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Published: November 10th 2016
Self-driving from Bangalore to Kolkata and back was a crazy idea. I travelled from Bangalore to Kolkata (my native place) at least hundred times by Air and railways during last ten years. But whenever I expressed my plan for a pleasure road trip to Kolkata and back driving my own car, I received a cold response from my family.
This time when I attempted for booking a ticket for Kolkata during Dussera holidays in vein, my insane idea received a fillip. Unlike other years, I left my search for ticket further and decided to prepare for a road drive.
For covering from Bangalore to Kolkata and back, I had to drive nearly 4000 Kms. There were various alternative routes. After lot of research, exploring the net and collecting information, I thought of adopting the following route : Bangalore-Tirupati-Nellore-Guntur-Vijayawada-Rajahmundry-Vizag-Srikakulam-Gopalpur on sea-Barakul (Chilka lake)-Bhubaneswar-Baleswar-Kagarpur-Kolkata
I planned to complete my journey in 11 days with stoppages as follows :
1. Day 1 – Start from Bangalore Stay at Rajahmundry
2. Day 2 – Stay at Gopalpur on sea,
3. Day 3 – Reach Kolkata
4. Day 4 to 6 – Kolkata
5. Day 7 &
8 – Stay at Puri
6. Day 9 – Ananthagiri, Araku Valley
7. Day 10- Stay at Vijayawada
8. Day 11 – Reach Bangalore in the evening
Before commencement of the tour, I thoroughly serviced my Hyundai Xcent car, my trusted friend and companion in all long distance journeys.
My original plan was to commence from Bangalore in the afternoon and to stay at Tirupati during first night. Accordingly I booked accommodation in advance in all the places thru Magicbrick.com (except Gopalpur on sea thru Orissa Tourism and Ananthagiri, Araku thru Andhra Pradesh Tourism). Unfortunately, two subsequent events severely threatened my plan. First was the news of heavy rain in Coastal Andhra Pradesh flooding Hyderabad, Guntur and other places starting around two weeks prior to my journey. At one point I thought of cancelling my trip since it was too risky to drive such a long distance thru flooded highways. To my luck, weather improved a lot in subsequent days. But sudden aggravation of illness of my 90 year old father again put me in test to re-think about my trip. 06th October, 2016- Thursday : Bangalore to Rajahmundry via
I started my drive at 4 O Clock in the morning. I could not sleep whole night because of excitement. My father looked better and my sister arrived to look after him during my absence. Although I missed the first night planned at Tirupati but could commence my drive at last, by the grace of god.
It was always advantageous to start at the early morning. City was in deep sleep with virtually empty road except vehicles carrying IT/Call centre employees. It was heartening to think, I would be free from day to day monotony of office work for next two weeks.
After Kolar (60 Kms), the depth of darkness was fading in the horizon. Watching the arrival of new dawn was a heavenly sight, although happening every day religiously from time immemorial. Being city residents we inculcated the habit of sleeping late night and missing this heavenly exercise gifted by the creator. I was driving towards the east and delighted to enjoy the arrival of new dawn piercing the darkness. The whole world around me was awakening lazily.
By the time daylight approached clearly, I reached the Mulbagal Toll Gate (95 Kms). There
was third tollgate at around 110 Kms and six lane highway from Bangalore ended here. I passed Karnataka Border to enter Andhra Pradesh. Being a heavily crowded two lane road, it needed careful drive particularly in the early morning when there was high probability of accident. This narrow road stretching nearly 60 Kms was popular amongst the goods and vehicles carrying trucks. Overtaking a long vehicle carrying newly manufactured cars was a big challenge.
Proceeding past Palmaner at around 6.45 AM near Chittoor (174 Kms), I took left turn to take the road towards Tirupati. That was a smooth drive with less traffic until reaching near Tirupati. In between I had to spend nearly half an hour waiting in two railway crossings. Hotel Fortune Grand Ridge ITC, Tirupati
I already booked this hotel thru Makemy trip.com at a very cheap rate (Rs 1700) for halting the previous night, but could not avail due to my pre-occupation. I arrived the hotel at around 9.15 AM(252 Km) , checked in to refresh and have complimentary breakfast. I came to Tirupati many times and must say this was one of the best hotel here. Rooms were spacious with all modern
facilities having excellent view of the Seven hills. Nice clean toilet, beautiful reception lounge and convenient car parking. Last but not the least was its multi cuisine complimentary breakfast which I did not want to miss. I had a refreshing bath, finished my BF and a brief rest for nearly an hour. Overall it was a pleasant experience. Resuming the drive
I resumed my journey at 11 AM. It was a sunny day and temperature outside the car was getting warmer. Drive spanning next 70 Kms was thru four Lane highway. Road condition was fine although occasionally crowded. Finally I reached Naidupeth (320 Km) at around 12.15 PM. This place had been crucial since now I could enter NH 16 which would take me virtually upto the end of my destination.
It was extremely hot outside. Road condition was excellent upto Nellore and it was a pleasure to drive. Road diversions started near Nellore and it continued in various places thereafter. Obviously it slowed down the speed. I could notice significant water accumulations in the fields both sides of the highway signifying heavy rainfall occurred few days back.
I was feeling hungry and finished my lunch
with the fruits and snacks I carried with me. Usually I avoid heavy lunch during long drive since it causes giddiness which is dangerous for driving. A brief siesta
Continuous effortless driving for a long period in a well built highway had the disadvantage of creating monotony in absence of any excitement. Suddenly I had felt so sleepy that it was hard to keep my eyes open, possibly due to early morning start. Finding extremely risky to continue further, I parked my vehicle roadside and had a brief siesta. It was unbearably hot outside. My car’s AC had not been generating enough coolness since the vehicle was not moving. But that could hardly prevent my sleep.
I got up after nearly half an hour. I felt fresh with renewed energy and resumed my drive. Twilight in Vijayawada
It was around 6 PM and I was crossing the bridge on Krishna River to enter Vijayawada (670 Km). A beautiful red and golden sun was going down below the horizon. I stopped my car to enjoy the spectacular sunset. Entire surrounding was looking reddish and mystic with twilight sun. The bridge was busy with huge traffic. I
suspected nobody was noticing this pleasant scene except me. There is a sunrise and a sunset every single day which God has given absolutely free. We should not miss many of them.
Evening sunlight was fading quickly with city lights looked bright in the darkness. My Google map changed to glowing night colors. Vijayawada was a big and busy city. I read about shortcuts in the net but decided to stick to NH 16 only. There were number of traffic signals to negotiate, with vehicular movement at snail speed. At the city outskirts both sides of the highway were decorated with well maintained gardens. I had to spent nearly an hour to cross it. My today’s destination Rajahmundry was still 185 Kms away.
Road condition deteriorated after Vijayawada and continued almost upto Rajahmundry. There were number of potholes, some of them big enough to damage the car if not negotiated properly, particular during night drive. I wanted to reach Rajahmundry quickly, but had no other alternative but to be slow and careful. Hotel River Bay – Rajahmundry
At last when I could reach my destination (832 Km), it was around 9.30 PM. I booked Hotel
River Bay (Rs 1477) thru Magicbricks.com. Hotel was located far away from the NH. Thanks to my GPS, it was impossible for me to locate the hotel otherwise. Nevertheless the advantage was, I could meet the mighty Godavari River and the illuminated bridge in the distant horizon immediately after check-in.
Time for quick refreshment since while checking in I was intimated that the restaurant would be closed at 10 PM. My stomach was burning. I ordered for fish curry with rice. Fish was fresh (I was told that it was of River Godavari) and the curry was cooked nicely. It was an excellent and satisfying dinner. 07th October, 2016 – Friday –Rajahmundry to Gopalpur on Sea – Maha Sasthi Durgapuja
I woke up late due to yesterday’s tiredness. My first job was to meet the river. There was a small garden within the hotel compound but on the riverbank. The place was ideal for walking as well as enjoy the morning. The mighty river was huge and widespread here, may be due to heavy rain occurred a week back. Weather was cloudy but humid.
The hotel was spread in a wide area. This hotel was
one of the oldest here. There were number of river-facing rooms to enjoy the splendid beauty of the river. But maintenance was an issue. Furniture and wardrobe inside the room looked old and needed proper upkeep. Gardens inside the hotel needed better maintenance. The same was applicable in respect of the front office also. Complimentary Break fast was refreshing. Sir Arthur James Cotton - the forgotten hero
There were no of statutes throughout the hotel garden. Out of that, one interesting full statute of a foreigner on a horse-back attracted my attention. I saw the name encrypted below the statute. He was Sir Arthur James Cotton, the architect of Dowelswaram Dam built on the river Cauvery at Rajahmundry around 150 years ago (1855). Many Britons contributed immensely to address the misery of common people in India during the British rule. I came to know from the hotel reception that he was distressed by the sufferings of the people at Godavari basin ravaged by cyclone and flood. The result was one of the finest human creations on the Godavari river benefiting the inhabitants for more than one hundred and fifty years.
I was ashamed that I hadn’t heard
his name before. He was still revered by the people in this region. Surprisingly, even without any publicity or pomp. My sincere regards to this great personality. This was the greatest reward of my brief stay at Rajahmundry. Navaratri celebration at Rajahmundry
I started late at around 10 AM after a brief car cleaning. My plan was to quickly visit nearby places. As advised by hotel reception I visited the Mercanda Swamy temple. Today was the sixth day of Navratri (or Durga Sasthi), an auspicious day. Durga puja was observed in Bengal mostly in makeshift pandals. Seriousness in performing puja was not noticed in many places and entertainment prevails over, in the name of puja.
But Rajahmundry was famous for its cultural and religious heritage for centuries. It was called the Varanasi of South India. Here the Navaratri celebration was largely centered around various temples. Many places of the city were decorated on the occasion of Navratri. Large no of people could be noticed on streets going towards various temples with their offerings. Men were dressed in Red/White Dhoti and women also similar colour.
I had a very good darshan of Lord Siva and Goddess
Parvati at Mercanda Swamy Temple. My next visit was to Pushkar Ghat on the bank of River Godavari. This place was located between two lengthy bridges over the huge river. People were taking dip in the river to refresh from heat. Religious ceremonies were being performed by groups of people under the shadow of banyan trees. Barbers and priests seemed to be on demand here. Some people were taking rest under the shadow. I found lot of similarities of this place to the bathing ghats on the bank of River Ganges in Kolkata. Rivers had deep rooted connection with our culture and religious rites. This place was no exception.
It was getting late (11.30 AM) and I decided to leave Rajahmundry so that my next destination, Gopalpur on Sea could be reached on time. Gopalpur was around 460 Km from Rajahmundry. Krishnavaram and Tuni were crossed at around 1.30 PM. Outside weather was extremely heated and confining myself inside the car was the best option.
NH 16 was excellent to drive so far. However after Tuni it was concrete road in various places. That road became heated in sunlight creating friction with the car tyres particularly while driving
at a high speed. Once the sound of friction was so loud, I stopped my car to check whether the car tyres were ok. I found nothing unusual and decided to proceed further. Green mountains all around
I was nearing VIzag and the surroundings were blessed with splendid natural beauty. There were small and medium-sized hills all around. Most noteworthy was that, all the nearby and distant hills were green full of vegetation, sometimes large trees. There were greeneries all around, as if the almighty painted with different varieties of Green Color. Some of nearby hills were covered with thick green umbrella. I travelled thru national highways of many other parts of South India in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka many times. But mountains therein looked barren at many places and lush thick vegetation like here was not a common sight.
Suddenly weather changed drastically and heavy rain started. Initially, it was confined to a particular zone. After few kilometres it was totally dry, not a single drop of rain. An un-forgettable lunch
I noticed a bridge culvert and railway track passed beneath it. There were hills all around, wherever I looked. I selected this place
to have my lunch and stopped the car. By then color of the entire surroundings outside totally changed. Day light reduced considerably and became amazingly mystic. Black clouds were seen all around. Distant hills looked fading in the horizon. It was raining heavily. Raindrops were so heavy and forceful, I could hear the sound loudly sitting inside the car. Only other resonance was of heavy vehicles painstakingly moving thru the highway. Highway truly smiled and became shining with black color when rain pours on it. The whole environment was spiritual and breathtaking. I enjoyed the gift of nature solitarily and finished one of the best lunch I have ever made with snacks and fruits. This was definitely one of the best memories which I would cherish for many years. Do not follow Google map blindly
Near Anakapalle, my Google Map directed to leave NH 16 and take left to enter Chennai-Srikakulam Highway. I followed the same and committed a big mistake. Although this two-lane highway (and subsequently SH 38) reduced the distance and entering Vizag city could be avoided, driving this road was extremely painful and time consuming. Road condition was extremely bad and full of crator-like potholes
throughout the road. Moreover this road was selected by all goods carrying vehicles to make short-cut. That made the drive more difficult. In fact this was presumably the most difficult part of my entire journey from Bangalore to Kolkata and back. The entire journey of around sixty kilometres took nearly one and half hours. An important learning was not to follow the Google Map blindly.
When I again intersected NH 16, it was already 4.15 PM. I had to drive another 250 Kms to reach my destination. I always prefer to drive during daytime. Since I was driving towards the east, length of day was getting shorter. I increased my speed to cover up as much as possible in the next one hour. But after Srikakulam (1125 Km) it became almost dark.
Laxmipuram (1210 Km) was located in Andhra Pradesh-Orissa border. I could reach there at around 6.50 PM in darkness. Traffic was slow and hundreds of trucks were waiting to cross the border. I was getting impatient since it was already late, but with my subsequent experience in Orissa- West Bengal border (Jaleswar) next day, now I find this place much better. It took around half an
hour to cross this palce. Pleasure of drive thru black carpet
Rest of the journey was smooth and without any incident. Although it was totally dark at night, there was no difficulty in driving. Thanks to those people who were maintaining this highway. There was hardly any pothole or blockage on the entire stretch. Another noticeable feature was the presence of “glossy lane marker” between the lanes of this four/six lane highway. Only a motorist feels its importance during night driving. It guides the driver to select and follow the road at night even with high speed. I could maintain my speed of 100 to 120 Kms per hour even at night at ease. Overall it was a pleasant experience for me to drive this leg of my journey. Gopalpur on Sea
I reached Gopalpur on sea (1260 Km) at around 8.30 PM. Thanks to my Google Map without which it was impossible for me to identify the correct left sideways towards Gopalpur from NH 16 in the total darkness . Distance of Gopalpur was around 15 Kms from the Highway on the right.
I already booked my accommodation in Panthanibas of Orissa Tourism, Government of Orissa (Rs 2750/-). I was advised to finish my dinner at the earliest since it was late. I refreshed myself quickly and obeyed the direction. 8th October, 2016 – Gopalpur on Sea to Kolkata :Maha-saptami Durga puja
Gopalpur was a popular tourist destination situated on the coast of Bay of Bengal. The Golden Sea Beach here attracted tourists, particularly from Kolkata and other parts of Eastern India. Although extremely tired after a long drive, last night I decided to wake up early next morning and not to miss the Sunrise. I was told that the chance of perfect sunrise was not guaranteed, since the Sun god was not kind enough during the last few days.
Early morning I reached the Sea beach and to my surprise hundreds of people were already waiting for the same reason. To our luck the sungod was kind today and it was a nice beginning of the “Seventh day of Navratri (Durga Mahasaptami). Panthanivas, Gopalpur, Orissa Tourism
That was one of the oldest place of abode in Gopalpur. As far as my experience of stay was concerned, it was an average hotel. Tariff was much higher compared to other hotels of similar standard in South India. Location of the hotel was not ideal since the sea beach was not directly visible. I hired an AC Cottage (Tariff Rs 2750/-). This cottage included a spacious bed room, a drawing room, a dressing room and a toilet. Space-wise it was quite big and more than sufficient for a small family. But maintenance was an issue. I noticed a cockroach in the Toilet-seat. Bedsheets, Curtains and even towel provided,needed proper cleaning.
Breakfast was complimentary but of average standard. Similar experience I had last night, while taking my dinner. Quality of room service was also not satisfactory.
I checked out from hotel at around 8 AM. Today my plan was to complete my onward journey upto Kolkata (around 730 Kms from Gopalpur). Virtually my entire journey today would be thru NH 16. It was a sunny and pleasant morning. A wonderful drive upto Bhubaneswar (around 220 Kms from Gopalpur) and travelling thru that phase was a driver’s dream. Chilka Lake
Very soon I reached near Chilka Lake and crossed well-known tourist attractions of Orissa like Rambha, Barakul, Chilka one after another. Before Rambha a quick downpour greeted me. As I narrated earlier, beauty of NH enhanced much more after a rain and the dry road got a new life.
Scenic beauty of this leg was breathtaking and beyond narration. NH 16 (towards east) proceeded here with mountain ranges on the left side and Chilka Lake on the other side. Onward road was separated at one place and went uphill towards the top before coming down after a distance once again to meet its counterpart. I stopped my car and sat on a hillock quite sometime to enjoy the enchanting beauty of nearby mountains and Chilka Lake on the distant downhill. This place was ideal to have a bird’s eye view of the entire area. Railway track was visible from the top and it was erected almost over the lake. Two goods trains were crossing each other from the opposite track and looked like match boxes.
Sitting on the hillock I could view the NH 16 proceeding towards the distant horizon, like a serpent. This portion was arguably the most scenic of my entire journey. Memories of train journey thru Chilka
In my eighteen years of stay in Bangalore I traveled this place by train innumerable times. But whenever train was moving slowly thru chilka, I used to feel excited to peep outside, thru window or opening the compartment door. This used to happen even if the train used to run here at night. Viewing the mystic chilka at night during moonlight from the running train was a heavenly sight and was one of my cherished memories I would never forget. Usually the train used to move at medium speed here and I would get at least fifteen minutes to get a good view.
Bhubaneswar (1475 Kms) came at around 12.15 PM. It was a big city and I had to spend around 45 minutes to combat with busy traffic and cross the city. There were two lengthy bridges over famous rivers of Katjouri and then Mahanadi respectively immediately after Bhubaneswar. There were number of other rivers which I passed subsequently upto Balasore and even after Kharagpur. Names of those rivers were not mentioned anywhere and thus I could not identify many of them. Bad roads after Bhubaneswar
Condition of road deteriorated after Bhubaneswar. There were innumerable number of diversions, sometimes going thru the opposite road and thru sideways in many places. Potholes, craters, water-logging and all kinds of possible hazards were part of this journey. Negotiating skill with Vehicles and Animals coming from opposite direction
A dangerous feature of this journey was the movement of vehicles like cycles, tractors even cars coming from the opposite direction but in the same leg of the highway where I was driving. If that was not enough, all kinds of animals like Cattle, Goats, Dogs were merrily grazing on the road. In fact this experience began from yesterday (when I was crossing Andhra-Orissa Border) but to a reasonable limit. But after entering Orissa I had to face the same almost thru out the rest of my drive. Needless to mention that negotiating this stretch needed patience and caution to avoid possible catastrophe.
It was around 4.30 PM and I reached Balasore (1680 Kms). Road condition drastically improved thereafter and almost smooth upto Jaleswar (1740 Km) at Orissa-Bengal border (5.15 pm). I had a horrible experience here and without the help of a truck driver I would have halted here upto midnight. Orissa-West Bengal Border, Jaleswar – a nightmare experience
I stopped my car before the border since the onward road was blocked by innumerable number of trucks and there was no passage to move forward. There was a gap between two lines of waiting trucks and I committed a terrible mistake to push my car inside the narrow space between the lanes. After crawling may be a few hundred yards I had to stop since there was no way to move further. I had to come out of the car and then noticed that the queue was more than a mile long, with thousands of trucks, totally blocking the road. When enquired, a truck driver explained that the Bengal border was closed due to Durgapuja celebration and would open only at 2 AM midnight i.e. after nearly nine hours. I was bewildered and did not know what to do, since the onward movement was out of question and it was extremely difficult to reverse my car and go back thru the narrow gap. Luckily the drivers waiting there were very friendly. Understanding my plight, they readjusted their waiting trucks taking lot of trouble and created space to reverse my car. Thanks to their assistance I could get out of the stalemate, took opposite side of the highway from a distance and crossed the border easily. Plight of countless truck drivers never addressed
One important lesson of this journey was to feel the difficulties experienced by these drivers carrying goods inter-state. Thousands of trucks were waiting for hours (if not days) to enter another state, although both the states were within India. Is it really essential ? Plight of these people on the wheels were endless with unnecessary waiting, wastage of time, apart from monumental harassment by Police, Octroi and even brokers. I noticed a large no of plain dressed people (possibly brokers/agents), wondering, managing the queue of trucks and even directing those drivers. What a wastage of time and manpower only due to the lack of uniform regulations throughout India.
I heard that from next year the new Goods & Service tax (GST) would be effective and there would be uniformity in tax structure all over India. What will happen to those check posts? Will these distressed people get a better deal? I have no idea. Entering West Bengal at last
Any way I was delighted to enter my native state (i.e. West Bengal) at last. Police at the check post advised me to drive with caution since the Durga Puja festival was being celebrated in various places. There were comparatively less no of vehicles on the road and of course no goods carrying vehicle (due to ban on entry in the inter-state border). Moreover the road condition was exceedingly good and it was a comfortable drive. Durgapuja - a time of great rejoicing and festivity
I was passing thru Durga Puja pandals in both sides of the road. People came out in large numbers to visit the puja pandals and celebrate the occasion. Entire West Bengal and city of Kolkata were in a festive mood with illumination, music, thousand of food stalls and what not. In fact in the last few kilometres of my journey, entire road was almost taken over by people walking and almost every body looked to be in cheerful mood. There was heavy police posting throughout my journey and good traffic management could be noticed everywhere.
At last I could reach my ultimate destination in Kolkata (1990 Kms) at around 10 PM.
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