Friday, June 24, 2016

Kozhikode to Bangalore: Garuda King Class!

I had written in my previous post about booking this journey. I had been planning a trip on this bus for a long long time. I had two reasons for this plan - this would be me first time ascending the Thamarassery Ghat in a Volvo bus during the day, and second, this would be the first day trip in a Kerala RTC Volvo Multi-axle bus. I first checked tickets for this bus, and found that the left side window seat on the first row was available - perfectly what I wanted. I booked this seat first, before booking the Muvattupuzha-Kozhikode ticket (read about that trip here).

June 18, 2016:
I had reached Kozhikode at 0300hrs. I spent time roaming around the bus station till 0400hrs. It was raining for most of the time, and I waited till the rain subsided a bit. I walked out of the bus station sometime around 0415 and headed to a lodge outside and took a room - I wanted to stretch a bit and then get fresh. I checked out of the room by 0600hrs and walked back to the bus station. While walking back to the bus station, I noticed that the Bangalore-Kozhikode buses of both the KSRTC were arriving together, and both headed into the bus station. The Kerala State RTC bus (RS785) which had just arrived would take me to Bangalore at 0830hrs - in effect, the bus gets less than two hours at its home depot for any check-up or cleaning.
My bus: RS785. Its seen returning to its depot after arriving from Bangalore.
I headed out of the bus station sometime around 0730 for breakfast, and came back around 0800hrs. Kozhikode bus station is, honestly, not the best design around. The bus station has serious design flaws and drivers find it really difficult to get to the boarding bays. The buses park at the same level where passengers stand - so passengers need to take quite an effort to get into the buses. Since the multi-axle buses are longer than regular buses, they've allotted the first bay for Multi-axle buses - so they could directly reverse out of the bus station and take the entry route for their exit.

My bus, RS785, was brought in by 0809hrs. Boarding started almost immediately. The driver opened the luggage bay to allow passengers leave their bags there. I waited outside for sometime. I got in soon after the bus was switched on and AC turned on. The bus was around 40% full and a few walk-in passengers (mostly to Kalpetta and Sulthan Bathery) joined. We started off at 0833hrs - about three minutes late. The driver was fairly fast right from the beginning. They took the mini-bypass road, before entering the Wayanad road and then the National Highway. I had a terrible hangover from the sleepless night earlier and I fell asleep soon after we entered the highway.
Garuda King Class. The Chariot of Kerala.
I slept for quite sometime - I vaguely remember the bus starting off from Thamarassery. I was too sleepy to note the time - but I guess it was sometime around 0915 or so. I continued sleeping for sometime. I woke up just as we were leaving Adivaram. I pulled up the backrest and got ready to enjoy the ghats. The driver was quite fast even as we commenced ascending the ghat. The first hairpin bend itself was tight - private vehicles jump in between and make matters worse for the big vehicles. Out of the 9 hairpin bends in the ghat section, we had to reverse at two, stop and turn slowly at two. At one hairpin bend, one car guy came and stopped quite close forcing the driver to reverse and turn - these car drivers never learn to respect bigger vehicles on ghats.
Climbing the Ghats...
The climb was really good - but I felt the driver was bit too fast on the ghats. A little slower driving would've made life easier for passengers - the constant swings made a couple of people puke. We entered Wayanad district at 1004hrs. We slowed a little after we entered Wayanad since the traffic increased. Our next stop was at Kalpetta (1022hrs). Since the bus does not enter the bus station, he drove till the town and stopped on the road side. Quite a lot of reserved passengers joined here, along with a few more walk-in passengers. We started from Kalpetta at 1024hrs. In the meantime, the conductor was getting calls from passengers boarding at Sulthan Bathery - since the scheduled departure there was 1020hrs - a terribly impractical timing. They've allotted less than two hours for the bus to cover close to 100 kms through a two-lane road and a nice ghat section thrown in between.
A little before we entered Wayanad...
The conductor called every passenger boarding from Sulthan Bathery and intimated them that the bus would not reach the bus station and the pick-up point is at Chungam/Kottakkunnu. We first stopped at Chungam bus stop in Sulthan Bathery at 1056hrs - half of the reserved passengers boarded here, and we left at 1058hrs. We travelled a little forward and stopped at Kottakkunnu - just past the turn towards the KSRTC Bus Station - at 1101hrs. The rest of the reserved passengers joined here. We started from here at 1104hrs. An elderly couple who boarded here seemed really worried and spoke to the conductor a big concern they had - they had to catch a train from Mysore at 1415hrs! They had booked this bus since it had a scheduled departure at 1020hrs and the website claimed the bus reaches Mysore at 1255hrs! While the running time given here was possible, but the departure time was impossible!

The conductor replied that the bus regularly reaches before 1400hrs and they'll help them get an auto which would take a short cut to get to the railway station. The bus was now entering the forest section. We passed Muthanga checkpost at 1116hrs - this is where vehicles are detained during the night travel embargo. The driver slowed down a bit after we entered the forest. The roads till the Karnataka border was well paved - roads got a little bad after that (not very bad though). Speed breakers became more common after we crossed into Karnataka. The driver had a very peculiar style - he brakes for the speed breaker, brings the speed down to around 20kmph, and then releases the break - the bus jumps over the speed breaker, and he picks speed. He honked quite a bit inside the forest - which I absolutely disliked.

We reached Gundlupet at 1203hrs - a couple of passengers got off here. We sped towards Mysore - I really hoped they stopped for lunch after Mysore - but that wasn't the case. We pulled into the routine Hotel Coffe Stoppe for lunch at 1208hrs. This is a place I absolutely prefer to avoid - the food isn't great and is expensive (I changed this opinion the very next day though). I quickly had something for lunch - the food was terrible, as usual. I took off sometime taking some photos of the beast that was taking me to Bangalore. The crew hurried with their food, much to the relief of the elderly couple who had to get a train from Mysore. We started off at 1235hrs. The driver maintained pace on the highway - the bus was locked at 80kmph and the driver remained at that speed all the time.
The bus: RS785, taken during the lunch break.. 
It was getting boring to crawl at that speed on the empty highway. After a little bit, road got bad - Four laning works were in progress and hence a lot of diversions were enforced. We did a bit of off roading on the way. We stopped at Nanjangud (1303hrs) to drop a couple of passengers on the way. The driver maintained the pace wherever he could - but then some vehicles did play hurdle by not letting him overtake. They do the typical mallu style of increasing speed the moment someone tries to overtake, and slowing down the moment the other vehicle aborts the attempt - repeat again during the next overtake attempt. This is the worst form of driving on road.

We stopped briefly near the Mysore palace to let the elderly couple get an auto to the railway station and we continued to the Suburban.. er! Central Bus Station in Mysore. We got to the bus station by 1340hrs. As usual, the crew did not enter the bus station - they stopped on the road side, but near the Bangalore platform. They managed to get a couple of passengers to Bangalore and we started off at 1341hrs. I was quite sleepy and slowly tried to sleep for sometime - the sun was on my side and I moved to the aisle seat (which was empty throughout) instead. I remember seeing the bus pass the outer ring road junction - I dozed off after that. I woke up just as the conductor shouted out a tea break - the time was 1443hrs and we were somewhere near Maddur. The smell of Maddur Vada being fried swept through the bus - but I was too tired and sleepy to get off the bus. I continued dozing for a while. We started off at 1453hrs.

I dozed off for some more time and woke up as we pulled over at Kengeri to drop a passenger - the time was 1621hrs. Traffic ahead was a bit heavy. The driver seemed a little drowsy - he badly needed some rest. We crawled past traffic and finally entered Mysore road Satellite Bus Station at 1641hrs - some 51 minutes behind the advertised schedule. The end-to-end running time turned to 8h08m - which is very impressive for covering a little over 350kms during the day, in a predominantly two laned stretch with quite a bit of ghat in between. The time schedule displayed on the KSRTC website is terribly over-estimated.

The bus, RS785, KL-15-A-283, of Kozhikode depot, had covered over 4.9 lakh kms and was kept in fairly great shape. The exteriors did bear scars of the regular trips it makes through the ghats - dents and scratches. The interiors appeared worn - this particular service is operated using a single bus and has the best revenue among all the Volvo buses operated by KSRTC. It earns the most money per revenue kilometre operated - the best among all KSRTC services. It badly deserves a pairing bus. The bus, even after all the torture it undergoes, was kept in great shape. No rattles from the suspension were heard, nor did the bus show signs of poor maintenance. The crew were good as well - the driver appeared to have been overworked - a severe point of worry for KSRTC. Overall - a service I liked a lot.

Amenities:
Blanket: Available on request
Water: Yes - 500ml bottles, given only on request
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Yes - On throughout
Entertainment: Available - Songs played

Ratings:
Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5 [was delayed compared to schedule, but the schedule is impractical]

Overall: 5/5 [Absolute Value for money]

Will I take this service again? I don't travel this route often - but will surely recommend.  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Maharaja.. Garuda Maharaja: Muvattupuzha to Kozhikode

I was really confused. I had some official work in a small village near Muvattupuzha, in Ernakulam District of Kerala. My work was expected to be over by around 5pm. I had to return to Bangalore the next day, and had to necessarily reach Bangalore before night. I tried adding up some other work I had in Trivandrum - but the connections to return to Bangalore didn't work out well, and had to drop that plan. I initially thought to taking a bus straight from Muvattupuzha to Bangalore - but only last row seats were available. While casually browsing through the KSRTC Fans Facebook group, it suddenly struck to me that I could realise my long pending dream of travelling in the Kozhikode-Bangalore Volvo this time - and this was the best opportunity for me to accomplish that.

Now comes the next question - How do I get to Kozhikode in time for that bus? Thats when the post on the facebook group about a new Trivandrum-Manipal Scania service of KSRTC struck me. I quickly headed to the KSRTC website and searched for services between Muvattupuzha and Kozhikode - but this Scania did not turn up. I modified the search and looked for Kottayam to Kozhikode. Bingo! The Scania showed up. Before I booked this one, I checked for availability for the Kozhikode-Bangalore bus, and booked a seat on the first row in that bus. I was back again and booked a ticket for Kottayam to Kozhikode on the Garuda Maharaja. Garuda Maharaja is the name given to the new fleet of Scania buses operated by KSRTC.
Garuda Maharaja! (Photo from archives)

June 17, 2016:
I had finished my work well before the anticipated time of 1700hrs. I was at my official counterpart's place after work. Sometime past 1730hrs, I called up the conductor using the number that was provided in the SMS that was sent following charting. A very pleasant and polite voice answered the call. I informed him that I had a booking on the bus with a boarding from Kottayam. He politely replied that the bus would be late, since they suffered a breakdown a while back - the AC Compressor belt broke! What? A breakdown for a brand new bus? He expressed his regret about the delay, and added that the trip might get cancelled if they couldn't set it right. I was bit depressed - but anyway told him that I cannot come down to Kottayam and wished to be picked-up from Muvattupuzha. He replied in affirmative and promised to call me once they reached Kottayam.

He called a little later and informed that a replacement bus will be provided from Kottayam incase they couldn't set this bus right. In the meantime, the KSRTC Bus Tracking website showed up that my bus was still at Pandalam - still quite far from Kottayam. Internet connectivity at my location was really poor. I remained there till around 1945 and decided to leave towards Muvattupuzha. By then, the tracking website showed that the bus was at Kottayam. I left from my host's place and reached Muvattupuzha by around 2015hrs. In the meantime, I couldn't speak to the conductor who informed that the technicians to repair the bus were on the way and we would start soon - and he promised to call me once they start from Kottayam and added that I should wait at the bus station itself. It would take atleast 90 minutes for the bus to get to Muvattupuzha from Kottayam and they still hadn't started from there. I stood near the bus station for sometime - since the actual bus station is closed for renovation/rebuilding work, temporary shelters were set up on the road side - there wasn't even any space to sit. I had a lot of time to spend and remained confused about what should be done.

While standing there, it stuck me like a lightening - there were a couple of movie halls nearby. I quickly decided to head to one and watch a movie - I always have the freedom of walking out in case my bus arrived before the movie finishes. I did a quick google search about the movies playing around and selected a Malayalam movie that had a run time of a shade over 2 hours. It was a low budget movie with hardly any star value, but had a nice story with humour right till the end. I like the movie and it was quite an unexpected experience. While the movie was nearing its climax, the bus tracking site showed that the bus had already left Kottayam and was on its way - in the meantime, the conductor too called up to confirm that they were already on the way. The movie finished by around 2315hrs. I walked back fast to the bus station. Sometime after I reached there, the tracking site showed that the bus was just over a km away - and by then, I could see the LED Display boards of the bus.
RP662, after dropping me at Kozhikode.
The bus, RP662 of Trivandrum Depot, finally reached Muvattupuzha by around 2327hrs - one passenger got off, and I boarded. I was requested by the conductor to sit in the first row to help the driver with the route. I obliged and took Seat #48 - the window seat on the left side in the first row. The first thing that struck me was that the seat felt more comfortable than the Volvo - the leg room was appropriate, and I wasn't slipping off the seat when the driver braked. The driver was very quick since they were over 4 hours behind schedule already. He maintained good pace on the highway - absolutely no honking, just flashed lights for all overtakes. The conductor was a very friendly guy, who spoke a lot about what went wrong and about the Scania services, among others. The driver was originally from Kannur depot, and would be working the bus only till there.

We passed Ankamaly at 0005hrs. Once on the four lane highway, the speed slightly went up - and we maintained around 85 kmph for the rest. We overtook the 1700hrs Trivandrum-Bangalore Multi-axle on the way. I was a bit sleepy, but somehow kept myself awake. I was enjoying the drive, to be honest. We pulled into Thrissur bus station by 0042hrs. I got off the bus and went on a stroll. The crew also went out. The bus hardly had any passengers (some 5 passengers including me), and hence the conductor went to the enquiry office and got some announcements made. We started from Thrissur at 0053hrs. The driver made a very cautious exit from the bus station, since the slope was steep and there was a risk of scraping the rear.

I dozed off a bit after we left Thrissur. I woke up as we were passing Kunnamkulam (0114hrs). The driver did some serious driving after Kunnamkulam. I dozed off soon afterwards and woke up only as we were nearing Kozhikode bus station. I was dropped at Kozhikode bus station at 0300hrs - exactly 3h32m after we left Muvattupuzha - now thats some serious speed! We covered a shade over 200kms in about 212minutes!

The bus, RP662, KL-15-A-1425, of Trivandrum depot, had ran somewhere around 2000kms. It was too young to be rated for maintenance - but then the premature failure of AC Belts show some manufacturing defects. The crew were good - the driver had been overworked and had been at the wheels continuously for 5 days with very little rest in between. An absolute safety risk, and I had goosebumps when I heard that. The conductor, on the other hand, was well rested, and utilised time to sleep in the bus instead of giving company to the driver. The only thing the conductor did was play music for the driver - it was bit loud and a disturbance for the other passengers in the bus. I did enjoy the music though. The delay was terrible - had I not watched the movie, I'd have gone bonkers waiting for the bus on the roadside. Overall a decent experience - one that I'd not want to remember, though.

Amenities:
Blanket: No - did not check if they were provided on request.
Water: Yes - 500ml bottles, given only on request
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Yes - On throughout
Entertainment: Available - Movie played (Yes!)

Ratings:
Maintenance: No rating.
Cleanliness: 5/5 [Absolutely clean inside]
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 4.5/5
Punctuality: No rating. But 5/5 for the running time.

Overall: 4.5/5 [Value for money]

Will I take this service again? I don't travel this route. But will surely try the Scania service again. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Garuda King Class: Bangalore to Thrissur!

My last journey by a Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (hereinafter referred to as KSRTC) Volvo Multi-axle bus was back in October 2015. Although I made an attempt to travel in one in November 2015, I got their Scania trial bus instead. I had a trip to Kerala imminently. As soon as the date got fixed, I booked in a KSRTC bus, without too much thinking. The reasons were aplenty - One, I hadn't traveled in one for quite some time, two, they dropped me in Thrissur town (which most private operators don't do), three, they were damn cheap (at Rs. 785, this was a steal) since it was a weekday, and four, they'd pick me up from near my office (college)!

The Volvo Multi-axle fleet of KSRTC was recently christened as Garuda King Class. This happened soon after their fleet of Scania buses were inducted, which got the name Garuda Maharaja. The brand isn't used widely yet, and the reservation portal still prefers to call it AC Multiaxle. KSRTC introduced flexi fares a few months back, under which they dole out discounts on weekdays, and charge higher on weekends. They also started operating a few buses to Peenya Basaveshwara Bus Station - a godforsaken facility along Tumkur road - in October 2015. Since this bus station is very close to my workplace, it made very high sense to opt for this service. I opted for the Ernakulam bus because it was the last bus, and had fairly good arrival time at Thrissur.

So, cutting the story short..

June 15, 2016:
I was getting restless and excited as the clock slowly ticked towards 1700hrs - our official punch out timing. I fired up the Ola app at 1659hrs and hunted for cabs around the region - a cab got confirmed quite soon. I punched out at 1701hrs from office and ran towards the gate - since the app showed that the cab had already arrived - but the location on the map did not coincide with the location I was in. I quickly realised that the cabbie was taking me for a ride, and he was doing a fake trip to complete the numbers he needs to get his incentive. I called up the Ola helpline, who were really helpful and terminated that booking along with a full refund of money that was deducted from my wallet. I booked another cab, who was, thankfully, around the same area as my office. The cabbie was quite shocked to see me getting off at the deserted bus station - he asked me a couple of times if that was the right location. He actually parked his car and went inside the bus station to find what all buses depart from there.
The bus: RS782, shot a few days before the journey.
Basaveshwara Bus Station in Peenya, Bangalore, was opened a couple of years back in an attempt to decongest the city and shift buses that go towards Tumkur there. But the plan fizzled out after passengers decided to boycott the shift and moved towards private carriers, who had absolutely no restrictions in operating to the city. After the plan backfired, the bus services were shifted back to the city, and this bus station became a parking yard for buses that are otherwise parked around the city. KSRTC was coerced to shift to this bus station in October 2015, when a few services were moved here. It did get average reception from the large keralite diaspora residing around the bus station area. But the bus station is quite isolated, and absolutely lacks public transportation - the nearest bus stop is over 1.5kms away.

Back to the story.. I headed straight to the ticketing office, to find a known person on duty there. We spent sometime talking. In the meantime, my bus - RS782 - woke up, growled a bit, and slowly crawled towards the platform from its parking place. The engine sound (more of a clatter) is music to my ears. The conductor also came to the ticket counter and we all stood talking for quite some time - the bus station being in a very isolated place makes life hell for the crew. There are hardly any eating options around - not even roadside vendors. They either have to bring something when they come or adjust with stuff like buns or biscuits. I felt really bad for the crew and the ticketing counter staff. Since the time was inching closer to 1815hrs (the scheduled departure time from Peenya), the conductor asked for the boarding chart - which showed some 27 bookings, of which about 7 people were to board from there.
The bus.. about to depart from Platform7! Talk of coincidences... 
Only three were on board (including yours truly) though! The conductor hurried calling others - since it was quite cloudy and a rain looked imminent. Traffic would get horrible if it rained and the crew wanted to leave quickly. But then, we got delayed since the other passengers did not pick the call, and we started only at 1822hrs. Traffic had already built up - the driver had a really bad time entering the Jalahalli village road. I kept wondering whey they went towards Jalahalli instead of doing through HMT. A little after we passenger Gangamma Circle, I headed to the cabin and asked the crew if they were aware of the route via HMT - the driver quickly said that he isn't sure of that route and hence takes this route! This one is circuitous and is always chocked! I advised them the route via HMT. We crawled through traffic, and fairly heavy rain to reach Mathikere (1853hrs), where a lady boarded. Since it was raining, the crew couldn't open the luggage hold and instead asked her to dump it in the cabin itself.

Rain got even harder as we proceeded towards Mysore road. Although the original route is via Vijayanagar, the crew usually go through Yeshwantpur, Goreguntepalya, Outer ring road to reach Mysore Road Satellite bus station (which continues to be the operating base). Traffic was heavy all the way till Goreguntepalya - thanks to the rains, all bikers had parked their vehicles on the roadside, gobbling up a full lane, and leaving only one lane for other vehicles. Once past Goreguntepalya, the driver opened up a bit and picked pace. We reached Mysore Road Satellite bus station at 1957 - with three minutes to spare for the scheduled departure time. The bus station was packed - and no platforms were available for us. I got off the bus with the conductor and headed to the operating office - to meet my acquaintances there. The reservation chart is prepared here and the bus was signed off from there - we had 33 bookings now! When returned to the departures bay and the bus was still parked away due to the lack of platforms. Finally we found an empty platform and brought the bus there and boarding commenced. We were already behind schedule now. We started off from there at 2015hrs, but it was 2019hrs by the time we exited from the bus station.

The driver sped up wherever he could - and quite surprisingly traffic was low despite the rains. We reached Shantinagar bus station by 2048hrs - in less than 30 minutes from Satellite - which is an achievement of sorts for a weekday! We completed boarding real quick and even managed to get a couple of walk in passengers - and started from there by 2051hrs. By now, passengers waiting at Madiwala started calling the crew on their mobiles. Traffic was light after Shantinagar as well - helping us to reach Madiwala (St. Johns Hospital bus stop) by 2107hrs. Majority of the passengers joined here and it took sometime to complete boarding. We started off at 2112hrs - with a grand total of 37 passengers on board. Thats a fairly good number for a weekday.

Since all the reserved passengers were on board, and traffic after Silkboard was high, the crew opted to take the elevated highway. The driver let the beast loose on the elevated highway - but the 80kmph lock was a harness on the 340 horses available at the driver's disposal. A movie was now played on the TV and the driver settled down for his long drive ahead. Although I had watched that movie earlier, I was quite attracted to the movie, and spent the rest of my time watching it. We passed Attibele at 2151hrs - not much of a traffic there, either. I was quite hungry now, and was badly looking forward for the dinner break. We finally pulled in to Hotel Saravana Bhavan Classic in Kurubarapalli, before Krishnagiri, for our dinner, at 2232hrs. The engine was shut down and the crew announced a 20 minute break and walked away.

We finished dinner and started off again at 2259hrs. I remained awake for some more time - and fell asleep even before the movie finished. I had a very nice sleep - a long continuous one actually. I got up only when the lights were switched on and the conductor shouted out - Palakkad! We were entering the bus station then (0357hrs) - I was quite shocked as my rubbed my eyes to confirm it was Palakkad indeed! We travelled from Krishnagiri to Palakkad in hardly 5 hours, with a bus locked at 80kmph! Some seriously skilled driver indeed! The stop was quick, and we started off again at 0401hrs. They did not refuel, which used be the case earlier. I dozed off again - but vaguely remember experiencing the bus enter the highway.

I woke up again only as the lights came on again - the time was 0508hrs, and we were at Mannuthy! Just over an hour from Palakkad to Mannuthy! Great going again! I pulled up my backrest and sat upright, since I was sure that I'd doze off again. We finally pulled into Thrissur bus station at 0518hrs - 8h06m after we started from Madiwala, including a 27 minute break for dinner! Exactly the time private operators take! Although this arrival was almost an hour behind the scheduled arrival time - I'd not consider them late, since the scheduled arrival time (0420hrs) is terribly overestimated and impractical unless this is the sole vehicle on the road!

The bus, RS782 - KL-15-A-280, had clocked over 4.33 lakh kms. The bus made absolutely no unexpected noises - the suspension setups were really silent. The driving was amazing - absolutely no honking after we left Attibele and all lane changes were signalled in advance. The driver did not cut across rashly anywhere or brake hard either. I absolutely loved the driving and gave a nice warm smile and a see you as I got off the bus - the poor fellow drives over 13 hours at a stretch, including over 3 hours in Bangalore city itself! I absolutely loved the service this time - blankets were kept on the seat and the conductor went around and asked everyone if they got one as well. Water bottles were given only on request, though. This was my fourth trip in the same bus - and it hasn't deteriorated even a bit from what it was on my first trip - in May 2014!! Overall a great show by the crew!

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: Yes - 500ml bottles, given only on request
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Yes - On throughout
Entertainment: Available - Movie played

Ratings:
Maintenance: 5/5 [Absolutely well kept for a 2 year old bus with 4.33l on the clock]
Cleanliness: 5/5 [Absolutely clean inside]
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5 [Excellent]
Punctuality: 4.5/5 [Delayed according to schedule - but perfect running time]

Overall: 4.85/5 [Value for money]

Will I take this service again? Absolutely YES!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Back to Bangalore, from Chitradurga, on the Airavat!

I had made a round trip booking this time. I opted for a bus that leaves from Chitradurga around 5pm so that I'd back in Bangalore before midnight. Since KSRTC gives a discounts for round trip bookings, I hadn't thought about another operator much.

June 08, 2016:
I was dropped at the bus station by a teacher at the examination centre, who happens to stay close by. It was all cloudy, and it felt like it was 6pm, although the time was just 1630hrs then. My bus was to arrive at 1700hrs - I had to spent around half-an-hour at the bus station. An earlier bus to Bangalore arrived perfectly on time - at 1650hrs - so I expected my bus also to reach on time. The time ticked past 1700hrs - but there was no sign of my bus. In the meantime, it started raining - began as a benign drizzle and soon grew up into fairly heavy rain. The bus station has a very short canopy - and it was already crowded. As the rain strengthened, more people jostled for space inside - and the wind added to the misery by letting in water.

I got restless as the time went by - I was tired since I had slept very little the last night, and had a long day taking the examination. I, in fact, did not have any free time from the time I reached Chitradurga till I was dropped back at the bus station. Sometime around 1733hrs, my bus slowly rolled into the bus station and parked right in front of me. It was raining quite hard even at that time - and it was a wet experience getting into the bus. There were a couple of reserved passengers from there, and a few unreserved passengers walked in as well. The bus was working a Davanagere-Bangalore-Tirupathi schedule and was operated by Davanagere-1 depot.
The bus arriving at Chitradurga.. 
We started from Chitradurga at 1737hrs. The conductor came around to issue tickets to the unreserved passengers, and also to collect the new service tax from pre-reserved passengers. Water bottles were distributed soon afterwards. A movie was being played on the TV. It was still raining - and water logging was seen at many places. I was quite hungry already - and there were no decent eating options at the bus station, either.
When two Airavats met.. 
We pulled into the regular break stop - Hotel Athithi Plaza near Hiriyur, at 1813hrs. I rushed out of the bus to have something - a very light snack. I stocked up some snacks with me as well. The break stop was full of buses - KSRTC buses of different types, including another Airavat, that was heading to Shimoga. We started from there at 1831hrs. We stopped again outside Hiriyur bypass - to unload luggage! Yes! To unload luggage!! The same routine repeated a little after Sira (1920hrs) - this time a lot of boxes were unloaded. I really wondered if KSRTC has turned into a local courier agency as well! I was busy watching a movie on my phone - the TV was still blaring a loud movie.

We stopped yet again at Tumkur bypass (2010hrs) - it was pouring down heavy here, and the crew had a tough time unloading luggage here - they had to take the bus off the road closer to the shop where the luggage had to be left. I wondered why do they have to carry luggage in a premium bus, and keep stopping everywhere to unload. After all the luggage drama, we pulled in to Goreguntepalya, Yeshwantpur (outside Taj Vivanta) at 2125hrs. It was still drizzling, and we were amidst slow moving traffic. Our next halt was at Navrang talkies - 2143hrs. We finally pulled in to Majestic aka Kempegowda Bus Station at 2157hrs - 4h20m after we started from Chitradurga. We spent 18 minutes for the break - and no less than 15 minutes to unload luggage at different places.
The bus, when it stopped for food..
The bus, KA-01-F-4936 of Davangere Depot-1 was in fairly good shape, even after having clocked over 11 lakh kms. I had travelled in the very same bus, between the same destinations last year in June - back then, the bus was operating Davanagere-Chennai. That service stopped a couple of months later. This time the bus was operating Davanagere-Bangalore-Tirupati. The bus was in fairly good shape - interiors were in good shape, not as good as the one in the bus I traveled in the morning though. The crew were good, as usual. Driving was a mixed bag - he lugged at times, but maintained fairly good pace. He honked very often, even after it got dark. The driving was above average. The end-to-end running time was approximately 3h47m discounting the stops (food break and the three stops to unload luggage) - timings were good.

Amenities:
Blanket: No
Water: Yes - 500ml bottles
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Yes
Entertainment: Available - Movie played

Ratings:
Maintenance: 4.75/5 [Bruised exteriors, but great interiors]
Cleanliness: 5/5 [Absolutely clean]
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5 [Excellent]
Punctuality: 4.5/5 [Delayed at both ends - delay maintained through]

Overall: 4.85/5 [Value for money]

Will I take this service again? Absolutely! 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Bangalore to Chitradurga: KSRTC Airavat!

I did not think much before I booked a ticket for this one. This was again an exam duty, and I had been to the same college last year for an examination. I had taken an NWKRTC Express bus last time (read here). Although the journey in itself was comfortable, the thought of waking up early in the morning and then traveling this distance in a 2*3 seater bus made me averse. The first premium bus for the day is this 0655BNGDVG schedule operated by Davanagere-1 depot of KSRTC. Without much thoughts, I just went ahead and booked a ticket on this one - I purposefully avoided booking the first row since I wanted to sleep a bit, and I wouldn't sleep if I sat in the first row.

June 08, 2016:
Although the bus leaves only at 0655, I targeted to reach the bus station by around 0630, atleast. After my last experience with Uber, I decided to stick to the desi option of Ola instead. I got an Ola perfectly on time, and I got to the bus station before 0630hrs - perfectly what I wanted. I did some bus spotting around, before checking which bus would take me to Chitradurga - KA-01-F-4583 of Davanagere-1 Depot was getting ready. A while after I checked the bus, I received the SMS from KSRTC with details of the bus.
The bus.. before boarding commenced..
I did not get into the bus until the AC was switched on. The conductor checked my ticket while I was standing outside itself. The bus was ready for departure much before the scheduled time, except for a missing reserved passenger. The person turned up by 0659hrs and we slowly inched forward. Few NWKRTC Expresses were blocking the exit, and it was 0703hrs by the time we came out of the bus station. The driver was fairly fast from the beginning. The bus was in great shape - all the seats had all its fittings in place - as in, the bottle holder straps and magazine holders. The conductor had attracted a few unreserved passengers as well. He also collected the newly added service tax from all passengers while issuing tickets to unreserved passengers.

Our first pick-up point was at Navarang (0713hrs). They loaded some parcels also here, and started moving by 0715hrs. Traffic was just building up, and we could escape before blocks began. The next and last pick-up was at Govardhan Talkies (Yeshwantpur Railway Station) - at 0728hrs. After this pick-up, the conductor ticked off the chart and signalled the driver to take the elevated highway. We took the elevated road and sped towards Tumkur. I tried hard to sleep a bit now - but the crew had other plans. A movie was played on the AV system. I turned to music on my phone since the movie didn't appeal to my taste. Hunger pangs started by now - It was over two-and-half hours since my day began now.

We pulled in for a break at Kamat near Dabbaspet (at 0812hrs) - this is the routine breakfast stop for KSRTC Volvos leaving Bangalore in the morning. Unlike the previous time, they had service, meaning an A La Carte service. I finished my food quickly and headed out to click some pics. We started off from there at 0838hrs. I watched some movie on my phone for the rest of the time - the movie played in the bus was too loud to let me sleep anyways. We stopped at Hiriyur bypass to drop a passenger (0959hrs). The driver this time was quite fast - he maintained good pace for most of the time, and stuck to the mid lane on the highway. There was a bit of traffic as we neared Chitradurga - mainly slow moving trucks hogging all the lanes parallel.
The well kept interiors.. 
We reached Chitradurga bypass at 1037hrs. The run through the town towards the bus station seemed to take a lot of time - the roads were in bad shape, and for some reason, traffic was very very high - there were traffic cops everywhere, but it didn't help a lot. I was finally dropped at the KSRTC bus station, at 1045hrs - 3h42m after we started from Bangalore, including a 26 minute break for food. Absolutely great timings.

While the bus looked tired outside, and the engine sounded tired after having clocked over 11.35 Lakh kms, the interiors seemed really fresh and well kept. The crew were great - spoke very soft and politely. The driving was even greater - unlike the lug happy Bangalore drivers, these guys do rip (do not exceed 90kmph) but remain sane and constant at their speed. With the run time of 3:42hrs (including a 0:26hrs break), this is absolutely value for money!

Amenities:
Blanket: No
Water: Yes - 500ml bottles
Snacks: No
Charging Point: No
Entertainment: Available - Movie played

Ratings:
Maintenance: 4.85/5 [Bruised exteriors, but great interiors]
Cleanliness: 5/5 [Absolutely clean]
Driving: 5/5 [Awesome driving, minimal lugging]
Crew behaviour: 5/5 [Excellent]
Punctuality: 5/5 [Left a lil' late, but reached before time]

Overall: 4.95/5 [Value for money]

Will I take this service again? Absolutely!