Driving from Delhi to Shimla : Updated October 2013

Been a while since i posted here and what better way to get back at it than to update one of my starting posts and for which i still get a lot of comments ; Driving from Delhi to Shimla.

Have had the fortune of being able to make 2 drives up in the last 2 months , primarily thanks to my interest in driving a new car which i got ūüôā , and happy to report that it’s still a comfortable drive.

In both cases one left at about 6:30 AM in the morning , which is typically 1.5 hours later than my usual departure time , but i had passengers and timings had to be adjusted accordingly.  The first drive was done in August while the rains were still very much present here in Delhi , and the second barely 10 days ago. The update is an integration of observations across both drives. The first one took about 10 hours both directions and the second one was much faster , 8.5 hours one way and 7 coming back. The delay in the first was primary owing to encountering massive thunderstorms which reduced visibility and speed.

Getting out of Delhi is smooth as butter now early in the morning , depending on the road and the area of Delhi one is leaving from , crossing the border can be done in 30-40 minutes now. We now ofcourse have the ring road bypass or the Mahatma Gandhi road bypass which gets one out pretty much just short of ISBT. Signal free and reasonably good tarmac ensures that it takes all of 5 minutes to get to ISBT , which can be a mess depending on your luck. Post this till the Panipat toll there are not too many places where one can encounter a Jam. The entire stretch is in good condition , broad roads , good tarmac , not too many potholes . Traffic or rather traffic discipline is still as bad as its ever been.

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The Panipat bypass looses its sheen for me , while its still far far better than what it used to be , the number of trucks and heavy vehicles plying on it now means reduced speeds and enough overtaking required. To compound the problem , the trucks dont still to their lanes resulting in enough situations where speed drops down to a crawl owing to two trucks side by side with no space , only option is to wait till one of them moves ahead of the other. The Panipat toll is slow , i wish they would pick up a thing or two from the Delhi-Gurgaon toll operators and waiting time would drop drastically , there is a certain air of “laziness” which seems to prevail with everyone taking their own time to move on , give receipts and change. Fortunately the lines are still short enough , or atleast i have not encountered a long one , can take upto 10 minutes to pass the booth.

After Panipat is where everything goes back to the good old days , the stretch till Ambala and a little beyond is pathetic . Part of the 6 laning of the road till Jalandhar, the entire stretch lies in shambles. I believe vendors have not been paid for a while and overtime all work has stopped completely.

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6 lane plan scope : Photocredit : The Tribune

Hence there are quite a few diversions thanks to NHAI not finishing the work on the numerous flyovers which are in different stages of completion.  At any point thus where one encounters a flyover there is a diversion which one must take , the diversions are narrow so traffic ends up moving mostly in a single file. Add rains to it and you will encounter standing water as well.

Karnal is a mess and going through the town can take a good 30 minutes depending on traffic conditions. The main road does not exist anymore since it was dug up and hence we have arteries so to speak on either side which handles the traffic now. These are narrow again , can have lots of standing water , are broken as a result and do not be surprised to find yourself crawling.

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One of the many flyovers in an incomplete state : Photo credit : the Tribune

I try and go past Karnal before stopping for a break so i can get it over and out of the way. There are as always tons of options for food available with old favorites such as Jhilmil Dhaba still present and new ones such as The Savoy , Haveli. Just short of Jhilmil one also has Sagar Ratna now available. Simply too many to name , just slow down and pick anything which catches your eye!

We still have a toll on this road too , and i dont understand why they take money. This is the old toll booth which has been around for donkeys years , what they have done is shifted it a few kilometers towards Ambal , earlier it was less than a kilometer away from Jhilmil. The fee is now 100/105 INR one way , so not cheap at all and given what you have just driven through and will be till post Ambala , i find it hard to justify its existence. Broken down , dirty looking booths with just flat out arrogant guys working in it. If the Panipat guys were maybe a little lazy , these guys definitely are. Long lines a good possibility.

The Ambala Chandigarh expressway is simply fantastic in terms of the overall experience and you get to Zirakpur in no time. Just be careful of people crossing the expressway , even though there are guard rails ; as we know most people will not listen. Occasional cow might be around as well just in case you started to loose the ” i am in India” feeling ūüôā !

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Toll at the Ambala Chandigarh expressway. Photo Credit : Automotive Horizon

Zirakpur is crowded , anyone coming here after a gap of a few years is going to be overwhelmed by the construction which has taken place. Fancy residents and malls on either side of the road. When hitting Zirakpur remember to get on to the service lane and not the flyover. The flyover takes one into Chandigarh city , which earlier was not a problem because a U-Turn was possibly to come back , in fact it was a better option than taking the normal road to Shimla since there was no chance of getting stuck in a jam. Now however the U-Turn is not available and one has to drive a fair bit before being able to turn around. The right turn from the service road to get onto the Shimla road is busy and it can take 2-3 cycles to clear it depending on the traffic and the time of day that one is passing by.

Post this it is a bit crowded for about a kilometer thanks to the hordes of people , buses , trucks standing and moving around but opens up fairly quickly. Now one is on the Zirakpur-Kalka-Panchkula highway which hits the newly opened Himalayan Expressway , or the point at which one can take a left to go towards Kalka / Parwanoo. There is a toll on this road as well , about 30 INR but does not take too long to cross. The entire stretch from Zirakpur to the start of the Expressway can be done in a comfortable 20-25 minutes , and then add another 10 -12 odd minutes to get to Timber Trail. What an achievement!! The old road which used to go through Kalka etc was stuff which nightmares was made off.  Time saving is at-least 45-60 minutes if not more overall.

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Zirakpur РKalka expresway : Photo credit : http://munishchauhan.blogspot.in

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Himalayan Expressway : Credit : http://www.truewanderers.in

There is yet another toll booth at the end of it before hitting Timber Trail. This is entry tax for Himachal. Quite a joke and if first impressions are everything , then this does not put Himachal in a good light at all. Atleast now they have some kind of temporary structures which they call a booth , about a year back they had a few people sitting on stools. Himachal has to be one of the worst states in this country when it comes to understanding Asthetics. A beautiful road which ends on a bad note. (Have a picture , will add it later on )

Other than traffic from this point onwards the roads in good condition overall. The Barogh road is open posts the landslide for a while now and has new tarmac hence quite smooth , the Solan bypass has been fixed up as well and is an equally good option. Solan remains crowded as ever which cannot be avoided as do the other places one passes by such as Kandhaghat.

Happy and safe Driving!

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Driving from Delhi to Shimla

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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.

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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

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