A Road Trip from Delhi to Kolkata

It was a hot and humid July night, reeling under terrible power cuts in my Gurgaon apartment, the idea of making a road trip from Gurgaon to Kolkata crossed my mind…called up Sid immediately. You don’t plan for such an ambitious and adventurous road trip every day and it had to be shared and cultivated in the friend circle. Sid was skeptical, he wanted to reach home in just couple of hours. Mostly, it was a strange look followed by a ‘Why ?’ which I somehow championed myself to endure during the cultivation period.

In an August morning of 1888, Mrs. Bertha Benz driven a distance of 106 Kms with her teenage children to visit her mother. With a maximum speed of 10 mph, it took hours for them to reach the destination and the car broke down several times during the journey. Today that road trip is recorded as the first road trip ever made by the first patented motor car ‘The Benz-Patent Motorwagen’. The car was never meant for that long trip but generated a huge publicity pioneering the journey of the automobile industry. 124 years later sitting in a Volkswagen Polo 1.6, I was driven by none other than curiosity to be a part of the road saga where it tells you stories about the ‘river of life’ and the settlements alongside when a road ends to meet another. For next couple of days I dug deep into the travelogues and road trip forums, spent a couple of sleepless nights in impatience. I recall, that was the only time I studied the map seriously as by then I realized, to make a road trip from Delhi to Kolkata through the great Grand Trunk road you need to spend more time with history than geography !

The Great Grand Trunk Road, Chittagong to Kabul



16th Oct ’12 was a very busy day in office. Wanted to leave early but had an invitation and came back around midnight. Just a couple of hours of sleep and we were ready to hit the road. I struck a deal with Aakash to share the driving, he had to go for Durga Puja vacation as well. The main hurdle of the Delhi – Kolkata road trip is in Distance. Driving down 1500 Kms is a big deal, you shouldn’t plan to cover it in one day and a stop over is recommended. Benaras turned out to be a reasonable and finally the only choice. After a couple hours of discussion and debate we decided on a Hotel Siddharth near the cantt. area for the night halt.

We started from Gurgaon at 4:30 am. The traditional route from Gurgaon takes NH2 or the modern Grand Trunk Road through
Sohna and Palwal heading straight towards Agra City. But I wanted to try the famous Yamuna Expressway to avoid the congested Mathura stretch and of course to bypass Agra. But taking Yamuna Expressway from Gurgaon can be a task even in the early morning hours due to the early morning Okhla Mandi rush by the truckers. A 70 Kms drive through Gurgaon – Faridabad – Tughlaqabad – Noida finally met Yamuna Expressway and the morning sun popped up like a tennis ball over the distant fields.

The 6 lane Yamuna Expressway is a treat for the driving enthusiasts. You can easily pick up 180 Kmph in no time and for a few stretch I was actually driving constantly at 180 Kmph. There were a few cameras installed but in that early morning hours, I guess the cops were taking it easy. Taxing Rs. 320 to cover a 185 Kms stretch is actually highest compared to any other toll roads in India and I hope they keep up the excellent maintenance of it to do justice to the tax. Yamuna Expressway hands down is one of the finest State of the Art Expressway India has ever seen so far. But what I found disturbing is a couple of vehicles coming from the wrong side. There are almost no diversions in the entire stretch and I guess for those guys it was just another day in UP showcasing best practices !

The Toll road bypasses Agra city and meets NH2 somewhere in the suburbs. Soon after crossing Firozabad we stopped at a roadside restaurant to grab a quick breakfast and started heading towards Kanpur. For a fun ride to Kolkata it’s suggested that you get a driving partner and a good Car Audio system. The pact between me and Aakash was to swap place behind the wheels after every 250 Kms. Mark Knopfler was strumming ‘Sultan Of Swings’ from the iPod and the Polo was on Rock n’ Roll !

Kanpur challenged us with a nasty traffic on the highway. It seemed some big truck got stuck and there are no chances of getting it up and running in recent times. The fellow truck drivers who were also stuck ahead of us looked relaxed and completely poised in playing cards sitting on roads under the shadow of their mighty trucks ! A few hours late for us meant negotiating nasty traffic in the crowded Benaras streets where taking a car out is a big deal. Suddenly we realized a few private vehicles are actually returning from the one way stretch we were on and after taking a U- turn they are trying their luck on the wrong lane. Inspired and cautious, we tried our luck and for the first time acted like ‘romans when in rome’ ! Naturally we were stuck again as both sides of the highway are now chocked with the vehicles trying to escape Kanpur at any cost. When chaos starts automatically to fill the void various alternatives float. Someone had a brilliant idea of taking the parallel service lane through an accidental gap only couple of feet wide on the divider. Someone said to me once, no idea is great until it’s executed well. Suddenly there was a nasty sound of scratch followed by shouts and arguments. A poor Merc which was not ever meant to be suffered in such conditions was the first victim. People gathered around immediately and the chaos intensified further. Meanwhile the martyrdom of the Merc ended up in helping us. A few Police men arrived from nowhere and like a magic and somehow like a slow python the traffic started moving. A few minutes later I realized they are diverting the traffic through the Kanpur city and through the blinding Dust, Dirt and Animal Shits we navigated our ship to the shore. It took an hour to cover a couple of Kilometers stretch on the expressway in Kanpur.

Apart from the Kanpur mayhem the entire stretch of NH -2 is in good condition actually. All the major cities are bypassed and ideally there should not be any traffic jam unless a couple of great 16 wheelers get stuck in the middle of the road. Post Kanpur we were cruising ahead and crossed Fatehpur in no time. We thought we would take a break and refuel near Allahabad. While that sounded reasonable because Allahabad is the last major city en route Banaras. We realized our mistake pretty soon. A 90 Kms stretch of the swanky Allahabad bypass doesn’t have any eateries and worse, does not have any Petrol Pumps either. To add to our miseries, we had to switch off our Car Ac at last to save a few last drops of petrol. Our anxiety finally ended at a fueling station after crossing Allahabad and we suddenly felt hungry like monsters.

Swanky Allahabad bypass

Picture Credit – Anjana Saha

Dhabas are the best part other than driving through the highways in North India. However, the entire stretch of NH -2 really lacks good dhabas and most of them are crowded by the truck drivers. So, if you are expecting Haveli like chains in Punjab, you would be disappointed. Not that I am complaining about the food qualities, which is almost at par or at times better than the ‘Haveli’s but in terms of facilities you mostly need to depend on the nature care ! We stopped a few Kilometers after the Allahabad bypass. The food was quite good compared to the look of the dhaba from outside. There were a few charpais which you can use for a quick siesta after a tiring drive !

Meanwhile our engine got some rest as well and we started again for Banaras. We had decided to enter Banaras through the state highway near Banaras Hindu University. This road is not taken by many as the Benaras station road was the most preferred one. We just wanted to avoid a crowded station road in the pick office closing hours. But we realized our mistake pretty soon, after entering a couple of kilometers in Banaras, the state road basically dissolves into the earth. The crowd mostly on Ricksaw, Bike or Cycle don’t really expect a car to be accompanying them; they give you a strange look and you feel like an idiot. You need to be patient in negotiating traffic in Benaras, always obey the basic rule of thumb while driving there, “you don’t make a move unless permitted by the pedestrians, bicycle riders, bikers, rickshaw pullers and traffic police” and we were hell tired after negotiating and ‘obeying traffic rules’ for an hour. We had a booking in a Hotel Siddharth in the Sigra area of Benaras but couldn’t reach there and settled in a shabby looking hotel Ashok in the same area. Later we realized we stopped just a couple of blocks away from our booked hotel and I murmured, ‘patience is virtue’ !

We reached Banaras at around 5 pm and didn’t have much time for the Aarti in the Dasashwamedh Ghat. I dropped that idea and moved on to the plan – B, which is, just roaming around the streets. Banaras is one of the oldest settlements in the world and it predates even the birth of Christ. This very city has seen the birth of Hinduism and almost every corner house of the dingy streets are full of history. While one should not miss the famous aarti on the ghats but you can just roam around the city to get a pulse of it. The name Banaras or Varanasi originates from the two ancient rivers used to flow there by the name of Varuna and Assi. While I don’t know what happened to the Varuna river, Assi has turned out to be a narrow canal and there is a ghat named Assi ghat there. This ghat remains relatively empty in the night and there are few restaurants I could spot selling burgers and pastas to attract foreigners. Benaras is one of the rare cities in India were Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, Christianity cohabit for ages.

Crowded Banaras streets

Picture Credit – Anjana Saha

Before Varanasi, Banaras used to be known as the Kingdom of Kashi and as per the mythological beliefs Lord Shiva was born in this city itself. The royal family of Banaras are believed to be the descendants of Lord Shiva and still today it is the highest revered family in the town. While Banaras is famous for its Muslin Slilk fabrics, Perfumes, Ivory works and sculptures; this is also the place where one of the prominent sects of Indian Classical music originated, evolved and nurtured. I moved on to the crowded streets looking for history and gastronomical delights. A city is also known by its signature foods, and Banaras is famous for its Rabri, Lassi and Paan. At every street corner there would be a rabri shop and I couldn’t hold myself from trying it. Once asked, the shopkeeper would cut a neat slice of rabri from the pan with utmost care and sophistication before handing it over for you to experience a slice of ambrosia in the city of Gods.

We started at 5am in the next morning from Banaras. It was another 670 Kms to reach Kolkata, all set, I fastened my seatbelt and switched on the iPod. In no time we crossed Mughal Sarai and then UP-Bihar border. The road condition remained very good even in Bihar and we stopped for breakfast a few kilometers before crossing the mighty Son river. The bridge over Son connecting Dehri-on-Son and Sonnagar is the 2nd longest bridge in India covering a distance over 3 Kms. This 112 years old bridge witnessed many nasty floods even in recent times. The river from the bridge looked like a vast empty field full of Sand and occasional vegetations. The river though is nothing but a narrow stream now, which in no angle can be imagined to its true potential in the rains.

We kept on non stop driving for a few hundreds of kilometers, crossed Gaya and entered Jharkhand. The beautiful road runs through the breathtaking Chotanagpur plateau. With hardly any vehicles around and miles after miles of lush green forest over the hills, it can make you sleepy and we were taking power naps in between the drive. You can spot Parasnath Hill on your left near near Dumri. Parasnath hilltop is the highest peak in Chotanagpur plataeu and hosts the most important Jain shrine over there. You can even spot the temple too looking a little carefully. Recently I came to know, Jharkhand State tourism department is planning to develop the hills of Parasnath as prime locations for Paragliding and Parasailing as the natural contour makes them best sites in the country for such adventure sports.

River Damodar separates Jharkhand from West Bengal and is connected by a narrow bridge. After Kanpur this is the first time we faced a traffic jam. But the good part was it was moving. Finally, the river crossed and the Road sign read, “Welcome to West Bengal” ! Nah, still a couple of hundreds of Kilometers left before reaching Kolkata. We didn’t celebrate yet and kept on driving straight. The road condition was not so good entering a few kilometers into West Bengal but all the industrial towns like Asansol, Durgapur, Kulti had good roads with moderate traffic. Reaching West Bengal you will be facing traffic signals for the first time after leaving Delhi and it was good to see that every traffic signal was manned by the traffic police.

We stopped at Hindusthan Dhaba for lunch in Bardhaman and still a good 160 Kms away from Kolkata. Burdhaman is famous for its sweets and there are numerous sweet shop on the highway near Shaktigarh. If you have a sweet tooth, you should not be missing Langcha in Shaktigarh. All the shops are named after Langcha like Langcha Bhavan, Langcha Kuteer, Langcha Nivas etc etc. And of course I purchased a bag load of sweets for home.

Langcha, the heavenly sweets from Shaktigarh

Picture Credit – Anjana Saha

The road from Bardhaman to Kolkata is one of the finest expressways in India. While we were expecting another 2-3 hours of drive, to our surprise, we reached the Jessore road near Airport in just an hour. Hitting City roads, I could not help but mesmerized by taking the very ancient trade route existing for thousands of years connecting eastern part of the subcontinent to the west.

Before it became ‘The Grand Trunk’ Road, as the name given by the British Rulers, it was referred as ‘Uttarapatha’ (Northern High Road) by the then traders in 3rd Century BC during the Maurya rule in Northern India. ‘Uttarapatha’ used to have tremendous influence on the overland world trade due to increasing maritime contacts with the Tamluk seaport of West Bengal on the eastern coast of India during the Maurya rule. The road crossing Gangetic plain, ran through Punjab further to Hindukush in Afganisthan to Bactria in Central Asia to meet the famous Silk Route. The same route, due to its connectivity brought the invaders into India and introduced Islam in the subcontinent. In 16th Century AD Sher Shah Suri, his descendants and later Mughals built and rebuilt the road under the name of ‘Sadak-e-Azam’ (great road) connecting the Port City of Chittagong in Bangladesh to Kabul in Afganisthan. Today the Grand Trunk Road covers 2,500 Kms over four countries Afganisthan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. I was feeling proud of covering a humble 1,500 Kms stretch of ‘Uttarapatha’ accompanied by a fleet of modern day traders on the giant wheelers. Interestingly, NH – 2 is also part of the Great Asian Highway – 1 which is the longest route of the asian highway network covering 20,557 Kms. The mammoth stretch covers Istanbul to Tokyo while a drive from Delhi to Kolkata looks like a tiny patch onto it. In the entire stretch you can identify Green AH – 1 signboards certifying the same.

It takes around 21 to 23 hours of driving to commute between Delhi to Kolkata. While returning I took an audacious attempt of covering it in a day driving solo. A stretch of close to 500 kilometers from Allahabad to Agra in the Afternoon to Evening to Night seemed to be never-ending. At the end, on the empty Yamuna Expressway around midnight, I started hallucinating giant shadows crossing the great road over the dividers. Short tea breaks, quick body stretch to shake off the fatigue doesn’t work after covering a thousand of kilometers at one go. While it’s strictly non-advisable to drive down this distance without a night halt, the experience which remained as a precipitation was priceless and for once in a lifetime. Between waking up in the morning in Kolkata to going to bed in Gurgaon, there laid a vast route of “Uttarapatha” and it’s lost caravans, a few of them probably appeared in my hallucination near the end of the epic trip.

Routemap :
http://goo.gl/maps/JLrPw

29 Comments

  • Mukesh Bhalse says:

    Amitava,
    Let me grab the opportunity to coment first on your first post on Ghumakkar.com. A warm welcome to ghumakkar.com. It was really a nice road review, you narrated it in a very impressive manner. Pic’s are too good. The sweet langcha? I have never heard about it but in picture its looking very tasty and mouth watering. Its looking like Gulab Jaamun.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Biswajit Ganguly says:

    Dear Amitava, what a thrilling experience to share!!! A complete travelogue in all respect, the history geography and mythological explanation were just brilliant and fascinating. many of us are going to be enlightened and feel proud to know the original SONE KI CHIDIYA that was India with such wonderful informations on the ancient, mediaval and modern Indian Silk Route. The way you have narrated the entire journey tells us another hardcore professional writer has joined us in Ghumakkar family. I am sure all of us are going to see many facets of Mr.Amitava , a banker, an avid traveller, prolific writer adventurist and man with infinite energies. thanks for taking us to road to Kolkata…… Ganguly

  • Amitava Chatterjee says:

    First of all a warm welcome here.

    What a coincidence…in the past two days, there is almost two similar stories on the same route.
    So, how was the Puja – hope you had a nice time at home, as you did enjoy driving the stretch.
    What shall I say about the post – thoroughly enjoyed.

  • parveen says:

    awesome. very informative.

  • Amitava Dutta says:

    Mukhesh, Biswajit, Amitava, Antonio, Praveen….Thanks a lot for liking my travelogue !! Your comments are encouraging….

  • D.L.Narayan says:

    Welcome aboard, Amitava. By an amazing coincidence, we have had another Bengali ghumakkar from Gurgaon bearing the same name, driving from Gurgaon to Kolkata and his blog was published just a couple of days earlier.

    You have made a spectacular debut here. In fact, this is probably the first review of the Yamuna Expressway on ghumakkar.It is nice to see a perfect blend of history, road review, food review and travel tips in your post. If you had also posted some more pictures, it would have made a great travelogue even better.

  • Amitava Dutta says:

    Dear Mr. Narayan, Thanks for the comments. Yah more photographs would have been better !

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Welcome aboard Amitava.

    Now we have two Amitava so I guess we need to find a way to address both of you differently. Please offer a choice here.

    The review is brilliant. The ‘first road trip’ is a new info to me so many many thanks. As Mr. Ganguly says that a hardcore writer has joined Ghumakkar. I echo his words. Guess 180 is a bit high for any car in India (on any road) so would request restraint. You are right on not doing this in a single day. I have been contemplating a Delhi-Patna single day and everytime I kill the idea because of those Ghost images.

    There is a book called “Days and Nights on Grand Trunk Road” where the Author travels from Kolkata to Kabul. I read it few years back and would recommend it.
    http://www.amazon.com/Days-Nights-Grand-Trunk-Road/dp/156924670X

    Hope to see more from you soon. Wishes.

  • Kamakhya says:

    @ Nandan,
    I went through your post on road trip to patna in 2008. I am contemplating a road trip to Patna (stopover in Benaras) with wife and infant (10 months). The car is Santro Xing. Please tell me from where to get proper road instructions…..thanx…

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Hi,

      Nice to know that you are planning a trip to Patna.

      Invite you to go through the following link – the series may give you a fair idea about the road, toll tax etc.; We covered Delhi to Kolkata in May – June, this year. After ~ 950 kms from Delhi, you will need to take a left (clearly visible) towards patna and I think from there it will be ~ 2 Hours journey to reach Patna.

      http://www.ghumakkar.com/2012/07/07/summer-vacation-a-wonderful-run-through-nh-2-from-the-ghats-of-varanasi-to-home-part-ii/

      Wishing you a very & safe journey and do leave early on a clear sky day and do avoid fog, if you are driving in Winter. Road is excellent and Satro Xing will be superb – drive on your own and I am sure all of you will enjoy. I am sure the series will be helpful for you – do read Part I as well.

      Regards,

  • Kamakhya says:

    Hey Amitava,
    Thanks for your response with the link. Will write for more….. thank indeed !!!!

  • Nandan Jha says:

    @ Kamakhya – At the same post. Kundan did Delhi-Patna-Darbhanga early this month and has posted a detailed log. Pls see in the comments section – http://www.ghumakkar.com/2008/06/29/delhi--patna-road-review/#comments

    All the best.

    • PROMOD SHAMMI says:

      HI AMITAVA,

      Thanks for sharing your travelling experiences with us.I too travelled greater noida t0 kolkatta last year in june.Your story bring back the memories of my travel.Thanks for posting some good photographs.I am planning my next road journey from greater noida to goa via mumbai ,pune. Share if you have undertaken this journey .You are a good storyteller keep posting your travel stories they are truly mesmerising

  • Abhirup Chakrabarty says:

    Hi,

    I have recently shifted from Kolkata to Delhi/Noida and would be bringing in my family (wife and our pet dog) and my car (Alto K10 VXI) by July.

    I will be having a driver(more of a friend) with me and the driving duties would be shared between me and him.

    Trip coming up in 4 days. A bit tensed right now. Any heads up with the last minute preparations?

    This is my route plan:-

    Start at 5:00AM from Jadavpur, Kolkata – Reach Uttarpara(in-laws place). Start from Uttarpara by 6:00AM – Reach Shaktigarh & have breakfast – Start fom Shaktigar at 8AM.

    Next stop Dhanbad – 11AM. Have lunch and start from Dhanbad at 12PM. Reach Varanasi by 6PM. Continue towards allahabad and reach Allahabad by 8PM.

    Next day, start by 6:30AM. Reach Kanpur by 10AM. Start from Kanpur by 11AM after having light lunch. Reach Agra by 3:30PM. Start from Agra at 4PM and reach Indirapuram by 7-7:30PM.

    Does this seem feasible? I have included enough buffer in between IMHO. Realistically, how much time will the individual stretches take in my K10. Don’t intend to push it beyond 100-110Kmph. Smooth and steady is the plan. Let me know.

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Hi Abhirup,

      Last year, I started from Uttarpara (also, my in-laws place) from 10 a.m. and reached Allahabad by 11 p.m., so it is very much possible, without pushing very hard on the. 100-110 KMPH is reasonably good speed on NH-2 in K-10.

      This is very much achievable and you have one more soulder to fall back.

      By the way, how you are going to reach Allahabad. If you take Allahababad by-pass, you will reach ~30 km ahead of Allahabad city (anyway, that is good option) – (take left turn from where By-Pass ends towards Allahabad city on NH-2 and drive another ~30 KM) – Signboard will be helpful….next day, you will have to drive back the same route to reach NH-2 again)…

      Kolkata to Allahabad would be ~ 710 – 720 KM and Allahabad to Indirapuram would ~ 800 KM (if you take the Delhi – Agra new Expressway, may be the distance will be slightly less – but drive very carefully on the new expressway.)

      Next day’s plan is also just fine.

      For detailed information, you can read my post on the same route – it will give you an idea about the distance – toll taxes etc. etc. (there may be some changes in the last one year). All you need to do is some back calculation

      Part-II
      http://www.ghumakkar.com/2012/07/07/summer-vacation-a-wonderful-run-through-nh-2-from-the-ghats-of-varanasi-to-home-part-ii/

      Part-III
      http://www.ghumakkar.com/2012/08/04/summer-vacation-a-trip-to-bakkhali-the-delta-of-ganges-my-childhood-place/

      Wishing you all the best and happy driving. Now, we all would like to wait to read your experience.

      If you need any additional information, you can get in touch with me @amitava07@gmail.com

      All the very best.

      * Sorry Amitava, for replying on your behalf./Amitava Chatterjee

    • Chandan says:

      While returning from Kolkata to Delhi, I took Kolkata – Varanasi – Raibareli – Lucknow – Delhi route

  • Srijan Mitra says:

    This is simply amazing. It’s very descriptive as well. Intend to take on this route around November this year. This blog is a good reference for sure.

  • SP Sarkar says:

    Excellent Travelogue

  • BARUN BAIDYA says:

    nicely narrated trip…….. :)

  • Mukesh K Sagar says:

    I am posted in Kolkata and planning to take thr road trip but obviously not an easy decision, to take…I liked your discription. Still not sure if the same can still be done in a hatchback mid sized car??? with 2/3 breaks enroute.
    Anyways your details are great help.

  • Geeth says:

    Hey Amitava Dutta,

    Must say your article is very descriptive and you must have had a one-in-a-lifetime experience with this particular travel. I wanted to check how safe it is to travel from Ranchi to Kolkatta in the night given the whole naxal issue. The route would be through Hazaribagh-Bagodar-Gobinpur-Asansol-Durgapur-Burdwan-Kolkatta. Would you recommend this? If you have any other suggestions please let me know.

    Cheers
    Geeth

  • Vidooshak says:

    Discovered this post on the after glow of Piku, the movie, and must say you helped re-live the road journey from that film. This could be the official companion blog to the film, it is so relevant and well written. Loved it

  • sanjib sinha says:

    We are also in the mood of this thrill this September and thanks your excellent blog which is not only the guidelines but a motivating factors for us where one of us really pulling our legs not to move…

  • Umang Mittal says:

    Well written man, put me in the mood to make this trip!

  • priya says:

    Hi I am planning a bus trip from kolkatta to delhi. Any help would be appreciated. want to see the scenery. dont want to fly or go by trrain

  • Chandan says:

    I also did the road travel from Delhi to Kolkata driving my own. I started from Delhi at 4am and I reached and stayed in Dhanbad at 9pm same day. The next day I started at 12noon and reached Kolkata before evening.

  • Partha Sen says:

    Wow! Just an awesome experience that has been shared! I have a similar plan in this June itself. I have decided to start around 5 am. is it possible to reach kolkata by next day evening? Where should i take the night halt in that case. Thanks.

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