Super drive: Delhi by car from Bangalore
Summary: I drove to Delhi from Bangalore from 15 to 18 April 2009 in our family's compact car. There were many interesting experiences that I had during the course of the four day drive. My feeling was reinforced that India is big and truly amazing; a nation for which we all should join hands to make it a much better place to dwell. The big picture of this drive was that Indian roads are still not meant for driving pan-nation, they seem to primarily cater to local traffic - vehicles moving between two adjoining cities. The roads along the borders of the states are orphaned with hardly any one caring for them. As for infrastructure that is in place, the best stretch of road was the one leading into the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secundarabad and the road leading out of it for a couple of hundred kilometres. As a nature lover I think the best part was driving through the length of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. I could see different landscapes ranging from the gentle rolling hills north-west of Nagpur City to the dense sal forests around Itarsi and Hoshangabad including the newly created Satpuda (Satpura) Tiger Reserve. The landscape is different as one moves north-west of Bhopal into the thorn and ridge forests of Chidikho wildlife sanctuary around Narasinghad town. The drive from Shivpuri to Gwalior is through dry forests, including those of Madhav National Park. But these big swathes of woods form a spectacular sight. Around Gwalior the people and traffic are as rough as the landscape. I could see one guy driving his 2-wheeler with a country-made revolver tucked into his belt at his lower back. Being in close proximity to the Chambal valley, this surely must be India's answer to America's 'wild wild west'. Much of Madhya Pradesh's roads still need to improve, but the varied landscape made up for the beating that my car's suspensions and tyres took. As one enters Uttar Pradesh, one can't miss the fact that it is the most populous state. The traffic and no: of people you run into have to be seen to be believed. Since this was purely a drive to take my car to Delhi within 4 days, I could not take even a single picture, though I was tempted to stop the car at many a place. Below are some details of the drive.
|The driving route I took from Bengaluru to Delhi|
Day 1, Wed, 15 April 2009;
Bengaluru (Bangalore) to Kurnool via Devanahalli, Chikballapur, Bagepalli, Penukonda, Anantpur and Gooty
This was a long planned drive, one that I was keenly looking forward to. I guess half the fun of taking up a new job in Delhi for me was this drive to it. After days of sprucing up the car and spending quite an amount on it, my father's Hyundai Santro was ready to be driven. While the packing overhead was to ensure things didn't fall off during the long drive, it also had to be done in a ways that facilitated easy unpacking for the daily overnight halts. Hence it took me a day to pack things into the car and over it - on the newly installed overhead luggage carrier. My original plan was to hit the Bangalore - Hyderabad National Highway No:7 after first prayers early on 15 April, but the time for packing took its toll on the departure and it was 1130 AM by the time I started my car's engine at my wife's residence in RT Nagar.
|The route of my drive from Bengaluru to Kurnool (first night halt)|
I drove smoothly through Devanahalli, Chikballapur, Bagepalli, Penukonda and Anantpur beyond which I stopped along the highway to have my packed lunch besides what looked like an old Hindu temple. The drive was fairly without issues and the only time I had problems was when I neared urban centres. The bye -passes skirting urban centres were incomplete and so were the overhead bridges on them, All this to me were indicators that the roads were actually meant for travel between neighbouring cities rather than pan-national or inter-state drives. My second stop for the day was at a Mosque to offer my afternoon prayers. At 4:45 PM, I stopped at a Bharat Petroleum fuel station, 288 km from the place in Bangalore where I started. This was just before Gooty town. The nice coffee at the restaurant made me fill my mug in the car with some more of this stimulant. The sun had set as I approached Kurnool and I decided to call it a day and stayed put at a hotel inside the town. The town pleasantly had quite a few decent hotels.
Day 2, Thurs, 16 April 2009;
Kurnool to Nagpur via Hyderabad/ Secundarabad, Nirmal and Adilabad.
I left Kurnool very early in the morning. For a few kilometres as I tried reaching the highway outside Kurnool, the road was under repair and the traffic was redirected to just one side of the 4 lane road. In the hurry to make it to the smooth stretch of road ahead I had a narrow miss with an oncoming truck. I was alert of the fact that most of the accidents on Indian Highways involving heavy and medium vehicles happen at dawn, with drivers pushing searching for a place to halt after long and sleepless over night drives. After a few kilometres I reached the famed road leading to the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secundarabad. The 120 km stretch of road to the twin cities from here proved to be the best part of the drive so far. The drive was very smooth and I approached Hyderabad a little after day break and topped up my car's fuel tank. Inside Hyderbad, it was tough finding my way out to Medchal Town which was to lead me to Kamareddy Town, as there were no signboards to guide me out. I felt the lack of a talking GPS which would have been an immense help. After asking my way on the streets, I stopped on the northern outskirts of Secundarabad to have my breakfast of some hot idlis and vadas along with some awesome filter coffee.
Fortunately for me I left the city around 8 AM as the traffic began building on this week day (Thursday). The road again was superb, just like the 120 km stretch leading to the cities from Kurnool. Though there were a few curves in the urban centres, which cut down the speed, the road quality was great. Along a straight stretch of the highway I stopped at a neat restaurant a few kilometres before Kamareddy town. I used this break to clean the car wind shield as well as the head and tail lamps. This place was away from human habitation. I was 675 km from where I started in north Bengaluru and about 475 km from the petrol station before Gooty town where I had stopped for coffee last evening.
The smoother stretch of this part of drive ended a little beyond Kamareddy, after which the highway turned into a single, two-lane road. Though the road has a few potholes it was still good enough to maintain a decent speed. I bye-passed Nizamabad town and as the bye pass ended the road turned circuitous and led into hilly terrain. The single road continued and a few kilometres before the town of Nirmal, the new bye-pass, a four lane road, was being constructed. I drove through Nirmal town and a few kilometres beyond the town I ascended a hill ridge surrounded by lush forests which provided beautiful vistas around. The temperature decreased as well.
During this stretch of the drive I saw the work on NH going on intermittently. The work being carried out was massive as it had to create a path through the undulating terrain which was made up of heavy minerals. I could feel the hard soil when ever the car ran into potholes and felt the heavy resistance here versus the smoother resistance in areas where the soil is not very hard due to lack of minerals in it. I thought this will be a picturesque stretch to drive once the work is completed.
Andhra Pradesh was going to polls on this day and there was visible presence of security forces between Nirmal and Adilabad. I was stopped by one picket of AP police and my antecedents were checked apart from my car being inspected. But the cops were a friendly lot who were respectful and wished me good luck on being informed I was driving all the way to Delhi to take a new job.
|The terrain along the drive from Nirmal to Adilabad inside Andhra Pradesh|
The sun was shining hard and it was pretty hot as I rolled down the window panes of my car at a 'Garden' restaurant inside Adilabad town at 3 PM. The Telangana style veg lunch was fun - spicy spruced with lots of chillies. I was 861 km away from my staring point in Bengaluru and about 186 km from the coffee stop in the morning at Kamareddy. There were not many people on the roads of Adilabad; the locals were probably practising in preparation of the upcoming harsh summer.
The road beyond Adilabad deteriorated progressively, a proof that I was approaching AP's interstate border with Maharashtra. This is typical of inter-state roads in India. The only state where I have seen roads in a good state even in remote areas is Kerala. Tamil Nadu's border roads are also not that bad. As a born Kannadiga (resident of Karnataka) I feel even my home state Karnataka has a long way to go in getting its border roads in a better state. The road was far worse on the Maharashtra side, just like the border roads in Karnataka. The road became narrow and the pot holes bogged my car down as I approached the bridge over the now dry Penganga Rivulet, a tributary of the bigger Godavari River. The bridge which marks the AP-Maharashtra inter-state border, itself was fairly old with only a small parapet wall on its sides.
As I crossed Bori and Kelapur villages, I saw more NH7 under progress which had left the original road in a horrible state. A little distance beyond Karanji village I realised most of the trucks and vehicles were leaving the highway and deviating west on the road to Yavatmal, one of the bigger towns in this part of Maharashtra. As I drove along the single road, I realised the original road was ripped apart and the soil was being repitched for the 4-laning. About 6 km from the Yavatmal road junction, I hit a road block; rather a non-road block. The road just ended and the highway ahead was nowhere to be seen. It seemed the highway had just vanished into thin air! There was natural vegetation and a few cultivated crops ahead no sign of any road. There were not many vehicles following me. At this point I was afraid if I had made the right decision in taking this stretch of road to drive to Delhi. Would it not have been better driving to Mumbai and then to Ahmedabad to reach Delhi? I drove back a few hundred metres and found a dirt track skirting this stretch of the highway and following it for a few hundred metres there I found the highway again! Bingo!
|Map showing the stretch of highway that vanished in front of me (http://goo.gl/maps/uRkc)|
For a little over 20 km the road was single and I travelled with utmost care, lest the highway disappeared again. Beyond that though the road turned into a four lane road but it was under construction again and I drove with care for the next 20 - 22 km till I hit the road junction 4 - 5 km to the west of Hinganghat town. There was a lot of heavy and medium traffic joining this road and it seemed the traffic that left towards Yavatmal road was joining the road at this particular junction. I crossed the bridge over Vena River that had plenty of water in it. Hinganghat is like any other dusty town of India that has people racing and almost driving over one another to get through the chicken neck railway crossings.
Beyond Jamb village my car picked speed as the condition of the road improved. From Hinganghat the traffic all seemed to be moving towards Nagpur. It was late in the evening and already dark as I touched the outskirts of Nagpur, when I was stopped by two constables of Nagpur Police at a 'naka' (checkpost). As I was to halt at Nagpur I was mentally prepared for a long haul with these cops. They examined my car and concluded I needed to explain why I had stuffed so much of luggage in the vehicle. On being told I was carrying my personal belongings, they informed me that I had converted my car into a 'maal gaadi' (goods vehicle), hence I had to pay a fine. I walked up to the head constable sitting a few metres away and asked for the section of the Motor Vehicles Act (MVA) or any other act under which I had to pay the fine. Realising I was some one with some knowledge of the law and constitutional acts they were polite but adamant and wanted me to 'settle' the matter as I looked 'sensible'. I said I was not going to pay anything for the same exact reason and dropped the names of a few IPS officers. I guess that sealed the conversation and I was off driving into the city without paying a paisa but after a satisfying experience : ) At the hotel in southern part of Nagpur where I halted overnight, I had travelled for 1052 km from where I started in Bangalore. I had left Adilabad town post-lunch at 3:30 PM and it took me 5 hours to cover a distance of 191 km to Nagpur, thanks to the bad inter-state roads.
|Map showing terrain around the route from Adilabad Town, Andhra Pradesh (bottom place mark) through Andhra Pradesh-Maharashtra inter state border (white dash line) and Hingaghat (top place mark), ending at Nagpur (north) (http://goo.gl/maps/EjS2)|
Nagpur to Biaora (Madhya Pradesh) via Saoner, Phandurna, Multai, Betul, Itarsi, Hoshangabad, Bhopal and Narsinghgarh.
As usual, in order to avoid the traffic I started off early in the day. But the flip side was there were not many souls on the city's streets who knew the way to Phandurna, my next destination. I stopped and asked many an early walker for the driving directions to Betul, Hoshangabad or Bhopal, which not many knew about, hence I lost precious time. Seoni and Jabalpur were places that many people knew of and the routes to them people were familiar with. I finally managed to find the way to Kamleshwar town - a single road, tolled and well maintained, that would lead to Bhopal. To enter this tolled road, one needs to take the road in front of the Nagpur Police Commissioner's office. At this time of the day the road was isolated but nothing untoward happened. Just after Kamaleshwar town, which was 15 km from Nagpur, I took a turn north and drove along the narrow, meandering but decently tarred road leading to Saoner (pronounced Savanur) town 18 km from Kamaleshwar. After entering Saoner, I had to deviate east (turns right) for a km after which one road leads north (turns left) to Chindwara town. A few hundred metres away ,the same road again turns south-west (turns left). I heaved a sigh of relief as the sign post at the entrance of that road read 'Bhopal 317 km' along with distances to other towns on the way - Chicholi, Phandurna, Betul, Hoshangabad, with Phandurna being the next major town 51 km away.
This road is newly tarred and is supposedly the new National Highway that connects Nagpur with Bhopal. The road was inviting with neatly lined trees and a flat terrain. At the same time there were a lot of curves which slowed down my speed. Beyond Phandurna, the road slowly climbs up the plateau of Mahadeo Hills of the famed Satpura Range of Central India. With the climb the temperature also became markedly lower than the surrounding plains through which I just drove. Given the weather on the plateau I expected some mature growth trees, but found only ones with smaller girth and short height (10-15 feet) amidst the sprawlling agricultural farms. I thought the trees had been clear felled for agriculture not so long ago. I crossed the railway line before Multai town and stopped to have my breakfast of bread and omlette at a roadside dhaba which seemed famous with the trucks. Inside Multai the road passes along 'Tapati maa ka talaab' (Pond of Mother Tapti) which is supposed to be the originating point of River Tapti, one of the major rivers of Central India. The small, quaint town was very picturesque with the settings of old temples and spiritual solace seeking pilgrims moving about in a relaxed atmosphere. The road continued to be winding as I drove towards Betul. The population density here was not high and I enjoyed the moments of solitude that were offered to me once in a while along the road, with no human in sight for miles around. Beyond Betul the road meandered along the backwaters of Tawa reservoir. I descended down the plateau afterwards but the road continued to be winding beyond as well.
|The drive from Phandurna to Multai skirts the birth place of Tapti River, known as 'Maa Tapti ka Talaab' a pilgrimage centre for Hindus. (http://goo.gl/maps/98aQc)|
I passed through the dense forests of Satpura (Satpuda) Tiger Reserve on the way to Itarsi town. This is the region where the famed Pachmari Hill Station of Central India is located. A few km before Itarsi on this single road I was carefully driving on my side when after a sharp left turn of the road I suddenly saw a pick-up truck overtaking 3 vehicles in a row and hurtling towards me. I was driving slow and fortunately for me the driver slowed down in time, else he would have rammed straight into me.
I remember passing through Itarsi town quite a few times on my train journeys to Delhi. As today the town even 13 years ago was surrounded by dense forests. A little beyond Itarsi town I had my lunch at a neat roadside restaurant. MP is truly still a state of forests I realised, as I continued my drive through the forests interspread with towns including Hoshangabad. The later is a pretty little town along the banks of Kolar River, which was crowded on this Friday afternoon. Crossing Obaidullagunj I saw the sad spectacle of forest fires as an occasional forest guard struggled to keep the flames at bay using bare hands and branches of trees. I approached Bhopal late in the afternoon and I had travelled 361 km from the hotel in Nagpur since morning on a single road, a drive of around 9 hours.
|The green cover around the drive to Itarsi and Hoshangabad. The Satpuda Tiger Reseve and Pachmari Biosphere Reserve are located to the east of Tawa Reservoir.|
The road from Bhopal to Biaora passed through the beautiful but dry scrub forests of Narasinghgarh (Narsinghgadh) in which the Chidikho Wildlife Sanctuary is located. The drive offered beautiful views of the forest clothed small hills of the sanctuary. This was a newly tarred road and made an excellent drive. I stopped along to catch a glimpse of beautiful landscape as the road winded along. I reached Biora at 6:45 PM, 117 km from Bhopal. It was already dark as I decided to halt at the MP Tourism Bungalow which was near the Indore - New Delhi National Highway. Though the room was neat and well maintained, there were tens of crickets which descended all over the room as the night progressed. It helped carrying an insecticide spray with me, which was actually meant for my new home in Delhi, and I could sleep in peace without the insects crawling all over me at night.
|The route from Nagpur to Biaora (3rd night halt) (http://goo.gl/maps/ASZzT)|
Biaora to New Delhi via Guna, Shivpuri, Gwalior, Dholpur, Agra
I was back on road at 6:15 AM. The road was 4-laned at many a stretch and mostly on flat terrain. The morning was pleasant like the past few days. I could see peafowls on the road at many of the villages and I slowed down to enjoy them on a few occasions. I ascended and got down a ridge about 95 km beyond Biaora as I neared a toll gate on the highway before which I stopped by a roadside dhabha to have my breakfast. My fetish for good coffee ensured I got my mug filled with coffee after having my full at the restaurant. The road beyond the toll gate was new and looked well laid. Fortunately for me it by-passed Guna town leading straight to the forest surrounded Shivpuri Town. Inside Shivpuri I was forced to stop on more than one occasion waiting for the tractor-trolleys ahead to gave the traffic the way forward. These irksome drivers would often block the road to pick passengers with least concern for the vehicles behind.
|Terrain around Shivpuri, Gwalior and Dholpur route (http://goo.gl/maps/U1W5i)|
|The route from Biaora to Delhi (http://goo.gl/maps/XBiPR)|
Total distance: 2050 km
No: of travel days: 4 days and 3 night halts
Vehicle: Hyundai Santro Zip Plus
Petrol: About 120 litres, costing about 6,000/- rupees (Sweetheart, it was Apr 2009 : )
Average petrol consumption/ mileage: 16 kilometres per litre (kmpl). Not bad for a car that mostly ran with AC on and was jam packed with luggage in it. Some of the road stretches and traffic took their toll as well.
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