Golden Triangle

Some people speak of a calling to India, an overwhelming pull to the country to learn from its spiritual wisdom. I can’t say that I have ever experienced such a feeling, but I do remember the day I decided to visit India. I was walking home from work, feeling a little low and purposeless, when an email landed in my inbox with details of a yoga retreat in Goa. It was to be hosted over my birthday, by a yoga teacher I had long admired, but whose retreats I couldn’t ever quite afford. The email felt like a sign that I couldn’t ignore so before I had time to overthink it, I rushed home and paid the deposit, and the rest I would worry about later. So, it was around the yoga retreat in Goa that I started to build a bigger trip to India, not knowing back then how much I would fall for the captivating country.

A first trip to India often starts with the Golden Triangle, and as I was unsure where to begin in a country as vast as a continent, a well-trodden route that included the Taj Mahal seemed like a good idea. Much to my delight, one of my dearest friends decided to join which was a blessing, both in navigating the madness and making the adventure so much more fun. I wouldn’t have laughed half as much accidentally booking a third-class sleeper bed in the middle of the day without her.

There is no introduction to India quite like Delhi’s Old Town which is a complete assault of the senses from the offensive smells to the deafening honking, but we couldn’t help but laugh our way through the bursting backstreets. We found respite at Haveli Dharampura, a restored Haveli mansion with a beautiful courtyard and rooftop bar high enough to drown out the noises below. Encounters with suspicious street food aside, Delhi was a surprising delight where we managed to find jazz bars serving expertly crafted whisky sours, and tranquil oases amongst the chaos.

En route to Agra, our first Indian train journey was pleasantly civilised with daily newspapers handed out and tea served piping hot. Nothing quite prepares you for seeing the Taj Mahal for the first time: the all-marble ivory mausoleum far more majestic in person than any photo could ever convey.

In Jaipur time slipped through our fingers in a haze of vibrating tuk-tuks and busy bazaars. We were out on the dusty streets at the crack of dawn, but before we knew it the city turned golden again with the glow of sunset. Jaipur was our favourite city by far and we found ourselves mesmerised by its pink-hued architecture and craftmanship of hand block printed fabrics and beautiful gems. On our last night together before I set off for Goa, we caught a Bollywood film at the art deco Raj Mandir cinema. With dressed-up locals cheering and singing throughout the film, it was the most joyous and heartwarming experience and an epic end to our time together.

See below for our full address book of recommendations across the three cities that make up the Golden Triangle.


Haveli Dharampura – An old Haveli mansion restored into a hotel and restaurant, with a beautiful courtyard and rooftop bar.

The Piano Man Jazz Club – A jumping little speakeasy hosting live jazz bands and serving excellent whiskey sours. The kind of place you don’t expect to find in Delhi, but that brings a touch of old school glamour to the city.

Sunder Nursery – A peaceful haven amongst the chaos of the city. Be sure to visit the magnificent Humayun’s Tomb just next door, and the neighbouring Lodhi Gardens.

Hussaini Hotel – Don’t be fooled by the name. Far from the comforts of any hotel, this hole in the wall is as local as it gets. If you’re nervous about getting Delhi Belly (as we were), then this is your entry to the way locals eat, but not quite as overwhelming as street food. Don’t expect to see cutlery or any other tourists…

The Potbelly Rooftop Café – A sweet little plant-strewn rooftop restaurant serving traditional Indian fare. The spicy biryanis are served the traditional way in clay pots and are perfect for sharing.


Taj Nature Walk – For beautiful views over the Taj Mahal with none of the crowds, meander through the verdant and shady Taj Nature Walk which provides welcome relief from the relentless sun.

The Oberoi – If you’re spent from the early morning start and crowds at the Taj Mahal, take yourself to The Oberoi for a fancy breakfast. The Oberoi is a serene oasis with wonderfully attentive staff and a calming courtyard overlooking the Taj Mahal where you can enjoy possibly one of the most memorable breakfasts of your life.

Mehtab Bagh – Since visiting India, I have learnt of the Mehtab Bagh gardens which are on the other side of the river and I’m told offer views over the Taj Mahal with none of the crowds. Another peaceful way to see the Taj Mahal is by boat, but you may need to befriend a local fisherman.


City Palace – Don’t let the steep entry fee put you off. The City Palace is nothing short of spellbinding. The courtyard with its four beautiful gates, each symbolising one of the four seasons, serves only as an introduction to the opulent rooms which await upstairs. You won’t regret paying extra to see every corner of the City Palace complex.

The Johri Jaipur – Possibly my favourite dining and general hangout in Jaipur. Choosing between the myriad curries is a challenge, among them Old Delhi butter paneer and fragrant palak aloo with black cardamom. Enjoy an expertly crafted cocktail in the courtyard before heading through to the restaurant for supper. I dream of returning one day and staying in the hotel.

White Sage and Elementary – If you’ve had your fill of curry and you’re craving some simple poached eggs for brunch, look no further than White Sage. Although calling the eggs simple would be doing them an injustice, here you’ll find the Western brunch favourites such as avocado on toast and green eggs baked with feta.

Sambhar Fini Wala – Nestled amongst the backstreets of Jaipur’s bazaar, this hole in the wall dessert shop is famous for its fried, flaky rice-flour desserts served with hot milk or a classic sugar syrup called chaashni. Locals dip the whole dessert in sizzling chaashni, top with chopped pistachios, almonds and saffron, and serve it hot.

The Tattoo Cafe & Lounge – Come early to secure a spot at this restaurant terrace for sunset views of the famous Hawa Mahal carved from pastel sandstone and made up of hundreds of tiny windows. The food and service are lacking, but the magical surroundings more than make up for it.

Raj Mandir Cinema – For an authentic evening to remember I cannot recommend the art deco Raj Mandir cinema enough. It’s quite the show with dressed-up locals cheering and singing throughout the Bollywood movie, and nothing short of joyous!

RAAS Raj Mahal Palace – I’ll let you into Jaipur’s best kept secret. A pink-hued palace so beautiful it was built for a queen has been converted into a luxury hotel, but you don’t need to afford a night’s stay to experience a piece of its magic. Non-guests can dine in its restaurant from breakfast to dinner and still get treated like royalty. In the heart of Jaipur’s madness lies this oasis where you can breakfast in lush gardens with green parakeets flying overhead, or in its conservatory recently renovated with hand printed wallpapers exclusively designed by the Good Earth. Pop into the beautiful boutique after a slow morning feasting on everything from fresh fruits to perfectly poached eggs to Indian breakfast classics, so serene you won’t want to leave. Maybe it wasn’t such a cheap idea after all…


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