Dinner (7:00 PM): Experience the vibrant atmosphere and culinary delights of Khan Market for dinner.

Day 4: North Delhi and Spiritual Sites

  • Morning (8:00 AM): Start with a visit to Humayun’s Tomb. Admire its beautiful Mughal architecture.
  • Late Morning (10:30 AM): Head to the impressive Akshardham Temple. It’s a bit of a ride but worth the journey for its stunning architecture and gardens.
  • Afternoon (1:00 PM): After lunch, visit Gurdwara Bangla Sahib. This Sikh temple is known for its golden dome and holy pond.
  • Evening (4:00 PM): End your sightseeing at Tughlaqabad Fort. It’s a unique historical site that’s often less crowded.
  • Dinner (7:00 PM): Return to the city center for dinner. Choose from the numerous dining options available.

Where to stay in New Delhi

In New Delhi, accommodation options cater to all budgets. For backpackers, The Hosteller Delhi is a budget-friendly and lively choice. Mid-range travelers can enjoy the comfortable and reasonably priced The Park New Delhi. Those seeking luxury should head to The Leela Palace, offering exquisite services and facilities. Each of these places is well-reviewed and conveniently located, ensuring a pleasant stay in the city.

12 days in India taj mahal, india,
12 Days in India: Golden Triangle and Varanasi

I took a train from New Delhi to Agra in the early morning, expecting delays. Surprisingly, the journey was smooth and comfortable, lasting about two hours. I arrived in Agra around noon, which was perfect for hotel check-in. In the afternoon, at 1 PM, I hired a private tuk-tuk for Fatehpur Sikri, 40 km from Agra. The ride was a good experience, and Fatehpur Sikri’s grand Mughal architecture left me in awe. Ask your hotel reception if they can recommend a tuk-tuk or a taxi to bring you to Fatehpur Sikri and back. 

Day 6: Discovering the Heart of Agra

  • Early Morning (5:30 AM): Visit the Taj Mahal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for a breathtaking sunrise view. Experiencing this iconic monument in the early light is unforgettable. YOU NEED to buy your ticket in advance if you want to skip the long line even at 4:30 AM!
  • Late Morning (10:00 AM): Explore Agra Fort. It’s a short drive from the Taj Mahal. This historical fortress offers stunning views and a deep dive into Mughal history.
  • Afternoon (1:00 PM): Head to Itimad-ud Daulah, often called the ‘Baby Taj.’ It’s a less crowded yet equally mesmerizing site.
  • Evening (4:00 PM): Relax at Mehtab Bagh. These gardens offer a unique, quieter perspective of the Taj Mahal across the Yamuna River.

Day 7: Akbar’s Mausoleum and to Jaipur

  • Morning (8:00 AM): Start the day with a visit to Akbar’s Mausoleum. This architectural marvel blends Hindu and Muslim designs, a testament to Akbar’s inclusive reign.
  • Train to Jaipur: The train ride from Agra to Jaipur usually takes about 4 to 5 hours. However, this time, there was a 2-hour delay!

Where to stay in Agra

In Agra, you have great stay options for every budget. For backpackers, the Joey’s Hostel Agra is a popular, budget-friendly hostel. The Royal Sarovar Portico Agra offers a comfortable, mid-priced option near the Taj Mahal. For luxury, the ITC Mughal stands out with its royal ambiance and exceptional service.

12 Days in India: Golden Triangle and Varanasi (Hawa Mahal in Jaipur)
12 Days in India: Golden Triangle and Varanasi (Hawa Mahal in Jaipur)
  • Morning (8:00 AM): Begin the day with a visit to Amber Fort. This majestic fortress sits on a hilltop, offering panoramic city views. It’s a bit of a drive but worth it for its stunning architecture and rich history. I hired a local tuk-tuk with the help of the hostel receptionist. 
  • Late Morning (11:00 AM): Head back to the city to explore City Palace. This palace complex is a fusion of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture, showcasing royal artifacts and intricate designs.
  • Afternoon (1:00 PM): A short walk from City Palace takes you to Jantar Mantar. This astronomical observatory is fascinating for its giant sundials and unique architectural instruments.
  • Evening (4:00 PM): Conclude the day at Hawa Mahal. Known as the ‘Palace of Winds,’ its iconic honeycombed facade is a sight, especially during sunset.
  • Dinner (7:00 PM): For dinner, try Peacock Rooftop Restaurant. Known for its great ambiance, affordable prices, and delicious food, it’s a perfect way to end your day in Jaipur.

It is possible to see all of the destinations I mentioned above (and more) by hiring a private tuk-tuk driver. He will guide wait for you. You can also stop wherever you want, and he knows the good places to see/visit. And oh, it’s cheap, too! This tour will save you so much time and hassle!

Where to stay in Jaipur

In Jaipur, I found great places for every budget. Backpackers will love the vibrant and affordable Zostel Jaipur. For a cozy yet reasonably priced stay, Hotel Pearl Palace is perfect. Luxury seekers can indulge in the royal experience at Rambagh Palace. Each of these options is well-reviewed and offers a convenient location for exploring Jaipur’s wonders.

12 Days in India: Golden Triangle and Varanasi (Ganga Aarti in Varanasi).
12 Days in India: Golden Triangle and Varanasi (Ganga Aarti in Varanasi).

I chose the train from Jaipur to Varanasi, and, oh boy, it was an adventure! The ride was supposed to take 12 to 15 hours. I was all set for that. But guess what? I ended up arriving 29 hours later! Talk about the unexpected! Next time, I’m definitely flying. So, learn from my experience! 😂

Day 10: Spiritual Awakening along the Ganges in Varanasi

Early morning, I walked by the Ganges River, the heart of Varanasi. The air was filled with the sounds of temple bells and chants. Locals gathered at the ghats, performing their morning rituals. Some bathed in the holy river, others washed clothes. Along the river, temples like the Kashi Vishwanath stood tall, a blend of spirituality and architecture. The most profound experience was sitting by Manikarnika Ghat, witnessing the sacred burning of the dead. It was a solemn reminder of life’s cycle. Dogs roamed nearby, a stark contrast to the solemnity of the rituals.

In the afternoon, I visited the colorful Banaras Silk Emporium, a paradise for silk lovers. To cap off the day, I dined at the local favorite, Dolphin Restaurant. It offered a perfect blend of delicious, affordable food and a cozy atmosphere, a great way to reflect on the day’s profound experiences.

Day 11: A Spiritual Journey in Varanasi – From River to Sarnath

Early morning, I returned to the Ganges; this time, I hired a boat for a different view. The calm waters mirrored the morning skies. As we glided, the boatman pointed out a floating sack — a sobering sight of a body, signifying those unable to afford cremation. It was a stark reminder of life’s disparities.

At 9 AM, I took an Ola (like an Uber) to Sarnath, where Buddha first taught the Dharma. I explored the ancient ruins, visited the Dhamek Stupa, and felt the serenity of Deer Park.

In the evening, I experienced the Ganga Aarti ceremony at Dasaswamedh Ghat. The air filled with chants, bells, and fire glow as priests performed the ritual. It was a mesmerizing blend of devotion and tradition, leaving a lasting impression of spiritual India.

Where to stay in Varanasi

In Varanasi, you have great stay options for every budget. Backpackers can enjoy the vibrant and affordable Live Free Hostel Varanasi. For a balance of comfort and cost, the Hotel Shivam Varanasi is a fantastic medium-priced choice. Those seeking luxury should consider the BrijRama Palace, a heritage hotel offering exceptional services.

12 Days in India: Golden Triangle and Varanasi (Ganga Aarti in Varanasi).
12 Days in India: Golden Triangle and Varanasi

Day 12: Fly back to New Delhi

Today, I flew back to New Delhi. By now, I was no stranger to delays. True to form, my flight wasn’t on time either, delayed by two hours. Despite the wait, I took it in stride, reflecting on my incredible journey as I prepared for my next adventure.

In my 12 days in India, I navigated from the historic alleys of Delhi to the spiritual ghats of Varanasi. Each city had its rhythm, challenges, and charms. Delays were part of the journey, but they never dampened the spirit of exploration. This trip wasn’t just about ticking off sites; it was about diving into the diverse tapestry of India’s culture. Now, with a backpack full of experiences, I’m ready to see what else lies on the road ahead. Truly, 12 days in India have left an indelible mark on my heart, inspiring me to explore even more of this beautiful land. And yes, I’ll be back in the future!

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