If you visit Agra on a Friday, you won’t be able to enter the Taj Mahal — and you’ll only be able to see the famous India structure from the back (above). // © 2015 Thinkstock
Some clients will only get to visit India once in their lifetimes. For most of these folks, the Golden Triangle will be a part of their journeys. Named for its triangular appearance on the map, the Golden Triangle features Delhi as the northern tip, Agra as the eastern tip and Jaipur as the western tip.
Together, these cities form a trifecta of truly “golden” sightseeing, covering centuries of religious thought and cultural history in the form of dazzling architecture, shopping and holy sites. Don’t ruin a trip by making one of these seriously unfortunate — and avoidable — mistakes.
Mistake No. 1: Visiting Agra Only on Friday
If your clients can only spend one day in Agra, make sure it’s not a Friday. This is the only day of the week when entrance to the Taj Mahal mausoleum is closed, which is probably the No. 1 sight your clients are eager to experience.
If Friday is unavoidable, be sure to let your clients know that they will not be able to enter ahead of time. Fortunately, it is still possible to see the Taj Mahal from the back of the structure across the Yamuna river. Known for its perfect symmetry, the Taj Mahal features an identical front and back face, though the front face is the entry point and more famous perspective, featuring a beautiful raised reflecting pool and charbagh quadrilateral garden..
Some silver linings: It’s rather uncrowded on Friday, there is no entrance fee and, if you visit in the afternoon, you can hear the call to prayer at the mosque adjacent to the Taj as local Muslims are the only ones who can visit on Friday.
Agra’s other must-see sites, such as the Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah (also known by some as the “Baby Taj”) and the Agra Fort are open and less crowded on Friday. The tomb is considered to be a draft for the Taj, and there are some great landscape views of the Taj Mahal from the Agra Fort.
Mistake No. 2: Going to Delhi Only on Monday
Even those on a tight schedule are unlikely to spend only one day in Delhi, but if that is the case, make sure it’s not a Monday when several major sights are closed to the public. These include all of Delhi’s museums, the Raj Ghat memorial to Mahatma Gandhi and the Red Fort.
Luckily, there are so many things to see in Delhi that a two-day itinerary — one that includes a Monday — is fine. For Monday, save the Qutb Complex; the India Gate; the presidential and governmental buildings; and Humayun’s Tomb. Also worth noting is that most of the shops in Old Delhi’s notoriously overwhelming Chandni Chowk market are closed on Sunday, which might actually make Sunday the better day for a visit to this area.
Mistake No. 3: Not Setting Expectations on Driving and Culture
Tourist routes in other countries often feature modern infrastructure that makes it very easy to navigate and enjoy the journey — at the expense of so-called authenticity and seeing how people “really live.” This is not the case for the Golden Triangle.
Even if you’re booking a private driver in a modern, air-conditioned vehicle for your clients —and you should — do warn clients about the realities of driving in India as well as how long drives may take.
On a map, the cities of the Golden Triangle look rather close, but traffic jams and unreliable roads mean drives can take up to five to seven hours in between the cities. Highways are a brief respite on these drives, which will undoubtedly feature a soundtrack of honking.
There will also be plenty of weaving through impossibly tight spaces; driving over extremely bumpy, unpaved roads; beggar children and mothers knocking at your car window; obvious staring from passersby within an inch from your car window; startling and perhaps shocking displays of poverty and more — all within about 30 seconds.
Make sure clients who have back problems or get motion sickness bring what they need to feel comfortable.
Mistake No. 4: Rushing the Journey
According to Pradeep Biswal, vice president of Indian tour operator Jatak Travels, budget at least six days for touring the Golden Triangle, with two nights at each location. Even in Agra, where there is less to explore than Delhi, two days will allow visitors to see the Taj Mahal both at sunset and sunrise for two different experiences.