Sunday, October 23, 2016

Thrissur to Bangalore: Garuda King Class!

The upcoming pooja holidays - three days off together. What more do I need to book a ticket to go home? Flights were ruled out since they were too expensive. Buses were expensive as well. I remembered that Kerala RTC opens reservations as early as 45 days in advance quite late - I casually checked the Kerala RTC website and found that most buses were already full! I did not have much time to waste - I made a reservation on the Ernakulam-Bangalore Garuda King Class - despite booking on September 9 for a journey on October 11, only seats towards the rear were available - and I selected seat #35. For some reason, the fares looked way off to me - it didn't take a lot of time to realise that KSRTC was charging end-to-end fares on all buses that day! Business sense dawns on KSRTC - began with flexi fares, now end-to-end fares during peak days! Way to go KSRTC!

October 11, 2016:
I left my home quite early - I had some shopping to do. I waited for some time to see if I could get a KSRTC bus - but none turned up. I finally took a private bus, that was flown not driven by a crazy F1 wannabe, who threw the bus through curves and narrow roads - I was really relieved and happy as I got off the bus near the KSRTC bus station at Thrissur - sometime around 2040hrs. I had about 15 minutes to go for the scheduled pick-up time. I had received an SMS with the details of the bus that would be taking me to Bangalore while I was waiting for a bus at my hometown itself - and I had been using this information to track the whereabouts of the bus using the KSRTC Bus Tracking website. The website showed that I had a lot of time to have my dinner.
Tracking information..
The bus station was packed to its gills - buses and passengers jostled for space. There were no less than 5 buses lined up for Bangalore - all of them were full, and seat seekers crowded around the crew. It was getting stuffy and hot in the bus terminal - and I had to walk towards the entry gate to get in some fresh air. The tracking website updated that the bus had reached Thrissur bus station by around 2125hrs - the bus wasn't inside the bus station yet, but had probably entered the geo-fence. The entrance was jammed - the buses that were inside weren't able to find a platform to park and they crowded around the circulating area. I remained near the entrance itself. My bus, RS787, entered the bus station at 2130hrs - but no platforms were free. Boarding did not commence till the crew found a vacant platform. They finally found an empty platform at 2139hrs. Boarding commenced immediately - it looked like no less than 50% of the bus was filling from Thrissur!

Some passengers were missing and the crew were busy hunting for them. We got all the reserved passengers by 2153hrs and started off from Thrissur - we were almost an hour late now. My seat was fairly comfortable - the seat cushion felt a little harder than usual. The engine sounded a little abnormal - a constant whistling sound, which worsened as the retarders kicked in. There were no squeals or squeaks otherwise. A malayalam movie was played on TV. The driver was quite efficient - he made some quick calculated overtakes as we entered the highway. The Mannuthy-Vadakkenchery stretch of the highway is under construction, and hence there are a lot of diversion. The conductor came around distributing blankets and water bottles soon after we entered the highway. Lights were turned off, and only the the night lamps remained on.

I was quite sleepy and hence prepared to sleep. I was quite surprised when the bus pulled in for dinner at Hotel Malabari, just past Mangalam palam, Vadakkenchery, at 2251hrs. Isn't this a little too late for dinner? I feel the bus should be stopping for dinner around Ankamaly or so. I had taken by dinner from Thrissur and just kept strolling around. I had a juice from there in the meantime. This hotel is a regular break point for a lot of Karnataka RTC buses as well. We started from there by 2324hrs. I slept off soon after the bus started, and wokeup only as the bus turned off the highway to go to Palakkad bus station. We reached the bus station at 2351hrs. The remaining seats were filled here, and we started off exactly at the stroke of midnight (0000hrs) with 49 passengers on board. I vaguely remember passing the toll gate at Attappallam - slept deep after that. I vaguely remember the bus stopped on the road side for some time - probably a tea break for the crew.
The bus, RS787, after dropping me at Electronic City
I woke up again as the bus stopped at Attibele toll gate - it was around 0620 or so, then. The toll gate was quite crowded - but our driver had selected the best lane. We had some drops near Narayana Hrudayalaya and Hebbagodi. I was constantly checking for cabs around Silk board - but the availability was quite poor. I got a quick idea as the bus neared Electronic city - I checked for cabs near the toll gate, and found they were easily available. I decided in the nick of time to get off at Electronic city itself - I got off there by around 0643hrs. This was perhaps the best decision - I could make it home by 0700hrs easily - which wouldn't have been possible if I continued to silk board.

Remarks: The bus, RS787 (KL-15-A-285) of Kottayam, had clocked about 4.86 Lakh kms. Although the bus was originally homed at Kottayam depot, the bus was being operated by Ernakulam depot that day. The mechanical maintenance was great - but the exteriors bore a lot of damages, and the interiors weren't in great condition. The floor mats were torn. The seats were clean - but the cushion felt a bit hard. I am not a fan of these faux-leather rexin seat covers - they are too hot and uncomfortable. Driving was great - the bus was stable at 80kmph for most of the time. The bus has a single driver, who is at the wheels for over 13 hours - which is terribly unsafe. I hope the driver-cum-conductor system is enforced sooner. (The system has been approved by the KSRTC management). The end-to-end travel time was 8h50m, including a 33 minute dinner break, Palakkad town entry and pickup, and atleast one tea break en route. Overall a great service.

Blanket: Yes
Water: Yes
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, Did not check if it worked.
Entertainment: Available - one movie played.

Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 4.5/5

Overall: 4.95/5

Pros: Reliable, Punctual, Economic
Cons: Odd break times

Will I take this service again? Absolutely. They are a great option - economic, reliable.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Bangalore to Thrissur: KSRTC Airavat

Ticket hunting is one thing where I spend a lot of time. The other thing I spend time on is our holiday list. During these process, I came across this long weekend in mid-October - the Dusshera weekend. The holiday calender showed three continuous days of holidays. Flights were already prohibitively expensive, and I booked tickets by bus - over a month in advance. I always have a jinx about early planning - I was scared this time as well. My jinx came true as my office decided to play around the holiday dates. I usually end up losing holidays, but this time, the office decided to give a day additionally off. I had to reschedule my tickets now - the announcement came a little late, and I had not many options now. The Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation had some special buses, priced at way beyond what they are worth - but the saviour was the 1501BNGTRC Airavat, via Mysore. Thankfully, seats at the front were available.

October 07, 2016:
I hurried out of office to have a quick lunch sometime around 1300hrs. My phones were busy hunting for cabs on different apps - one finally turned up around 1345hrs. Although I did not have a lot of distance to travel, I had to take precautions since I was heading to Mysore road on a pre-Dussehra weekend. I was a little wary of traffic - but things weren't as bad as I expected, and I could reach the Mysore Road Satellite bus station by 1415hrs. The bus station was packed with Mysore bound buses - all specials for Dussehra. I had to meet some people at the bus station before I got into my bus.

The bus that would work my schedule came in only around 1450hrs - this particular schedule is operated by Mysore division - so the bus arrives just before the departure time. I stayed away from the bus for some time - atleast till the AC was switched on. The bus was more than half occupied already. Most of the bookings on the day were from Bangalore itself - that is unusual for this bus. The bus pulled out of the platform by 1515hrs - about 15 minutes behind schedule. But the bus station was really crowded and we had a tough task getting out of the bus station. We finally left the bus station at 1525hrs - 25 minutes late now.

The driver was fast from the word go. The city traffic kept us a little slow as we progressed towards Mysore. Metro construction activities meant some rough roads. We passed Kengeri by 1541hrs. We had to pick-up passengers from Kumbalagodu, outside Christ University - this isn't an official pick-up point, but is provided on request. We picked up passengers from Christ university, and started off by 1556hrs. I was quite sleepy - and dozed off for sometime. I woke up just as the bus pulled in for a break - I though we were in Mysore already - but we were just short of Maddur then. We pulled into Kamat Upachar for a break at 1650. I really felt this break could've been avoided. We remained there till 1707 hours. Most passengers just used the washrooms and kept strolling around, while quite some passengers were fast asleep inside the bus.
The bus, KA-01-F-8541 during the tea break
Traffic was not as bad as expected, and the driver was fairly fast. I slept for some more time and woke up only as  the crew called out for passengers alighting at Mysore Ring Road - aka Columbia Asia. The time was 1819hrs. I guess the roads were crowded post Mandya - I remember the bus was stuck at a traffic block, I think, at Mandya. City roads in Mysore were all decorated for Dussehra- majority of the buildings were illuminated. We pulled into the heavily crowded Mysore Suburban bus station at 1832hrs - some 12 minutes behind time. The Bangalore-Mysore run took 3h07m including a 17 minute break - really not bad considering the time.

The bus station was terribly crowded - hardly any place for people or buses to move around. After some struggle, we got a platform - boarding was quick. We finally started at 1853hrs - whole 33 minutes late. After starting from the bus station, they wasted another 5 minutes to load parcels! The driver took the Narsipura road, then turned to the ring road and reached Gundlupet road. I kept dozing off time and again - since we were quite late, I thought we'd be passing the forest and then stopping somewhere for dinner. I was quite shocked when the bus pulled over for dinner break at Hotel Coffe Stoppe, outside Gundlupet - the time was already 2016hrs. The crew called for a 10 minute, repeat, 10 minute, dinner break and ran out of the bus. The hotel was hell crowded already - no less than 6 buses were parked for dinner there.

The hotel serves terrible food - and there was no veg item on the day.  The staff were rude, as usual. I had to make do with some bun and a puff pastry. I was back to the bus in less than 10 minutes - so were most passengers. All the buses that had stopped for dinner had left or were leaving by then. We started off at 2036hrs - we had exactly 24 minutes to cover some 18 kilometres to the forest gate. The gate closes at 2100hrs, and we had to pass before then, failing which we'd be detained till 0600hrs the next morning! The driver pushed the bus as he sped towards the gate. We had some hurdles on the way - like wrongly parked trucks, under-construction culverts, to name a few. We finally pass the forest gate at 2057hrs - three minutes before it closed!

The driver slowed down after entering the forest. He was very cautious inside the forest - no honking at all. There were lots of elephant herds on the way - most of them right next to the road. I didn't spot anything else. We passed the state border at 2121hrs - I slept off soon after that. I had a really nice sleep - the AC was comfortable, and quite unusually (compared to my previous experiences), Blankets were given as well. I woke up when the bus was stuck in some traffic block - which I later realised was near Vazhikadavu check-post. We stopped at Edakkara to drop some passengers - the crew also took a tea break (2326hrs). I had another round of sleep. Vaguely remember another tea break near Perumbilavu and passing Kunnamkulam. I woke up just as the bus passed the railway overbridge - we reached Thrissur bus station at 0220hrs - 02h21m late!

Remarks: The bus, KA-01-F-8541, of Mysore Rural Depot-2 was maintained in fairly great condition. The bus did not have too many damages outside, and the inside was very clean. Unlike most Airavats, this one did not squeal or squeak, and no rattles from the suspension, either. I was in for some real shock when I saw the odometer - it read 14.2 Lakh kms! Now, that was a lot of kilometres for the bus! The driver, Mr TV Balu, deserves appreciation - he was fast, had amazing control on the bus. He slowed down after the forest - I'd assume its fatigue, since they generally start their shift around 11 in the morning, then hunt for passengers in Mysore, drive down the maniac Mysore-Bangalore highway, spend time battling blocks in Bangalore, take their next trip at 1500 - he gets rest well past midnight - thats over 12 hours at the wheels. The roads after Vazhikadavu is winding and is quite tiring as well - but he was very controlled on the road, and let passengers sleep really well. Overall, the crew were great. The end-to-end running time of 10h55m seemed quite high - but acceptable for a majority two-laned sector.

Blanket: Yes
Water: Yes
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available on alternative rows, Did not check if it worked.
Entertainment: Available - but not used.

Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 2.5/5

Overall: 3.5/5

Pros: Easy ticket availability, Reliable
Cons: Late night arrival, odd timings

Will I take this service again? Its a great back-up option. Amazing option if you are heading to Nilambur or Perinthalmanna or even Thrissur town. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

iFly 103: Pune to Bengaluru

I didn't have too many requirements. I had to attend the conference, make a quick visit to Shirdi, and fly back home at convenience. I selected the day for my Shirdi visit based on flight availability, and of course, the budget. After a lot of deliberations, considerations and contemplations, I finalised the visit to Shirdi on a Monday. Flights for Monday evening were fairly cheap, and Indigo's new series of late night flights were adding to the convenience. I booked the first of the two late night departure from Pune - this gave me ample time to travel from Shirdi and connect to my flight.

October 03, 2016:
It was 1952hrs when I got off the Volvo from Shirdi. The bus driver dropped me a little after Viman Nagar (GMaps says the place is called Shastri nagar chowk). It was a confusing signal - I failed to spot a pedestian crossing and ended up jaywalking across in typical Indian style. Just as I began my attempt to cross, the airport bus went past the other side of the road. I wanted to try them - but the next bus was only after an hour! I tried hunting for autos, but no empty autos turned up. I tried the app based taxis, but none were available - can't blame, it was a Monday evening! I slowly walked in the direction of the airport - while refreshing the apps and checking for cabs. A little in to the walk, and empty auto turned up, who dropped me at the airport by about 2005hrs.

The entry to the terminal was quite free - just a minor delay due to someone not having his identity card in original. I headed to the baggage scanners - but they asked me to wait for a while since the check-in for my flight wasn't open yet. I utilized this opportunity to rearrange my bags a bit, so that the check-in bag was a little lighter. I got my bag scanned by 2020hrs and walked towards Check-in. I met someone known at the airport and spent some time chatting. Check-in was quite deserted then. I checked in by 2034hrs and headed to security check. My phone was running low on battery, and I rather focused on getting to a charging point as quick as possible - and quite amusingly. security check was quick, and I got into the security hold by 2038hrs.
The boarding card..
We were boarding from the gate on the lower floor itself, and this saved passengers from the trouble of having to go up, and then walk down in case of non-jetway boarding. I was successful in finding a seat near a working power plug - so the next few minutes were spent charging the phone. In the meantime, I tuned in to FR24 to find where the inbound bird was - she was on her way from Bengaluru already then. I was quite hungry already and wanted to have something for my dinner - I had pre-ordered a meal on the flight and thought of taking something light. Pune is quite a dumb airport when it comes to eateries or shopping. And, like every AAI run airport, stuff are terribly overpriced as well. I had to take something, and just headed to the upper level to have something light. When I was having my snack, the IndiGirl started announcing the arrival of the aircraft from Bengaluru (2138hrs), and added that the same aircraft would operate back as 6E103 to Bengaluru - needless to say, a loonngg queue had already formed!
VT-INZ as she came down to PNQ for me..
Date of Journey: September 30, 2016
Flight No: 6E103 || Seat: 21A
Aircraft type: Airbus A320-232 || Regn: VT-INZ
Sector: PNQ-BLR
STD: 2215hrs, ATD: 2210hrs
STA: 2340hrs, ATA: 2338hrs

The first boarding call was made at 2143hrs - a long queue snaked around the seating area already. I did not bother joining the queue until the line became short. I remained seated until about 2150hrs - I joined the tail end of the line as the length shortened. The agent at the gate kept requesting passengers to display their baggage tags to the security personnel - but Indian habits die hard, and nobody really bothered and the queue moved really slow. The apron was really busy at this time - no less than 4 aircrafts jostled for space, and two more were inbound! I got into the aircraft by 2155hrs - to a warm welcome by Nichole, who was at the aft entry. I was on board a 7.4 year old Airbus A320 delivered mint-fresh to IndiGo in 2009, and registered VT-INZ. She was still fresh inside - amazing maintenance, I must admit. Getting to my seat was easy, since my co-passengers were yet to be seated. Boarding was completed by 2201hrs - the pre-departure paper works took some more time. The doors were armed at 2210hrs and we were pushed back at 2211hrs.

In the deck were two senior captains - Capt Thomas and Capt Vikram, while the cabin crew were Vimala (chief), Della, Sharon and Nichole. While Vimala was quite hurried and she spoke as if the time she took to make announcements were payable, the rest of the cabin crew did their job with a nice smile and did have the warmth of service. We remained put on the apron for some more time - while the safety demonstration was completed. We taxied out at 2216hrs - it was a long taxi for us, as we headed towards Runway 28. It took us 6 minutes to get to the holding point of Rwy28. We didn't have to hold - directly turned on to the active. We were airborne at 2223hrs. We took off into low flying clouds, towards the west, before turning South East. The seatbelt signs were turned off by 2226hrs. Another round of rushed commentary by Vimala followed, and the meal carts were pulled out.
Thats the stub on my boarding card, that entitles me to select one food item and a beverage of my choice.. 
I was quite confused if I should try their hot meals - ready in 8 minutes stuff, or stick to the tried and tested sub. While checking the menu, I found some new additions - including a tortilla wrap, oats products, some cookies among others. Since I wasn't confident enough to try a hot in 8 minute product, I chose the tortilla wrap. I wanted to try a particular beverage listed on the menu - but it wasn't available, and I ended up taking an Aamras. The tortilla wrap was called - Paneer Khurchan in soft spinach tortilla wrap - it had a rich paneer (cottage cheese) and onion-bell pepper filling prepared in Mayonnaise in a spinach coloured wheat based tortilla wrap. The wrap was slightly soggy - could be due to the storage conditions - but tasted really awesome. Details of the manufacturer mentioned on the label made it all clear - this was produced by Taj-SATS, which is beyond doubt, the best air kitchens in India.
The "meal" combo..
The tortilla wrap..
I enjoyed the meal - the wrap had a whole lot of paneer - atleast one for every bite. This meal was perhaps quite value for money. The Aamras was from Paper Boat - the standard stuff. Went quite well with the slightly hot wrap. I enjoyed a meal on IndiGo the first time ever. The FAs did a great job by being low on their voices as they hawked their products on board. There were absolutely no announcements during the flight (except the seatbelt sign and landing announcements). We ran into a fairly severe turbulence as we were approaching Bengaluru - the seatbelt sign came on (2319hrs) a couple of minutes after we hit the turbulence. A quick thrash clearance run was made after that, and the cabin was secured for landing. The crew to stations call came in by 2325hrs - we were still about to align to the ILS path then. We landed at 2334hrs - I really couldn't recognise the moment we touched down - it was perhaps the smoothest landing I've had ever. The reversers were deployed even as the nose was yet to touch down followed by a very soft braking. We docked at a contact stand by 2338hrs.
We parked next to this "new" bird for AirAsia - VT-PNQ at BLR ;)
The aircraft was to continue to Trivandrum. Quite unusually, only the forward exit was used. I've often seen IndiGo using both exits even when they are at contact stands - probably, because we were before time, they didn't bother about the aft exits. People mobbed the aisle as if they were running for an olympic gold - I stayed on my seat for quite some more time. I got off the aircraft only by 2349hrs - among the last to get off the aircraft. I found a few passengers remaining in the aircraft, continuing to Trivandrum. IndiGo security staff checked boarding cards of passengers deplaning there to ensure that only people ticketed to Bangalore got off here. I got my bag by 2354hrs and was out of the airport in another minute on so. It was then a long walk to the Uber Zone to get my cab to go home.

Check-in: 5/5 (Did Online Check-in. Good counter experience)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Aircraft was clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Before time at both ends)
Crew: 5/5 (Awesome crew, by previous IndiGo experiences)
Catering: 4.85/5 (Great food, fairly good choices as well)
Overall: 4.95/5 (I really enjoyed this one)

A great flight with IndiGo this time. I really appreciate the crew on iFly 103 for their great job that day. They put out some great service - not the usual mechanical IndiGo service. They had the smile and the warmth in service. The leading lady was a bit too hurried - she rushed through announcements, service and even thrash clearance. The best landing I've ever had - all thanks to the senior crew up at the front office. Great flight :)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The return from Shirdi: Kadamba Volvo!


What was that?

People staying in Bangalore would be quite aware of the word Kadamba - for a chain of hotels that operate at KSRTC/BMTC bus stations across Bangalore. For the bus enthusiasts, in the know, Kadamba is Goa's state run transport provider.

Whats that got to do with my trip?

A few days before my trip to Shirdi, a casual message on a WhatsApp group popped up with pics of a white swede with bold stickers reading Kadamba. Oh yeah! The swede I am talking about was a face-lifted Volvo B7R. Those pictures led me to search more about Kadamba's Volvo service to Shirdi. I understood they operate a Shirdi-Pune-Margao service, that departs from Shirdi around 1430hrs. They had online reservation for end-to-end passengers and for passengers ex-Pune to Goa. I was always aware of the existence of this service, but never thought I could use them to ex-Shirdi. The pics were too inviting that I decided to take a plunge.

October 03, 2016:
After a heart-filling darshan at Sai Baba's samadhi, I headed back to my hotel room to pick-up my camera. I headed straight to the MSRTC bus station to look at back-up options. I really did not fancy changing buses at Ahmednagar - but I kept that was a back-up option. I also took a note of timings of the non-stop Ordinary buses that MSRTC operates to Pune. After this, I head out in search of Kadamba's parking location. I had an idea where they park, but I couldn't find the bus there. A quick search on RedBus told me the bus was yet to arrive (based on the scheduled arrival time). As I roamed around the area, I saw a white swede approaching the parking yard at a fairly good pace - yes, that was Kadamba's swede! I had a word with their crew to confirm their pick-up timing and place.

I checked out of my room, headed to the restaurant for lunch and started my long walk to Kadamba's pick-up point, Hotel Holiday Park. On my way, I reconfirmed the availability of my Plan-B (the Pune non-stop bus). The bus was brought out of the parking lot exactly at 1400hrs. The bus, MH-07-C-9954, looked resplendent - the new face, the white colour, accentuated curves all add to the overall beauty of the beast. I am not sure if somebody noticed the irony. The bus is operated by the state transport undertaking of Goa, but bears a Maharashtra registration. The bus also operates on a Tourist permit. I was told the bus is owned by Konduskar, a prominent Maharashtra based travel operator, and operates on lease with Kadamba Transport Corporation Limited of Goa.
The bus - MH-07-C-9954, when it arrived from Goa.
I had to wait for sometime, because, curiously, the bus doesn't have an onboard conductor! The bus had two drivers, who were the staff of the operator, and one person in Kadamba uniform - who acted as the conductor, but does not sell tickets on board. The tickets are sold by the travel agent who handles the bus out of Shirdi. I waited outside the bus for sometime - seeing me stand under the sun, the crew called me in, and let me take a seat inside till the agent comes. The engine was running and the AC was left on. The agent appeared about 5 minutes before departure - he collected the money from me, He checked the other seats and finally signalled departure.

We started off from Shirdi at 1431hrs. The interior quality appeared a notch above the older variants. Unlike the B9Rs, there is no major improvement in the interiors (in appearance) - just the addition of the hazard hooter indicated this was a newer vehicle. The cabin had a lot of changes - the engine gear lever arrangement was changed, and the instrument panel was new. Roads were in terrible shape and we made quite slow progress for some time. The AC was in full flow. No movies were played - although there were stickers about a WiFi based entertainment system - but that didn't seem to work. The mobile charger points weren't switched on either. It began raining a little after we started from Shirdi. I dozed off for some time, en route. I woke up when we stopped at some place - we were at Tarakpur, and the time was 1619hrs. Less than two hours for this distance - despite bad roads.
The refreshed cabin..
The halt was just momentary - enough for the crew to check if there were any pick-ups. We passed by Maliwada Swastik Bus Station around 1629hrs. Rain had taken a break then - it just began pouring down as the bus left Ahmednagar. The driver broke loose after Ahmednagar - picked pace in no time. I was quite impressed by his driving skills - he picks pace a little slow but maintains constant speeds. Gear shifts were soft and at the right rpm bands. He wasn't in for drag races, but maintained good pace, overall. It was still raining. We pulled into to Smilestone Motel for a break, at around 1654hrs. It was still raining - pulling out the umbrella was unavoidable this time. I had a very quick break, and was back at the bus capturing the beauty of the facelift Volvo 9400.

I had a word with the driver - he claims the newer variants give better mileage and the gearing was more comfortable. He expressed some apprehensions about the body quality, though. We started off from there at 1720hrs. An MSRTC Shivneri was giving us company at the motel. The driver meant business soon after he was back on the highway. Speeds in the range of 90~95kmph was maintained most of the time. The bus seemed to have regular passengers - most of the passengers in the bus knew the crew. Speaking of passengers, we had hardly over 10 passengers on board the 45 seater bus. We reached Ranjangaon by around 1800hrs. Traffic build up began from here. The progress after Ranjangaon was painful - we spent most of the time standing still in traffic.
The Kadamba, with a battered and bruised Shivneri.. 
The driver had bursts of speed everytime he had an opportunity - but the opportunities were far and few, though. I had a little bit of tension building up, since I did not end up missing my flight. I had lots of time to spare though - the flight was only at 2215hrs. I kept myself glued to GMaps to identify the location where I should be getting off the bus. I decided to get off at Viman Nagar and hire a vehicle from there to the airport. The driver ended up missing the bus stop (there was heavy traffic, and there was no way he could pull to the left for me) and dropped me a little after Viman Nagar at 1952hrs - 5 hours and 21 minutes after we started from Shirdi. Had not for the traffic after Ranjangaon, I am sure the bus would've dropped me at Viman Nagar well before 1900hrs.

The bus, MH-07-C-9954, had clocked a little over 1.79lakh kms. The bus was clean inside out (outside only when departing - its impossible to keep them clean when it rains). The interiors were fresh. The crew were quite good - the drivers were not in uniform though. The driving was very good - keeping constant pace on the highway, no overspeeding or hard braking on the way. No waste of time either - they did not hawk for passengers, nor pick-up wayside passengers. I am still baffled why they do not sell tickets on board, though - this would increase the overall revenues. I am sure a lot of Shirdi-Pune passengers would prefer this bus if they picked up passengers at the bus station and sold tickets on board.

Blanket: No
Water: No
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, Not switched on.
Entertainment: None.

Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5

Overall: 5/5

Pros: Cheaper than other operators, Fairly good timings
Cons: No ticket issued, no amenities 

Will I take this service again? Its a great option to return from Shirdi. Absolutely Recommended!

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Shivneri Scania & my trip to Shirdi!

I had to go to Shirdi.

But I didn't have a ticket!

I briefly romanced the idea of taking a train - but then the timings wouldn't work. Then some private operators, but that didn't fit either. I fell back on MSRTC - browsed their website looking at options. Finally, I decided to keep the options open. The conference that I was attending was to go on till about 2pm. I had to factor in the traveling time from the venue, near Chinchwad, to Shivaji nagar bus station as well. With all these in mind, I decided to head to the bus station and then decide.

October 02, 2016:
It was a Sunday afternoon - but the traffic on the road was high for a weekend. There were some gridlocks along the way. My cab driver dropped me at Shivajinagar bus station by around 1540hrs. My bag was quite heavy and I was a bit confused about having a break journey or heading straight to Shirdi. Just as I entered the bus station, I saw a banner announcing a non-stop service to Shirdi. I thought of trying this - but the service was an ordinary class service. The timings they put up seemed too ambitious to be true.

I stood at the bus station fully confused about what I should do. There was one bus of Madhya Pradesh Parivahan heading to Indore, via Shirdi. I thought for a couple of minutes if I should try that. While waiting their confused about what to do, came in the Swedish Griffin! The blue coloured beast parked herself at a Platform at the corner of the bus station, with her LED boards screaming "Pune to Aurangabad". My brain went into a convulsion - the direct Shirdi bus(es) on one side and this one on the other. If I took the griffin, I'd have to change buses at Ahmednagar - not really something I'd want to do with heavy baggage. But then, I was surely inclined to try the griffin.
The bus - MH06-S-9194
Taking a decision was tough - but then, When the going gets tough, the tough get going..

I shut off my thoughts about the further journey, and just headed to the Shivneri ticket counter. Shivneri buses generally do not have conductors - one should either reserve, or buy a ticket from the ground staff. I got a ticket from the counter next to the platform - the ticket charge was Rs. 350, and it mentioned my seat number as #12. A copy of Hindusthan Times newspaper and a 300ml water bottle was handed out along with the ticket. I got into the bus and was quite excited to see I had a window seat. I had to push my bag into the overhead luggage rack. The engine was already running, and the AC was on.
The ticket issued at the counter. It has the bus number, departure time, seat number and fare.
The seating was good. The gangway was narrow, very narrow. The high window line felt a little claustrophobic - its a good place to rest your hand, though. We started at 1605 - 5 minutes behind schedule. It was a tough job to reverse out of the platform - the place was all chocked with buses all around. A couple of conductors (of other buses) helped the sole crew in this bus - with all their help, we moved out of the bay by around 1612hrs. It was 1616hrs by the time we exited the bus station. At the time of final sign off by the counter guy, we had 35 pax on board - 7 to Ahmednagar and the rest to Aurangabad. The driver meant business as he picked pace on city roads. Even though it was a Sunday, the traffic was fairly on the higher side.

I am not conversant with the roads of Pune - so no comments on what route he took. We passed Yerwada at 1634hrs - I am not sure if there is a pick-up point there - but he did stop near a bus stop and then picked pace. The TV wasn't switched on - so no entertainment was available on board. The power plug was switched off as well. While sitting bored, I saw a sticker on the seat next to me - about a wifi based entertainment system. I tried this out on my phone. It did not force me to install any app - just connect to their wifi network, use the system browser to open their website, and watch whatever content you feel like watching. There were lots of Marathi shows, and a few Hindi movies. I selected a movie that I hadn't seen before - It was probably the best onboard entertainment I've ever experienced.
The entertainment system..
I was hooked on to the movie that I was watching and did not really look out - it was dark already and was pouring for most of the distance as well. The driver was cautious, and kept speeds in the range of 75~80kmph all the time. The ride wasn't very comfortable - the suspension was on the tighter side, and braking was scary at times. I did not feel the effect of a retarder anytime - looked like the driver mostly used only the service brakes. Since I was in the front portion, can't really talk about noise insulation, or body roll. The engine appeared a little noisy to me. The AC was really powerful - I kept switching off the vents very often. The fittings weren't great - there was a lot of leakage in cooled air - I was getting cold air even after closing both the vents above my head.

The bus pulled in for a break at Smile Stone Motel, at Palwe, between Shirur and Ahmednagar, sometime around 1834hrs. I was quite hungry and just ran into the hotel to have some food. I was quite eager to have some  Pav Bhaji and just did that. I had my food real quick and then came back to the bus. It was drizzling then - but wanted to talk to the driver before I got in. Soon after he came, I enquired about ways to get to Shirdi - he said getting a bus from Swastik bus station (in Ahmednagar) was easy and I need not be worried about crowd since it was quite late for crowd already. I was a bit relieved on hearing this. We started from there around 1859hrs - rain thickened now. It was lashing on the bus, and I was worried seeing this.

The rain strengthened as we proceeded towards Ahmednagar. Since I was going to the place at night, I had to keep the GPS on to tell me the whereabouts. We pulled into the Swastik Bus Station, in Ahmednagar Maliwada at 1925hrs. It was still raining hard, and I was looking confused at the prospect of getting out of the bus into rain, with all the baggage. But thankfully, there was an extended shelter at the place the bus stopped - I could get into that without getting wet. I moved a little to the side, and saw a bus to Shirdi parked beside!

Remarks: The bus, MH-06-S-9491, of Shivajinagar Pune depot had clocked a little over 1.07 lakh kms on the clock. The bus was dirty on the outside - can't blame since its been raining quite heavily, and the bus had just arrived from Aurangabad amidst heavy showers. The interiors were fairly clean - there were no carpets inside - the ensured the gangway was dusty. The overall maintenance seemed very good - no scratches or dents on the body. The driver seemed well-versed with the operations of the bus - except that he did not seem to like using the Retarder. The ride was on the stiffer side, and the braking was a bit nervous. I loved every bit of the WiFi based entertainment system - I only wished the power plugs were switched on as well.

Blanket: No
Water: Yes (300ml bottle)
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, Not switched on.
Entertainment: WiFi based entertainment available.

Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5

Overall: 5/5

Pros: Multi departures (Frequency), easy availability, good driving
Cons: Fares pretty high, braking was a bit nervous

Will I take this service again? Lovely service. Prefer them if you are headed to Aurangabad.

The Tailpiece: The ride to Shirdi from Nagar!
Ahmednagar to Shirdi for Rs. 96. 
I rushed to that bus - which was actually ahead of my bus for quite some time. It had a "Pune -> Pachora" board - I asked the driver if they go to Shirdi. I took a seat when he replied affirmative. I was seated in the rear half of the bus, beyond the rear axle. We started from Ahmednagar around 1930hrs. The bus was MH-20-BL-3376, from Pachora depot. The ordinary buses of MSRTC have a rather lavish 2+2 seating, with wide seats and good leg room. We went inside the Maliwada central bus station for the customary entry (entry on the log sheet) and headed out in no time. The driver was fast from the word go. He never bothered potholes - just went over them. It was pouring cats and dogs outside - and none of the windows would close fully. So cold air mixed with water kept lashing inside. There were hardly any stops on the way - all the small towns/villages were bypassed. The only bus station we entered was Rahuri - at 2039hrs. Just a momentary halt - giving just enough time for the conductor to run out, get the log sheet entry done and return. The high speed run continued. My GPS recorded speeds in the range of 85kmph most of the time during the run. I was dropped at Shirdi by 2135hrs. It was a 2h05m ride for just over 90kms - the ticket cost me Rs. 96. It was this 2 hours ride I enjoyed a lot - the typical MSRTC styled driving.