Delhi to Varanasi transport questions

Dec 13th, 2009, 08:43 AM
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Delhi to Varanasi transport questions

I am in the early stages of planning my first trip to India next November, where I will fly into Delhi and spend three to four nights. I would like to see Varanasi, but I think the only way I can do this is right after Delhi. I would prefer not to fly again so soon after flying internationally. I could take the train, sleeper or day, but I'm not sure I want to do this, for a variety of reasons. That leaves hiring a car and driver. But is the Delhi to Varanasi drive even feasible? I assume it would be more than a day's drive. Is there anyplace interesting to stop on the way or even spend the night? Or is this just something that is probably not worth pursuing?
mallomar is offline  
Dec 13th, 2009, 11:30 AM
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You will have a few days in Delhi to rest up and you should fly this route.

Driving from Delhi to Varanasi is something the locals don't even do. Roads in Uttar Pradesh state, where all of your driving will occur, are generally poor and congested and your trip is over 400 miles. Even a train will be several hours.
Jaya is offline  
Dec 13th, 2009, 10:18 PM
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I don’t think you will find that a flight of just over an hour between Delhi and Varanasi to be a big issue, esp. after 3-4 days in Delhi and the ability to rest up from the international flight. (The beauty of very long-haul international flights is that they make anything else seem very short indeed: I now look at a 3-4 hour flight as so short that there is barely time to get settled into one’s seat. I could do a one hour flight standing up.) You also don’t have to deal with immigration or customs on the domestic flight, so the overall experience is a little easier. Delhi domestic airport is small and quite manageable. If you are willing to pay just a bit more to go business class, you can probably avoid most lines completely, other than lines for security. (And if you are a woman, the line is shorter than for men.)

Unfortunately, the train options to Varanasi do not look that great. The shortest train is about 9 hours, but they seem to leave in the early evening and arrive in the small hours; which means in November you will be traveling in darkness most of the time, thereby defeating the purpose of taking a day train, IMO. (Also if you arrive at 2 am, will you really feel like getting up at 5 am in order to get out to the river for sunrise? Bear that in mind.) The other day trains take about 12 hours. A train is certainly possible however, and will save you drive time out to Delhi airport, which can take an hour or a bit more. You can also take a night train, which may actually be a good option in that something like the Poovra Express arrives at 4:30 am and you could basically go right to the river from there to see the sunrise (have the driver keep your bags, or if time make a quick stop at the hotel to drop bags).

I agree that driving is not really an option for that distance. That distance even on US highways is a lot of driving, and on Indian roads is more driving than you probably want to undertake. I think it would take you something like 12-14 hours, so you could not make it in one day in any event without any stops for sightseeing (You should not be driving these roads at night). My personal view is that about 5 hours a day is the most I like to do on an Indian road, if for nothing else than that is the longest amount of time I can stand to hear my own driver honk the car’s horn. (Not to mention all the other horns you will hear, the almost constant swerving for animals and people and then the general crappy condition of many roads.) I think the only real sightseeing points would be Kanpur, Lucknow or Allahabad (the latter two a bit out of the way according to Google earth maps); although really with India there is a shrine or something of religious significance almost literally every few hundred yards, so you may find plenty along the way to see (although getting a good explanation may be another matter.) I would agree that trains are generally much easier than driving for long distances. (And flying is easier than trains for very long distances.)

One option you may want to consider is going down to Agra first to see the Taj Mahal (you can go down by car or train), and then taking a train to Varanasi from there. There are day train options that will get you to Varanasi in about 8 hours, and there are night train options as well. This would be a very nice trip to see a variety of places. I don’t know how much time you have overall in India.

Another option to consider is to see if you can connect to a flight to Varanasi as soon as you arrive into Delhi. IMO you need about 3 hours between flights to make any connection, as you have to get to the domestic terminal which is about 3 miles from the international terminal, and your bags will not be transferred for you as you have to go through Customs at the international airport. If a connecting flight is not possible, another option is to simply stay at a hotel near the airport the night you arrive into Delhi and go to Varanasi first thing the next morning, and save Delhi for later in the trip. You can also fly to Varanasi non-stop from Mumbai, so perhaps you can connect to or from Mumbai on an international flight more easily, and then go to Delhi at the end of the beginning of the trip.
Cicerone is offline  
Dec 14th, 2009, 01:14 AM
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Jaya and Cicerone have, as usual, covered the issue brilliantly. It would help if you gave us your thoughts on the rest of your itinerary - how long you are planning to stay in India, where else you might go. There are a couple of other creative ways to skin that Varanasi cat.
dogster is offline  
Dec 14th, 2009, 05:54 AM
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The other consideration about drivers is you should NOT expect them to know how to navigate any of the local roads in cities along the way should you decide to drive, and possibly expect them to have to stop and get directions now and then. It's a struggle for many drivers to even know Delhi well since it is so large.

I've used drivers between Lucknow and Kanpur, which are my main travel areas because of family, and the driver from Lucknow won't know Kanpur and vice versa. So unfamiliarity with the roads will slow your drive down. Further, I don't advise being a lone woman on these kinds of drives with a driver you don't know.

And finally, as Cicerone already said, these are not roads you should travel on once it gets dark.
Jaya is offline  
Dec 14th, 2009, 06:03 AM
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Thanks for the extremely informative replies. If the locals don't usually do this drive, then I don't think I should be blazing the trail with this!

Flying definitely looks like the way to go. I appreciate the info on domestic vs. international terminals in Delhi. I would probably go business class as well, which should help somewhat.

My tentative trip plans are to spend about 16 days in India, flying in and out of Delhi. I was planning on three or four nights Delhi, two nights Varanasi, two nights Agra, three nights Pushkar for the camel fair, and then five nights making the loop from Pushkar back to Delhi, stopping in smaller places like Bikaner. I could see Varanasi at the end, but it would be during the few days before Dev Diwali, and I don't think I want to be there when it is even more crowded than usual. I also would prefer to hit the camel fair at the beginning, rather than end.

I thought I would hire a car and driver to get me between places, but I don't know if that will work between Varanasi and Agra, and Agra and Pushkar. I think the Agra to Pushkar part is at least eight hours, and I'm not sure for Varanasi to Agra.

I could go from Agra to Jaipur, then Jaipur to Pushkar, but I would prefer to spend more time in smaller towns. (Maybe there is another town to stay in before Pushkar?)
mallomar is offline  
Dec 14th, 2009, 06:06 AM
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Thanks, Jaya. (I cross-posted my last response with yours.) That's good info to have. I am a single female traveler, but I was planning on hiring a car and driver through a reputable company such as Indian Moments or Castle and King. I'm hoping that would be safer?
mallomar is offline  
Dec 14th, 2009, 06:41 AM
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Long drives on Indian roads (more than 2 hours for me) become exhausting. It's noisy, bumpy, slow, and I spend most of the time also watching the road to make sure the driver doesn't miss anything, so they are not restful. It's like an obstacle course without any relief. Not even the best driver can save you from that!

Keep the driving to shorter distances. I'd still suggest you to fly.
Jaya is offline  
Dec 14th, 2009, 09:16 AM
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mallomar, you have never been on Indian roads have you? If you think flying is exhausting.....I'm with Jaya--fly to Varanasi and enjoy it, rather than arriving like a limp, stressed rag. Shorter trips during the day can acually be fun. I loved the drive from Agra to Jaipur during the daytime. It was about four/five hours and quite interesting--you can see everyting since you never get over 20 MPH and are weaving constantly to avoid contact with...trucks, cars, camels, donkey's, tut tut's, haywagons and pedestrians.

I loved Varanasi. And, economy is fine. Don't fly business class (and I'm the business class queen). It is less than a 90 minute flight. Use the money to buy a yourself a quality silk scarf from one of the shops.
BostonHarbor is offline  
Dec 15th, 2009, 05:17 AM
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No, I have never been on Indian roads, but I'm looking forward to the experience! But if I go to Varanasi, I will definitely fly.
mallomar is offline  
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