Sunday, June 14, 2009: The hotel room that I had rented at Trivandrum had a commanding view of Trivandrum Central Railway station and the KSRTC Bus Station. The old KSRTC Bus station building was being brought down to make way for a modern building that would house a lodge and umpteen shops. The announcements being made at the newly build temporary bus station, and the horn of the locos pulling into the railway station kept me in company through the night. Morning was a busy time with me getting late to wake up, and I landed up at the place where I had to be just on time.
On my way back from 'work', I got the first ever opportunity in life to check out the Trivandrum city bus. It was a very old bus of Vikas Bhavan depot that brought me back to my hotel. The way back also included some bus fanning at the City bus terminus and a sneek peak into the Electric Loco trip shed. After a sumptuous lunch at the nearby "high-class vegetarian restaurant", I headed straight to the cosy confines of my hotel room. I was still contemplating about my way to get back home. I had to be in Alappuzha by around 1800, and I decided that it would be safe to settle for the next possible bus, instead of risking the Volvo bus that leaves only at 1515.
After vacating my hotel room, I lugged all the baggage and headed straight to the bus station. Even at that very moment, I was unaware of where the new bus station was. It was just a nick of chance that I noticed the KSRTC reservation counter and the bus terminus. The old idle parking area of Trivandrum depot has now been converted into the bus terminus. Just as I reached the place, I saw the Palani bound Super Express all set to leave. I wanted to travel in it, but found that there were no seats. Not to be dejected, I headed straight to check the schedule list, and found that there was a Superfast to Irinjalakkuda, departing just ten minutes after the Express. That would also give me an opportunity to tavel in a Super Fast bus, more than two years after my last journey a Super Fast bus.
Soon the PA system cracked up alive and the person at the counter announced that reservations for the bus that I was planning to take were available. Wasting no time, I headed straight to the counter, and request for the first seat - also called the hot seat - in the bus. The person at the counter quickly pulled out a small green slip and write my seat number as 51 on it. The reservation charge was Rs. 2. The cost of the ticket would have to be paid directly to the conductor. The bus was parked at the platform by now - the bus, RRK902 (KL15-7061), was based at Irinjalakkuda. I occupied my seat quickly and settled for the amazing run ahead.
The bus had 51 seats, in a 2X3 layout. The seats had a fixed back rest. The bus was on an Ashok Leyland Viking Chassis, and had a speed limiting device installed. The driver jumped into the bus right on time and the conductor signalled him to start. The bus reversed out of the terminus sharp at 1440, and we were soon on the prowl. The bus stopped at many places inside the city to pick up passengers, and by the time the bus reached the highway (from the city) all seats were taken and there were quite a few standing passengers.
The Driver was not very fast initially, but was very composed. We made yet another halt at Kaniyapuram bus station, and started off in under a minute. A while past this bus station, the driver picked speed. He kept overtaking vehicles at a steady pace and maintained speeds in the range of 55~60kmph through out. He did corner vehicles sharply and he even scared me off during one overtake. A while before reaching Attingal, there was a verbal warfare between a couple of passengers and the conductor over stopping at a particular place. While the passengers argued that the bus had a stop at that place, the conductor and the driver made it clear that the service was a Super Fast, and it would not stop at the place they wanted.
The passengers exchanged a few vulgar phrases with the conductor, to which the crew responded asking them to behave properly. The duel continued, and the driver offered to pull into a police station. By now, the bus was near Attingal bus station. The passengers got off the bus, treating the conductor with more slang words. I felt sad for the conductor for having to bear the brunt of uncivilised people (the conductors are no saints, either!). We started off from Attingal at 1525. In the meantime, all the vehicles that the bus had painstakingly overtaken went ahead. The driver was back in business, and he slammed the accelerator. The engine was responding instantly and one could feel a power surge clearly. The bus was revving up badly once the speed crossed 70 kmph. (perhaps, the speed was set at 70kmph).
The run from Attingal to Kollam was amazing, with the railway tracks giving us company at places. I was seeing Kollam bus station for the very first time, and I was shocked on seeing the state of the bus station. The bus station building was totally run down, and there was little space around the bus station. We overtook the Palani super express here (soothing my desperation of not being able to travel in it slightly). We left Kollam bus station at 1620. While KSRTC bus drivers are notorious at taking excessive breaks for tea and snacks, the driver at the helm of my bus concentrated more on reaching places on time and he never took a break.
The Driver of my bus in action... notice his relaxed and composed posture
The highway surface was in good shape and the traffic was slightly on the higher side. The driver kept his cools at most places and he ensured that he was never rash. We stopped at Karunagappally bus station momentarily. All this while, I was wondering if the Bangalore bound Volvo would overtake us. It looked like my driver too was worried about that, since he was looking at the mirror constantly. The bus reached Kayamkulam a while past 5. I was almost sure that the driver would stop for tea at this bus station, since he parked right outside the canteen. But, Lo! Ting Ting! The conductor rings the bell after passenger got in, and the driver pulls ahead!!! The bus took the rear exit and it got on to the highway in no time.
He was back to his 60kmph driving style soon after Kayamkulam. We made another halt at Harippad bus station - which is actually a small piece of land that could fit in no more than three buses parked parallely. We chose to remain on the road itself. We left Harippad too after a minute long halt. I called up home only to find that their return from Alappuzha would be delayed. (My family members were at Alappuzha, and I was to return with them to my hometown). My bus finally pulled into Alappuzha at 1800, early by a full 15 minutes. The driver now parked the bus and got down for a tea!
The bus, finally!
I got off the bus. I was kind-of glad that the driver did not waste time anywhere along the run. I had to now get to Nedumudy, a part of Kerala's tourism rich Kuttanad region. The 11 kilometre journey would be along a road that cuts across paddy fields and lush backwaters. This was, obviously, to be done on a bus. I first enquired if there was a bus that would leave me right outside the place that I had to get to - but got a negative response. I finally got into a bus that was heading to a destination much away from mine. The conductor issued a Rs. 6.50 ticket for the journey. The bus, which would soon be classified as a piece of stone age history, crawled its way through the scenic road, giving me ample time to photograph the countryside... my journey ended as the day ended...... (more journey reports are on the way!!!)