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|30th April 2015, 17:59||#1|
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Himachal calling: A 13-day road trip from Mumbai
After becoming a member of this forum and reading the multitude of threads on trips taken by various members, there has always been a latent urge to venture into something similar. While I have been driving around Maharashtra, Konkan for quite some time, never eaten more than 500 kms at a stretch. Planning for summer vacations in April 2015, kids wanted to see tha Taj Mahal and play in snow, so a plan was hatched to visit Agra and Manali. So the onerous task of railway tickets booking etc started and it was being a bit difficult to manage transits and break journeys, when we decided to hire a vehicle from Delhi back to Delhi. I just jumped when I looked at the cost of renting out a Innova in Delhi and suddenly announced that we would be taking our own XUV 500 from Mumbai. But obviously initial reactions form the family were normal, whether the vehicle will manage, kids will manage etc etc, while I stood firmly to my ground.
Finally on seeing my persistence, the family was also excited at the prospect and a middle ground was decided of having my in-laws and parents travel by train Mumbai-Delhi-Mumbai, while I and my wife drove the vehicle. The kids would be picked up and dropped from Delhi, so as to make it more manageable. With this the final contours of my exciting road trip emerged as follows.
Vehicle - XUV 500 W6
Pax - 4 adults and two kids aged 7 and 3 years. (Solo driver your's truly)
Broad Itinerary from 6th April to 18th April, 2015
Day 1&2 : Drive Mumbai (Thane) to Ranthambore.
Day 3 : Date with the wild cats at Ranthambore.
Day 4 : Ranthambore - Mathura and pick up kids and parents from Mathura and visit Agra.
Day 5 : Agra to Chandigarh.
Day 6 : Chandigarh to Manali
Day 7&8 : Enjoy Manali
Day 9 : Manali to Chail
Day 10 : Enjoy Chail
Day 11 : Chail - Delhi and drop kids and parents at New Delhi.
Day 12 & 13 : Delhi to Mumbai (Thane)
My excitement during the planning and hotel bookings new no bounds and was waiting with bated breath before embarking on my first proper road trip. Had the XUV serviced from the Thane dealership with fresh brake and engine oil, wheel alignment and balancing and fresh nitrogen in all the tyres.
Day 1 :
Basis HVK's suggestion in one of the threads and our earlier superb experience on the Mumbai Indore NH3, it was decided to drive till about Chittorgarh via Thane-Nashik-Dhule-Manpur-Ratlam- Neemuch-Chittorgarh. We started at about 5 am from Thane and immediately got onto the 4 lane NH3 and thankfully passed Kalyan without any heavy traffic (which can be quite bad on some unfortunate days). Made good progress through Shahapur and Kasara, where we had the beast have a fill of diesel. Basis earlier experience, there is absolutely no sign of open hotels early morning on Thane- Nashik stretch hence had carried tea and sandwiched packed up from home.
Breezed through Nasik courtesy the mega flyover and encountered a small two laned rough patch of about 2 km after Ozar and then back to the super smooth 4 laned tarmac. We had our first halt after Malegaon at about 830 am for a quick tea and poha snack. Moved through Dhule at about 930 am, Shirpur after which the roads lost their earlier smoothness, but very drivable and reached Sendhwa crossing the MH-MP border. We were really happy with the progress so far on the excellent NH3, which is smooth 4 lane with not very much traffic and bypasses every town except Ozar, so much so that I started to really long to see some civilization. We crossed the small Sendhwa ghat, crossed the Narmada and had a small tea break at the Maheshwar turn at about 11-30 am. Since the further route was relatively new, we made a few inquiries and were told to progress about 30 km till Manpur and look out for a flyover across the NH3 with left turn directions to Ratlam and Chittorgarh.
Accordingly moved on and easily found this, very difficult to miss this and moreover it is exactly 500 kms from Thane. Accordingly turned off NH3 at Manpur at around 12 noon to Manpur Lebad toll road.
Now we had ventured into a new territory, the new Manpur Lebad toll road links NH3 to NH79 coming from Indore, bypassing all towns like Mhow, Pithampur. The NH79 is a 4 lane highway with a bit more traffic, but still a pleasure to drive. Passed through Nagda and halted for lunch at a small dhaba on Ratlam bypass at about 2 pm. The weather was thankfully cloudy hence not very hot. The miles were now slowly getting to me given that I had been driving solo all throughout.
As per our estimate we would make it to Chittorgarh by about 500 pm, but we contemplated going on to Bundi further 150 km, since we had already seen Chittorgarh. Accordingly checked up with Hotel Vrindawati in Bundi to ensure rooms were available. We were also told to come till Chittorgarh turn on to the highway to Kota and then turn for Bundi at Bijoliya. Accordingly we breezed through the rest of NH79 bypassing Neemuch and reaching Nibahera on the MP-RJ border at about 430 pm. I had read on some threads that the 20 km odd patch between Nibahera and Chittor is not so great hence anticipated some delays. But to my dismay the moment we entered Rajasthan, things started to get messy. Inadequately marked road diversion to Nibahera town, dusty cement trucks coming from all wrong side, massive jam below a flyover under construction meant we reached Chittorgarh outskirts only by about 6pm, and thanks to Google maps navigated the complex highway maze at Chittor to hit NH76 towards Kota, without going through any kind of civilisation.
Wifey was in favour of halting at Chittorgarh, but I have a bad habit of not being very flexible on preset plans, hence insisted on continuing to Bundi estimating to cover the balance 150 odd kms in 3 hrs. The NH76 from Chittor was a driving paradise, super smooth 4 lane with hardly any traffic, which made us slightly wary at that evening time. It was so desolate that we stopped for a quick chai after Chittor to confirm we were on the right track, confirmed to move till Bijoliya and turn left for 40 kms to Bundi. Breezed through to Bijoliya in quick time and was dark by the time reached Bijoliya at about 730 pm. With some difficulty got on the state highway to Bundi and to my shock it was a nightmare.
The road was rough aggravated by the showers some time back. Add to that the pitch darkness made it difficult to move at speeds beyond 20-30 km/hr. I was literally counting kms and slowly starting to regret not halting at Chittorgarh. It was a weird road leading which would be smooth for some distance and then suddenly rough and potholed. Somehow we managed to navigate and reached Bundi and hit a terrible line of trucks and buses on Bundi bypass at about 9-30 pm. This is where things started getting worst courtesy Google maps. On setting the Hotel Vrindawati as destination, it took us through the outer town to a point where I had to ask a auto driver, who directed me to turn into the old city.
Now for those who was familiar with old city parts in Rajasthan can visualize the narrow roads with houses and shops and which two vehicles have to literally squeeze through to cross. I did not fancy driving my XUV at that hour through the old town, hence get alternate directions from the auto driver. Again hit the Bundi bypass and turned off based on Google maps and directions from passer bys. To my utter dismay found that I had got into the old town again with no space to turn back. After about 16 hrs of driving, it was a nightmare to navigate the XUV through the dark alleys with scooters parked in between, cows resting in between and what not. I had started wondering on the next course of action but stuck to Google maps out of no choice, when loud shrill noise and bright lights came across the road to find that I was coming against a North Indian baraat procession. This was it, I simply gave up and stopped in between. The baraat had a truck coming from the other side and a Maruti Swift parked on one side made it impossible for us to cross each other. The whole XUV was now engulfed with loud noise and bright lights with baraatis dancing in joy.
I gave up and simply shut the vehicle, I had expected to be in nice cosy bed by this time. I was now so frustrated that I was contemplating moving back to Chittorgarh, since by this time my wife had checked up with some hotels and them were full. However full credit to the baraatis, I had 4 to 5 jolly people giving my micro directions, albeit conflicting sometimes. I simply followed them, moving my car back-fort-left-right and somehow managed to squeeze thorough the mess, profusely thanking them for their persistence. I moved on through the narrow alley, asked for directions to get out of the old town and finally got out though a old city gate, to a slightly wider road to the newer part of Bundi.
My wife suddenly alerted that Hotel Vrindawati was showing up after a left turn at about 1 kms, the road looked drivable hence decided to take the bait and thankfully reached Hotel Vrindawati in Bundi at 10-30 pm. The manager was waiting for us since we had called from midway and I found out that we were just a few minutes away from the Hotel, when the auto driver and Google maps had misguided us. All is well that ends well, the hotel being a smallish RTDC set up had no functional canteen, but the manager was grateful to quickly cook up steaming dal rice to end the marathon driving odyssey from Thane to Bundi covering 985 kms in about 17 hrs, giving me a taste of everything from the superfast 4 lane roads to heavy cement traffic to single lane potholed district roads to charmingly narrow old town roads in Rajasthan. It was too much stimuli for my mind to take in a single day and we simply crashed to bed.
In retrospect I decided never to venture on unknown roads post 7 pm and never completely rely on Google maps especially in town/city areas, always double check with passer bys. Please let me know if anyone has any comments and suggestions, this being my first travelogue, I will post the balance soon.
The first half was spend in roaming around Bundi with an autorickshaw at our disposal. On Bundi, it is a typical Shekhawati town with old city with gates to enter them and narrow lanes inside, which reminded me of Udaipur. There is the Bundi palace with artistic colourful murals and the worn down Taragarh fort ideal for long walks. Some pics below, but overall a good stopver for anyone in this side of the country.
We checked on directions to Sawai Madhopur, our next destination and were recommended the Bundi Lakheri state highway and the Kota-Lakheri-Sawai Madhopur-Lalsot mega highway further on. Accordingly, we started at around 11-30 and hit the Bundi Lakheri state highway which is two lane not so super smooth road but nothing to be bothered of., It was a very charming drive running through small villages and a long forested hill parallel to the road. The traffic was typical rural India with tum-tums, local buses, bikes and a few trucks. After crossing a small railway crossing near the ACC plant at Lakheri, we joined the Kota Lalsot highway, which is a very smooth two laned road with little traffic. We made good progress passing through the gorgeous fort of Indragarh, which looked very inviting but we had targeted to catch the afternoon safari at Ranthambore hence gave a skip. We reached Sawai Madhopur and found our abode at Ranthambore Castle Jhoomar Baori at around 2 pm, just in time for the afternoon Safari.
We had an exciting afternoon safari in canters, sighting three tigers for about 45 minutes, pics posted below. The hotel Castle Jhoomar Baori is simply wow for its location about 1 km inside the forest on the top of a hill, giving fabulous 360 degrees view with an old world charm.
Day 3 :
We had two safaris in canters and had some good sightings three elusive leopards. Pics below.
We had to pick up my kids and in laws from Sawai Madhopur station at 6-30 am and proceed on to Agra. Accordingly checked for the route and freezed on Sawai Madhopur Lalsot Dausa to join the NH 11 to Bharatpur Agra. I had read some negative reviews on the Lalsot Dausa stretch but was told that it was fine now. Kids were excited to be in their loved XUV and moved on at 700 am to the Lalsot road which continued to retain its two laned smooth tarmac. Had a quick chai and packed breakfast of sandwiches at a roadside dhaba before Lalsot. There was some traffic navigating through Lalsot and a small poor patch before joining the Lalsot Dausa road, which was not so smooth like the earlier one, but nothing to be worried about. We had to move through Dausa town due to our failure to locate a bypass, not sure if there is one. But we did not face any major traffic and soon joined the 4 laned Jaipur _ Agra NH 11. The vehicle had diesel to its fill, and moved on NH 11, a good 4 laned highway but some more touristy traffic of buses and private cars.
On checking at a toll booth before Bharatpur, I was told that Fatehpur Sikri is right on NH 11 just about 30 kms before Agra, which was a pleasant surprises, hence decided to have a stopover at Fatehpur Sikri at about 1100 am. We hired a guide and took about one hour to visit the capital city of Emperor Akbar, some pics posted below. It was a grand monument, but felt slightly peeved at the guides and other touts who always gave a feeling of their intentions to fleece you. We avoided having lunch at hotel which the guide took us, moved on the NH 11 and had lunch at a small dhaba on NH 11.
We reached Agra and had some difficulty again in using Google maps to our hotel, but wise with the Bundi experience supplemented Google with local googles or the passer bys and reached Hotel Alleviate at about 230 pm. We had rest and moved out again to keep our online booking appointment with the Taj at 430 pm. Although I had decided not to drive within city limits for sightseeing, the autos in Agra were just looking to fleece us for a short distance. Ultimately took my vehicle to the Taj East gate, which was easily found courtesy the excellent signages on the Agra roads atleast for the key tourist spots. Spend the evening roaming around the Taj, about which the lesser said the better. Pics below.
We started the day before sunsise based on the recommendation of a friend to head across the Yamuna to Mehtab Bagh and what a beauty. This is a garden just behind the Taj Mahal across the Yamuna and gives very different views of the monument without any touristy irritation. Highly recommended for a visit especially at sunrise or sunset. Pics below.
We checked out of the hotel at about 800 am, crossed the Yamuna and had a stopover at the tomb of Imatud Daullah, again highly recommended. It is older than the Taj, often called as Baby Taj and said to have inspired the monument. Although smaller in size the decorative work on the walls is much more intricate than its more illustrious neighbour. We continued our journey towards Chandigarh hitting the Yamuna Expressway coming out of Agra town. The expressway is just pure driving bliss, smooth 6 laned roads with hardly any traffic. Infact it was a struggle to keep myself awake courtesy the cruise control on the XUV. I wonder if it is actually an excess because it hardly had any traffic, maybe the steep toll of 395 bucks is a hindrance. Whatever, I was not complaining and made smooth progress hitting Noida at about 1130 am.
As suggested by HVK, took the DND flyway and the ring road via Nizamuddin toward Mukarba Chowk. As expected there was a bit of traffic in Delhi but nothing alarming and reached Mukarba Chowk at about 12-45 pm to hit NH1 towards Karnal Panipat Chandigarh. It was the typical highway traffic with public busues, private cars resorts and dhabas all around. We had lunch at Mannat dhaba in Karnal since the very famous Sukhdev dhaba was very crowded. One this which surprised me was the multitude of vegetarian dhabas, I had expected the food on this stretch to be predominantly non vegetarian but was quite contrary to the same. The road till Chandigarh is more or less good with some traffic and a few diversions for flyover constructions. This time the navigation using Google maps and the road signages were very efficient and dropped us at our hotel Lemon Tree at about 4-30 pm. We had a quick freshening up and visited the famous rock garden in the evening.
Day 6 :
Right from the beginning, I was slightly worried about todays journey to Manali, especially on the route to be taken basis the various discussions on the forum on the Kiratpur Saheb Bilaspur stretch to be a nightmare. I had been checking with taxi drivers at dhabas and hotel, everyone seemed to still favour the Kiratpur Saheb Bilaspur route inspite of the poor stretch. There have been suggestions in the forum to use the Darlaghat Ghaghas route or the Una Mandi route, but the lack of on the ground feedback made me take the beaten path. Accordingly left Chandigarh at about 830 am, navigated through Mohali town (not sure if there is a bypass) and hit the Ropar highway which was narrow two laned with speedy buses for some time and then transitioned to a 4 laned smooth highway (not sure if I missed a better route). But nevertheless with my expectations very low, the progress till Kiratpur was smooth and took the right turn towards Manali at about 100 am.
As expected the road transitioned from bad to worse once the gradual ascend started after Kiratpur. Apparently the culprit is the presence of three cement plants in Barmana and Darlaghat which calls for heavy truck traffic which the hilly roads just cant take. Whatever the reason, it is a nightmare will Bilaspur, hilly road with potholes and slow trucks blocking ones way causing a distance of about 50 kms to take about 2 hrs. We had a quick tea stop at Bilaspur anticipating the road to improve, which it did because off the reduced traffic, but still would not call it the best of roads. There is a narrow bridge at Ghaghas, time consuming navigation thorough Sundernagar town and th e 25 km stretch till Mandi bypass, passing through the twin towns of Sundernagar & Mandi. Although the roads may not be very bad, but the above factors make the progress slow till Mandi, we finally crossed Mandi only at about 2-30 pm for a lunch halt at a roadside dhaba.
Moving on, we crossed the beautiful Pandoh dam on the river Beas, which would keep us company right till Manali. The steep ascend of about 10-15 km after Pandoh with beautiful views of the Beas is a delight to drive on, although one has to watch out for the narrow roads, which culminate into the thrilling cold drive through the 3 km tunnel at Aut. We entered the valley after crossing the tunnel, which completely marked a change in the landscape, weather and people and the road tarmac. It was a refreshing drive for about 40 km till Kullu on smooth tarmac, with beautiful hills, the gurgling river beside and a chill in the air. The Kullu bypass on the opposite side of the river is very efficient and we finally reached our abode in Manali, the HPTDC log huts around 6 pm after a 10 hour gruelling drive from Manali. It was a feeling of elation and emotion to my beloved XUV for covering 2250 kms from Mumbai without any fuss.
In retrospect, I think it is really worthwhile to explore alternate routes to avoid the Kiratpur Bilaspur stretch. Infact on my way back via Shimla the route from Ghaghas to Simla and Chandigarh was much better making me wonder if it is actually better to take the Shimla highway from Chandigarh and reach Ghaghas onward to Manali.
Day 7 and 8
We explored Manali giving the XUV a complete rest. It was a blessing to use the local taxi especially considering the parking chaos of hundreds of vehicles at the Snow Point, Solang valley.
We left Manali early at about 700 am towards Chail. It was a chilly morning about 10 deg and a delightful drive through the sparse traffic. Basis our enquiries, we were advised not to venture on the Jalori pass but stick to the Chandigarh highway till Ghaghas and then take a left turn towards Shimla and Chail. We were making rapid progress due to sparse traffic and the now familiar route, when my vehicle had a small mishap while overtaking a local transport rickshaw before Mandi bypass. While there was no major damage excepting a few scratches on the front bumper, the left mirror was completely broken. While we continued to move on, I was wary of progressing on the hilly roads without the left mirror. I stopped and called the Mahindra XUV helpline and fortunately they informed me of a service dealer at Mandi, just about 20 kms ahead. It was very prompt on their part to connect me and the dealer. We finally had a new mirror attached at Mandi dealership, but the whole incident took more than an hour and we finally left Mandi only by about 1100 am.
We crossed the town traffic though Mandi Surendranagar and moved on towards Ghaghas. My overconfidence of knowing the route made me take a wrong turn towards Simla which we realised anfter checking with a passerby. We had to turn back and move on the Chandigarh high for about 10 15 km more before we reached the left turn towards Shimla at Ghaghas at about 1230 am. The roads improved drastically after this till Bhrampurkar, where it joins the NH 88 to Shimla. The road condition deteriorates slightly alongwith heavy traffic courtesy the Darlaghat cement works. However this is still much better than the Kiratpur Bilaspur stretch. The progress was slow till Darlaghat but a beauty to drive owing to the continuous ascend and descent, which was also irritating due to slow heavy vehicles. Had our lunch at Darlaghat at about 200 pm after which the road quality is much better till Shimla and the landscape is greener with deciduous pine cover.
We reached outskirts of Shimla and were presented with two options to reach Chail, both about 45 kms via either Kufri of Kandaghat. I chose the Kandaghat option just because the Kufri route required us to pass through Shimla. We continued on the Shimla Chandigarh highway till Kandaghat, which was a bliss after driving through the roads around Bilaspur-Darlaghat. We reached Kandaghat at about 4 pm and took the left turn towards Chail. This is a lovely drive of about 25 kms along a narrow state highway with light local traffic of a few buses and cars. Although the progress is slow, the views and climate is absolutely gorgeous. There is a small stretch at Sadhupul where the bridge has been washed and we need to get across a muddy road of about 2 km to cross a makeshit bridge over a small river, which is an absolute delight. We finally reached the Hotel Chail Palace, our abode at about 5 pm.
We explored Chail, a quaint little village with the simply gorgeous Palace hotel run by HPTDC. Again it is highly recommended over staying in the touristy Shimla. Just a trivia, the Chail palace was used for filming the blockbuster 3 Idiots as the house of Ranchordas in Shimla with the ashes scene.
We were to start out for our journey back to Mumbai dropping our kids and in laws at Delhi to go onward by train. However the kids were now enjoying the drive and insisted on accompanying us all the way back to Mumbai. Accordingly the train tickets cancelled, we started from Chail at about 700 am. It had been raining since the earlier evening adding a cloudy charm to the drive back till Kandaghat and onwards till Solan on the Shimla Chandigarh highway. It was comparatively a smooth but characterless drive till the end of the ghats at Kalka after which the road became a superb 4 laned highway. This is the new Himalayan highway crossing Panchkula, Zirakpur and bypassing Chandigarh towards Ambala. The entire stretch is smooth and efficient courtesy the flyovers which completely avoid any city bottlenecks. We stopped for a breakfast at Mc Donalds after Zirapkpur at about 10 am.
We continued on the NH1 towards Delhi crossing Ambala, Karnal and Kurukshetra. Due to the rains earlier it was a pleasant drive all through with beautiful cloudy weather. The NH1 is also very efficient baring a couple of diversions on account of road constructions. Since we did not require to go to Delhi, I was contemplating bypassing Delhi and taking the Panipat Rohatk- Rewari route which was suggested by Google maps. There were a few apprehensions in the forums on this route hence I was not sure. We stopped at Panipat for a diesel and customary purchase of the Pachranga pickles, where we were advised to take the Panipat Rewai route to go towards Jaipur. This was reiterated by the toll plaza attendant, who advised us to take the Panipat flyover and join the Panipat bypass after crossing Panipat. Accordingly it was very easy to find this route and infact the signages for Jaipur also required us to take a left after the Panipat flyover and cross back over NH1 to move on the Panipat - Rohtak link road at about 1230 pm.
This turned out to be a great decision for this was a freshly laid 4 laned tarmac with hardly any traffic. The entire 220 kms from Panipat to Rewari would rate as one among the best roads I have taken on this trip. There is hardly any traffic with modern signages and flyovers passing thorough the green and prosperous Haryana countryside. We reached the NH8 around Rewari at about 3 pm covering 220 kms from Panipat to Rewari in about 2 ½ hrs saving atleast an hour and traffic torture had be passed through Delhi. We halted at the Haldiram on just a few kms after taking a right on the Delhi Jaipur Highway.
Moving on at 4 pm, the weather had turned from cloudy pleasant to dusty hot by this time. The question of a suitable night halt was debated. We had not made any specific plans and considered Jaipur, Ajmer or Chittorgarh, since I had not been able to find any suitable staying options between Ajmer and Chittorgarh. The NH8 from Rewari to Jaipur was hot dusty with considerable traffic and many diversions on account of road widening. While overall okay, it was much below my expectations from a golden quadrilateral highway. We hit Jaipur bypass at about 6 pm and contemplated staying in Jaipur for a couple of days, since my family had never been to Jaipur. However by this time the trip fatigue had started to get in and we decided to just move on towards Mumbai. Accordingly we confirmed with Hotel 1589 Heritage on the NH8 near Kishangarh and booked our rooms. By this time it was late evening on the Jaipur Ajmer highway and the traffic had increased making it a bit tiring now. The entire Jaipur Ajmer stretch of NH8 seems to be dotted with dhabas, highway motels and resort retreats. We finally located Hotel 1589 on NH8 at about 8 pm ending our 1000 odd kms from Chail in about 13 hours from the chilly mountains of Himachal to hot dusty plains of Rajasthan.
Since this was going to be a longest distance to be travelling on this trip, started at 600 am from Kishangarh and hit NH8 which was truly a beauty with smooth roads all through. We had a breakfast immediately at a local dhaba anticipating lack of options further towards Bhilwara. While we moved on the super highway, I was noticing signage towards Udaipur, Beawar, Mumbai but nothing for Chittorgarh or Bhilwara. It hit me that we were on NH8 and had not diverted to NH79 as advised on these forums. It was a dilemma as the road was just too good to leave and the signage for Mumbai/Ahmedabad urged me to go on straight. However I stuck to the advice on the forums and turned left to a local road towards Nasirabad. It was a bad stretch for a few kms making me regret my decision but it improved later on to join the NH79 at Nasirabad towards Bhilwara. I guess the diversion for NH79 from NH8 was before my hotel in Kishangarh and I probably did not notice it last evening.
I understand from the forums that the NH8 is great till Beawar but a nightmare from Beawar to Udaipur. The NH79 was again a 4 lane road but definitely not as spectacular as NH8 which we left. The road to Bhilwara was again full of heavy trucks which was slowing down our progress and we bypassed Bhilwara on NH79 and reached Chittorgarh at around 1000 am. It was a good decision to stay at Kishangarh and leave with breakfast as there seemed to be hardly any decent hotels or dhabas all the way from Kishangarh to Chittorgarh. Since I had been on the NH8 from Ahmedabad to Mumbai and read so much about it on the forums, I decided to return via Chittorgarh- Udaipur Ahmedabad Mumbai, inspite of the great experience we had while coming via NH3. Another reason was also the various options of taking a break for the night in case I felt tired in the evening on NH8 should be better than on NH3.
Hence used the excellent bypass at Chittorgarh with great signage to take the road towards Udaipur, which was again a beauty right till the outskirts of Udaipur, hardly any traffic. We crossed outer Udaipur at 1100 am and had delicious onion kachori with a quick stop and route check. As per the advice on the forums Udaipur bypass was a mess and going through the city was advised. However the tea vendor suggested using the bypass and I was also not in a mood to drive through Udaipur city, hence took the bypass. What a disaster it is - A two lane road full of slow moving trucks and potholes. I immediately started to regret the decision but could not find a suitable way to turn back hence moved on. The road can be really messy and has a potential to be a major bottleneck, we were quite fortunate and moving slowly but surely and crossed the bypass to join the NH8 at around 1200, about 45 minutes to cross the 10-15 km bypass, which looking at the road can be much worse.
The NH8 from Udaipur was again a 4 lane beauty and fun to drive on full of gradual twists turns and descent. We made good progress and stopped before Shyamalji at about 2 pm for lunch at a local dhaba. I had read on the forums advising on a new road via Godhra to Vadodara bypassing Ahmedabad. A route check at the hotel confirmed my idea of trying this new route, which was difficult to miss after crossing the Gujrat border at Shyamalji, the signage to Vadodara/Mumbai directed me to turn left under a flyover on NH8 onto the Shyalji Godhra - Halol road. I immediately praised my decision for the freshly laid 4 laned road with smooth surface and bright green signages and scarce traffic was a beauty to drive on.
The route bypasses Godhra and the signages take you right at Halol and is absolutely non stop accepting a couple of small towns without bypasses. It ends at Halol where there is a slight confusion since the signage for Vapi directs to the old route but one needs to turn right to Halol Vadodara link road which joins the NH8 under the flyover on Vadodara bypass. We started from Shyamalji at about 215 reaching Vadodara at about 430 pm covering the distance of about 220 kms in just over 2 hrs with hardly any traffic. Overall I think this is definitely a better option rather than using the NH8 via Ahmedabad.
We moved on NH8 towards Bharuch and the issue of the Narmada Bridge started troubling me. While a tea break was due, I decided to move on and have a break only after the much dreaded Narmada crossing. While this was my first instance, the forums have various descriptions of the whole issue with snarls holding one for a couple of hours a possibility, which was the cause of worry. The road meanwhile although 6 laned was full of traffic of trucks, buses and passenger cars and definitely not a pleasure to drive on. I had taken from various posts on the forums to use the Bharuch Ankleshwar bypass towards Mumbai whereas use the Golden bridge in the city while going away from Mumbai. I stuck to this advice and asked a driver of the next car at a small hold up just before the turn into Bharuch. He advised me to stick to the left side of the route and use the smaller older bridge on the left, which most of the cars would take. Accordingly I followed him and crossed the Narmada using the older bridge and the subsequent bypass in about 15-20 mimutes. It was a relief since it was truly a chaotic situation on the other side. The traffic on the other side was held up for about 1 km towards Mumbai with a large number of small vehicles coming from Mumbai coming on the wrong side and using the older bridge. A big word of caution to everyone especially those coming from Mumbai side to really double check the options thoroughly.
By this time everyone was tired longing for a break and we stopped at a food mall before Surat at about 600 pm. By the time we moved on it was time for the night to fall and the heavy traffic on NH8 was getting on my nerves with the bright lights and the last 12 hrs of driving starting to get to me. This stretch was the worst part of the entire trip and I was longing to reach home in the worm comforts of the bed. I would have ideally taken a break at this time bit considering I was just about 4 hrs way from home, egged myself to continue. The NH8 from Vadodara to Mumbai although smooth 6 laned with superb flyovers and signage still needs another option just for the sheer traffic density. We continued to move on NH8 passing Vapi and had another dinner break at Vittal Kamath at about 9 pm. Moving on we crossed the border into our home state of Maharashtra after a small hold up. The traffic had moderately eased out after Vapi so had the number of dhabas and hotels which were just neck to neck from Surat to Vapi. It was now a better drive along the dark smooth highway and we quick moved on crossing Charoti and Manor.
The road after Manor started to slightly deteriorate with some diversions due to expansion work going on and finally we hit a hold up of trucks near Shirsad. It was about 1100 in the night and so frustrating to be held up in a line of trucks about 50 km away from home after a long 16 hr drive. It took us about 30 min to navigate through the mess which was caused by a truck failure on a narrow road widening diversion. I moved on and finally heaved a sigh of relief on turning into the home territory of Ghodbunder road into my home at Thane. Another point I noticed in the opposite direction is the huge line of trucks on Ghodbunder road to turn on to NH8 coming from Thane. Anyone venturing onto NH8 needs from Thane to please note and beware of this. We finally reached our home at Thane at about 003 ending the marathon final day covering about 1150 kms from Kishangarh to Thane in about 18 hours.
It was an absolute delightful experience to cherish for a lifetime for all of us allowing us to feel our beloved motherland up close. Overall the people very nice throughout always ready to help us and offer advice. I have for sure becoming a fan of road trips and will surely take another one on the next available opportunity. A few observations from this trip.
1) The NH3 is definitely a strong recommendation for Mumbai to Chittorgarh. On the way back my guess is we would have saved about 2-3 hours had be taken NH3 instead of NH8. It has much lesser traffic density but also lesser options for a break.
2) There needs to be an option for the Kiratpur-Bilaspur stretch which is a shame to reach the beautiful Kullu valley. One option could be the Himalayan highway from Chandigarh to Solan and the left towards Darlaghat to join the Manali highway at Ghaghas.
3) The discovery of the trip for me were the superb Panipat Rohtak Rewari highway for Paipat to Jaipur bypassing Delhi and the Shyamalji Halol for going from Udaipur to Vadodara bypassing Ahmedabad. I would strongly recommend these not much for the time saved but for the joy of stress free driving.
4) A discipline to be followed on such road trips avoid being a solo driver, no driving beyond 7 pm, maximum driving distance of about 800 km for solo drivers and breaks at least every 3 hrs.
5) Finally my companion XUV 500 was absolutely a delight and took the trip without any fuss. I did not even feel the need to check the pressure in the tyres. It drank about Rs. 16000 worth of diesel to run the distance of 4,386 kms alongwith about Rs. 4000 spend on tolls. I feel much more closer to my vehicle having spend such long hours at the wheel now.
Last edited by GTO : 7th May 2015 at 13:36. Reason: Adding pics to the opening post :)
|7th May 2015, 13:40||#3|
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Re: Himachal calling: A 13-day road trip from Mumbai
Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
|7th May 2015, 17:17||#4|
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Re: Himachal calling: A 13-day road trip from Mumbai
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