Road trip is always special. In this day and age of cheap flights and budget family tour packages, a random road trip is the only form of adventure travel to explore your wanderlust soul, fully. As in our case, this year’s trip to Kolkata from Delhi didn’t involve much planning as we have been on these roads quite a few times, except the stopover schedule for night-halts.
For those who might be on-roads for the first time, they should begin planning before going for a road trip by calculating the total distance to be covered with stopovers and night-halts. Plus, you should also take account of all on-road expenses and toll fees as they constitute an important part of the budget.
Road Trip Planning 101
Delhi to Kolkata is around 1500Kms by roads (which include detours) so if you want to go slow then you can do 2 stopovers on the way – one at Varanasi and the other in Dhanbad or Asansol. But you can reach much earlier by covering more distance each day with a single stopover. We started our trip at 6 am from West Delhi and it took us an hour to leave the city. It is always advisable to start as early as possible so that you can avoid getting stuck in the peak-hours traffic rush.
If you are planning a road trip from Delhi to Kolkata by car, you can avail two route options. If you are driving through Mathura road, then expect congestion. But Taj Expressway will make you cover longer distance in a much shorter time. There are plenty of well-maintained refreshment facilities and restaurants lined across the highway, so take little break to stay refreshed. Though the tariff will seem a little inflated at first, but the driving experience will help you overcome that thought soon.
We avoided Mathura Road which passes through some of the busiest stretches of Faridabad, Karnal, Vrindavan, Mathura and subsequently, Agra. Instead, we opted for the Taj Expressway which bypasses the entire stretch of Faridabad to Agra. One of the best roads in the country, it costs us a toll fare of Rs. 420 (in February 2018) but driving on this road in our Tata Tiago XZ was really a pleasure.
We drove straight for around 10 hours and reached Varanasi – our first stopover destination, at around 7PM. Though you can expect to reach Varanasi in 9 hours, getting deeper into the city will take a few extra hours. This is mainly due to the narrow roads and congestion and also due to the fact that most of the decent staying options are situated in the main city. We opted for OYO Rooms because there are plenty of good options to choose from, plus the services and facilities are up to the mark.
After a long drive we decided to relax a bit and while you are in Varanasi the best way to do that is with a glass of ‘Bhang Lassi’. It is an Indian milk-based drink infused with fresh cannabis leaves. Though cannabis is not legal in most part of India, the city said to be founded by Lord Shiva himself, has rules of its own.
Nest day we decided to stay back and wanted to explore the city as much as possible in a single day, so we figured that Sarnath is the best option nearby Varanasi. If you want honest opinion then I must say that while stopping over at Varanasi, go to Sarnath if you really want to experience something really great.
After having a great time at Sarnath, we decided to return back to our hotel early and spend rest of the day there since the 2nd leg of our journey had to be started early next day, in order to reach our destination on time.
The next day we started at around 7 in the morning. After straight 12 hours of drive bypassing Dhanbad and the beautiful valley of Sherghati in Bihar, we finally reached Dankuni – the gateway to the city. By 9 PM, the smell of eggrolls and fish-fry confirmed our presence in the heart of the city of joy.
Some handy tips on how to plan a road trip from Delhi to Kolkata:
Most Suitable Car For Road Trip
The choice of car totally depends upon the number of people going for the trip. If it is up to 3-4 pax and limited luggage then a hatchback can be sufficiently enough. However, anything more would require a SUV for greater comfort and ease.
In our case, we traveled in our brand new TATA Tiago XZ, bought merely 4 months back from the date of our journey. Its 1200cc Revotron engine powered us through the long stretches of Indian Highway quite effortlessly. As hatchback cars offer better mileage, we were able to stick to our estimated budget with the help of its fuel efficiency.
Carry Enough Cash For Toll Fees, Fuel & Food
Always keep this in mind that Indian Highway Petrol Pumps Do Not Accept Cards. If you are lucky to start from Delhi, get your tank filled up as the fuel prices are cheapest there. As you start moving along with your trip, get it filled up once it gets half-empty. There can be stretches of highway where you won’t find a filling station so it’s always safe to check for the fuel levels whenever you spot a Petrol Pump. Overall we saw that fuel prices were highest in Bihar, followed by Uttar Pradesh, Bihar & Jharkhand. Also, the roadside food outlets rarely accept cards so it is always better to keep some cash handy.
Throughout the journey, you will come across Toll Booths which would require you to pay cash. Keep around Rs. 5,000 in cash for this purpose only. Also, pay attention to the toll fare as some of them offer single fare for longer stretches which can help you save some money. Keep the toll receipts handy as you would be required to show them at the next toll booths to avail a waiver.
Take A Leak At The Highway Petrol Pumps
I am not kidding but the washroom at the highway petrol pumps are pretty decent. Based on my experience, I find that Reliance Petrol Pumps and Hindustan Petrol Pumps are better than its other counterparts. But, everything depends upon the road and your luck! Sometime you will find one of the toilets locked, so ask the manager to open it for you. They often keep the cleanest ones for the road trippers like us.
Planning The Night Halts
Considering that the total drive would be somewhere around 1500 kms. it would be advisable to take 2 night-halts during this trip. One should be Allahabad, which is somewhere around 600 kms from Delhi. Second night halt can be easily planned for Dhanbad or Asansol, which is a little over 500 kms. from Allahabad. The remaining leg of 280 kms. to Kolkata can be easily covered on the 3rd day of driving.
However, if you are pressed for time and intend to cover the distance in a lesser time then, single night halt at Varanasi is the best option.
Booking Your Stays
Both Varanasi and Allahabad are popular tourist places so planning your stays in advance would be advisable if you are planning a trip in winters. We took our trip in February which is a relatively good time to visit these places. Our stay in Varanasi also coincided with the Hindu festival of Mahashivaratri so we were expecting a rush of devotees. We booked our hotel rooms through OYO beforehand. Previously, we have taken such road trip in summers which didn’t require us to pre-book the rooms. We simply walked-in and always managed to get ourselves a good deal.
One major plus point of booking the rooms through OYO App is that you can ensure a proper parking space for the car. If you do a Google Search for hotels in Varanasi then you would always find them boasting of “Parking Facility”. However, once you reach there, you would probably end up keeping your car on the road itself. Needless to say, this always puts some risk of theft or damage to your car in a relatively unknown city.
Apart from Parking Facility, you would also get complimentary breakfast and free Wi-Fi with most of the OYO stays.
Start With Ample Stock of Water & Food
One thing which costs the most while being out on roads is water. When each bottle costs nothing less than Rs. 12, a major expense includes buying water for the whole group. So, always start with a portable water dispenser and large canisters of water which can be used to fill the dispenser.
As we start very early in the morning, we usually end up having breakfast while on-the-go. To avoid stopping at some roadside stall, we packed in some sandwiches and fruit juice packs to make sure that we could have the food without stopping anywhere. In this way, we were able to avoid stopping till lunch and managed to cover a lot of the distance meanwhile.
Save Money, Pack Your Tea/Coffee Kit
This may sound ridiculous, but if you come to think of it, Tea and Coffee are one of the most expensive items on the menu card of most of the food-joints. A cup of Tea never comes for anything less than Rs. 15 per cup and usually on the most of the occasions, they are never up to the mark. You can save a huge chunk of money by packing in some very simple things on your next trip:
- A Thermos or Flask with Boiling Hot Water to make Tea/Coffee in the first part of the trip.
- An Electric Kettle, which can help you boil water whenever you stop next or during your night halt.
- Tea Bags (we had some instant tea cups with us which made life much easier)
- Coffee Sachets
- Sugar Sachets or Sugar Cubes
- Milk Powder Sachets
- Stirrer or a spoon
Get Your Car Serviced & Tires Checked Before The Road Trip
Maybe you just got your car serviced 2 months back, but still you would not like to take any chance on roads. In the penultimate week of your much-awaited road-trip, your first priority should be to get your car checked thoroughly at a registered service station of the brand of your car. In our case, we had just got the first servicing done a month back, but we still went to Tata Motors-Autovikas Service Centre in New Delhi and asked them to check if our car was perfectly capable of going out for such a long road trip. After all we don’t want to be left stranded in the middle of the road with leaking oils or flat spare tyres!
Pack As Light As Possible
It’s true that a road trip means no excess baggage hassles, but still you would not like to bulk up your car with unnecessary weight. Take light-weight yet sturdy bags and pack the essentials. Avoid bulky suitcases which are heavier on their own. Also, pack a few cotton towels, extra sheets travel pillows, and light weight blankets/comforters (if travelling in winter) for just-in-case. Most of the hotels these days offer basic bedding, however, there is no harm in carrying just a few extras.
Over the period of time and a dozen of these long road-trips, I have come to realise that there are few things which one should pack-in for a greater comfortable journey. Some of these which are right on top of my head are:
- First-Aid Kit with Travel Sickness Medicine like Avomine, etc.
- Spare waste plastic bags for disposing wrappers, etc. Drop them off in the dustbins at your next toilet halt
- Hand Sanitizers, Pee Safe (Toilet Sprays) & Wet Wipes
- Extra dusting clothes for the car as roads are dusty and you might would like to dust some of it off your windshield
- Mosquito Repellents – Ointments, Electric Dispensers, Sprays.
- Hand Towels & Tissue Papers
- Disposable Plates & Glasses
Return Road Trip From Kolkata To Delhi
Just like our forward journey, our return was also well planned with the essentials neatly tucked in along with several memorabilia from Kolkata. We started early around 6 AM and left the city before it got congested with the daily office commuters. We made a mandatory stop at Shaktigarh and had some of the very famous Shaktigarh Langcha. For those who don’t know, these are deep-fried cottage cheese dumplings dipped in thick sugar syrup. It is somewhat very similar to Gulab Jamun, only varying in terms of its shape. A typical lyangcha is cylindrical in shape.
We drove straight to Varanasi with only a handful of toilet and refuelling breaks. We crossed the Sher-ghati stretch of Hazaribagh in no time and were in Uttar Pradesh by the lunch time. I wasn’t much impressed by the quality of roadside eateries in this part of the country. Unlike their North Indian counterparts, they were quite unhygienic and shabby. Luckily I packed in few sandwiches along with a box of sweets for just-in-case. We decided to stop under a shady tree and have some coffee with our snack-lunch.
Within no time we were back on road, zooming past the trucks to reach our destination. We faced a lot of detours as numerous flyovers and city bypass roads were under-construction. This somewhat hampered our speed, but eventually, we managed to reach our hotel around 8PM. We quickly settled in for the night so that we could get some much-needed rest. Next morning we had our breakfast and left off to cover rest of our journey.
We continued on NH 19 by following Varanasi-Allahabad Road till we came across the Agra-Lucknow Expressway. We took the slip road to get on that Expressway and continued as it merged into Taj Expressway. With this route we were able to avoid some of the very busy intersections of NH19 followed by the congestion of Agra and Mathura. Within no time we entered Noida and then subsequently Delhi. Although we reached home at around 10 PM but the city traffic congestion was partly to be blamed for this delay. In a nutshell, once you catch those expressways, you can rest assured of good and safe roads till you reach the city. All of this might come at a slightly premium price of the Expressway Toll but it surely is worth every penny as you would see that the roads are truly the best here.
Road trips are a treasure trove of memories which continues to fuel your excitement for the next few months. The same happened for us. We keep on looking back at it and re-live some of the highlights of the journey. Indian highways often fall short of offering a world-class journey experience but it has its own charm in a crude & rustic way. And if you are looking for some motivation to take this trip then your love for driving and Indian countryside should suffice that.