Trying out the new Airavat 9400....
June 13, 2009: An urgent "day-long" work had forced me to land up in Bangalore from Kerala. I had described that ride earlier (you may see it here). The ride was truly tiring and almost sleepless. That journey had an effect on me through the day, and at many times during the day I ended up sitting and dozing. I had to get back to Kerala the same evening (since I had to go to Trivandrum for some work on Sunday). Since the day turned out to be a Friday, I had made reservations early.
My initial plans were to take the 1930 Kerala SRTC Air Bus, since that bus has a consistent record of reaching Thrissur on time. The other option that I considered was the 1830 Kottayam AC bus of Kerala SRTC. However, sheer lethargy forced me book on the Karnataka SRTC bus - they offered online reservation and I could book a ticket sitting at home instead of going all the way to the bus station, which was necessary in case of the Kerala SRTC bus. Now, I had another confusion at hand - whether to book on the 1830 Volvo to Trivandrum or the 1930 Volvo to Ernakulam. Both were via Mysore. However decision making was made easy! The 1830 service uses a brand new Volvo 9400, while the latter uses an old B7R MarkIII bus. 1830 was the call.
I reached the bus station at around 1630. I had a very late lunch that day. The bus station was a beehive of activity. I considered myself very fortunate since I had no baggage with me - spare for a back pack. I roamed around the bus station like a vagabond. There was some problem with Mysore buses that day, and there were no Volvos on the route for very long intervals. There was a long queue at the "dedicated" Mysore bus counter and people were turning restless. The other platforms had frequent departures. The Kerala SRTC bus to Trivandrum left perfectly on time, and all seats were taken on that bus.
The clock slowly ticked past 1800, but there was no sign of my bus. However, I saw a fresh looking Volvo 9400 parked inside the depot, being readied for a departure. The crew were walking around the bus checking if all body parts were intact, and checking the tyre condition. Depot staff were roaming with blankets and water bottles. However, there was no board on the bus, and I couldn't find its destination. The Kerala SRTC bus to Kottayam was brought in a while past 1810. The bus too was full and she left dot on schedule. The Volvo 9400 that I had seen a while back was indeed my bus, and the bus was brought out of the depot at 1835 - 5 minutes past its departure time.
My bus - KA01-FA-8514 - finally comes out of its home shed
I was seriously disappointed at the way KSRTC handled their premium service, and a bus being brought to the platform late for departure is now way acceptable. Despite being brought out late, the crew were mocking around the bus for quite some time, before they started boarding. I was finally on board the bus. My seat was #28, and window on the left side of the bus. The newly installed "emergency exit door" was on the right side, along my seat. The seats around the exit (#25 & #26) was humongous leg space, but very poor safety measure to prevent the passengers from falling forward in case of a sudden brake application.
The interiors of the emergency exit door....
My first impression of the interiors was that KSRTC has trimmed down a lot of luxuries in the bus. The seat was not as comfortable as the ones normally seen on new Volvos, and the foot rest was not adjustable, which was the case with old buses. The interior colours have been changed from the drab green to a more pleasent beige colour. The old TV has given off to a new Widescreen LCD monitor. The load appeared pretty light, for a bus departing from Bangalore on a Friday evening. Hardly 50% crowd were reserved, and the bus had about 75% occupancy as the bus moved from its Platform (#7). Finally, the bus moved at 1852, late by a whole 22 minutes!!! However, the joy was shortlived since we stopped at the Mysore platform. About 5 more passengers were taken in from here and the bus slowly crawled out of the bus station at 1854. Instead of taking the road via Cottonpet, the driver chose to drive towards Vijayanagar. The traffic on this side was worse that what is normally seen on Cottonpet main road. The bus took the Tank bund road, and we entered Mysore road somewhere near Chamrajpet. The traffic on this side was really pathetic, and the speeds that the bus took was not more than 15kmph.
We reached Mysore Road Satellite Bus Station at 1934. The bus terminus was now very live with lots of buses departing from every possible platform. The bus filled up at this terminus, and we finally started at 1939. It took a very long time for the bus to exit the bus station and the traffic outside was not ready to accomodate another vehicle into it. In the meantime, the conductor switched on the 21-inch Samsung LCD monitor and the JVC DVD player. They played a Kannada movie, and I could feel the displeasure among most passengers. The movie had to be stopped in the middle since the CD developed some trouble and was getting stuck very often. The conductor played another Kannada movie now.
The movie appeared to have taken bits and pieces of stories from some old Malayalam movies, but nevertheless was an interesting watch. The driver maintained slow speeds on the highway. We stopped for Dinner at Kamat Upachar, a while after Ramanagaram. This restaurant was opened recently, and road users are yet to flock to this place. We stopped at 2055 and left at 2123. While roaming around the bus after my dinner, I noticed that the front windshield had a nasty crack, that seemed to have been caused by a stone hit. The place was patched up using a paper sticker. The rear brake lamp assembly too was damaged.
My bus, when it was coming to its platform... notice the emergency exit door at the center of the bus....
We reached Mysore at 2232. The bus had stopped at many places as it neared Mysore to drop passengers. There were a few reserved passengers to join us at Mysore. The bus initially stopped at the entrace of the bus station. Later, it stopped near the platform that handles buses to Bangalore, for a while. We left Mysore bus station finally at 2242. I dozed off a while after the bus started from Mysore. I woke up briefly as the bus reached Nanjangud - I was excited to see the well-lit station at Nanjangud. I dozed off yet again. I remember seeing the check post on the Kerala-Karnataka border. I slept straight upto 0430. I initially thought that we were just around Kalpetta, but later realised that the bus was near Kunnamkulam. I was sad to see that the bus was already late by an hour.
The conductor announced that the bus was near Thrissur and switched on all the lights. The driver was confused about the route after we reached Punkunnam, and yours truly played good Samaritan helping the driver reach the bus station. The bus dropped me at Thrissur at 0530 - two hours behind schedule. I bid adieu to the bus and entered the bus station only to get a bad shock for my life - the Kerala SRTC bus that left Bangalore at 1930 was already at the bus station!!! I was sad on seeing that, but consoled myself thinking that I could atleast try out the new 9400 operated by Karnataka SRTC. I took a rickshaw to the private bus station, and then a bus to my destination. It was wet and rainy that morning... reached home at around 0715, ending majority of my road marathons..... (this was the last part of the marathon trip reports)....
Post-script: While my initial impressions about the service was harmed by the late start from Bangalore, the overall service quality remains the same that I had experienced back in 2006 (read here). The crew were courteous as ever, the bus was clean and the blankets provided were in good shape. The service quality fares slightly better over its Kerala counterpart, just for the blanket service and the overall professionalism. The bus had a few down sides in the form of fixed leg-rests, old model seats and a slightly cramped seat layout. Both the services (Karnataka's Airavat and Kerala's Garuda) have their own plus and negative points, but the Airavat scores slightly better - just for the fact that they have more experience in this field! The Garuda offers an economical service, while the Airavat is slightly costly but very professional service!