Trivandrum to Bangalore by bus....

I had been to Trivandrum on a personal reason last weekend. The journey to Trivandrum was by train, and I took the "royal" Kanyakumari Express - the 6526 Bangalore City-Kanyakumari Express - often fondly called as the "island" express. The train journey was just fine, and we were more or less on time everywhere. I had some work in the city till afternoon, and thus returning by train was totally ruled out. But, I had to be in office the next day i.e., Monday. The lack of any train leaving towards evening and the absolute passion to try out a Volvo took me to the Kerala SRTC reservation counter in Bangalore one fine evening. But the person manning the counter expressed his inability to issue tickets from Trivandrum to Bangalore since he did not have access to the reservation system of Trivandrum.

I had to make a dejected retreat. I had almost dropped the idea of traveling by bus, and decided to somehow take a leave on Monday. Although Karnataka SRTC too was operating on the same route with similar timings - and they had online reservation too - I, for some reason, did not feel like booking a ticket in their bus. The main attraction towards the Kerala bus was the fact that their bus was new and the service was at a nascent stage. All of a sudden, I had wave and I called out a friend in Trivandrum. Bingo! My ticket was booked! I got a window seat on the Volvo that departs on Sunday, the first of February 2009. He handed over the ticket to me when he was in Bangalore. The seat number in the ticket said '15' and this seat in usual number system is an aisle and not a window! I was slightly dejected, but decided to take it as a part of the adventure.

The D-Day finally arrived. It was the First of February 2009, and I was roaming inside the bus station on a hot, humid afternoon under the blazing sun. I checked out the depot, and saw a shining white volvo standing inside, all prepared to take me back to Bangalore. I rushed back to my hotel, had a nice cold shower, then had my lunch and finally vacated the room. I walked back to the bus station after a harrowing time avoiding auto drivers. The shiny white "mass" was now parked on Platform 10 of the bus station. This platform was specifically 'created' for Volvo services. I quickly went over, and got into the bus. The bus as KL15-7231 (RA 101 of Trivandrum Depot). The bus was delivered to KSRTC in December.
The bus
I got into the bus, and showed my ticket to the conductor. It was just then that I noticed, the bus had a very different seat numbering! All odd numbers were window seats, and all evens were aisles! I almost jumped up in joy! Mine was a window!!! The conductor signed on my ticket and I moved over to my seat. I stowed away my bag on the racks on top of my seat and moved out of the bus for some photography. In the meantime, a guy from the depot walked inside the bus keeping a bottle of water (500ml Aquafina) at each seat, and then depositing a full carton extra for the return journey. I walked around the bus and clicked a couple of pics. Later, a KSRTC guard came around and politely said that I required permissions to click their babes. I said okay! And straightaway pointed to a pic of mine that they had used unscrupulously on one of their boards. He gave a very long smile and disappeared into the crowd within seconds!

I continued my photography session for a while and then decided to retire to the AC comforts of the bus instead of the hot outside. Just as I entered the bus, I noticed some commotion inside, and the conductor appeared helpless. The issue was that KSRTC started using its "networked" reservation system from the previous day, and the new system issued tickets without considering the ones issued by the old system. This ended up in "double-booking" for about 10 seats! A passenger booked Seat 1, but was asked by the conductor to take 36 since that seat (#1) was allotted by another passenger by the old system! The passenger got angry and demanded an explanation. He was 'referred' to the booking supervisor instead. The conductor went up reallocating seats to passengers affected by such double bookings. And at the end of all, he had about 34 reserved passengers on board, and a few were to board from Attingal and Kollam. 

The driver got into the bus at about 1505 and switched on some melodious Malayalam songs on the AV system. He took his seat sharp at 1514, and re-charged the exhaust brakes. The bus was all set to depart, when the conductor realised that one passenger was yet to join in. The bus finally started moving at 1520, late by about 5 minutes. By now, the Karnataka SRTC Volvo to Bangalore (KA-01-F-8464, departing at 1600) started picking up passengers. The slightly backed up and then took a full 180 degree curve to head out of the bus station. The initial run was slow till we reached Pettah. We stopped for a while to pick up two more passengers there. The bus has a unique feature - the conductor is given a mobile phone by the corporation. You can call up the conductor to know where the bus is, availability of seats, etc. You can even change your boarding point using this facility!!! After picking up the two passengers, the bus hit the highway. The driver started picking up speed quickly. By now the audio was switched off, and the co-driver played a movie DVD. The first Movie was "Annan Thambi", starring Mammootty and Gopika. We stopped briefly at Attingal to pick up a couple of passengers.

The driver clipped continuously on the highway, and at many occasions he did scare the wits out of car drivers. However, he ensure that he did not taken even a single sharp cut or a hurried overtake. Overall a well balanced driving style. We entered Kollam town, and stopped outside the Kollam Bus station at 1650. The passenger in the aisle seat close to me joined here. We left Kollam after a 7 minute halt. The delay was since the co-driver had to go to their workshop to get some work done. The bus was once again back on the highway and the driver continued his high speed run. The bus stop for its first break at Kayamkulam, at 1740. The conductor announced a 10 minute break and passengers got down to stretch their legs. I down a cold juice at the bus station before capturing a few images of the bus' dashboard. We left Kayamkulam at 1756. Right outside the bus station was a pick-up point for Kallada Travels, and a lot of passengers were waiting for their bus there. I could see an awe in their face on seeing out bus. Our bus was clean and was well kept by the depot staff. 

The bus picked speed soon after Kayamkulam. We clipped through Haripad and Ambalapuzha. We slowed down as we reached Alappuzha. I was expecting the bus to go to the bus station, given the fact that the other roads are too narrow. However, this driver decided to skip the bus station and squeeze through narrow roads. This surely created heartburn for a traffic cop, who also fainted seeing the white 12-metre long monster trying to squeeze through. My driver was successful, and we soon entered the normal highway. Traffic was relatively high till Cherthala. From Cherthala, the driver got back to clipping and he took full advantage of the 4 laned highway. Sometime around now, the second movie was switched on. This one was "Roudram" starring Mammootty, again!
The ticket..
From the conductor, i learnt that we would not be going to Ernakulam bus station and instead would pick up passengers from the Vytilla Bye-pass stop itself! I was elated, since that means saving at least an hour of running time. We stopped at Vytilla sharp at 1946. About 4 passengers got down, and about two boarded the bus here. The halt was short and we began moving again at 1949. Road works were in progress around Aluva and Angamali and that did delay us slightly. The bus finally stopped at one "thattukada" (A small wayside motel) at Karukutty near Angamali at around 2033. About 4 buses were already there for dinner and we too joined the lot. The buses were two Kallada Sleepers, one KPN Volvo and one Kallada Volvo. The Kallada Volvo left shortly after we stopped. The other buses were around atleast till I finished by dinner. My dinner consisted of Parottas (Bread made of Refined Flour) and a vegetable curry. The KPN volvo left at 2058 and we left a minute later. My driver ensure that he overtook all the buses that overtook us during our dinner!

My bus pulled into Thrissur to pick up a couple of passengers who had blocked their seats by calling up the conductor. We reached Thrissur at 2149. Karnataka SRTC's KA-01-F-8461 was then preparing to head to Bangalore via Kozhikode. We left Thrissur at 2153. The driver hit the highway, and started his night marathon. I slept shortly after we hit the highway. I woke up suddenly when the driver took a 100 degree curve at some 90kmph. The bus withstood the curve really well and that really showed the balance of the bus design. I couldn't sleep for a while after that. I was now totally confused about the route that we were taking. The road appeared too narrow and was two laned. A while later we entered Erode town, clarifying all of my confusions. I had a nice sleep after that. I woke up some time at 0220, when the bus had pulled over for a short break somewhere after Salem.

A vendor from a nearby shop jumped into the bus and announced that people could take a 'leak' and could have some nice snacks and tea! I went out for a stroll and noticed that the place was called "Jagir Ammapalayam". This is the same place where ALL buses heading to Bangalore stop for a break! More and more buses were stopping now. There were about two Karnataka SRTC buses already there now. We pulled out from there at 0239. The AC was now stepped up and the absence of a blanket was felt badly now! I closed off the AC vent above my head and took a short nap. I woke up as the bus entered into Karnataka state. I spotted a huge number of BMTC buses parked on either side of the road, and that signalled the arrival of Attibelle. I took another short nap from here. The AC was too cold that condensation had formed on the outside of the bus. I woke up again as we reached Electronic city. Then decided not to sleep any more. We stopped at Bommanahalli to drop a guy. I was to get down here, but bad roads from there to home dissuaded me. 

We then stopped at Madivala (at 0530) and left about 10 minutes later. A huge number of passengers got down here. I made a mistake of not getting down there, since the bus took the Adugodi road from there. The driver simply sped up and rushed towards Richmond Road. I then got down at Hudson Circle (near Town Hall) at the City. I was dropped there at 0600. The conductor had announced to passengers that the bus would reach Bangalore at 0630, while the bus was already near there by 0600!!!! So the journey took exactly 14 hours and 40 minutes! Not bad for a 750-km odd run. The average speed was around 51 kmph with three halts (totally consuming about an hour) and patches of bad roads!

Some notes: The bus was well maintained. Actually, KSRTC is using three buses and keep rotating them between the Bangalore route and the Trivandrum-Ernakulam route. All the buses are based at Thiruvananthapuram. While providing bottles of water is good, the corporation should also provide Blankets to passengers. The staff were courteous and behaved decently. The most important fact that attracts passengers to this bus against the Karnataka bus is the fact that staff are malayalees and movies/songs played in the bus are also malayalam. A homely feel is given to passengers due to this! I just hope that the corporation maintains these beasts really well and keep them in lovely condition ever.

Post Script: As requested by a reader, here is a dissection of fares. The Kerala State Volvo charges Rs 815 (Fare Rs 810 and Reservation Rs 5) for an end-to-end trip. The Karnataka "Airavat" charges Rs. 831 (Fare: Rs 785, Reservation Rs 10, Insurance Rs 3, User Fee Rs 2, Infrastructure Fee Rs. 10 and Service Fee Rs 21). For Private players: Shama charges Rs 850, while Kallada charges Rs. 910. The fares for private operators will change according to season/demand. To summarise things, Kerala SRTC is the cheapest option. However, the lack of convenient reservation system is a big hinderance to its patronage. Despite all ills, the bus manages to fill up seats!

Some key points of difference is that the Private operators operate Semi-Sleeper buses, while the two government companies run normal "executive" buses. The Karnataka bus also gives Blankets, while Kerala does not.

Comments

venu said…
Great reporting Binai. Next time I will try to get into this one.
You didnot say what was the fare and how it differs from a private vovo.
thanks
venu
Binai.K.Sankar said…
OH! Thank You... I have edited the post to include the fares...
Anonymous said…
Hi Binai,

I travelled in Bangalore - Trivandrum Volvo on 25th January. I noticed one big difference between the ride in KSRTC volvo and other classes in their own transport plying to bangalore is that the Volvo drivers are not taking any risk at all while overtaking and they take utmost restraint but they maintain a good speed. I reached Trivandrum by morning 5.05 am which I never expected. It reached Salem by 8pm with a half an hour dinner break near Dharmapuri and we reached Coimbatore by 10.55pm. Left Coimbatore by 11.15pm and reached Ernakulam by 2 am. Left EKM by 2.20 am and reached Trivandrum by 5.05 am. I took videos of the speedometer clocking 120kmph between EKM and TVM. I can share the video with you if you are interested (Quality is not that good).

Regards
Anand
Binai.K.Sankar said…
The drivers are seriously cautious. Even I noticed this. Except on two 'bad' occasions, the drivers maintained utmost caution. The bus lost most of its time waiting for passengers, and despite all these, the bus managed to be in Bangalore by 0600, that is in under 15 hours.

Please do share that video... i'd love to see it.
Anonymous said…
Hi Binai. Excellent article. I almost felt that I was travelling as I read it. Thanks for the information too. Keep up the good work.

-Sathyan
nice post Mr.Binai. I really enjoyed this. expecting more frm u.

regards
vrajesh said…
nice post.i had directed to this article from my post http://myhandycam.blogspot.com/2008/07/bus.html
allen said…
Excellent blog...Binai!!!
Somehow bumped into this blog while serching for KERALA RTC and i couldnt stop reading it. You article is inspirational and i decided to try the Garuda service from KeralaRTC.
Anand K said…
Hi Binai,

I would like to share the video which I promised you earlier. Please let me know how I can send you the videos.

Regards
Anand
Binai.K.Sankar said…
Oh! Thanks a lot Mr. Anand. You may post it on Youtube and send the link across, or in case the video is of mailable size, please send it over by e-mail.. it is binaiks [at] gmail [dot] com
Anand K said…
Hi Binai,

I have uploaded the videos in the youtube. Please use the link below to access the videos
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSvTVzl80cA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eCeUVq5Dbg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWOVjMU_w7w
Anonymous said…
you forget to mention our great KPN volvo's fare which takes the nagerkoil route. they charge 750 rs frm nagerkoil to bangalore and they took 13 hours to reach madiwala.
Jaggz said…
A regular traveller in ksrtc buses from bangalore to kerala. Last time when i came back to kerala, opted for 5pm tvpm volvo, t0ok oly 12 hourz to reach alpy.i got h0me by 5am in the m0rning that means the bus reachd alpy by 4.50am. Tremendous experience.
Jahan Zeb said…
Nice post binai
Commenting here after 5 years... To type you that karnataka rtc has drastically improved do read my experience below
Travel to bangalore to Mumbai
Date 6-6-2014
Volvo cub class multi axle
Ksrtc offers 3-5 services to Mumbai daily. Mine was 4.30 pm one
Sharp departure. The bus was packed up... As usual water was given... At around 5.30 pm we crossed the hectic peenya traffic . Headed towards nelamangala and the movies were running... At around 8pm. We stopped somewhere near sira.. For a 20 minutes dinner break... After that the journey was stupendous... Hardly I felt any jerks...... The road was inviting and the bus carried total three drivers....... Morning at around 5. 45 we reached swargate pune.... Dropping 50% of passengers...having breakfast break outskirts of pune.. The journey continued on the awesome pune Mumbai road..... By 10.30 we reached chembur...... My drop off point....... Overall I was very happy with the journey

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