Sunday, February 07, 2016

All the things I love in Bengaluru - street food

Bangalore... er! Bengaluru, as the city is now known, was once known the Pensioners' Paradise, for its calm, relaxed and peaceful environment. However, with the dawn of the IT era, the city lost its calmness, and became crowded and infamous for traffic snarls. An average Bangalorean spends more time on the road than at home, goes the saying. For all its ills, I in love with this happening city. The unpredictable fever friendly climate, roads that resemble war zones during the day and desert during the nights are all factors that make me fall in love with this city.

I travel across the city on a daily basis - commuting to office from home by public transportation. Street food is a vital part of Bangalore. A lot of people depend on street side vendors for their daily meal. I thought of compiling a list of some street food items that I devour quite often. A few of them might not be really street food though. Here goes my list:

1. Countless fruit plate stalls on streets!
Bangalore loves its fruit plates. These fruit plates are generally made up of the fruits of the season, and generally include Watermelon, Muskmelon, Papaya and Pineapple. Banana is used as a filler to make up the volume. Sapota (Chikku) is often added as well. A generous amount of salt and pepper is sprinkled on the top layer. Some sellers add a solution which they call Honey as well. The average cost of the serving is Rs. 15~20. The serving is generally filling - but comes with a lot of health risks related to cleanliness. I generally prefer sticking to vendors who have been around for a long time.

2. Mirchi Bhajji at Roti Mandir, Kempegowda BS. 
Raw, crisp, capsicum fritters served with a generous quantity of coconut-mint chutney. This would be an apt one line description of the Mirchi Bhajji at Roti Mandir located near Platform 4 in Kempegowda Bus Station aka Majestic Bus Station (the city service side). Served at Rs. 15 a plate, they give out 4 pieces of Bhajji. I would suggest opting a mixed plate - which would give you a piece or two of every fried fritter they made that evening.

3. The countless vegetable bhel sellers on streets
Another not-so-healthy snack. Puffed rice garnished with onion, carrot, coriander leaves and some fried namkeen, topped with sev. Generally a spicy chutney and a dash of lemon is added for the flavour. The item is generally prepared fresh and cannot be retained for long since the puffed rice gets soaked if its kept for long - it tastes best when its crisp. A serving generally costs Rs. 20.

4. Idli-Vada soaked in Sambar!

Idli-Vada is the most eaten breakfast item in hotels across Bangalore, if I am right. The cost varies according to the type of hotel -  a roadside darshini will charge about Rs. 25~30, while a slightly upmarket darshini will charge about Rs, 40~50. Idli is one of the most common breakfast dishes in South India. Idli is a steamed item made of Rice and Lentils. The accompaniment - Vada - is a fried snack made of lentils. The most common form of having this item in Karnataka is to dip it in hot Sambhar. Coconut chutney is a great accompaniment for this concoction.

5. The cold Badam Milk at Nandini outlets!
No better drink to down all the sin you did at the food stalls on the roadside! Badam milk is a very common drink in Karnataka. Badam milk can be drunk cold or hot. Both items are equally popular. I am a fan of the cold version though - which generally costs about Rs. 20 at roadside stalls. Nandini is the brand name used by Karnataka Milk Federation. Nandini stalls are present everywhere in the city. This cold drink is filling, cooling and a health alternative compared to the colourful bottle drinks.

This is just a beginning. I plan to write more similar stuff in the coming days.. stay tuned. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Alhind Scania: Thrissur to Bangalore

As my travel to Kerala came closer, there was more pressure to book a ticket. Airfares were quite high, and bus fares seemed to compete with airlines. Given the change in my working hours, I had to be in Bangalore very early in the morning. Buses leaving later in the night was not an option at all. I had to take a bus leaving in the afternoon, or early evening. Alhind fit my requirements to the T, and without much thoughts I went ahead and booked a ticket on Alhind. I got a sweet deal on the Alhind website. The bus was mostly sold, I got a seat in the last-but-one row - a window seat on the right (#J1).

January 17, 2016:
I started preparing for the journey once the tracking message arrived - a link to track the bus, along with details of the bus was present in the message. I used the link to find where my bus was. This was really useful since it kept me updated where the bus exactly was. I left home sometime around 1630hrs. Unusually, I did not wait for a KSRTC bus from my place - I had a bad experience the last time, and I just took a private bus from there to Thrissur. The honk-happy driver kept honking for no reason and the ride was very unsettled. The bus bounced all the time and the ride was very uncomfortable. While in the bus, I received a call from Alhind, who confirmed my location, and also asked me to be a particular travel agency. I reached Thrissur sometime past 1745hrs. The reporting time at the pick-up point was 1800hrs. I just roamed around the bus station for a couple of minutes and walked to the pick-up point, which was located right outside the bus station. I reached there exactly at 1800hrs - one more passenger had to come, and I was asked to wait for some time.

Sometime around 1815hrs, the other passenger came down. After confirming that there were no more passengers to come, the guy at the travel agency hired an autorickshaw, paid him the fare and gave him the dropping point. While we were travelling by the auto, the crew from the bus called up and informed that they were already waiting for us. We reached Mannuthy pick-up point at 1824hrs - the bus was already waiting on the road side. We started off from Mannuthy at 1830hrs. The bus was mostly full - my co-passenger seat was empty though. A classic Bollywood movie was being played on the entertainment system. A blanket was already kept on my seat, while the attendant came with a bottle of water as soon as we started.
The bus that I traveled in: KA-01-AE-8800. Taken right before boarding.
We made a brief halt outside a hotel just past Vadakkencherry (near Mangalam palam) - I thought we were having a very early dinner break - but the bus got moving almost immediately (1916hrs). Driving was really good. After entering the four-lane route, the bus maintained constant pace throughout the time. The driver did not honk at all - it was the dipper all the time. We reached Palakkad at 1940hrs. A few passengers got in from here. We had Parveen Travels' Scania (heading to Chennai) for company. We left at 1941hrs and rushed towards Coimbatore. I was wondering where the dinner break would be. We pulled off the main road at Kanjikode and stopped at Hotel Saravana bhavan for dinner (1955hrs). I had brought my dinner from home, and planned to remain in the bus itself. But the airconditioner was turned off, and the attendant asked all passengers to get off the bus so that he could lock the bus. A nice move to ensure safety.

I didn't have anything to do - so just waited outside the bus all the time. The Parveen Scania joined us at the dinner break a little later. We started off after dinner at 2037hrs. I had my dinner soon after we started. The movie was still on. The ride was very comfortable till we passed Walayar (an Irony! Earlier, the roads on the other side used to be great. Its now the opposite). We had a brief halt at Chavadi Checkpost (incoming) for verification of papers (2105hrs). We reached the Coimbatore pick-up point (Neelambur toll gate, on the bypass) at 2140hrs. A few passengers got off, and an equal number of passengers got it. Except a couple of seats (including the one next to me), all the other seats were full now. We started off again at 2146hrs.
Interiors - Photo from archives.
I tried to sleep for some time - but I was having a very bad cough, which kept waking me up time and again. Sipping some water did not help - drinking a lot of water could have its own implications. The AC was set in a very comfortable temperature - it wasn't very cold, not warm either. Toll gates on the highway were badly crowded - queues were long, and there surely were those unruly lane breakers. Vijayamangalam toll gate was particularly a mess - the queue was almost a kilometre long, and crawled at a very slow pace. We painfully waited and cleared the toll gate at 2234hrs, only to be pulled up by an checking squad of the Motor Vehicles Department. I am not sure what fault did they find with the bus, but they did raise a challan and we started off again only at 2238hrs. While there, I saw an unruly inspector pulling out some additional LED strips that was fixed on the bus. While he was doing his duty, the way he did it did not appear correct to me.

I tried sleeping for some more time. I woke up just as I felt the bus went off the highway - we were going for a pick-up somewhere. The bus stopped under a flyover at around 2301hrs. I couldn't identify the place - so resorted to the trust GMaps. The map blurted out that we were in Bhavani. The wait was quite long - I understood later that we were waiting for a passenger. We left from there at 2230hrs - a 29 minutes wait!! I slept for a little more while and woke up just as we were nearing Salem. A quick pick-up was done at Salem (2359hrs) filling the last empty seat in the bus - the seat next to me. I slept off again. Every single toll gate was crowded, and we kept losing time at every single toll gate. My GPS was recording very stable speeds - always a couple of numbers short of three digits.

Driving was very stable, without hard cutting or hard braking. I slept on and off - I did wake up everytime the bus came to a halt. Krishnagiri toll gate had a very bad queue - it looked like everyone south was heading towards Bangalore going by the crowd. I pulled up my back rest as we passed Attibele. We reached Electronic City at 0237hrs. A couple of passengers got off, and the same number got in as well. The bus took the elevated tollway from there. In the meantime, I booked a cab to ferry me from the end of the flyover, to my home - some 6kms away. I headed towards the cabin as the bus neared the end of the elevated road. The bus reached Silkboard at 0245hrs. Quite interestingly, the attendant did not switch on the lights and shout out for passengers - he took the reservation chart and went seat by seat to alert passengers getting off in Bangalore! Quite professional, and impressive - I must say!

End notes: The bus, KA-01-AE-8800, had clocked about 78000 kms since it was introduced in November 2015. Alhind is a very old travel operator - they are more into flight ticketing and related services, than operating buses. They quit operations a couple of year back, and this service marks their re-entry to the scene. The bus was in great shape, given the distance it runs daily. The crew were really well behaved - they did not force passengers to rush at any point of time. The breaks were fairly - but that did not affect the running time. The dinner break was 42 minutes long. We then had a 29 minute wait for a passenger. Despite all the breaks the bus took 8h15m to travel from Thrissur bypass to Silkboard. Considering all the breaks, the timing is just awesome. The bus never hit three digit speeds. The driver did not play an F1 race on the road. No honking at night. No hard brakes, no sharp cuts! Amazing show by the crew. I really liked their service. And, we were actually much before time in Bangalore!! The live tracking was just the icing!

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: Yes
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, ON throughout
Entertainment: Available, One movie played.

Ratings:
Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5 (Perfectly on time)

Overall: 5/5

Will I take this service again? Absolutely!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

To Kochi, on a rare B737-700 of SpiceJet!

It was a couple of months ago. A update on a WhatsApp group read that SpiceJet received two Boeing 737-700s. SpiceJet predominantly operates B737-800s, and a few B737-900s. SpiceJet is one airline that had almost gone down towards the end of 2014. I remember those nail-biting moments back in December 2014, when a Christmas trip seemed to get cancelled (read here). SpiceJet rose out of the ashes like a phoenix. They've been doing great for the past few months, topping the load factor charts for months in a row. Sometime in November, I realised that SG432 (BLR-COK) was moved to a B737-700, from the usual B738. I wanted to fly in a B737-700 quite badly, and looked out for that opportunity. I found SpiceJet to be cheapest for a flight in mid-January, and without second thoughts made a reservation. Based on my previous experiences, I don't book add-ons in the beginning. I added a meal to my book a couple of days back, and did a web check-in the previous day. I checked in using their mobile app - everything went fair till I selected the seat, and pressed check-in. Nothing happened after that. I did not get the boarding pass. I tried again through the desktop website - and found that I had already checked in.

January 14, 2016:
I reached the airport sometime around 1350hrs. I had exactly an hour and 10 minutes to go for my flight. I hadn't had my lunch yet - and I wasn't feeling like having anything. I was in for a shock when I entered the terminal. It was deserted - yes, deserted. Hardly anyone around. The SpiceJet counter had only their staff around - not a single passenger anywhere to be seen. I got my boarding pass in no time, and headed towards Security Check. I was surprised to see a jetway gate for my flight - especially since the aircraft had 90 minute ground time - I surely had expected a bus gate. Security was a bit slow, and appeared a bit crowded, thanks to only a couple of counters being open. Scanning seemed to progress very slow - some passengers were asked to put their shoes through the scanner. I passed security by 1402hrs. I felt a bit hungry and headed straight to MTC Express. Had a very light lunch - I had prebooked a meal on the flight, and surely wanted to leave some space for that.
The deserted check-in counter..
FIDS.. Three flights to COK in an hour's time!
My gate.. before boarding commenced
My aircraft - VT-SLA at the gate
MTC Express is located right opposite my gate (#2). While I was having food, boarding for my flight commenced (1413hrs). We had over 45 minutes to go for departure, and looking at the crowd at the gate, I understood I have a lot of time left - just enjoyed my meal. I finished my meal and joined the boarding queue. I casually enquired about the loads with the agent - she passed a nice long smile, looked at the system, and replied back - "146, Sir". Wow! So that 146 pax in a 149 seater plane! Great loads, for sure. There was one round of security check by SpiceJet Security staff as well. The guy asked me if I was carrying any "sharp objects". I got a bit irritated by that, and asked back if he thinks I could clear security if I had any! He smiled back. He checked my bag, stamped my boarding pass and let me through. I was inside the aircraft by 1420hrs.
My boarding pass - it had a plethora of seals!
Date of Journey: January 14, 2016
Flight No: SG432 || Seat: 24A
Aircraft type: Boeing 737-700 (WL) || Regn: VT-SLA
Sector: BLR-COK
STD: 1500hrs, ATD: 1447hrs
STA: 1600hrs, ATA: 1549hrs

I was onboard one of the only two Boeing 737-700s with SpiceJet. Registered VT-SLA, the aircraft made its first flight in January 2007, and was delivered fresh to SkyEurope Airlines. It then went to AnadoluJet - a Turkish Carrier. SpiceJet picked it up from AnadoluJet in November 2015 - the aircraft still bore the AnadoluJet livery. Along with this one, SpiceJet received another B737 from AnadoluJet itself.
Seen from my seat. VT-JGU is far away. Thats the AnadoluJet logo on the winglet.
Interiors..
The interiors looked very fresh - unlike most other Boeing 737 family aircrafts that I've been on, this aircraft seemed to have a single tone of lighting throughout. Usually one gets to see a mix of whites and yellows - but this one had white throughout. The seats had a dark-blue colour, with red covers around head rests. The seats had rexin upholstery - the seats surely had better days, and might need a reworking soon. But, I must say there were no torn seats or hanging seat pockets. My seat was very clean - even clean windows. Boarding was happening very slow - very slow. Boarding was finally completed by 1439hrs. As soon as the boarding complete announcement was made, the welcome to SpiceJet announcements followed. In the deck were Capt Puneet Solanki and First Officer Tejas. Kashika, Ashish, Neha and Kuldeep were in charge of the cabin. Safety demo followed the welcome announcements.

Doors were armed at 1442hrs, and we were pushed back at 1447hrs. While we were waiting to commence taxi - which was delayed as we had to wait for the Follow Me escort vehicle - the Capt came on the PA and gave out details of the flight. A block time of 45 minutes was given out, and were told that we should expect a peaceful flight - no turbulence was expected. We finally commenced taxi at 1453hrs. We changed lanes and proceeded towards the runway. Ahead of us was VT-JGU, heading to Mangalore. As we were moving towards the runway, we passed VT-IET (headed to Mumbai, IIRC) which was getting ready to commence taxi. We reached the holding point for Rwy09 by 1458hrs. We turned on to the runway and waited for a few seconds before commencing takeoff roll. We finally lifted off at 1459hrs.
As we begin taxi.. The escort vehicle, and two aircrafts ahead can be seen.
Lifting off from Bangalore..
It was clear skies as we lifted off. We headed straight to the east, then turned south and finally south-west. The aircraft actually went around Bangalore before heading to Kochi. The seatbelt sign went off at 1504hrs. Soon after the seatbelt sign went off, announcements about the buy-on-board service were made. Their on-board menu, SpiceJet Bistro, seemed very rich and attractive - the menu mentioned that hot beverages are sold only on flights with a block time of over an hour, and the turboprop flights serve on sandwiches and cold beverages. I had prebooked my meal, but just went through the menu to find what was on offer in the meals section. By now, the meal cart came to my seat, and I was called by my name. The FA confirmed my order. A tray came out - a pre-filled "box" was the base, and they put in another container into it. The "box-in-a-box" along with a bottle of water was handed over to me.
The box-in-a-box meal, with the bottle of water
The "box-in-a-box" thing was made famous by Vistara in their attempt to differentiate between their premium economy and normal economy. But this serving from an LCC was surprising and a welcome change. The appearance of the box itself was appealing. One of the boxes was hot - it contained Paneer Kathi Roll. I opened the other portion of the box - it contained a small bun, a dessert, a butter chiplet along with neatly packed plastic cutlery. I went berserk taking pics of the food - my co-passenger was confused what I was upto. After the photos, I dug into the Kathi Roll. The parantha (the base - made of wheat and spinach) was soft. The filling was generous with amount of Paneer (Cottage cheese) - which was soft and well cooked. The gravy had the right amout of spices and masala - not too pronounced, and not too bland. The food was finger licking delicious. I used the bun to balance the taste. I then took the dessert - that was a Badushah (a deep-fried sweet made of maida, later dipped in sugar syrup). The sweet was soft - soft enough to be eaten with the plastic cutlery. I really loved every bit of the food.
Unboxed meal..
This was the rich and soft Paneer Kathi Roll
The dessert - Badushah!
By the time I finished relishing my meal, we had already commenced descent. Landing announcements were made at 1529hrs, and the seatbelt sign came on. The FAs had to hurry with preparing the cabin for landing - thrash was collected and they ensured tray-tables were closed. We were approaching from the east - over the beautiful Idukki district. We did not overfly the airport this time. We finally touched down on Rwy27 at 1546hrs. We parked at a remote stand at 1549hrs. The stands right outside the terminal was busy - two Indigo A320s and one Jet ATR72 were occupying them. I was out of the aircraft by around 1555hrs and got into the already packed tarmac coach - they actually opened the front door to let me in. I was at the terminal by 1601hrs - I was out of the terminal soon after, since I did not have any checked in baggage. Arrival in COK early in the evening had some advantages - One can use public transportation to get to their destination instead of depending on the overpriced airport taxi.
Overflying Idukki.. this is a real photograph, its not been edited except for resizing
After landing at COK: Thats the terminal building seen across
VT-SLA.. I love winglets!
The Aircraft - taken from the tarmac coach.
Ratings:
Check-in: 4.5/5 (App check-in wasn't great. Experience at the terminal was no-nonsense)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (the aircraft was in great shape - clean and well kept interiors)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Before time at both ends)
Crew: 5/5 (Great service)
Catering: 5/5 (Awesome food. Very filling as well)
Overall: 4.95/5
The FR24 track..
Summary: 
SpiceJet is one of my favorite airlines. My experience with them has been generally great - this was my fourth flight with them on the same sector, but only the second time being on time. Even at the peak of their turmoil, SpiceJet gave great service, and their flight staff continued the good job this time as well. Calls were attended to very quickly and very politely - not the mechanical service one finds on some airlines. I've always been a fan of SpiceJet's catering - and the experience this time bowled me over completely. Another great flight with SpiceJet this time, with awesome food on board. SpiceJet's food options should, perhaps, be a model for another LCC. Food goes a long way in enhancing the flying experience - and its quite important for me. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Mangalore to Bangalore on the Smiling Plane: Air Pegasus 116

I had booked a ticket to travel from Mangalore to Bangalore on Air Pegasus during one of the many sales they had towards end of 2015. I pocketed a ticket for a small figure more than a Volvo bus ticket for the same route. I was eager to try Air Pegasus once again, and this seemed like a good opportunity for that. The flight was on a Sunday, just past noon, reaching Bangalore around 1300hrs. I tried adding a meal to my booking, but the website wouldn't let me make any additions to the itinerary. The website doesn't offer web check-in either.

January 10, 2016:
My day started quite early - I hadn't slept much the previous night since I was running a very high fever. After a light breakfast (just enough to take my meds), I left my accomodation along with a good old bus fan friend, Mr Kadri, for a tour of Mangalore. He drove me around the city, and showed a lot of points of interest. Sadly, with fever still on, I couldn't really enjoy the trip. We spent some time spotting buses on the highway, and then he dropped me at the airport. On the way to the airport, I kept checking the status of the flight - I understood that my flight was rescheduled and would leave an hour late. I reached the airport sometime around 1150hrs. After thanking and bidding adieu to Kadri, I walked towards the terminal gate. The security at the gate informed that my flight was rescheduled and I had the option of waiting outside. An Air Pegasus employee standing there informed that my flight would depart only at 1420hrs, and the check-in wasn't open yet. I opted to wait inside the terminal, since I wanted some rest.
Air Pegasus counters: After check-in commenced
I took a seat right after entering the terminal. The Air Pegasus check-in counter was open, but wasn't accepting check-ins. Jet Airways also seemed to have rescheduled their flight since a lot of passengers were waiting for their counter to open. The other counters were closed. In the meantime, Air India announced departure of their flight to Mumbai. The check in counter opened just past 1215hrs. I got my check-in baggage screened, and headed to one of the two counters for Air Pegasus. The first thing that came to my notice was that they did manual check-ins, not computerised. They had pre-written boarding passes, with sequence numbers arranged in alphabetical order. They had a passenger manifest arranged in the same order, and an empty seat layout chart.
Hand-written boarding card
I was asked the option for my seat - I picked a window seat. I was given #2A. The loads seemed really light. A hand-written boarding pass was handed over to me. My check-in bags received a small tag, with a counterfoil of the tag stapled to my boarding pass. I passed security check and reached the security hold by around 1220hrs. As I reached the security hold, I saw the Air India A319 (VT-SCP) being pushed back. The airport went silent for almost an hour then. Jet Airways announced a delay for their Bangalore flight. The food court at the waiting area seemed quite busy. I was feeling quite sick and did not feel like having any food. I had a nice coffee from Coffee Day along with two Honey Oat cookies. The free wi-fi at the airport seemed to get disconnected every now and then - it did not show any timer or details about how long is the free access.
FIDS showing my flight to be rescheduled.The 9W flight just before mine also got rescheduled later.
I was hooked to FR24 on my phone to find out the next possible option. I understood that an Air India Express flight from Muscat would be next arrival. Some time around 1345, VT-AXN arrived from Muscat - the apron got busy all over again, only until they finished unloading all cargo from this aircraft. The Jetway was disconnected, and the aircraft remained stabled at the stand. I understood from FR24 that VT-APB would be carrying me to Bangalore. She landed in Mangalore sometime around 1405hrs. As the aircraft landed, ground staff came in, and started preparing for boarding formalities. The first boarding announcement was made at 1412hrs, and I was among the first to get through. A non-ac minibus owned by Air India's ground handling agency (not sure if it was AI-SATS or AIATSL) was all set to take us to the aircraft.
Screenshot of the tracking from FR24
Date of Journey: January 10, 2016
Flight No: OP116 || Seat: 2A
Aircraft type: ATR 72-500 (212A) || Regn: VT-APB
Sector: IXE-BLR
STD: 1220hrs, ATD: 1435hrs
STA: 1320hrs, ATA: 1537hrs

In the meantime, SpiceJet's VT-SZA arrived from Mumbai. We reached the aircraft sometime around 1415hrs, and boarding commenced a minute later. I was inside the aircraft by around 1422hrs. While boarding, I casually enquired the loads - it was just 37 out of 66! Boarding was completed by 1427hrs. Just as the boarding complete calls were made, the Captain came on the PA system and apologized for the delay. He attributed the delay to poor visibility in Bangalore delaying the earlier flights and thus affecting this departure. He sounded were jovial. In the deck were Capt. Dimitry and Capt Rajkumar. Neeraja and Alisha were taking care of the cabin. Doors were armed by 1435hrs. Safety demo began soon later. The bays used by turboprops at Mangalore are power-out bays, and hence there was no push back. We powered out of the bay at 1439hrs and commenced our long taxi. We entered the runway soon later - but the aircraft didn't stop. I thought we were having a rolling take off, but that wasn't the case. We taxi'd till the other end of the runway, and the turned around and lined up for take off. We finally took off from Rwy24 at 1445hrs.
The smiling plane parked at IXE Apron..
Just before boarding commenced
Soon after takeoff..
The initial flight was very turbulent. We flew straight to the sea, then turned around and flew towards Bangalore. The seat belt sign remained on for about 10 minutes or so. I was quite hungry by now, and wanted something to eat. The BoB cart started sales from the first row, and I was in the second. I asked for a veg sandwich - it was given in a small box with Taj-SATS printing on it. On unboxing, I was in for a shock (not a surprise) - the box had a nice sandwich, a muffin and a 250ml tetrapack serving of juice! The cost of one serving was just Rs. 170! This puts a lot of main-line carriers to shame - especially one LCC. The sandwich was very tasty - not the routine tomato and cheese sandwich, but a good coleslaw sandwich. The muffin was soft as well. I had asked for a serving of water, which accidentally spilled (the tray hadn't seated properly) - the FA quickly responded with sufficient paper napkin and she topped up the water glass once again before leaving. Really liked the service.
The filling meal!
I finished my meal very quickly. The FA came around and cleared the thrash soon after I finished. The capt came on the PA once again in-flight, and apologized again for the delay, along with quite a few information about the flight. Landing was announced at 1522hrs - the FAs came around to ensure that the cabin was ready for landing. We finally touched down on Rwy09 at 1533hrs. We parked at a very remote stand around 1537hrs. While were were about to park, another company ship, VT-APA was being pushed back for its departure to Hubli. I was out of the aircraft by 1543hrs. A Tarmac coach was already waiting for us. We were dropped at the terminal by 1551hrs - and very interestingly, our baggage was already on the carousel. I got my bag soon and I was out of the terminal by 1555hrs!
The customary "wing shot".. 
Ratings:
Check-in: 4.5/5 (Manual check-in. Does not leave a great impression. The staff were really efficient, though)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (the aircraft was in great shape - clean and well kept interiors)
Punctuality: 3/5 (Left late, reached late. Lack of advance intimation about delay)
Crew: 5/5 (Great service)
Catering: 5/5 (Awesome food. Very filling as well)
Overall: 4/5

Summary: 
This was my second flight with Air Pegasus, and the second one on VT-APB as well. I was quite impressed with their service last time, and the same happened this time. I wasn't happy about the delay - which affected both my flights with them. I had left them a feedback about adding a juice to their combo meal box - and I was really happy to see the feedback being taken. They certainly need to work around with delays and keep their passengers informed about delays. I am quite impressed with their "Truly South Indian" branding - but they need to get their act together. I did discount the first flight to start-up issues. I find they've improved compared to last time, but still need to do a lot more. I really hope they grow into a great "South Indian" airline, providing connectivity across the region. Looking forward to have another flight with them soon.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

First time in a Non-AC Sleeper: Anand Travels, Bangalore to Manipal

Booking a ticket to Manipal was quite a confusing decision. The purpose of going to Manipal was to attend a two day conference there. My colleagues and some of my students were traveling along, and I had to take into account their convenience as well. While I was personally inclined to try a Volvo, they seemed to prefer a non-AC sleeper instead. This was my first opportunity to try one, as well. I got in touch with a old timer busfan friend, who suggested Anand Travels to me. I got tickets reserved through him as well. The bus, conveniently, had a pick-up point near my home as well.

January 07, 2016:
I reached home quite late from office, and I realised that my pick-up was at 2015hrs quite late. I had to rush with dressing and packing for the two day program. I received a call from the crew of the bus sometime around 2000hrs, informing that the bus wouldn't come to its normal pick-up point due to some road work, and I had to stand a little away from the pick-up place. I responded that I am coming from the opposite side and requested him to remain wherever he was parked. I rushed out of home - couldn't find an autorickshaw anywhere near, and had to trudge all the way to the auto stand with my baggage. Auto guys in Bangalore routinely refuse if the ride is short - but me being a regular at the stand, a guy immediately agreed to come. I was at the bus about 5 minutes past the scheduled departure time. The bus finally started off their parking in Vijaya Bank Layout off Bannerghatta Road in South Bangalore at 2023hrs - 7 minutes late [delay was due to me being late].
Anand Travels Non-AC sleeper: Representative image.
We headed straight to Bannerghatta main road. The bus, KA-15-C-0229 was a 2014 model Ashok Leyland Viking bus. The body appeared to be from one of the many Rajasthan body builders - Surendra, maybe. The ride quality was very good, and the berth space seemed very good. I was in berth #1, the first single lower berth. There was no space to keep bags or footwear below the berth - a fairly big shelf was provided near the berth to leave small bags or footwear on it. The bus travelled through Bannerghatta road, then turned towards East end circle at Jayadeva grade seperator. Then we traveled straight towards RV Road, then turned towards Basavangudi at Southend circle. We had a couple of pick-ups at Nagasandra Circle, and then turned towards Gandhinagar. We reached Gandhinagar sometime around 2127hrs.

The bus parked on the road side near Gandhinagar fuel station. Luggage loading commenced soon after we stopped. They also exchanged passengers between buses. It took a long time to finish luggage loading. We started from there only around 2217hrs - a good 50 minutes halt. There were very few passengers on board - hardly some 4-5 passengers. My colleagues and students would join only at the last point of Bangalore - they were 7 in number. I was told by the crew that pick-ups were over and we were heading straight to Tumkur road, and I could alert them to come to the pick-up point. We stopped by at Majestic (2224hrs) and got in a lot of last moment travellers. We picked up my co-passengers were 8th mile at 2256hrs. The driver meant business from the moment he entered the National Highway past Madanayakanahalli. I was half asleep by now,

The berth was fairly comfortable - a pillow was provided as well. The berth had a backrest at the head-end of the berth. This meant one could sit comfortably on the berth without hurting the back. I had brought a shawl from home, and it was quite cold outside. I left a small opening in the window for ventilation. The driver maintained stable pace and drove quite well. I slept in no time, and did not realise anything that happened outside. I vaguely remember seeing the bus stopping somewhere for a break. The attendant kept calling out places on the way - and quite a lot of people got off as well. I remember the attendant calling out "Mangalore Last Stop" at one point - the time was around 0515hrs then. He meant that say that it was the last stop in Mangalore. I slept for some more time, and woke up just when the bus pulled out of the highway, and entered a small road. The bus parked inside a small garage at around 0550hrs. That was Anand Travels' garage - they unloaded most of the luggage here. I checked GMaps and found that we were somewhere near Mulki then.

The bus started from the garage sometime around 0601hrs. Our next stop was at Padubidri, to drop a passenger (0611hrs). I slept for sometime after Padubidri. The bus stopped somewhere on the way, once again, to unload some more luggage. We reached Udupi sometime around 0650hrs. I got up finally as we left Udupi. The attendant also came around to wake up all the passengers in the bus - Manipal was his destination. We were finally dropped at Tiger Circle, Manipal at 0655hrs - well before his scheduled arrival time of 0740hrs!

The overall ride was great. The driver appeared a bit hurried on the ghat section - the turns were taken at good speed, and I did have a roller-coaster experience there. The bus was in great shape - inside out. A casual peek at the odometer showed a reading of around a lakh kms. The engine appeared very relaxed - meaning the overall driving habits were sane. There was absolutely no use of horn anywhere through the journey. The ride quality was also good. Except the ghat section, the experience was great. I may not prefer a non-ac sleeper again - for the sole reason that I prefer a controlled temperature. It got very stuffy when the windows were closed, and it was terrible when the windows were opened. The journey would've been more comfortable had it been an AC sleeper, for sure.

Amenities:
Blanket: No
Water: No
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, Not working
Entertainment: Available, Songs were played till pick-ups were over.

Ratings:
Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 4.5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5 (Awesome timings)

Overall: 4.95/5

Will I take this service again? I am not a regular on this route. The service was great. I personally don't prefer non-ac coaches though. Surely a recommended service.