Through the badlands to snow-capped peaks: The Kolkata to Uttarakhand road trip

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Credits: Weigots

Photo of Through the badlands to snow-capped peaks: The Kolkata to Uttarakhand road trip by Siddharth Sujan

Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Kolkata, West Bengal, India by Siddharth Sujan

The American author Angela N. Blount wrote in her book 'Once Upon an Ever After' and I quote, “Sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn't mean to take.”

That, right there is the beauty of roads. No matter which turn you take, there’s always a bunch of stories and experiences waiting to welcome you with open arms. That becomes all the more true for a country like India, owing to its innumerable cultures, dialects, traditions and landscapes.

The diversity is exactly what struck me when a group of friends were planning a bachelors trip for a dear one going to walk down the dreaded aisle. While someone suggested the beaches of Thailand, others vouched for the valleys of Leh.

I, however, had something entirely different on my mind. An epic 5-day road trip that would kick off from our base, Kolkata, pass through the badlands of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to the foothills of the Himalayas to finally some of the highest peaks in the country. The 1500-km road trip ended up being as epic as it sounded when I first pitched it. By the end, everyone just had one thing to say, “I’m glad I did this!”.

Credits: Free-Photos

Photo of Through the badlands to snow-capped peaks: The Kolkata to Uttarakhand road trip by Siddharth Sujan

The Route

The trip starts off from the city of Kolkata. The first day of the trip has a long drive down to the holy city of Varanasi. Next morning, drive down further into U.P. and halt for the day in Lucknow. Reach the foothills of the mighty Himalayas and at Bhimtal on the third day. The next morning, drive up to the quaint town of Pithoragarh. On the fifth morning, advance to the final destination, Munsiyari.

This is the suggested road trip for the Kolkata-Uttarakhand road trip:

Kolkata - Varanasi - Lucknow - Bhimtal - Pithoragarh - Munsiyari

Itinerary

The itinerary is spread across five days:

Day 1

Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India by Siddharth Sujan

The longest and the most challenging leg of the entire road trip lands you up in the holy city of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. The drive from Kolkata takes you through some of the most remote areas of West Bengal and Bihar. One of the oldest cities in the world, Varanasi is a city of utmost importance in the Hindu religion. The city radiates of faith, culture and history and is a glorious example of India’s heritage.

Time on the road: 14 hours

Distance: 670 km

Top experiences: Take a dip in the holy waters of the River Ganges; experience peace and calm at the evening aarti on the banks of the river; get a taste of history at the Ramnagar Fort and take a tour of the ancient city of Sarnath.

Where to stay: Zostel Varanasi and Ramada Plaza JHV. For more options, click here.

Day 2

Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India by Siddharth Sujan

The capital city of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow, is a heady cocktail of tradition and modernity. The city houses some significant monuments from the colonial period while the authentic Nawabi lifestyle still continues to live on amongst its people. Lucknow is also identified as a haven to food lovers with some legendary street food joints that attract tourists from all over the world. Amongst all its chaos, somewhere deep down, Lucknow is still a sleepy town soaked in royalty and shouldn’t be missed at any cost.

Time on the road: 7 hours 30 minutes

Distance: 310 km

Top experiences: Take a heritage walk through the Chowk and Kaiserbagh areas of Lucknow; visit the famous tourist attractions, the Bara Imambara and the Chota Imambara; explore the cafes of Hazratganj; shop for souvenirs at the Chowk and indulge in delectable street food at Aminabad.

Where to stay: FabHotel Heritage Inn Charbagh and Clarks Avadh. Fore more options, click here.

Day 3

Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Bhimtal, Uttarakhand, India by Siddharth Sujan

Crossing through the inlands of Uttar Pradesh, reach the quaint lake side town of Bhimtal. Often considered as one of the best offbeat getaway destinations in the region, the peaceful town is just 22 km from the tourist hub of Nainital. Bhimtal attracts wanderers looking to unwind and relax, away from the crazy city life. Located on the foothills of the Kumaon mountains, Bhimtal serves as an ideal stopover to acclimatise and adapt to the changing topography of the road trip.

Time on the road: 8 hours

Distance: 405 km

Top experiences: Explore your adventurous side by going trekking; take a boat ride on the Bhimtal Lake and enjoy a picnic by the lakeside.

Where to stay: Camp Kalsi and Jilling Terraces. For more options, click here.

Day 4

Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand, India by Siddharth Sujan

A challenging ride up the hills of Kumaon from Bhimtal gets you to Pithoragarh. Resting at an elevation of 1,514m above sea level, Pithoragarh was carved out of the Almora district in 1960. It also happens to be the easternmost district of Uttarakhand, neighbouring Tibet to its North and Nepal in the east. The serenity of Pithoragarh can be deciphered from the fact that this town is also referred to as ‘Little Kashmir’.

Time on the road: 5 hours

Distance: 160 km

Top experiences: Marvel at the grandiose of Pithoragarh fort, offer your prayers at the temples of Arjuneswar, Kapileshwar and Nakuleshwar, take a stroll through the Pithoragarh market and try out the local savouries.

Where to stay: Ancee's Retreat and Chestnut Grove Himalayan Lodge. For more options, check here.

Day 5

Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Munsyari, Uttarakhand, India by Siddharth Sujan

The final leg of the road trip is a testing drive that will get you to your final destination of Munsiyari. Nestled at 2,200m above sea level, Munsiyari sits calmly between the India, China and Nepal borders. The place is an absolute paradise for nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts. The hill town is surrounded by lush green Himalayan mountains that house a plethora of flora and fauna. Munsiyari also serves as the starting point for several long-distance hikes and glacier treks.

Time on the road: 4 hours 30 minutes

Distance: 125 km

Top experiences: Trek to the glaciers of Ralam, Milam and Namik; unwind by Munsiyari’s natural lakes of Thamari and Maheshwari and witness the beauty of Birthi waterfalls.

Where to stay: Janardan Resort and Sarmoli Hirma Homestay.

Best time to take the trip

October to February are the best months to make this trip. The winter months make for the perfect time to experience the beauty of North India. However, don’t forget to pack your warm clothes as the biting winds in the upper regions can cause temperatures to drop below freezing point.

Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Through the badlands to snow-capped peaks: The Kolkata to Uttarakhand road trip by Siddharth Sujan

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