Winter drive to the Hills - Kolkata to Kalimpong

The winter vacation was coming and my car was just back from the mandatory scheduled service. And this was the year end time with the chill setting.

Perfect timing for going for a road trip to the mountains.

We made a quick plan to visit the Kalimpong hill station this winter. The Morgan House was quickly booked from the West Bengal Tourism Department website. We planned to have a halt at Malda (as suggested by the forum, thanks for that

At the last moment some law and order disturbances erupted on the route which was supposed to be taken by us. There were some suggestions from the friends and relatives to call off the trip. But the situation slowly improved just enough just in time to give me enough confidence to hit the road.

The plan was to :
1. Day 1 : Travel to Malda from Kolkata
2. Day 2 : Travel to Jalpaiguri from Malda
3. Few days stay at Jalpaiguri
4. Travel to Kalimpong from Jalpaiguri.

I got my car serviced, tires checked and the travel kit ready. This was time to hit the road.

The vlog of the trip is uploaded here:

Kolkata to Malda:

We started early, at 5:30 AM. Plan was to take the Bardhaman - Morgram - Farakka - Malda route. But the Google aunt decided to suggest the Krishnanagar route telling me there is a congestion near Santragachhi. And I decided to follow the suggestion. This was the biggest mistake of the trip.

Jam. Jam. Jam. Jam and more Jam....This is what we experienced in the route of Krishnanagar
. The road was not that good, plus the jam with the trucks. It took more then 3 hours to cross the first 50 KMs. I decided not to take this route ever for my return and future journeys. I had plans to get breakfast at Morgram and we reached there in the afternoon...that was the extent of delays. The jam was partially caused by fog, police giving challans to trucks and political unrest. It was feeling like walking would be faster, but planned against it since I did not have any prior experience of walking a distance of 300+ KMs. The Truck traffic and jam continued till Chakdah and Churni river. Then we took the bypass, but had to face 6 level crossings. Life became little better once we crossed Behrumpur and went towards Morgram. But by then it was already afternoon and we decided not to stop at Morgram for any breaks. There again GPS goofed up and landed us nearly on the Morgram railway station platform
. We received another parting gift of Jam 15 KMs before Farakka. But the barrage was OK.

We finally reached the Malda Tourist Lodge after 13.5 hours of tiring drive and went to bed. We practically did not take any bio break or lunch/food break for the whole journey and survived on on-board snacks of chips and chocolates. Thankfully my junior and wife was supportive during the whole drive. On the positive sides, this sort of drive reassures me on my driving stamina and the cohesiveness of my drive team.

Note on the route while coming back:
We did not take this route while coming back. We ditched the google aunt and took the route as Malda - Farakka - Morgram - Palsanda - Gokarna - Kuli - Bardhaman - Kolkata route. Google had suggested that this route is 25 Kms longer then the route it suggested (straight from Morgram to Bardhaman). But the condition of this route is much better and kept the occupants of the passenger seats happy. The preferred route via Morgram - Kuli has bad roads and speed humps. Also, the local police blocks the road near Sherpur bridge for maintenance and reroutes traffic towards Sherpur - Jibanti route. This is a horrible road and should be avoided.

On the other hand, the Palsanda highway is 4 lane and you can easily zoom through this stretch. Please note, the one lane (the left most lane) just before the Palsanda toll is blocked by the local police for trucks inspection. You need to change the lane, even though you feel that is wrong way, before approaching the toll gate and don't tail behind the trucks. They will not move for a long time and you will get stuck. The Gokarna route till Kuli is also in good condition, though it is 2 lanes. There are quite a few settlements en route, so the speed should be controlled. But the condition of the road is good and the travel time does not suffer much. Kuli is a traffic bottle neck and one needs to take a left turn from the Kuli Chowrasta. We can follow the GPS from there. But there are many speed humps till futi sanko which can not be noticed very easily and the road condition is also not very good at stretches. We need to take right turn once we cross the narrow bridge after Kuli. We will get stuck in truck traffic if we go straight.

I am attaching the image of the alternate route I have taken towards Palsanda. The Blue line is the route I have taken. The red line is the one which is suggested by the GPS and can be avoided:

I have driven more then 10K KMs in my total drive tours I guess. But almost all of them were in the southern part of India where I stayed. Never had experienced this sort of traffic on Highways except once outside of Vizag. So, this was kind of new experience for me.

Malda to Jalpaiguri:
Next day we started for the second leg of the trip at around 8 AM. We had packed our backup lunch of Bread, Omelettes and boiled eggs from the Tourist Lodge itself. Yesterday's memory was still fresh in our mind and site of any Truck gave us jitters. We decided to ban all trucks from Highways once one of us becomes the PM of the country

This was a much better drive then yesterday. The road till Raiganj was good. This was a 4 lane highway. The Farakka - Raiganj highway was quite heavy with traffic at morning time, but due to the road conditions it was not an issue. We were able to maintain a steady speed and reached Raiganj.

Life got a balance in the stretch of Raiganj to Botolbari with bad roads and traffic. We took the Botobari route. The road condition was good, but since it ran through villages, we drive slow. There were lot of chickens and mutton in live condition on the road, so was careful not to hit one
. This is 50 odd kilometers of road and should be crossed in the day time. It crosses through many settlements and sharp turns. Be careful in those junctions.

The last part (about few hundred meters) of the route suggested by Google is not there. I mean, the physical road is there. But jo karey apne gadi se pyaar....woh karey is road se inkaar. Very bad condition of the road. Better to take the left turn just ahead of that stretch and the same will take you to the same highway without making your car go oouch. I am attaching the picture of the route, avoid the black circled path, take the green shaded path instead:


Islampur is a traffic bottleneck. Drive cautiously here. The TOTOs and vans are enough to teach us some driving lessons. Otherwise, traffic is smooth. We had our packed lunch opened and transferred to our mouth after the Islampur stretch.

The fulbari stretch gives a good sales pitch with a beautiful start. But soon the reality shows up with bad roads, so many diversions and dusts for the 4 lane work that is going on there. The driving speed is bound to reduce here due to the diversions and dust. Sometimes the road visibility drops and we got a feeling of being on Mars, driving a rover in the Martian dusts. The road condition is bad till Mahananda Barrage.

The Ambari stretch gives a nice ending touch to the trip. It is a nice feeling driving through the tea estates. Although, the traffic near Belacoba needs you to drive cautiously as that is a congested part.

All in all, this was a breeze compared to the drive the earlier day.

Note on Return Journey from Jalpaiguri to Malda:

We need be careful while entering the Botolbari stretch. The entrance needs to be adjusted as per the exit from the stretch while going to Jalpaiguri. That is not easily guided by GPS and we need to be careful on that. We need to exit the highway, drive along the very narrow service road along side the highway for few hundred meters and then enter the Botol Bari stretch.

Jalpaiguri to Kalimpong:

We took a break of someday to spend with my family. Then started driving towards Kalimpong. We did this in a hired car and not in my own car. Again, we ditched Google for this route. I hope Google did not mind as we ditched her on our return journey also
. We took the route via Bodaganj - Millanpally - Gajaldoba - Odlabari to reach sevok and then Kalimpong.

We started at 7:30 AM from home and planned to reach the hill station within 4 hours. This was the shortest journey of the trip. The route was good. The condition of the road was not much different from last year's. The repair and maintenance is still going on. But all in all, the condition is good. We did not face any jam at Sevok (or other parts) and straight went to Kalimpong without any break (except for photos). We got a very clear and nice view of the Kanchenjungha peak while on the way itself. I visited the mountains many times to view the peak, but never it was so clear in the sky as it was that day. This made my day. Luckily we got very clear and nice weather while climbing up. Road was not quite foggy, even though temperature was down. It is a different feeling of driving in the hills with clear and sunny weather.

The Kalimpong came to me as a busy small town. Beautiful houses and simple life, with many features of the modern life available at their disposal.
The best way to explore the hills station is to go for a walk. We, the plain land dwellers, though lack in the stamina and lungs power to move around the areas as the locals. It took me more then 30 minutes to climb uphill and reach the Gumpha near the army base, and the attendant at the Morgan house told it takes him 10 minutes to reach there....

Next day we did a quick tour of the near by Deleo hill station, but that was not readily available for tourists that day due to some high profile VVIP visit. Nonetheless, spent some time there, and made our resolution stronger of becoming the PM (at least the CM) somehow

We came back to Jalpaiguri the next day and started our return journey. I am not detailing the return journey except for the note of interests in the earlier sections of the log.

End Note:

This was a pleasant drive. Though it started on a tiresome note, but ended in a good mood.

I have learnt from the drive that sometimes it is needed to follow our own instincts and navigation then blindly following the GPS. There might be unexpected blockers on the route and we can not do anything about that, just need to stick around and prepare plan B,C,D....Z etc. And that I can drive more then 12 hours on bad roads, traffic and unknown roads. And we (me, wify and junior) are an excellent team

Few clicks from the trip :
Morning Fog Drive:

Morgan House, the place we stayed at Kalimpong:


The Kanchenjunga

Teesta river from Teesta Bazaar :