Cycling from the Taj Mahal to Kolkata via the River Ganges

by tkos on November 12, 2012

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As with so may countries, the people in the south will slate the north and vice versa. India is no different. When we told people in the south that we were planning on cycling from Agra, through the states of UP, Bihar and Jharkhand through to Kolkata in West Bengal, we received the most alarming of expressions and grave concern for our safety. ‘Text us everyday when you are in that region so we know you are safe!’ is enough to seriously make you consider the idea of cycling through India’s own Wild West and known highway robbery areas.

I’m delighted to report that not only did we make it with all our limbs in tact and dummy wallets still full, we found that the people in these states were some of the friendliest and honest people in the entire country!

Some stretches are a little long and hotels can be few and far between, so please review the table at the end of this post for details as to what towns to stay in. And as always, feel free to get in touch for any advice that’s not here, we’d love to hear from you!

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 What we loved the most:

  • Bodh Gaya. The holiest place on earth if you are Buddhist. We followed the NH2 the whole way on this leg, but took the 30km diversion to Bodh Gaya to see why thousands of people make the pilgrimage from all over the world. And also to find a hotel as there are none on the NH2 in this stretch. Bodh Gaya is the home of the Bodi tree where Buddha first found enlightenment some 2600 years ago. It’s not the exact same tree, but a believed descendant.  A great place to see local monks pray and Westerners find themselves.
  • The food in Kolkata. So different to the rest of the country. Three restaurants that we recommend in order of preference are #1: 6 Ballygunge Place (1200 rupees, two diners, a la carte menu), #2: Peter Cat (1050 rupees, two diners, a la carte menu) and #3: Kewpies (1500 rupees, two diners, set thali menu). Go to all three if you can as each had individual dishes better than the rest!
  • Roadside diners. These dusty, dirty, dingy stops on the side of the road were some of our favourite places to eat. The food is damn cheap, chai is only 5 rupees and the locals were amazingly friendly and curious. Resting truckers will gaze and ponder at your gears while you much down on some dal, roti, stuffed paratha and anything else you might see. There is very little English ut here and no menu cards to choose from, so it’s best to have brushed up on your Hindi!

What was like a flat tyre:

  • No hotels. This stretch is a little barren for hotels so it’s best to do your research. There are some places in which you will need to do up to 156km (see table below for details). Despite our trip being safe and friendly, we were constantly warned of the dangers in the area so we did not cycle at night, nor did we camp. This puts a little bit of pressure on to find hotels before it gets dark. All part of the adventure though!
  • Taj Mahal. It just is what it is. It’s ok, does what it says on the box. Go there, wait in line, take a photo then jump back on the road.

Top Tips:

  • Research this leg. When you jump on Google maps, type ‘hotels’ in the search bar to get an idea as to what is in front of you. This helped us plan our leg.
  • Get a local to book for you. English is far and few between so unless your Hindi is amazing, get a local to book your hotels in advance. ENSURE the hotel has a foreigners permit before you head out and that they take couples, otherwise you will be rejected and stranded at the door!
  • The NH2. Despite what Google and locals say, there IS a hotel in Bahri :)

What’s it worth:

  •  A hotel ca be as cheap as INR 250 (Shikohabad) or as much as INR 1500 (Varanasi) depending on what you’re willing to pay.You can spend INR 5,000 in the bigger places for four stars! Quality and value varies considerably so it’s worth shopping about if it’s important to you. We spent an average of INR 1800 per day including hotels, food and everything in between. At the time of writing this, GBP£1 is 80 rupees and AU$1 is 50 rupees.


TownKM'sNightsWhere we slept
Shikohabad691Hotel (Green Park & Boating)
Etawah591Hotel (can't rememeber)
Allahabad1274Couch Surf
Dehri1461Hotel (Sonebreeze)
Bodhgaya1112Rahul Guesthouse
Bahri1011Hotel (Highway)
Kolkata11510Air BnB


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