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Old 24th December 2013, 16:49   #1
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Default A humble beginning: Driving from Delhi to Kolkata

A year ago, when I first mooted the idea of a 1500+ km drive, my better half thought, I was joking, my father was incredulous, and even my kids thought I had lost it....
And why not? We travel to Kolkata four times a year - some planned visits, some unplanned. Some by flight, some by train - but by car?
Why would one even think of taking the car all the way and back , when there's such a nice Rajdhani express?
Therefore, at office (we both work at the same office) , it was with a deep sense of the inevitable, that I hesitantly showed my wife this thread written by our SS-Traveller in what was probably his 26th trip.
The idea was to whet her appetite, appeal to her sense of adventure, and most of all prove the point, that if someone can do this trip 26 times over and then some , maybe, just maybe - it is possible for an average 'joe' too.
And so, after an hour's discussion during the commute from Gurgaon to Delhi, I had won at least the first ally over to my side.
Then followed the research. Which means, I pored over google maps, to list the places we would be passing through. I identified possible hotels which may be convenient for a stop over, and pretty much identified potential night halts depending on the conditions.

We kept the decision under wraps for the next four months. On the fifth month , during Diwali (2013), we (I) brought up the subject, while we were visiting my in-laws in Chinsurah (near Kolkata). My dad and kids were also there at the time. This trip had been unplanned, in that an hour before leaving , we did not know if we would at all go or not. Courtesy the Indian railways, we had been given RAC tickets - all 5 of us, and following a sleepless night on the Rajdhani, we all thought, that this was probably the worst way to travel anywhere. Hence, when we were discussing our travails at my in-laws home, I let it slip, that for Christmas we will come by car.
The usual incredulity followed, followed by frayed tempers, but people came around and the decision was sealed.

It was end November, and our trip was planned for a month later (Dec 26th to be precise). This was because our kids annual day school fest had been scheduled on Dec 25, which they could not miss.

Back in Delhi, preparations began in right earnest.

The Innova's service was due in three-four weeks - but got that done in November itself. Reason: I wanted to drive the car after service, to discover if anything was wrong with it.

The tyres were just over 4 years old, and while they had some tread left in them, they seemed to have gone hard. So the old ones came off, and new Bridgestones B390s were fitted.

For good measure, I got Tyreprobe (Triton Valves) TPMS installed, and also treated the tyres with Slime. Disaster struck ten days before D-Day. Front left tyre TPMS sensor suddenly took an early Christmas vacation. Frantic calls/emails to the Triton Valves personnel resulted in expedited shipment of a replacement unit to their authorised dealer (Bridgestone Select, Tilak Nagar, New Delhi) . This was installed on the 21st . On the 22nd Dec , I got the tyres rebalanced and aligned (why? - because, I was not entirely happy with the complimentary service from Bridgestone Select, Tilak Nagar).

I noticed that my MMI Navibox had version 7 of the India maps. Unsure if this would be good enough, I contacted MMI for an update, and upgraded it to version 8. The upgrade itself is another story - as it required me to open up the centre dash in order to extricate the Navibox. It had been conveniently placed there by my ICE installer in 2012, because he did not have a clue that maps needed to be upgraded from time to time. Now it sits in the glove box, where I have easy access to its SD card.


The last two weeks went by in planning what to take on the trip. We made lists of utility items,medicines etc etc.

We were watching the weather reports closely. The week of Dec 23, was supposed to be sunny, but there was also an equal chance of dense fog in the latter half of the week. We prayed and prayed that the weather holds up.

On December 13th we got intimation from our kids school, that the annual day function was pre-poned to December 22. We were grateful, but that only allowed us to pre-pone by 1 day. So now D-Day was Dec 25th.

Well, tomorrow is the Day (25th). We hope to get started before 6AM, and intend to reach Varanasi by evening (if all goes well). We will have to look out for the nemesis of many a driver - the dreaded North India Fog. We don't have bookings in Varanasi yet, because we don't know if we will be able to reach Varanasi by sun-down. Here's hoping that we do!

And that's how the first real long trip distance begins for us.

Last edited by joybhowmik : 29th December 2013 at 21:32.
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Old 27th December 2013, 18:14   #2
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Default Preparing to leave home...

And so Christmas finally arrived! My wife and I woke up earlier than the alarm at 3:30 AM! I guess it was the anticipation of the unknown. We forced ourselves back to bed to get rest for the next 30 minutes until the alarm kicked in!

Last minute preparations began in right earnest. There was the packed food to be loaded, water bottles to be filled, tea to be made, doors to be locked, car to be loaded....and most importantly the kids had to be woken up gently - so we could show them the gifts Santa had left behind.

The first thing I did was check the tyre pressure and inflated the tyres to 35 psi all-around. I knew that this was probably going to be missed , once the family got on-board. I was in-charge of loading the car. And here is how it looked once loaded.

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The ability of the Innova to handle a packed boot is incredible. Once fully loaded, the body did not really sag much!. Here's a picture of the wheel-well.
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And off we went! The clock read 6AM. The Trip Meter was at 0.0

Last edited by joybhowmik : 27th December 2013 at 23:20.
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Old 28th December 2013, 22:22   #3
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Default Shuddering at 100 kmph

Shortly after leaving home, we were at the Ashram Chowk, the gateway to DND flyway. The visibility was good, and induced me to try out three digit speeds on a short runway in sparse traffic and close to home (this was the first opportunity to do so after the recent WB and WA).
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There was noticeable vibration on the steering wheel the moment I hit 100 kmph on the DND. That told me all was not well. I lightened up my left foot, and the vibration disappeared.
The next opportunity to test this issue presented itself on the Greater Noida Expressway. Again the same symptom. But interestingly, after a short while the vibration stopped, without my reducing speed.
The third opportunity to test the issue was on the Yamuna Expressway. There was no such symptom even at speeds exceeding 100 kmph. For the first time into the drive I relaxed.
I would occasionally continue to face this vibration issue all the way into Chinsurah, West Bengal.

N.B. : On the 23rd, my wife had complained of a similar shudder on her Santro, at speeds in excess of 85 kmph on NH8. The common things both the cars shared were - Slime in the tyres, and WB+WA done by the same shop (Tyre Emporium, Malviya Nagar).
I think I can rule out Slime in the tyres,because that has been in both cars for over a month, so by elimination, I would need to have the WB+WA looked at by the tyre shop.

Last edited by joybhowmik : 29th December 2013 at 18:30.
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Old 28th December 2013, 23:51   #4
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Default The first few hours

It is said that luck favours the brave, and given the conditions on the Yamuna Expressway on the morning of the 25th, Dec, I would consider myself to be exceptionally lucky.
I would not say there was no fog. There was. But it was not the kind of fog that killed the father-daughter duo a few days ago near Jewar on the Yamuna Expressway. To give you an idea here's a picture of the same Jewar toll-plaza at around 7:20 AM
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With visibility extending to about 500 metres, it was relatively easier to maintain speeds approaching 100 kmph. Barring a short bio-break at Jewar, we sailed through the Yamuna Expressway , in perfect pace to our planned itinerary.
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There was another reason to not overspeed. I wanted to finish YEW around 8:30 AM - as by then the sun would definitely be out and about on its business for the day.

Just after the Agra exit the YEW terminates on NH2 (GT road) Etmadpur (Firozabad) near Tundla. One had to be careful here, as the vehicle density registered a sharp uptick , and average speeds dropped quickly.

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Unfortunately not so for my daughter. She had gotten herself the worst seat in the car (on the third row). A few hard bounces of the rear tyres on the speed breakers, induced her to cough up what little breakfast was getting digested. Cleaning up the mess, and setting things back to near-normal took us about a half-hour. I did not attempt to make up the lost time by driving quickly, and I am glad I did. A few kilometers past, I saw this truck with its cabin completely wrecked. Evidently a case of over speeding , and the driver losing control.
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Past Etawah, I decided to refuel at the next available diesel bunk. One thing of note is that there is no shortage of diesel bunks all the way upto Varanasi. But, given adulteration issues, specially with Diesel, I thought it prudent (as per SST's advise) to fuel up wherever out of state , long distance trucks were filling up. I know these guys care more than most about the quality of fuel , because it is closely related to their livelihood. Advice followed, and we decided to stop to top up our tank at Bakewar , UP (about 120 km from Kanpur).

Past Auraiya, UP and all the way upto the Kanpur Bypass, speeds were slow due to the six-laning work in progress. The other thing that made for slower speeds on this stretch was ruts on the tarmac - possibly left behind due to inadequate use of road-rollers when the hot mix is poured and cured. One has to be careful on these stretches because even in daylight, their height is difficult to assess. These are best avoided, but if one must drive over them, one has to be very careful , otherwise it can prove as disastrous as a poorly constructed speed breaker.

At 12:45 PM , about 15 km before the Kanpur bypass we reached Senger's resort. We were the only customers at the restaurant, and decided to play it safe and ordered noodles , chilly chicken, sandwiches and coke
The bathrooms were very clean, Service was quick and the food was good. Our hunger satiated, we looked at our watches - it was 1:45 PM and we were only near Kanpur, with another 350 km to go before reaching Varanasi. Would we make it before night-fall? A quick call to SST ensued to understand if it was possible to try reaching Varanasi by end of day. Assured by him we quickly polished off the remainder of our food, took our last minute bio-breaks and were once more on our way.
A humble beginning: Driving from Delhi to Kolkata-img_3438copy.jpg

Last edited by joybhowmik : 29th December 2013 at 20:16.
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Old 29th December 2013, 09:29   #5
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Default Kanpur to Varanasi

Driving on the centrally elevated Kanpur bypass was such a joy. Traffic was light, and we made good time. When we merged onto GT Road again, the traffic volumes picked up once more, and stayed with us all the way until the GT Road enters Allahabad. We chose to stay on NH2 (Allahabad bypass) an 80 km stretch of eminently driveable tarmac. Just after we got on to the Allahabad bypass, we stopped to take pictures of the Ganga and the bridge over it.
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The once mighty river has now been reduced to a slow trickle.
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It was already 5 PM. Sunset was coming on fast, and we were still over 100+ km away from Varanasi. Still we could not resist taking a few snaps of the sun setting over the trees in the distant horizon.
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I decided not to floor the accelerator, and that decision turned out to be a good one. All over Allahabad Bypass are culverts which allow irrigation canals to pass under the highway. These sections are slightly raised from the rest of the surface. The ideal speed on these culverts is around 60 kmph, and if one can't anticipate these in time, then one does jump-off on the edge, and land heavily as gravity takes over. Not good for cars in general, and definitely not good for young kids and elderly passengers!

Once past the Allahabad bypass, we merged onto GT Road again. Heavy traffic joined us. It was pitch dark at 5:45 PM, as there was not much by way of street lighting. The next hour and half till the Varanasi exit was at a slow but purposeful 50 kmph despite having good tarmac. I recalled the old adage "Better late than never" and plodded along negotiating traffic and local markets (haats), while my wife tried her best to make reservations on MakeMyTrip. That she would be unsuccessful was a bit of a surprise, because this is one stretch where Airtel does not provide data services. We contacted a few hotels by phone to ask for pricing, and decided that we would "shop around" for hotels once we reached Varanasi Cantt area.

The GT road from the exit off NH2 and into Varanasi Cantt. was under construction for the first eight kms. That made for slow going, as we and oncoming traffic had to share about 8 ft of road. Once past the construction zone, the road surface resembled a lunar landscape. The potholes were huge. I tanked up at the HPCL in Sheodaspur, and we proceeded to the Cantt area. We enquired about availability/pricing at a few hotels, and finally settled on Hotel Plaza Inn. We knew about this hotel based on SST's experience, and so at Rs 1800/- per night, it was what we were prepared to pay for a roof over our heads.

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Dinner was ordered in (strictly vegetarian fare by choice)- because none of us had the confidence of being fit and fine for next morning's drive to Chinsurah on an upset stomach.

It was past 9:30 PM by the time we finished dinner. Quick enquiries at the hotel lobby confirmed that the Vishwanath temple would close around 11 PM, so if we hurried , we would be just in time for the last arati.
I was advised not to carry cameras or mobiles, as these need to be deposited at flower/sweet shops. We left my son and my father behind in the hotel, and my wife, daughter and I hopped on to a rickshaw for the 4 km ride to the chouraha in the vicinity of the temple. We walked the final hundred meters to the famous Singh Dwar / Vishwanath Galli. Despite reaching at around 10:20 PM, the place was full of people going about their business. The Galli itelf was dark and narrow, and instantly brought back memories of Joy Baba Felunath, the classic Satyajit Ray thriller, where Meghraj the villian had arranged to murder the victim.

After multiple security checks, we finally entered the portals of the Holiest of Holies - the Vishwanath Ji ka mandir. The devout had already gathered around the shrine, in anticipation of the arati. Then followed a prayer ceremony unmatched in the sense of sheer ferocity it exuded. It seemed to go on and on, and there was no end to the energy of the devotees (all locals) who sang the hymn with such gusto , that it was not unlike the war-cry uttered by soldiers when they strike at the enemy.

Prayers over, we walked out in solemn silence, and then came across a nice rabri shop. We had never tasted rabri before, and the effect on the taste buds was too delightful to describe. The halwai said, it takes him 3 days to make a batch of rabri. The process is a painstaking one of repeatedly heating the milk, and skimming off the malai and allowing the milk to cool.
Just opposite Singh Dwar, we stopped to taste the famed Banarasi Paan at a nondescript Paan shop (Sunil Paan) . And here I learnt that the true Banarasi way to eat the Paan, is to lodge it between cheek and teeth, and allow the masala and sweet juice to trickle out.

Rabri and paan having been tasted, we took an auto-ride back to our hotel. We pre-ordered our breakfast and asked for lunch to be packed and ready by 7 AM, and went ahead and crashed into bed a little past midnight (26th).

Last edited by joybhowmik : 29th December 2013 at 09:33.
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Old 29th December 2013, 19:22   #6
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Default Leaving Varanasi and entering Bihar

We set off from the hotel at 8AM sharp after having tucked in some breakfast and loaded a packed lunch. As soon as we reached the GT road, we were thrown into confusion by the Navigator. The Navigator tried telling us to join NH2 past Mughal Sarai. This would take us on the congested GT road for much of the way. I decided to instead retrace my steps backwards from 25th evening, and join NH2 where I had left it. As we circled in the immediate vicinity of Varanasi Junction, we just had to click a few snaps of the iconic building.
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Our next stop was near the entry ramp to NH2, after having left Varanasi city behind us. Just needed to get the windscreen cleaned after having been the victim of rather effective target practice by the pigeons of Varanasi. So while I was wiping the windscreen clean, my five year old decided to give everyone some much needed live entertainment.
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Shortly after, we were crossing the Ganga. The waters were a deep blue. I was reminded that the Ganga here absorbs two other rivers in its folds - the Varuna and the Assi (hence the name Varanassi). The sight of the city from the bridge took our breath away.
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We bid the city farewell, and promised to return another day, to make a better acquaintance with it.

We still had some distance to cover before we entered Bihar. I was surprised by the lack of a toll gate , around Keshopur where the state line exists. Had the government in Bihar decided to forgive tolls on the stretch?

I had forgotten what I had read in other threads here on T-BHP, that the toll point is near Mohania, and more importantly it requires motorists like myself to navigate to the 'wrong' side to avoid the huge queue of trucks waiting to get through, and then cut over to the 'right' side just before the toll collection at a dedicated car lane. There was absolutely no prominently displayed signage proclaiming this facility.

And that's how, I ended up spending half-an-hour, squeezed between trucks with no chance of wriggling my way through - while I watched other private cars, breezing through the wrong side. Only in India!
It was 10:30 AM, 2.5 hours after having left our hotel, and we had only covered a measly 40 km on NH2, but we were in Bihar , sandwiched as it were ; we were now one state away (UP to our West) from our home (in Delhi) and one state away (JH to our East) from our destination (Chinsurah, West Bengal).

Last edited by joybhowmik : 29th December 2013 at 20:19.
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Old 29th December 2013, 20:39   #7
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Default Traversing Bihar

At the outset, we had a fair amount of concern regarding the condition of roads in Bihar. This stemmed from the not so charitable preconceived notion of a bimaru state, where people struggle to make ends meet.
Little could we have imagined that such notions are best left at home - we were really pleasantly surprised by the smooth roads that greeted us and remained with us throughout the state. There was some light traffic but that was not a hindrance.
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And after a brief pause on the bridge at Dehri-On-Sone, we were over the BR-JH border shortly after 1:30 PM.
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We still had to contend with 250 km of Jharkand, before the final stretch in West Bengal. Most importantly , we wanted to finish with Jharkand well before night-fall, for obvious reasons.
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Old 29th December 2013, 21:04   #8
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Default Into Jharkand and out

If driving through Bihar was a delight, driving through Jharkand was nothing short of ecstasy. It left the experience of driving on the YEW and Allahabad Bypass biting the dust.


To say that our sense of adventure was piqued, would be an understatement. Scenes of Satyajit's Aranyer Din-Ratri flooded into our thoughts, as we passed through. Mere words to describe the feelings would be an injustice. So let the pictures do the talking for a change.A humble beginning: Driving from Delhi to Kolkata-dscn3675copy.jpg

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We bid adieu to Jharkand, and crossed over to West Bengal shortly after 5:30 PM.
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Old 29th December 2013, 21:16   #9
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Default The final stretch in West Bengal

Unfortunately I don't have any pictures for this stretch, two reasons are on offer - the skies had darkened considerably, night-fall was imminent , and the bad driving that we encountered, had us all on the edge of our seats - so we forgot to capture the passing scenery.

Crossing over into West Bengal, we knew we were in for trouble, because the road became toll-free for the next ~ 100 km. Driving in the dark after a 9 hour straight drive, and jostling for space with lorries and local traffic has never been my idea of fun. And it was not any prettier, when I discovered that the West Bengal Police had in their wisdom, left behind barriers at every crossing. Ostensibly to control speed, by ensuring drivers dashed their brains out.
These unlighted , non-fluorescent, grey barriers are nothing short of a disaster in waiting for the next careless man who nonchalantly treats this segment of road, as a part of 'the golden quadrilateral'

A cat-and-mouse game ensued with me darting between trucks @ 40kmph hogging both the lanes of NH2 until we reached the Durgapur Expressway.

In a relative sense Panagarh was a breeze compared to the traffic conditions the trucks had created.


On a positive note, previously reported potholes in the Asansol - Shaktigarh stretch have been 'filled up'. Well at least your tyres don't get the beating of their lives -but you still get jarred.
The langchas at Shaktigarh were a much needed refreshment for all the trouble NH2 @ WB put us through.

Once past the toll on Durgapur Expressway, we carried on and reached our destination via Dhaniakhali-Chinsurah road at 8:30 PM - a solid 12 and half hours of driving from the hotel at Varanasi.
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Old 29th December 2013, 21:30   #10
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Default Expenses on the trip

Distance
End to end we covered 1440.8 km with 5 passengers (including myself - the driver).
Tolls
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Fuel
A little over 110 liters of Diesel would be my estimate. This is because, since reaching my destination, I have not yet had the chance of filling my tank to know exactly how much was consumed after the 89 liters that I filled en-route.
Prices of diesel fuel being what they are - the net expense is expected to be just shy of Rs 7000/-
Hotel
Rs 3600/- for lodging in two rooms for one night at Varanasi
Food
A little over Rs 3000/- for 5 persons including two kids.

So, all-in around Rs 15,000/- for the onward trip, which is somewhere between airfare and train fare for 5 seats. But the experience was extraordinary,and in my humble view , money can never be the measure of extraordinary experiences.

Hoping the return journey continues to enthrall ...

I leave you with the excel we used to plan our first epic journey in India.
Attached Files
File Type: xls DEL-CCU-Trip Plan.xls (82.5 KB, 657 views)

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Old 31st December 2013, 16:33   #11
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Default re: A humble beginning: Driving from Delhi to Kolkata

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to Travelogues. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 31st December 2013, 17:09   #12
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Default Re: A humble beginning: Driving from Delhi to Kolkata

Great effort Joy and congratulations for completing one half of the epic journey.

Hope to read more such stories from your side in the future.
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Old 1st January 2014, 20:28   #13
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Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by joybhowmik View Post

Fuel
A little over 110 liters of Diesel would be my estimate. This is because, since reaching my destination, I have not yet had the chance of filling my tank to know exactly how much was consumed after the 89 liters that I filled en-route.
Prices of diesel fuel being what they are - the net expense is expected to be just shy of Rs 7000/-
.
Actual quantity of diesel used was 89+33=122 litres. So fuel efficiency was 11.8 kmpl.
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Old 2nd January 2014, 10:10   #14
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Default Re: A humble beginning: Driving from Delhi to Kolkata

Nice to know about your trouble-free outbound trip, Joy.Now looking forward to hearing about the experiences of your return trip.
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Old 13th January 2014, 20:52   #15
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Unhappy and all good things (including vacations) must end

The day finally dawned - after two weeks of fun and frolic. The return trip back home was supposed to be the icing on the cake. So many things to look forward to and so many things to look backward upon...
We were all up bright and early. All - included myself, wifey, son, daughter and my octagenarian father! Yes, despite our pleading with him to make the return trip by air -he would rather take the road trip! So, in the end, we gave in, and everyone was well ensconced into their seats.

The pilot made a few final pre-departure checks ,
The time on the clock read 6:05 AM, 9th January 2014 had finally come around!

The Innova waiting while goodbyes were being said and hugs were being exchanged!
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The rear view - all loaded , just before getting 'locked'.
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The kids, excitement writ large on their faces!
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Trip meter A showing almost 1800 km had been done since leaving home in New Delhi,
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and trip meter B - reset to 0.0 km - this would record the return trip.
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the route planner pointed out there was a long way to go and it would take close to 28 hours to get back!
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No - worries. We had not really planned to drive non-stop. In fact, there was not much planning at all. We just planned to stop, when anyone of us was bone-tired.

For now, we had to reach the AH1/NH2. And from where we were this was a distance of 24 km through some lovely poschim bongo countryside. We would take the Chinsurah Dhaniakhali road, and meet Durgapur expressway (NH2/AH1) near Puinan,WB.
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A lovely early morning drive through fog bound single lane carriageways saw us merge onto the expressway at 6:45 AM.

Although this stretch is a toll-road till Palsit, we had to contend with the ubiquitious trucks trying to pass each other doing between 45 - 60 kmph in a 100 kmph zone!


Next stop Shaktigarh! We just had to taste the freshly made kochuris with cha before continuing on. We decided to pass up the langchas , this early in the morning. No amount of digestive pills are equal to an ounce of prevention - so we sadly bid adieu to the many 'sweet' temptations of this street food paradise....

...And 'steeled' ourselves for the toll-free road that would take us through Bengal's industrial belt and into Jharkand.

Stay tuned.
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