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Old 7th February 2016, 03:45   #1
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Default Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim

Hello fellow BHPians


I have been an avid follower of the travelogues and have been dreaming of taking out time from the madness of Mumbai life and spend a few days following my passion for driving. I truly believe that the journey is as important as the destination and hence I chose a destination that offered varying terrains, driving conditions and temperature changes.


Between 1st Dec to 13th Dec 2015, we did a road trip from Mumbai to Sikkim and covered North and East Sikkim


Sharing our experiences in the following pages..
The route map:

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Itinerary
Day 1 – Mumbai – Nagpur
Day 2 – Nagpur – Sambalpur
Day 3 – Sambalpur – Howrah
Day 4 – Howrah – Siliguri
Day 5 – Siliguri – Gangtok
Day 6 – Gangtok Sightseeing and Permits etc
Day 7 – Nathula
Day 8 – Lachen
Day 9 – Gurudongmar – Siliguri
Day 10 – Siliguri – Kolkata
Day 11 – Kolkata – Puri
Day 12 – Puri – Vishakhapatnam
Day 13 – Vishakhapatnam – Hyderabad
Day 14 – Hyderabad – Mumbai

Day 1 – Mumbai – Nagpur

We started from Vashi at 6.00 am to cover a distance of 830 kms (our longest distance covered in any of the days in the entire trip). The route upto Nashik is a breeze but as soon as we turn towards Aurangabad, both the route and traffic sense went for a toss. Whilst we found a divided road for most of the distance, some construction work and bad traffic slowed us down considerably. The worst part of the distance was between Jalna and Amravati where the roads were in a pathetic condition and we had to cross craters the size of my XUV (All four wheels in one crater). Overall the drive to Nagpur was bad for almost 50% of the distance. We stayed at the Radisson on the highway and planned to leave for Sambalpur the next day around 7.30

The XUV ready to rule the road:
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-home.jpg

Day 2 – Nagpur – Sambalpur


It made me really sad to see that the road between Nagpur to Sampalpur was generations better than the previous day. As a prosperous state, Maharashtra roads are really really bad compared to the roads of MP, Chhatisgarh and Odisha (states we traversed on Day 2). Most of the journey was four laned and we needed our first Mahindra Service Center visit. My horn was making funny noises, dippers had suddenly conked off and the indicator switch was not coming back after negotiating the turn. Went to Ralas Motors in Raipur who were prompt to help out. Repaired the horn under warranty and also agreed to change the indicator and dipper switch panel under warranty. Took around 2 hours to complete this whilst we enjoyed lunch at a place called MP Dhaba across the road. I have to say, food in Central India tastes excellent on the highway! We were on a way around 1.30 and drove straight to our hotel in Sambalpur (Hotel Niiki, yes, that place is devoid of hotels!). Dinner was pathetic there (I didn’t expect much from a small town but anyone should be able to make Dal Tadka and Roti!). We stuck to simple food as we wanted to stay fit for all day drives and hence had a simple fresh vegetable and dal instead of any greasy meats or gravies. Sambalpur was actually a bit of fun to roam around in the evening. Shy couples were tucked away in basement bars, TVs were playing Zee Cinema, people were playing cards on the road side – the simple life.

On the way to Raipur:
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-raipur.jpg

Day 3 – Sambalpur – Howrah

I was dreading this day as I was fearing safety and road quality issues crossing Jharkhand onwards to West Bengal. My fears on road safety came to life when we crossed the Orissa border. A 10 km patch of road on the border was frequented by trucks and roads were non existent. Pale mud was the only visible sight and in heavy traffic, mud was flying all around. We drove into 2 feet deep potholes and dodged them by driving on road side edges and covered these 10 kms in over 1.5 hours. Once we hit the highway, roads were patchy as a lot of construction was going on.

However we got 10-15 km patches where we covered some time. Overall it took almost 11 hours to reach Howrah. We stayed at the Fortune in Howrah right next to Kona expressway (again sticking to our stick to highway hotels theory) which was a terrible terrible choice. The hotel had rotting rooms with seepage marks on the walls and we had to request a change of rooms. The belldesk mishandled my bag and broke my 100$ single malt bottle that soiled all my warm clothes. I was travelling for the rest of the trip sober and reeking of alcohol!! Food was a disaster as well. Pathetic choice in the dinner buffet and stale bread and breakfast. We bid adieu to this totally avoidable property and headed towards Siliguri

Day 4 – Kolkata - Siliguri

I had heard horror stories of this patch and was wondering whether to drive via WB or Bihar.Himadri Mondal came to the rescue as he had just done that patch (His help would be valuable even further on – Keep reading for more). He told me a specific path to take to avoid bad roads but alas, I gave in to the trap of Google Maps and took the SH to Siliguri. Oh man, the bad roads put Jharkhand and Maharastra to shame. Believe me if someone can find worse roads than Maharashtra, it was here. We stopped for lunch at Malda. It was pleasantly surprising to find a Pizza Hut here and we gorged on individual deep dish extra cheese pizzas. The 500 odd km journey took us 14 hours of terrible patchy driving and this was indeed the worst drive in the last 4 days. We must mention that the Farakka stretch had crazy truck queues and even though we dodged by driving on the wrong side lane and the right side lane, this stretch took us almost 1.5 hours. We reached our hotel The Summit Milestone in Siliguri around 9 pm (Again bang on the highway) and promptly ordered dinner. Dinner was surprisingly delicious and Dum Aloo and Dal Tadka really tasted like food for the gods. We went to sleep by 11 for a 7 hour sleep. The next day wasn’t going to be tough (only 3-4 hours to Gangtok).

Day 5 – Siliguri – Gangtok

Woke up to a chilly morning and enjoyed fresh eggs and ginger tea at the hotel itself. For our entire journey, we stuck to breakfast in the hotel itself as it would help us avoid an additional stopover. An added benefit was a better assurance of cleanliness in good hotels as some of the highway joints were indeed patchy. We reached Gangtok around 11 and checked into The Summit Ttakshang. We chose this hotel as it was just a flight of stairs from MG Road and we wanted to stay in a central place from where travelling around would be easy. We didn’t waste any time and rushed to gather permits for East and North Sikkim. This is where Himadri provided his valuable insight. We went to a small photocopy/news stand called City Link and the guy gave us forms for North and East Sikkim. He is located right next to the Tourist Information Centre on MG Road. We were extremely disappointed with the tourist office as they bluntly told us only Sikkim registered vehicles were allowed to travel to the restricted areas of NathuLa and Gurudongmar (North Sikkim). My heart sank when I heard this as I thought I had driven 3000 kms only to find out I cant drive to my destination. We had a local contact in Sikkim (A senior govt official who came to our rescue). So here is the deal. Technically all vehicles can ply to the restricted areas but the Sikkim police and local government body needs a guarantor as well as disclaimer that we have good intentions and are responsible for our actions. Himadri told me to visit the Nathu La office just below the Tourist Centre but they also refused to give me the permit. However our friend agreed to be our guarantor. He took us to the SPs office at 3rd mile where an officer issues permits for both North and East Sikkim. He chatted up with him in local language and I could see he was assuring him that we were good intentioned tourist who “lived to drive” ;-). He smiled at us and nodded. Yay! We had our permits! Once they issued the documents, we had to go down to the payment counter near the MG Road crossing (INR 200 per person). Payment and permits done, we were now relaxed that we were indeed going to drive upto the Chinese Border! Little did we realize that it was now 4 pm and we were about to faint from malnutrition. We instantly followed the “when in rome” approach and went to a local restaurant and pub to try local food. Ordered bbq ribs, momos and local curries made out of egg, cheese and butter. Stomachs full we strolled around MG Road to digest and slept early excited about our Nathula Drive the next morning

Some clicks along the Siliguri-Gangtok route:
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gangtok1.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gangtok3.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gangtok4.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gangtok5.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gangtok6.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gangtok7.jpg

View from our room in Gangtok:
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gangtok2.jpg

Day 6 – NathuLa!

We had a quick 7 am breakfast at the hotel and started on our NathuLa trip. We were going to go up to NathuLa via the route from Gangtok and come back via the Old Silk Route (Please note you need to get that specifically written on your permit). This was technically Day 1 of sightseeing and spotting for us and boy we were not disappointed! The road to NathuLa is in top class condition thanks to our Army’s upkeep. Most of the journey did not even have a bump. It was treacherous at points but never a heart in mouth moment. Some experience in the hills is required as some sharp hairpins at 30-35 degrees could be difficult to navigate for a novice. We kept seeimg waterbodies and little army posts and villages all along the way. Stopped by the main lake and took in the cool breeze, shining sun and clean air. I actually breathed really deep and hard and honestly felt it had a cleansing effect. One of the things I noticed about Sikkim was its cleanliness. Not only are the laws strict, the civic sense it commendable. Right up to NathuLa, we parked a little below and walked up to the International Border. NathuLa is a peaceful border and we met soldiers both on the Indian and Chinese side. Very friendly people who showed us how both armies take care of their side of things. There is a tucked away tea shop aptly named 14000 Café marking our current altitude. Momos and Tea at that spot tasted heavenly.

Some pics along the Nathula ascent:
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula3.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula1.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula2.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula5.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula6.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula8.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula7.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula12.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula13.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula14.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula15.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula16.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula17.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula18.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula23.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula24.jpg
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula21.jpg

More coming up in the followup to this...

Last edited by GTO : 8th February 2016 at 11:11. Reason: Rule #11. Thanks
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Old 7th February 2016, 04:00   #2
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Default re: Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim

Waterbodies galore on the way to Nathula:

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula4.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula9.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula10.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula11.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula19.jpg

A silent grazing yak enroute:
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula20.jpg

The famous lakeview:
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-nathula22.jpg

It was almost noon now and we decided to explore the old silk route now. The Zuluk photos from google were doing a dance in my head now. Slotted myself into the first gear and started the descent via the Old Silk Route. It was a great feeling to drive on a route where traders used to traverse borders to exchange goods. However, my photo opp for Zuluk went for a toss as we got suddenly engulfed by clouds. All we could see were a few peaks with a cloud cover below. However, driving through multiple hairpins at a descent dogding fog was a lot of fun! We stopped by on one such hairpin to enjoy Wai Wai and tea and then restarted the descent back to Gangtok. The 5-6 hours of slow relaxed driving was an incredible experience and something I would encourage every driver at heart to do.

Some clicks from our Zuluk/Old Silk Route descent:

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-zuluk1.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-zuluk2.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-zuluk3.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-zuluk4.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-zuluk5.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-zuluk6.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-zuluk7.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-zuluk8.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-zuluk9.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-zuluk10.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-zuluk11.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-zuluk12.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-zuluk13.jpg

Day 7 – Gangtok to LaChen


The previous day’s drive to NathuLa made me believe that Sikkim roads are indeed not as bad as perceived. And yet, I was to be proven wrong. Travelling to North Sikkim as a whole different ballgame to the pleasure that is NathuLa. We started descending from Gangtok to join the road to Lachen. If you haven’t read about that before, the North Sikkim circuit cannot be covered in a day. There are 2 routes to do. Yumthang valley and Lachen-Gurudongmar. We gave Yumthang a miss as we were short of time and decided to do the night stop in Lachen and cover Gurudongmar early the next day. Lachen is a little hamlet that is strewn with small 6-8 room hotels. The place has limited resources (power and water) but incredibly this was the best Vodafone 3G I enjoyed during my entire trip so far! The average speed for the 120 km journey to LaChen was 20-25 kmph taking into account contruction work, land slides, wooden bridges and non-existent roads that we had to traverse. We reached our hotel around 2 pm and the icy weather hit us hard. The car temp gauge read 4 degrees and even at 2 pm it was very very cold. We had a lunch and tucked in bed to get an afternoon nap after a long time. Woke up at 6 pm to get an early dinner and ate aloo matar and dal with shaking hands. The temp was 0.5 degrees at this point. Did not venture out at all and went back to a freezing bed by 7.

Some clicks enroute Lachen:
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-lachen1.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-lachen2.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-lachen3.jpg

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Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-lachen8.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-lachen9.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-lachen10.jpg

More pics from Lachen and the remaining travelogue coming up..
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Old 7th February 2016, 04:22   #3
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Default re: Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim

More Pics enroute Lachen:
Road widening in progress:
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-lachen11.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-lachen12.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-lachen13.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-lachen14.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-lachen15.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-lachen16.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-lachen17.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-lachen18.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-lachen19.jpg

Fresh snowfall the previous night:
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-lachen20.jpg

The beautiful hamlet:
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-lachen21.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-lachen22.jpg

Day 8 – Gurudongmar and back to Siliguri


Very few experiences can equal waking up because the cold near zero temperatures is unbearable any more. However, a view of freshly fallen snow outside the balcony (it wasn’t there the previous evening) more than made up for it. We got up around 6 and were told that even though Gurudongmar was less than 40 kms away, we should be prepared for a 3-4 hour drive. A quick breakfast of butter toast, aloo paratha and tea was sufficient to warm us up. We started by 7.15 to cover the last bit of the treacherous drive to Gurudongmar. The drive was lined with numerous views of fresh snow on the road and mountains. The curvy non-existent roads ensured we could stop whenever we wanted as speeds throughout were in the range of 10-20 kmph. At various places we saw the river flowing but it froze due to ice cold temperature. There was only one army post on the way where we had to submit our permits one final time.



Some pics along the way:
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr1.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr2.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr3.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr6.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr17.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr18.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr19.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr20.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr21.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr22.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr23.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr24.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr25.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr26.jpg

Coming up..the last few kms and the majestic lake pics..
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Old 7th February 2016, 04:41   #4
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..Gurudongmar continued..

The last 5 kms to Gurudongmar was a surprisingly smooth tarmac road that was probably laid out by the army. We were also acutely aware of the rising altitude and hence drove at a steady speed and did not exert ourselves at all.

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr4.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr14.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr15.jpg


Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr27.jpg


Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr28.jpg


The last patch was an uphill climb over mud and rocks to come to the plateau that is Gurudongmar and boy, the sights we saw compensated for all the tiredness. Everything you read above was for this moment. The 3500+ kms journey culminated with a stunning reward. The only places where Gurudingmar was not blue was where the lake froze to an icy white. We could see the glacier ahead melting due to the sharp sun and joining the lake.



Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr5.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr7.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr8.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr9.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr10.jpg

Parked next to the lake amidst other army cars:
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr11.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr12.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-gdmr13.jpg

However, the winds were mind numbing. Very strong winds at near zero temperature ensured we couldn’t stay there longer than 10 minutes and we were soon descending back. Looked at the watch and it was just 11 am. We decided that instead of wasting a day in Gangtok, lets drive back to Siliguri as we noticed there was a turn that indicated a shortcut down to Siliguri. We had google to help and started back. On the way we found two locals and an army jawan who were also looking to go to Siliguri. We told them to hop in with us. By the time we reach back to Lachen, it was already 2.30 and we were told to quickly leave. We started our journey but alas we hadn’t provided for 2 important issues that were common on hill stations. On a narrow road where only one vehicle could pass at a time, a truck got stuck due to an axle failure. This happened around 4 pm and the second realization struck that in the east, especially in the hills, the sun sets by 4.30. We were helpless as we had already made the hotel modifications. We were stuck for 3 hours as a crane came to tow away the truck. At 7.30 now, it was pitch dark and we were only at the mercy of google maps plus XUV’s map my india navigator. Tips for travelers – In the hills, don’t expect metro like quality in GPS navigation from Google or MMI. Google indicated a route that was showing 88 kms to our destination but as we kept blindly following it for 2 hours, it took us to a hilltop reaching a dead end. Even the locals in the car with us could not help as they did not have experience travelling in the dark. Now we were stuck on an abandoned hilltop with a deadend at 9.30 pm. I was panicking a little as I had many kilometres of driving under my belt but traversing Sikkim’s roads at midnight was not something I was comfortable doing. Having said that, there was little we could do now, so we switched to XUV’s navigation that showed a route of 120 odd kms and started our journey back. We crossed wooden bridges, mud and slush filled roads and dense forests. We believe we missed a turn and went on to the Yumthang road in the absence of light and proper signage. After travelling for 70 odd kms, we ended on the main road and started descending back to Siliguri. Lesson learnt, don’t make impromptu hill drive plans. We reached Siliguri past 1 am and were dead tired. We had basically been driving for 16 hours outside of the 10 minutes at Gurudongmar. We had booked the same Milestone Hotel we stayed at the last time and we just collapsed on the bed.

Day 9 – Siliguri – Kolkata


Our last experience from WB roads was horrendous and we decided to take the Bhagalpur road this time around to reach Kolkata. Boy, the choices for the Siliguri-Kolkata road are either terrible or horrible. We had patches of 4 lanes that were a breeze but come Bhagalpur and we were back to metre long 2 feet deep potholes. Stopped at a Dominos in Bhagalpur market area for a pizza lunch. The entire Bhagalpur stretch cost us a prized 4-5 hours and we decided we wont try any funky routes now. Stuck to the plan and kept driving to reach South Kolkata around 11 pm, a 16 hour ordeal including a lunch and a couple of short breaks.

Day 10 – Kolkata – Puri

We genuinely believed we had now left the worst roads behind us and I still felt disgusted about how bad the Kolkata Siliguri patch was. Left a bitter taste in my mouth and the only reason why I will never drive back to Sikkim will be that I don’t want to drive between Kolkata and Siliguri again. The drive to Puri was a breeze as the entire road is 4 laned and we could average excellent speeds. Sticking to our plan of staying safe, we averages 60-80 kmph and were in Puri around 6. Checked in to the gorgeous Pramod Hotel that felt like a spa. Decided to have local food and tried a local eatery near the temple. Food was satisfactory and we caught up on some precious sleep early.

Day 11 – Puri – Vizag

I wanted to visit the Sun Konark temple as well as catch the famous Puri beach sunrise so I woke up early and was out with my camera at 6. To say the least, it was totally worth it. Caught the first red rays of the sun on the ocean and the peace and calm was just what the body and mind wanted.

The clean and clear beach:
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-puri1.jpg

The fabulous sunrise:
Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-puri2.jpg

The Sun temple is around 20 mins drive from Puri town and it’s a fabulous road with greenery and ocean views. The temple itself was a gorgeous site with excellent carvings and the famour cartwheel. Used the photo op and got a few nice pictures.

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-konark1.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-konark2.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-konark3.jpg

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Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-konark10.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-konark12.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-konark13.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-konark14.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-konark15.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-konark16.jpg

Was back in the hotel by 8 where my friend was ready for breakfast. Enjoyed some south indian delicacies and we were off for Puri temple darshan. Taking god’s blessings, we left around 10.30 am for our next pit-stop – Vizag.

More on Vizag arrival and the remaining part of the trip in the next post..
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Old 7th February 2016, 04:50   #5
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..Arrival at Vizag..

The drive to Vizag was equally good with a 4 lane road throughout. We wanted to also treat ourselves a bit when in Vizag so booked the Novotel which faced the gorgeous Varun beach. Reached Vizag around 6.30 pm starving. Checked in and immediately came down for dinner. I went for a late night walked to soak in some waves and was impressed by the expansive beach and the beautiful residences that line the beach. It actually felt like walking on Vizag’s marine drive! Back in the hotel around 10, went off to sleep dreaming about the drive next day.

Some pics from our room:

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-vizag1.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-vizag2.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-vizag3.jpg

Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim-vizag4.jpg

Day 12 – Vizag – Hyderabad


Woke up to a beautiful sunny morning as I had left the curtains open and the incredible beach was the first sight as I opened up my eyes. Clickworthy, so I popped out for a quick walk by the beach and caught some clicks asap. The drive to Hyderabad was expected to be excellent, so we had a leisurely breakfast and checked out around 8 am. I must say, Novotel knows their food. The breakfast was heavenly and the chutney collection was eye popping. Lipsmackingly good would be a good description for the crisp vadas, sambar and the gazillion type of chutneys! The drive to Hyderabad was fast and zippy and we cruised at a pretty good speed. In line with our target to stay close to the highway, we stuck to staying at Electronic city and found a great option in the Radisson. The Outer Ring Road (ORR) at Hyderabad is a stunning piece of engineering. We sped along that road and I was secretly hoping my exit would be 50 kms away. Seriously the ORR is arguably the best road in the country where you need to really tame your car. If there is one road where cruise control at 140 for 15 minutes is possible, I’d say it would be ORR. The Radisson was an excellent place to stay and this sudden realization dawned about me that this dream trip was about to end…


Day 13 – Hyderabad – Mumbai


With a heavy heart had a breakfast and started back for Mumbai. I was really missing family but somehow the driver in me wasn’t satiated with the 7000+ kms that we were going to complete today. However, it needed to be done so we kicked off to our first intraday stop – Solapur. The road back to Mumbai is partial four lane but definitely goes through some bad patches. Nothing like the Nagpur or Siliguri drive but painful nonetheless. We averaged around 60 and were at the Pune expressway around 5.30 pm.



Drove straight home where the family was waiting to receive me. The kids ran to me and wouldn’t let me even open the car door! I had not cleaned my car for the last 13 days and it had mud, dust, water and grime all over.



My elder daughter refused to recognize the car as it appeared grey instead of black. My take on the grime is just this…an SUV needs to look like an SUV…I’d drive a dusty mud and slush layered SUV any day over a sparkling clean car. The daughters disagree wholeheartedly

Overall this was a trip of a lifetime for me and definitely a bucket list item struck off the list. Having said that, I am definitely bitten by the Himalayan bug now and will be planning another drive soon. Until then...


My utmost thanks to Himadrimondal, debuda, adc and others for their valuable guidance via PMs and their posts.


Feedback on the XUV500 during the journey:


The pros:
  1. Reliability – The car is one refined and reliable piece of machinery. Took all the abuse in its stride and even at midnight on icy cold hills in muddy roads, we knew it will get us through
  2. Power – Outside of one or two patches, the car displayed exemplary power and pick up. I think this machine can do any driveable road anywhere
  3. Service network – We needed to get some small work done and service centres across the country helped. We were never more than 10 kms away from Mahindra support. Even in Raipur, I not only got parts availability but warranty as well!
  4. Mileage – Including hill drives, we averaged 13 kmpl for the entire journey. Given patchy roads and non existent roads, I felt pretty happy with this
  5. ESP/ABS – On one patch between Puri and Vizag, we went over a bump at a high speed and got lofted into the air. The ESP/ABS kicked in and kept correcting the path and what could have been a terrible accident was averted. I have sworn that I will only buy a vehicle with every possible safety feature built in from here on
The cons
  1. Ride quality – The XUV is a great car for the highway and the city, but it fails miserably on ride quality on the patchy terrain. We felt every pebble in the cabin and potholes and road bumps made the drive uncomfortable. Not that it cant handle them but I expected better insulation. Infact I was impressed by the number of Boleros we saw in Sikkim and got the opportunity to drive a friends Bolero as well. It was clearly better suited to those terrains vs my XUV.
  2. Terrible terrible OEM tyres – I intend to send this feedback to Mr Anand Mahindra but I think they should ban the Apollo Apterra HP tyres for the XUV. They were noisy, screeched like crazy and kept slipping and sliding whenever put to test. On sharp inclining hairpins, we could feel the car was powerful enough but the front wheel was spinning and not able to get traction. Similarly near Gurudongmar, the front wheels kept spinning in the mud with no traction. I think the bare minimum tyres that the XUV should come with are the Bridgestone Dueler H/Ts. To summarise we felp unsafe with the Apollos on our return journey and I have changed them to Pirelli Scorpion ATRs at a meagre 33500 kms (I think 15k kms before they should have ideally worn out)
  3. Niggles – Even though I own the second iteration of the car (May 2015 onwards), we had issues with the switch assembly (that controls dippers/indicators etc) conking off enroute, the horn went feeble and the head unit rebooted 3-4 times when pushed to the limit. When I say pushed to the limit, I meant that the head unit was doing the following all at the same time:
a. Bluetooth connected to a primary phone for calling
b. Bluetooth connected to a secondary phone for music
c. GPS on perennially to guide us
d. Regular flipping between menus to check mileage vs music vs GPS

I feel it should have been able to handle these at ease but the system went unresponsive a few times and rebooted completely as well.
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Old 7th February 2016, 11:18   #6
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Default re: Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim

[quote=vikram31;3907642]
Quote:
I truly believe that the journey is as important as the destination...
You are right there. It took me quite some time before i understood this.

Quote:
We stayed at the Fortune in Howrah right next to Kona expressway (again sticking to our stick to highway hotels theory) which was a terrible terrible choice. The hotel had rotting rooms with seepage marks on the walls and we had to request a change of rooms.
Did you plan your halts in advance and reserve in hotels? Or did you do it when on the way? What would be your advise?

Quote:
The belldesk mishandled my bag and broke my 100$ single malt bottle that soiled all my warm clothes. I was travelling for the rest of the trip sober and reeking of alcohol!!
That was the most serious accident that could happen to a traveller! To add insult to injury, you could smell the single malt, but not imbibe!

Quote:
Stopped by the main lake and took in the cool breeze, shining sun and clean air. I actually breathed really deep and hard and honestly felt it had a cleansing effect.
Hope it does not affect your performance in your job hence forth.

Great narration and pictures. Timely too, since i have the urge to do Sikkim, Bhutan and the Seven Sisters from Ahmedabad. What advise would you give, after your experience?

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Old 8th February 2016, 18:24   #7
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Default Re: Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim

MH02 comes to the land of WB78 ! Kudos to you for coming all the way from Mumbai to one of the most beautiful places in eastern india. it's a very detailed travelogue and i see you already know our very own Sikkim expert aka Himadri Keep up all the good work !
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Old 8th February 2016, 23:38   #8
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Default Re: Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim

Excellent narration Vikram. Rated 5 stars for the details and of course, the stunning pictures. Travelers like you give us the confidence to take up long journeys like this..

I'm also planning for a similar road-trip to the same destination - but from Trivandrum - sometime towards the end of March. I've posted tentative itinerary in another thread. Will definitely get in touch with you as and when I go into the detailed planning phase.

-Vivek
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Old 8th February 2016, 23:54   #9
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Default Re: Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim

[quote=earthian;3907759]
Quote:
Originally Posted by vikram31 View Post
Thanks for your kind words earthian!

Did you plan your halts in advance and reserve in hotels? Or did you do it when on the way? What would be your advise?

We booked our onward itinerary upto Gangtok as we had a definiteve plan but booked the return hotels on the fly via the MMT app..which has fabulous last minute discounts..The reason to not book return hotels in advance was the lack on knowledge on unexpected stops etc. However, we had shortlisted places after a detailed google map search on each night halt.

That was the most serious accident that could happen to a traveller! To add insult to injury, you could smell the single malt, but not imbibe!

Agree wholehartedly. When I poured Old Monk instead of my Laphroaig 10 YO..i sear hidden tears ran down my eyes...but the joy of the journey helped me forget my prized bottle.

Hope it does not affect your performance in your job hence forth.
Haha..infact it has been a motivation. Make more money..take more leaves..travel more

Great narration and pictures. Timely too, since i have the urge to do Sikkim, Bhutan and the Seven Sisters from Ahmedabad. What advise would you give, after your experience?
My key advice would be as follows for general days where you drive 500km or more in a day:

1. Tyres - For an enjoyable journey pls ensure your tyres are in great condition as well as suited to the terrain. For example, I travelled with HP - Highway Performance tyres in areas that needed AT - All terrain tyres. If you drive a sedan instead of an SUV, please ensure you have high quality rubber with a good tread especially on Sikkim like roads

2. Halts - Try to minimise halts and plan well. For example, try breakfast at the same place you stay. This ensures cleanliness and reduces another pitstop

3. Time chai and pee breaks - Ofcourse it wont be possible every time but it helps to reduce stops

4. Provide for local region sunset times - As we found out the hard way, the sun sets a whole 90 mins before in the east vs Mumbai. Personally, I try to avoid night driving as much as possible

Regarding hill drives, I think the sane advice is drive at steady speeds as the brakes can take a severe punishment if used too much on inclines/declines, when taking elevated hairpins/steep inclines, keep room to accelerate steadily as braking and pick up can be a very tricky spot.

Regarding local knowledge on Sikkim, please get in touch with me via PM when you have shortlisted dates. Would love to help you.

Wishing you the very best and safe driving.

Cheers
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Old 8th February 2016, 23:57   #10
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Default Re: Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim

Quote:
Originally Posted by Samfromindia View Post
MH02 comes to the land of WB78 ! Kudos to you for coming all the way from Mumbai to one of the most beautiful places in eastern india. it's a very detailed travelogue and i see you already know our very own Sikkim expert aka Himadri Keep up all the good work !
Thanks samfromindia..Yes it was indeed a pleasure to do the cross country drive and especially drive around Kolkata roads (one of my favorite cities). I honestly felt on top of the world when I reached Gurudongmar, one of the most beautiful sights I have come across in my life.

Cheers
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Old 8th February 2016, 23:59   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vivekkr_99 View Post
Excellent narration Vikram. Rated 5 stars for the details and of course, the stunning pictures. Travelers like you give us the confidence to take up long journeys like this..

I'm also planning for a similar road-trip to the same destination - but from Trivandrum - sometime towards the end of March. I've posted tentative itinerary in another thread. Will definitely get in touch with you as and when I go into the detailed planning phase.

-Vivek
Hi vivekkr_99 - dont waste time planning too much. Just pack your bags and start your engines. Most things after that point will happen well. I think you should be able to backtrack my return leg from Trivandrum. That is, join Vizag from Trivandrum and then Puri-Kolkata and northwards. Please get in touch with me as you finalise. Would love to assist in any way I can. Cheers
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Old 9th February 2016, 07:46   #12
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Default Re: Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim

Thankyou Vikram so much for the lovely virtual tour. The pictures of semi frozen lake are marvellous.

In some of the pictures i notice the front number plate is damaged a bit, is it due to craters on the road or some shooting stone on road tried to kiss good luck??
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Old 9th February 2016, 09:10   #13
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Originally Posted by naveendagar View Post
Thankyou Vikram so much for the lovely virtual tour. The pictures of semi frozen lake are marvellous.

In some of the pictures i notice the front number plate is damaged a bit, is it due to craters on the road or some shooting stone on road tried to kiss good luck??
Hi naveendagar, as funny as it may sound, the entire journey was kiss free but it got chipped when I was reversing uphill on one of the funky parking slots in Gangtok as the car slid down and kissed a plant in front of me
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Old 9th February 2016, 09:27   #14
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Default Re: Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim

Quote:
Originally Posted by vikram31 View Post
The pros:
  1. Reliability – The car is one refined and reliable piece of machinery. Took all the abuse in its stride and even at midnight on icy cold hills in muddy roads, we knew it will get us through
  2. Power – Outside of one or two patches, the car displayed exemplary power and pick up. I think this machine can do any driveable road anywhere
  3. Service network – We needed to get some small work done and service centres across the country helped. We were never more than 10 kms away from Mahindra support. Even in Raipur, I not only got parts availability but warranty as well!
  4. Mileage – Including hill drives, we averaged 13 kmpl for the entire journey. Given patchy roads and non existent roads, I felt pretty happy with this
  5. ESP/ABS – On one patch between Puri and Vizag, we went over a bump at a high speed and got lofted into the air. The ESP/ABS kicked in and kept correcting the path and what could have been a terrible accident was averted. I have sworn that I will only buy a vehicle with every possible safety feature built in from here on
The cons
  1. Ride quality – The XUV is a great car for the highway and the city, but it fails miserably on ride quality on the patchy terrain. We felt every pebble in the cabin and potholes and road bumps made the drive uncomfortable. Not that it cant handle them but I expected better insulation. Infact I was impressed by the number of Boleros we saw in Sikkim and got the opportunity to drive a friends Bolero as well. It was clearly better suited to those terrains vs my XUV.
  2. Terrible terrible OEM tyres – I intend to send this feedback to Mr Anand Mahindra but I think they should ban the Apollo Apterra HP tyres for the XUV. They were noisy, screeched like crazy and kept slipping and sliding whenever put to test. On sharp inclining hairpins, we could feel the car was powerful enough but the front wheel was spinning and not able to get traction. Similarly near Gurudongmar, the front wheels kept spinning in the mud with no traction. I think the bare minimum tyres that the XUV should come with are the Bridgestone Dueler H/Ts. To summarise we felp unsafe with the Apollos on our return journey and I have changed them to Pirelli Scorpion ATRs at a meagre 33500 kms (I think 15k kms before they should have ideally worn out)
  3. Niggles – Even though I own the second iteration of the car (May 2015 onwards), we had issues with the switch assembly (that controls dippers/indicators etc) conking off enroute, the horn went feeble and the head unit rebooted 3-4 times when pushed to the limit. When I say pushed to the limit, I meant that the head unit was doing the following all at the same time:
a. Bluetooth connected to a primary phone for calling
b. Bluetooth connected to a secondary phone for music
c. GPS on perennially to guide us
d. Regular flipping between menus to check mileage vs music vs GPS

I feel it should have been able to handle these at ease but the system went unresponsive a few times and rebooted completely as well.
Beautiful writeup and thanks for sharing honest feedback about XUV.

Front wheel not giving traction seems design limitation of the XUV.

How was long hours driving comfort?
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Old 9th February 2016, 10:15   #15
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Default Re: Bucket List Item! Cross Country Drive - Mumbai to North & East Sikkim

whoa! this is one lovely writing, the pictures are pristine. It is definitely inspiring many to start a journey. You mention that the XUV was not able to handle the bad roads well, can you please elaborate? Did you book all the hotel stays in advance and what was the total cost?
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