Update as of 20th April 2010
It took me no less than 7 hours to do the trip , and this is despite my best efforts to expedite as much as i could. Nevertheless it is not a bad time at all and once the current work gets carried out , i think 6.30 hours non stop will be achievable.
Coming to the update – the stretch between Ambala and Karnal is being widened and the digging is on full swing. The traffic flow is not disrupted too badly at this point with there being diversions 2-3 Kms spaced out. But it does result in slowing down substantially.
The toll booth at Karnal has been shifted a bit further down and is turning out to offer quite the competition to our Delhi – Gurgaon expressway , dont be surprised if it takes you 15-20 minutes to clear it depending on the time of day. Toll is now 78 INR one way.
The Ambala- Zirakpur stretch is absolutely lovely now. All that work has payed off and you can cross the stretch in about 30 minutes . There is a toll gate mid way.
Zirakpur – Kalka/Parwanoo is where major work is taking place right now and this stretch can eat up into your time substantially as it did with me. It took me only about 3 and a half hours to cross Zirakpur but almost another 1 hour just to start climbing. Road widening and building flyovers is whats taking place and the construction is on a pretty grand scale but once done , this particular stretch should be doable in about 20-25 minutes but i dont think there will be any relief from the jams at Parwaoo/Kalka etc since those roads remain the minuscule size they are currently.
Road condition to Shimla is overall good and does not warrant or demand slow driving. Lots of points and spots were being fixed and short of Timber Trail they are widening the road. The work currently stretches for only about 250 mts but this will probably get larger
Update as of 1st November 2009
I went home for Diwali and drove as usual. The update is that the Zirakpur stretch is pretty much over and done with. The amount of time saved because of the Panipat floyover and now Zirakpur is good. Ambala to Zirakpur can now be done between 30-40 minutes depending on the time of the day , faster probably depending on the car as well.
Zirakpur to Kalka is still a pain – the work continues , lots of diversions ,single lanes at places and then ofcourse the traditional jams at Parwanoo and Kalka. All the time time saved at Zirakpur gets wasted here – but the work is on. This time up total time taken was 7 .5 hours ( 30 minutes or so lost due to an accident before Panipat) and coming down it took a little under 7.
Update as on 24th June 2009
A delayed update , but briefly the Panipat bypass has been open for some months now as well as the one at Zirakpur. They bypass can easily save about 30 minutes of driving time depending on the time of the day. Good quality road , but unfortunately not very disciplined at keeping Trucks to a lane, Rikshaws off etc. So be careful.
The Zirakpur stretch is partly done but still a mess but the intitial flyover having been built saves time as well. Plus the road between Ambala and Chandgrah should be getting almost ready as well , which is going to save further time.
The stretch between Panchkula and Kalka was a pain when i went last about 2 months ago. Lot of digging to widending the road , so effectively all the time one saves at Panipat and Zirakpur can be nullified here , but again depends on the time of the day.
I am continuously asked about tips/information on driving to Shimla by friends and acquaintances. I assumed hence that this information might be useful in general as well and hence decided to pen down some stuff.Lets talk of all the other things except finances first.TIME: If you are driving to Shimla for the first time then give yourself about 10 hours. Roughly broken up into 8 hours driving and about 2 hours of stops. When u leave Delhi can play a big role in how much time you take. I just went up recently in a Zen. Left at 4:30 in the morning and reached Shimla at 10:30…a straight 6 hours (a record even by my standards) with a half an hour stop for breakfast and another half an hour for tea. But getting out of Delhi can be a very time consuming process in itself. I went up again and left in fact at 330 but got caught in a jam and reached Shimla at 1130..so it affected my entire time by an hour.
ROAD: The over all road condition is pretty pretty good. I break it into 3 Segments. Primarily Delhi to Ambala , Ambala to Kalka and Kalka to Shimla. After u have left behind the normal bumps and potholes of Delhi roads u can sit back and cruise. Its an excellent road sometime 2 laned sometimes 4 all the way to Ambala. Ambala to Kalka is congested..its a single road with no divider (be careful while overtaking here) and lasts a
good 45-50 Kms to Kalka. Once you have hit Kalka then again, sit and enjoy the drive. The road has just been done up and contrary to a lot of fears driving in the hills is not bad at all. The road is sufficiently wide, level, just look out at corners for oncoming vehicles and ull be fine.
TRAFFIC: this of curse depends on when u leave. Ideally leave early and you will avoid messes at Sonipat and Panipat , 2 of th most crowded places and Ambala to Kalka depends on a little luck as well. From Kalka to Shimla traffic is not too much. Kalka will be crowded, then Solan and that’s about it.
STOPS: more than enough choices on the way. What i personally do is to stop at a Dhaba called ’’jhilmil’’ at Karnal, most amazing lassi and paneer ka parathan….then no stops still about Dharampur, which is roughly an hour from Kalka. But if u can’t wait that long then like i said there are enough choices.
TOLL : While driving to Shimla u have 3 toll stops One at Karnal (50) One near Ambala (11) and one at Kalka (30), on the way back the same tolls apply except the one for entering Himachal (30)
FINANCES: I will have to make certain assumptions here i.e that one would travel otherwise in a train (shatabdi AC chaircar) , Taxi, or A deluxe Bus.
As far as one person driving up goes its not economical. But the minute 2 are involved its cheaper to drive up.
1000-1200 Rs for fuel, 200 for stops, 90 for tolls = 1300.
1300= total cost one way (the more the number of persons coming the lower the cost per head)
Train : 550 for one AC Chaircar ticket to chandi, then either a Taxi which is 1500-1800 or a bus which will be about 250. So total cost one way =2000/ 800
Taxi from Delhi : obviously close to about 3000.
Plane roughly 6000 one way
Bus: a normal deluxe bus (Volvo) which the Himachal govt runs costs 550 per ticket which would have gone up now because of the hike in petrol.
Hence it is economically quite a viable option as well.
The best part of course is getting there at your own pace.
P.S I think the prices for the bus and the train have gone up. My info is a couple of months old.