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Tuesday 29 August 2017

Bengaluru to Kolkata Road Trip – 2,060 Kilometres in a car

A long but pleasant journey of over two thousand kilometres.

Bengaluru to Kolkata Road Trip – 2,060 Kilometres in a car
Some months ago, we went on a long journey from Bengaluru to Kolkata, via Hyderabad, a road trip of 2,060 plus kilometers in a car, which lasted for 42 hours. Here's an excerpt from that trip, with some tips for long journeys in that route.

NH 44 (old number NH 7), outskirts of Bengaluru
NH 44 (old number NH 7), outskirts of Bengaluru

My cousin, who was recently transferred to Kolkata, was looking at options for transporting his Maruthi Swift (vxi) car to his new place. During a get together, he shared his thought of driving from Bengaluru to Kolkata with me and another cousin. Being the travel lovers we are, we instantly agreed and began planning our trip.

There were two options, as we looked at Google Maps and its driving directions.

  • Bengaluru -- Tirupathi -- Nellore -- Vijaywada – Vishakapatnam (Vizag) -- Bhubaneshwar -- Kolkata (1875 kilometres)
  • And,
  • Bengaluru -- Kurnool -- Hyderabad -- Vijaywada -- Vishakapatnam -- Bhubaneshwar -- Kolkata (2060 kilometres)

Note : For those who don’t know this yet, Bangalore was officially “renamed” as Bengaluru on Nov 1, 2014 [1], to resemble the way it is called in the official Kannada language of that state. “Kolkata” was named in a similar way, from its earlier anglicized “Calcutta”, back in 2001.[1] There will still be a lot of cases or places where you may see the older names being used. So, don’t be confused if you see such usage. The state of “Odisha” was formerly called by its anglicized name “Orissa”, until it’s re-naming in 2011.

Although the first option was shorter, we preferred the second one via Hyderabad, as we knew that the roads were good, and that it was at least a four lane highway all the way till Kolkata. But, if you are planning for the same trip, I would recommend going via Tirupathi. It’s a shorter route, saves a lot of time, and the roads are not bad at all.

If you go via Tirupathi, the highway gets from 4 to two lanes, from Mulabagal to Gudur - if you go through Venkatagiri, or Mulabagal to Naidupeta - if you go through Srikalahasti. Either way, the roads join the Chennai – Kolkata national highway NH 16 (formerly numbered NH 5). However, it doesn’t make much difference if you are driving during the day.

Bengaluru to Kolkata - Our Road Trip Route

Starting from Bengaluru, in Karnataka

We started from Bengaluru at 5:30 AM and took the national highway NH 44 (formerly numbered NH 7) to Hyderabad. We stopped at Bagepalli for an emission test conducted by a mobile pollution testing station. An old man sitting in an Omni looked at us, looked at the car, typed something on his Windows XP computer and printed out a report. He did not conduct any test. We didn’t even turn on the ignition key for the test. He guessed some numbers looking at our face and keyed it in. That was a truly amazing “wireless” mobile emission testing. As we were in a hurry, we weren’t in any mood for an argument. We just took the report and went on our way.

NH 44 (old number NH 7), near Chikballapur, Karnataka
NH 44 (old number NH 7), near Chikballapur, Karnataka. Picture from one of our earlier trips this way.

Journey through Telengana and Andhra Pradesh

We stopped at around 8:00 AM for breakfast at a local eatery next to the highway, somewhere between Ananthapur and Kurnool, in Andhra Pradesh. We couldn’t find any good restaurants on that stretch, and really didn’t have the time to hunt for a one, since we were on an aggressive plan to reach Kolkata in 48 hours. Surprisingly, the idly-sambar served there was delicious, and we resumed our journey, satisfied by the breakfast at that small eatery.

As we reached the suburbs of Hyderabad, we faced a little traffic, until we hit the Nehru Outer Ring road. The drive for the next 40 kilometres was simply smooth. There were just a couple of other cars on the 8-lane ring road expressway. Soon after we got off the ring road and merged into the Hyderabad - Vijayawada highway NH 65 (Previously numbered NH 9), we faced a lot of traffic that continued for the next 20 to 30 kilometres until the highway was divided.

We had our lunch at a restaurant called Village Aaharam, just by the highway, at Koyalagudem. The lunch was excellent! It was served in a traditional way, on banana leaves. We were very hungry and the traditional Andhra full meals definitely helped. The restaurant also had clean washrooms or toilets. This restaurant is approximately 47 kilometres from Hyderabad, and nearly 25 kilometres from the Nehru Outer Ring Road and NH 65 junction. We just saw the restaurant when we were randomly looking for one along our way, and stopped at their food court. We later came to know that the delicious food they served us there is made from traditionally grown organic food which they grow in their own community farms.

We covered the next 573 kilometres to Visakhapatnam (also known as Vizag) in about 9 hours. At Vijayavada, we entered the National Highway - NH 16 (Formerly numbered NH 5), a part of the Golden Quadrilateral highway network. Apart from the light traffic and some detours at Vijayawada, the journey was super smooth on a 4 lane divided highway.

We booked a room at the Best Western Ramachandra, in Vizag, while we were driving, and checked in at around 9:00 PM. The hotel was great, just close to the highway, with excellent room service. We were famished, and ordered all we could, from the room service restaurant menu. Unfortunately, we could hardly finish half of what we had ordered. Lesson learnt - You may not be able to eat as much as you think you can, when you’re extremely tired.

On the national highway NH 16 (formerly numeberd NH 5), near the city of Eluru, in Andhra Pradesh
On the national highway NH 16 (formerly numeberd NH 5), near the city of Eluru, in Andhra Pradesh.

Journey through Odisha

The next day, we left Vizag at 6:00 AM and headed towards Odisha. We didn’t face any hurdles until we reached the Odisha border check post, where there were hundreds of trucks that were stopped on the highway. We waited there behind those trucks, cursing for the next 10 minutes, until a villager came by and advised us to go on the other side of the highway’s divider in order to skip the line. We were apprehensive of driving on the wrong side, in the direction opposite to the oncoming traffic, but it wasn’t hard at all.

For the next 2 kilometres, we drove on the opposite side, keeping to the right side of the highway’s divider (which is in fact the wrong side, in India, where we’re supposed to keep left). We only saw a few vehicles coming towards us on that stretch. Apparently, it wasn’t unusual to see a long line of trucks at the Odisha border, and was probably acceptable to drive on the opposite lane near the check post, as it helped clearing the traffic jams.

A view of NH 16 (old number NH 5)
A view of NH 16 (old number NH 5)

However, we encountered similar situations at a couple of other places along the highway, and did the same as we did earlier, throughout Odisha, and even after we entered West Bengal the next day. These weren’t at toll booths and not at a border too. These were at odd places on the highway where the highway police were stopping the trucks and apparently checking their goods. So, it probably was some kind of checking, and these kinds of blocks typically may not happen at random places on the highway. There were a couple of instances where the cops also guided us to go on the other side of the highway’s divider to avoid the blocks.

Okay, back to the chronological narrative, after leaving Vizag and entering the state of Odisha, we had to skip breakfast that morning and survived on soft drinks and biscuits as we had a hard time finding a restaurant. It’s very hard finding food by the highway in Odisha. I suggest that if you're passing through this way, get enough food beforehand, wherever it's available.

Spacious parking at OTDC Panthanivas and Water Sports Complex
Spacious parking at OTDC Panthanivas and Water Sports Complex

By noon, we were passing by the famous Chilika lake in Odisha. In fact, Chilika lake is a lagoon. It is the largest coastal lagoon in India and the second largest coastal lagoon in the world. The view of the lake from the highway was mesmerising. I could see the lake stretching through the skyline as if it was an ocean.

It was about 2:00 PM in the afternoon, and it was blazing hot at 40 degrees C. We stopped at Barakul, at the OTDC's (Orissa Tourism Development Corporation Ltd.) complex. We had Lunch at the Chilika Lake restaurant by the Chilka Lake OTDC Water Sports Complex, in Barakul. Food was average, and the service was very slow even though there were only a few other customers at that time.

OTDC Water Sports Complex, Chilika Lake, Odisha
OTDC Water Sports Complex, Chilika Lake, Odisha

The water body you see in the above picture is a small enclosed lake with an apsidal shaped breakwater, or barrier that separates it from the rest of Chilika Lake. Water sports activities are conducted here, at the OTDC Water Sports Complex, and the barrier is probably to facilitate the same. If you closely observe the picture, there is a small gap in the barrier which connects it to the rest of the lake.

OTDC Water Sports Complex and Panthanivas, by the Chilika Lake

Just nearby, in the OTDC Panthanivas Hotel, there is also the Panthanivas Restaurant, if you wish to try. This restaurant was crowded with tourists when we visited, so we went to the Chilika Lake restaurant, which we mentioned above. Just zoom in/out (+/-) of the map for better views.

And we made it to Kolkata

After lunch, we resumed our journey to Kolkata, and we reached at around 11:00 in the night. The drive was good, except for a couple of places where the trucks were again stopped for checking. Like I said earlier, they were being searched. However, there was no way out of this traffic jam, and this time and we had to keep following the slow moving traffic.

Victoria Memorial Hall, in Kolkata
Victoria Memorial Hall, in Kolkata.

We were finally in Kolkata, and yet to reach our hotel, but already missing our long and traffic free journey!

Recollecting from the entire journey, the cellular network connectivity was good throughout the way, good enough to use cellular data for streaming movies and music when one wasn't driving. Finding good restaurants along the way was the greatest challenge. Frequent toll booths were a frequent pain in the rear, and some of those took a toll on us (pun intended)!

Tolls took 15 to 20 mins minutes to pass by, as there were inexperienced staff who took long time to process the payment. Also, we found that travellers were using cards and mobile payment options (this was back in February 2017, a couple of months after demonetisation), which took even more time as apparently the staff weren't skilled enough with those payment modes.

Other issues at the toll plazas were : travellers did not remember their card pin, Paytm did't work, card readers didn't work, power failures at the toll booths etc, etc, etc. As those demonetisation effects have eased out by now, you can expect lesser issues at toll booths. But if you're using cash, don't forget to keep loose change.

Update : Now with FASTags made mandatory for all category M and N vehicles in 2021, we can expect faster passage through toll booths in comparison to before.

All in all, it was a pleasant journey, even though long and tiresome, which ran through five states, with 2060+ kilometres in about 42 hours. Not much of an adventure, I agree. However, with excellent roads, and a fewer traffic jams, one can nowadays cover great distances across our incredible India, with relative ease than before.

Tips for Travellers

  • Carry plenty of water and snacks for the journey. Keep yourself hydrated. Once you get into Odisha, there isn’t much that you can find alongside the highway.
  • Make sure that you have sufficient fuel in the tank and do not wait until the last moment. Even if your tank is half full, I would advise refilling it as soon as you find a petrol bunk.
  • When you swap the driving wheel with your friends/family, make sure that you get enough sleep while the other person drives. It helped me a lot!
  • Carry plenty of loose change. There are many toll booths on these highways, and there are innumerable ones if you consider the entire stretch from Bengaluru to Kolkata. (Update: FASTags made mandatory for vehicles from year 2021 onwards, so you may not need as much of loose change as before).
  • Take breaks at regular intervals and stretch yourself.


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