Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Kolkata to North India - 5000 km

Kolkata to North India - 5000 km

The drive
Kolkata to North India and back – self drive – 5,000+ KM – 23 days
The people
Me (aged 60) and my wife (57)
The car
Our Hyundai i10 Asta Automatic, purchased 29 Jan 2011, 9,800 KM on the clock, equipped with a top-end MapMyIndia Navigator
The purpose
To have fun – we love driving, and enjoy the independence and flexibility that a self-drive holiday gives us

Day 1 (Kolkata to Bodh Gaya)
Up at 3.30 am, out at 4.45. Quite dark outside. Switched on the Navigator. Route to Bodh Gaya, our first stop, was already set up as a “route” in the device.
We reached Kolkata airport from our house near Big Bazar, Eastern Bypass (28 KM) in 20 minutes instead of the usual 45-60. Skipped the turn from VIP Road to the Airport and turned right 150 meters ahead, onto Jessore Road. Dreadful stretch – bad road surface, but a divided road with two lanes on each side. The problem is : trucks with lights on high beam. Fortunately, it was a short stretch, and we soon turned left on to Belghoria Expressway. That was not much better, because the road surface was alternately smooth and full of potholes, making it a very frustrating going. But after the Ganga bridge, we joined NH 2, dawn arrived, and things got much better.
NH2 is excellent, though I cannot say superb because there are still a few rough patches, though nothing major and not many. Overall, a great driving surface – the car glides ! After ten months of Kolkata’s potholes, it was pure joy.
I was apprehensive about getting stuck at Panagarh, on a 5 KM stretch through Panagarh bazaar. The road surface is very bad – even at 20 KMpH the car shudders. However, there was no snarl-up and we were through without having to stop. But, it can get quite bad, I guess.
My previous (bad) experience at the Bengal/Orissa border made me apprehensive about delays at state borders. But there was no problem at all. Other than the inevitable lines of trucks, one would hardly know that one was crossing a border.

I had been warned about trucks being aggressive, not giving way etc, but I experienced nothing of the sort. Every single truck gave way when asked, and if the road was clear you could overtake comfortably from the left while the truck rumbled on in the right lane.
We made surprisingly good time. The total journey to Bodh Gaya was 488 KM, and I had expected 9 hours driving time, plus stops. Despite never driving at over 100 KMPH, and taking 5 breaks totaling 1 ½ hours, we reached comfortably in 8 hours 45 minutes. This included a slow stretch of about 50 KM when we left NH 2 and turned right for Bodh Gaya, where the road surface was so-so and I could not do more than 60 because of the need to slow down and/or swerve due to potholes.
Incidentally, at the Toll gates in West Bengal, they give you a 5 rupee bar of Lifebuoy soap in lieu of Rs 5 change ! Fortunately, the booths also accept this bar in lieu of Rs 5, hence you are not stuck with umpteen bars of Lifebuoy soap.
The Navigator proved to be very good, at par with, say, NeverLost in the USA, which I have used extensively. However, it does not know street addresses in more than a few cities. Can’t blame it, though ! In Salt Lake, Kolkata, for instance, a madman must have designed the numbering system. You find house number 313 opposite house no 47. No GPS system can deal with this.
For those who are interested – MILEAGE ! I got 16 KMpL, not bad considering the car has an automatic gearbox, and the AC was on all the time because we wanted the windows closed to keep out the dust.

Day 2 (Day trip from Bodh Gaya to Rajgir and Nalanda)
The core drive is 200 KM, takes 5 hours. The road surface is good, but there are :
- Speed-breakers without warning, and many other bumps on the road
- 4 level crossings
- 4 narrow bridges
- 7 types of animals and 11+ types of vehicles that meander all over the road
Maximum speed in some stretches is 80 KMpH, but there are so many villages and some mini-towns on the day, that average did not exceed 40 KMpH.
I drove a total of 278 KM, including city (sorry, town) driving within Bodh Gaya, Rajgir and Nalanda.
Worthwhile trip, though, plenty of photo-ops.
Mileage – 14 KMpL

Day 3 – Bodh Gaya to Agra
We violated two rules that we had set for ourselves : don’t drive more than 500 KM in a day, and don’t drive at night.
We started 7.10 am on a very foggy morning. Progress was slow even after we reached NH2 because visibility was less than 50 meters. In the first two hours we did only 80 KM. However, after 9 am the fog began to clear and we moved faster.
NH 2 is good until you get into U.P., and thereafter the road surface is pretty bad. Over time the lanes have become like village roads, with deep ruts on either side and a bulge in the middle. It seems that the road surface has sunk due to the weight of the trucks.
Then we hit the Allahabad Bypass. It is a fantastic road - 87 KM of superb concrete. Even my little car could comfortably cruise at 120 KMpH.
One problem, though – there is absolutely no infrastructure. No petrol for all 87 KM. I was down to reserve and the road would never end. Finally, about 8 KM after crossing the Ganga we found a petrol pump. Travellers should ensure that they have a good amount of fuel before entering the Allahabad Bypass !
We were approaching Kanpur and it was only 3 pm, so we decided to push on to Agra. We entered “Agra Club” into the Navigator and drove on.
There is a very good elevated road near Kanpur which takes you over/around Kanpur and on towards Agra/Delhi. A bit later we hit Araiyou Bypass, another superb concrete stretch.
I found that the road surface and traffic are poor on the bits of NH2 which are the rebuilt GT Road, while the brand new portions have superb concrete surfaces, little traffic, but no infrastructure.
Toll booths are a pain on the NH 2 between Kanpur and Agra. Every 30 minutes there is a queue at a booth. Each queue can take up to 10 minutes.
Night driving was a breeze. The trucks are not in the least aggressive. In fact the truckers are very courteous. They let you pass, anticipate your moves and give you space, and generally behave very well. Only if the auto drivers in Kolkata would behave similarly !
We finally reached Agra Club – 847 KM from Bodh Gaya – 12 hours 20 minutes, including stops for food etc totaling 1 ½ hours.
Mileage – 14 KMpL.
Two good things came out of this trip :
- We found we could do 12 hours/850 KM in a day without a problem.
- Night driving is not such a terror as people make it out to be, at least in U.P. !
Day 4 Agra to Delhi
KM – 5 ½ hours – UGH !!
First the crawl through Agra to get to NH 2, then NH 2 itself – good road surface, but the traffic ! All kinds of vehicles, including “jugads” – crude truck driven by a pump set engine, plus tractors pulling trailers and driving on the wrong side of the road. A 20 minute halt at a road junction in Mathura. You name it.
Delhi traffic is heavy, but to a person trained to drive in Kolkata it is not a hassle at all.
MapMyIndia knows street addresses in Delhi NCR, and I got to my cousin’s house in Noida 44 with no problems at all.
Mileage – 14 KMpL
Day 5 and 6
Driving around in Delhi, seeing all the sites, again great help from MapMyIndia.
Day 7
Delhi to Dehra Dun
We started at 6.40 am and reached at 1.00 pm – 255 KM, 6 ¼ hrs including ¾ hour stops
The road was moderately good up to just before Meerut, and improved significantly beyond that until the start of the Dehradun Road, where the surface was bad in many patches. However, one needs a little patience because the patches are not extensive, and largely the roads surface is good. It is a single carriage road running through many small towns, with the attendant problems. Kirkee town, in particular, is a pain – combination of heavy traffic and very bad road surface.
After Kirkee there is a delightful stretch of hilly road. I turned off the overdive, effectively keeping the gearbox in third gear, and the car was very easy to handle up and down the gentle slopes.
Dehradun is a horrible town – dirty, crowded and maddening traffic. Nothing to see and best avoided except for a halt at the quaint Dehradun Club.
Mileage – approx 13 KMpL.
Days 8 & 9
Driving around Dehradun and Mussourie
The drive from Dehradun is about 35 KM. It takes about 1 ¼ hours at full lick.

It is delightful drive on a not too steep but deliciously curvy hill road. Road surface is pretty good, though your tires will rumble a little. If you keep the car in 3rd gear, you will travel comfortably up the slopes and keep the car in check on the down-slopes with small jabs on the brake pedal.
It was fairly cold in Mussourie. As expected, it is a very crowded town with narrow roads and umpteen shops and hordes of people. The sights, however, such as the Company Garden and the Kempty Falls, are pleasant.
We enjoyed the weather, being in a hill station, with snow-peaked mountains visible over the crests of the mundane stony foothills, sipping brown tea on the roadsides, the cold breezes which you enjoy until you want to get back into the car, people warming their hands over a small wood fire – all the familiar feelings about hill stations in India.
Mileage in Dehradun/Mussourie – 9 KMpL
Total distance 180 KM.

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