Darjeeling to Varanasi: Leslie's Mind at Work
Trip Start Feb 16, 2013
64Trip End Mar 03, 2013
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Here's a little insight into the mind of Leslie, Goddess of Logistics. She doesn’t just make off-the-cuff decisions… she researches alternatives, asks others for their feedback, and -- based on what she learns -- makes a recommendation to the rest of the GOG for final approval (FYI: we have yet to disapprove of anything she has recommended). It’s like having our own personal tour guide! In fact, I plan to bring Leslie on EVERY trip I take from now on.
When she found out our connecting flight from Darjeeling to Varanasi was "preponed", Leslie went into overdrive -- which led to a very lively multi-day exchange on the IndiaMike Forum. This is probably more information than you need/want (in which case, skip the remainder of today’s blog entry), but I’ve including an abridged version of the Forum discussion in this post because I find it fascinating how Leslie is able to extract tidbits of information from multiple posts and weave them together into a coherent plan of action. It's also kind of amazing how she manages to get others to put so much energy into answering her questions: providing flight schedules, rating the relative quality of different road surfaces, estimating travel times...
In fact, for me, only two questions remain after reading Forum posts: (1) is this what Leslie went through to plan each of the other legs of our trip? and (2) when does Leslie sleep?
On the 27th of February, we will be traveling with a driver from Darjeeling to Varanasi. We are planning to divide the drive into 2 days, so we need a place to stay. Can anyone recommend a town and/or hotel that is roughly halfway between the two cities?
kanishka_27: You can consider Gaya in Bihar as a night stop (around 9 hrs from Darjeeling). It’s a tourist destination too so if you want you can visit the nearby places in Boddh Gaya and Nalanda.
However just wondering as to why would you want to drive from Darjeeling to Varanasi. Unless you are a drive freak, one would generally not recommend it. I think there is a direct train between NJP and Varanasi.
Thank you for the suggestion of Gaya. From looking at the map, though, it looks to be approximately 3/4 of the way to Varanasi, so I wonder if it's too far to travel in one day. We were told that the entire trip (800 km) would be approximately 16 hours, which would mean more like 12 hours from Darjeeling to Gaya. It looks like a fascinating place, though.
You ask why we would want to drive? Well, we had flights booked, and the airline just told us that our connecting flight from Kolkata has been cancelled. Other flights take a minimum of 19 hours (and 2-3 stops), and the trains are booked. So, now we are planning to use a driver. But, honestly, I enjoy the flexibility of having a driver anyway.
So, back to your suggestion: do you think that that's too ambitious for the first day? And, do you have any other suggestions that might be closer to the halfway point?
Yes you are right, Gaya is almost 3/4 the total distance. However with my limited knowledge I cannot think of any other proper town on the way where you can do a night halt. But the fact that you have a car with you gives you the option to scan the highway as you go along and do a night halt along the way where you find a decent and a safe hotel.
12 hours journey is very much do-able for some. I personally will not do it because Indian roads are pretty stressful for the driver as well as the people sitting in the car.
I was wondering, maybe Bhagalpur can be your night halt option. It’s around 320 kms from Darjeeling and 500 kms from Varanasi. There are some ok hotels in that town if I remember correctly. Hotel Rajhans International can be worth a stay, though I have never stayed there.
I understand the vagaries of Indian travel. So, you're conceding you are going to have to overnight somewhere. Why not still travel by air, and simply overnight in Kolkata or Delhi?
No need to throw the baby out with the bath water. Just a suggestion.
I don't know anything about your budget (none of my business) - but the transit hotel in Delhi is fabulous, and if you're in need of rest, and don't want the hassle of getting to and from the airport for just one night - well, that's why they invented transit hotels.
You may also consider the Tatkal train reservations which are only for foreigners. Please have a look at this option. I agree with the other posters that the drive will be very stressful.
Thanks for the suggestion to fly, with an overnight in Kolkata or Delhi. We already looked into that and decided that a 2-day rural road trip could be a great adventure. So, we're going to give it a go!
Good luck. I look forward to reading all about it here at IndiaMike!
Thanks! I did just check Taktal, but it can only be done the day before travel, and I want this settled now. One way or another (heaven or hell!?), it will be an unforgettable adventure! After all, it's India, and that's the charm.
Well, you are cheerful, that is half the battle won right there ! Good luck
There is availability in 2A in train Mahananda Express on 27th February. Book from New Jalpaiguri (NJP) to Allahabad (ALD) and get down at Mughal Sarai.
Good luck leslie hope you guys have lots of fun, just remember in India you need a good sense of humour and lots of patients...either way it will be an adventure
My suggestion for Route & Place for night halt :
Darjeeling - Siliguri (WB) - Purnea (Bihar) - Forbesganj - Darbhanga - Muzaffarpur - Patna - Ara - Varanasi
Darbhanga and Muzaffarpur are 2 big towns of Bihar, you can choose a hotel in these cities as per your budget. You'll find many comfortable hotels with all basic amenities and great food.
Thanks for the tip on the destination station. I checked that train, and there are only 3 seats available (we are 4), plus it arrives in the middle of the night, which we don't want to do. Thanks again, though. Keep those thoughts and ideas coming! But, I think that we're destined to drive. (And, again, I'm looking forward to it!)
Here is one more route- Reach Siliguri, tell your driver to take East West Expressway and reach Muzaffarpur via Darbhanga, East West Expressway is newly built and you can cruise at 100 KMPH easily, when you reach Muzaffarpur, leave four lane highway, and proceed towards Patna, if you reach Patna before 4 PM, proceed towards Gaya, 120 Kms south of Patna, stay atleast one day at Bodh Gaya, there are several hotels at Bodh Gaya.
Avoid Patna - Gaya travel after 5 PM.
Next day proceed towards Varanasi via Dobhi, there is a four lane Express way to Varanasi.
OLD ROUTE Double lane state highway -
A. Siliguri - Purnea- Begusarai- Barh- Bakhtiarpur - Turn left- reach Biharsharif ( 45 minutes)- turn right- Nalanda- Rajgir- Gaya ( avoid after 5 PM)
B. Bakhtiarpur- Patna- turn left- Jehanabad- Gaya- Bodh Gaya
Regarding- LODGING- There are Hotels at Purnea, Begusarai, Darbhanga, Muzaffarpur and Patna, Rajgir
Thank you for the details about the fastest route. How would you recommend breaking the journey into 2 days? And how long would you estimate the entire trip? I have been told 16-18 hours, but if the East-West Highway is really that fast, maybe it will be shorter?
I just took a quick look, and Google Maps lists East-West Expressway as 100 km shorter than Kolkata-Delhi Highway, but half an hour longer. Do you think that this was before the improvements to the East-West? Also, when it has you going on East-West through Patna, it does not have you cut sharply south to Gaya, but you recommend heading to Gaya, but then from Dobhi to Varanasi. Is your recommendation to go to Gaya due to the improved road from Dobhi to Varanasi? Or is this because Bodh Gaya is such a highly recommended stop?
You are right, you can skip Bodh Gaya and directly proceed to Varanasi from Patna via Ara, Mohania ( you will get Dobhi Varanasi four lane here ) - Varanasi, in this way you will save atleast 2 hours .
Alok - It sounds like Bodh Gaya is worth a stop, if we have time. Do you have any sense of the estimated times for the trip? We would probably like to divide it fairly evenly between the 2 days. And I want to make sure we have a hotel booked in advance, so I'm trying to figure out where we'll stop.
anilkv (sorry don't know your name) - I just saw your post with recommended route. Thanks for your input.
My head is now officially spinning!
Bodh Gaya is a nice place to visit, there is MahaBodhi Temple, Thai Temple, Japanese Temple and temples of many Buddhist countries, there are several hotels, most of them are neat and clean and Bodh Gaya to Varanasi road is also Four Lane Expressway , so you will reach Varanasi in about 5-6 hours.
For more detailed information, please check Bihar Govt's website
Have a nice journey.
Thanks again, Alok. My current thinking is to try to make it all the way to Bogh Gaya the first day (in 11-12 hours?), spend the night, sightsee for a bit in the morning, and then make the final push to Varanasi (in 5-6 hours?). I'll have to run this by the driver, once we nail that down (even which driver is up in the air right now).
Darjeeling to Bodhgaya in 1 day is IMPOSSIBLE.
Try to understand, this way -
It you leave Darjeeling by 7 AM, take a break for lunch in Purnea then you'll reach Muzaffarpur around 7 PM.
On 1st day, what you can attempt for maximum is to reach Patna around 10 PM.
Some points -
Road conditions ratings (On the scale of 5 stars)
Darjeeling to Siliguri ***
Siliguri to Purnea (Average ***)
Purnea to Forbesganj *****
Forbeganj to Simrahi bazar *
(Between Forbeganj to Simrahi bazar, I'll suggest S.H. as N.H. is under construction, hence not recommended)
Simrahi to Muzaffarpur via Darbhanga *****
Lodging / fooding availability -
Purnea/ Darbhanga (Near Tower chowk) / Muzaffarpur (Station Road/ Near Motijheel)/ Patna (Fraser road/ Exhibition road)
If you enter any town, please add 30 extra minutes from Zero mile to Main Market of that town as all these towns are overcrowded with heavy traffic & narrow roads.
anilkv - I have been told by a few people that the total drive from Darjeeling to Varanasi will be approximately 16 hours. So I was figuring 12 to Bodhgaya. It sounds like you're saying that it's closer to 16 hours just to Bodhgaya?
I don’t think so.
In 15-16 hours you can't reach beyond Patna and I am 100% sure about it as per my experience on this route.
Yikes! So how long would you estimate the entire journey from Darjeeling to Varanasi? Do we even have to go through Patna? Google Maps suggests a more direct from Siliguri to Bodhgaya ...
Just to add Leslie, I've not done this specific route, but two things I've learned about car and driver in India;
1) They will always tell you it's a lot quicker than it actually is.
2) Google maps gives awful estimates. It once estimated 2 hours for a journey that actually took 8 hours because of road conditions.
Good luck with whatever you choose.
I would say when you have decided to do it, then go for it. There will obviously be some delays and bad road conditions which I am sure you will be able to deal with. At the end of it you will either hate it or you will love the adventure.
And yes Google map or for that matter any GPS is very vague when it comes to India. So the best way to use it will be to get a rough idea but never depend on it.
Agreed. As long as we can make the trip in 2 days, we are game! We can’t afford to have it take more than that, because we only have 2 nights in Varanasi and then we head back to Delhi and immediately home.
Thanks for the route. But that doesn’t take us to Bodh Gaya. How much time do you think that the entire journey will be, from Darjeeling to Varanasi, if we go through Bodh Gaya?
OK If I assume Patna as your night halt, then your 2nd day journey to Varanasi via Bodh-Gaya will be like this-
Patna to Gaya (3 hrs. on *** road)
Gaya (From Dobhi) to Varanasi (6 hrs. on ***** road)
Thanks for the additional information on Bodh Gaya. Maybe it's just too ambitious to go to Bodh Gaya at all. Let me ask this differently: If you had to drive from Darjeeling to Varanasi in 2 days, what would you do? Darjeeling to Patna, overnight, Patna to Varanasi, with no real destination stops? Or, is it worth it (and feasible) to take the extra time to go to Bodh Gaya?
Sorry for all the questions. I'm just trying to figure out 1) whether this can be done in 2 days and 2) where to stay overnight.
For most purposes, calculate the average speed on Indian roads at 40 kilometers per hour. Whilst I have already suggested you fly, can I get you to double-check train availability?
I am no train expert at all - but it looks to me like there are still tickets available on both
DrRudi - I have checked the trains several times, through Cleartrip. I'm no expert on trains either, but if I understand the website messages, there are not 4 seats in 2A for any of the trains to or near Varanasi on the 27th of February (arrival on the 28th). The only class available was Sleeper, and we prefer to drive instead.
Thanks for the 40 km/hr estimate, which would make the 800 km trip 20 hours, which is doable.
At this point, we are leaning towards staying overnight in Patna and probably heading straight to Varanasi from there instead of making a detour to Bodh Gaya.
Thanks again to everyone for the tremendous and thoughtful input!
Of course ! Gaya is holiest place for Buddhist as well as Hindus. It is one of the most important religious centres of India that probably attracts largest number of tourists, foreigners as well as Indians.
As far as your interest in rural road trip, I am confident you'll love it. Specially, the journey between Forbesganj to Simrahi bazar on State Highway. That could be the most memorable part of the entire journey. You'll pass through villages, village markets (take a small break in at least 1 such market, its 100% safe, people are gentle). This is also called Kosi belt (infamous river of Bihar). Life near Bhimnagar Barrage, (Kosi barrage) and Indo-Nepal border was never so easy, you can feel why? But, dont worry about road condition on this stretch, its good. The only problem is, its a narrow road and you may find speed brakers at some points (herd of cows & buffalos ). Enjoy .