Thursday, June 25, 2009

Town-to-Town: The revolution that changed KSRTC, forever...

I have been a regular on Kerala State Road Transport Corporation buses ever since I remember. My parents used to stay in Coimbatore at that time, and KSRTC buses were the main operators connecting Coimbatore to Kerala those days. During those days (early and mid-nineties), KSRTC had services only between major points in Kerala, and most other routes were ruled by Private operators. KSRTC's major services were Fast Passengers, Expresses and "Lightning Express" those days. Superfast buses made their appearance in the early 1990s (1992, to be precise). These services were touted to be a faster alternative to the then predominant Fast Passenger Services. Super Fast buses would stop at lesser number of stops compared to Fast Passengers.

Super Expresses made their appearance some time in the mid 1990s (I remember seeing such buses back in 1997-98). These buses were faster than Expresses. In the lower "strata", KSRTC buses were largely restricted to Ordinary services. Ordinary buses, those days, were old, tired buses that were downgraded from Fast Passenger or Express services. Ordinary services used to stop at all bus stops and used to run at a painfully slow pace. Routes around Alappuzha district were dominated by such services, those days. The introduction of Limited Stop Ordinary buses came some time in the mid 90s. These services were faster than ordinary buses, but slower than Fast Passenger buses. Now, Limited Stop Ordinary Services (LSOS) are defined as those that had more than one stop per Fare stage (which is usually 2.5 kms long).

Sometime in the mid-90s, KSRTC introduced "Town-to-Town" bus service. These were Fast Passenger services, that operated at fixed intervals between two - or more - towns. These buses would stop only at limited number of stops. Call it timing, or sheer luck, these services improved the fortunes of KSRTC. One very "revolutionary" TT (this was how "Town-to-Town" buses were called) service that I remember was between Thrissur and Palakkad. These buses used to cover the distance in a shade under 90 minutes, and Thrissur depot used to deploy their best buses on that route. (This used to happen in the mid-90s). The TT revolution continued across the state, and many more sectors saw the introduction of such services.

Ordinary services continued to run on old, unreliable buses, which once were used on highway routes zipping across towns and villages. I remember riding on an ordinary bus which had a blown fuse and did not have lighting. Passengers were seated in the dark, while the conductor managed to issue tickets using a torch. Such buses had long tarpaulin sheets to cover windows in case of a rain, and the bus would leak badly if the rain continued for long time. Even buses that were fortunate to have an intact fuse, would be badly under lit and that used to scare off passengers from these buses. The town-to-town, or TT, revolution got a shot in its arm in late 2005. By now, the range of services offered by KSRTC changed to: Ordinary, Limited Stop Ordinary, Fare-Stage Limited Stop Ordinary, Fast Passenger, Limited stop Fast Passenger, Super Fast, Super Express, Super Deluxe, AC Bus and Volvo. The fare difference among each of these classes were in the range of 2 - 10 paise per kilometre.

The classic KSRTC design, with a single door for entry/exit at its rear end...

July 2005 saw the introduction of Venad services. Venad buses were branded Limited Stop Ordinary Services. New buses were painted in a catchy white and blue livery, with Venad written on the bus in Orange colour. Venad services were preceded by Ananthapuri Services - introduced in May 2005 - Ananthapuri is the branded for of City Fast buses that operate in Thiruvananthapuram City. This was perhaps the first time that new buses were inducted to operate ordinary services - which was until then a fort of old buses. These branded services - Venad and Ananthapuri - had a variety of advantages over normal buses. These buses were painted in distinct liveries, had two doors (compared to only one in normal buses), had better seats and interiors, and a single-piece windshield for the driver.

A new Venad bus, at Ernakulam Jetty bus station

The new branded services improved the patronage for KSRTC in a very impressive way - the buses looked better, and they were well-lit. Venad services revolutionised the age-old TT services. Fast Passenger buses were soon replaced by Ordinary service on TT routes, and these Venad buses started giving private operators a run for their money. The presence of KSRTC buses improved visibly in the southern part of the state. However, the northern part of Kerala continued to remain a fort for private bus operators. KSRTC introduced a couple of Venad buses in this part of Kerala as well. However, Venad was a name typically associated with the southern part of Kerala. Venad buses were renamed as "Malabar" in the later half of 2007.

A KSRTC Malabar service, at Kasargod bus station

Ananthapuri, Venad and Malabar, together is now reviving the future of KSRTC. From buses which were once called "best avoided", they are now the primary preference of many passengers. Over the past month, I had been travelling frequently on KSRTC buses, and on every occasion there were lots of passengers waiting patiently for a KSRTC bus, skipping umpteen private buses that came earlier. Now, KSRTC purchases new buses to operate Ordinary services, which itself gives and impression that the corporation is now serious about earning revenue.

The KSRTC revolution... the oldest on the right to the newest on the left...

The KSRTC surely changed its fortunes by giving more care towards the design of buses and passenger comfort. Many routes that never had KSRTC buses earlier, now have buses every 5-15 minutes. The crew are now well-behaved, and are most of the time very decent in behaviour. Earlier, drivers were adament to stop only at stops to pick up passengers. But, now-a-days they are often seen picking up passengers in the middle-of-no-where as well! The old grumpy guys sitting at enquiry counters are now long gone, and replaced with people who now answer to questions in a calm, composed and decent manner!

The drab looking interiors of an old bus (above) compared to the interiors of a new bus (below)

However, KSRTC operates hardly 15-20% of the total number of stage carriages in Kerala. The earlier minister incharge of transports was very enthusiastic, and he surely has a lot of achievements to his credit. The KSRTC grew from hardly 3,000 buses to over 6,000 buses as of now. Although the branded services were introduced by the earlier UDF government, the present government marketed them properly and has taken the public transport statement by a storm. Before winding up this post - which I think touched many points but did not elaborate on any - here I present one more image - the new face of KSRTC that has enhanced its future...

Post-Script: Expect to see another post with more interesting stuff about KSRTC, very soon...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

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!

Friday, June 19, 2009

The KSRTC Super Fast.... after long...

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!!!)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mangalore to Bangalore on an Airavat....

June 11, 2009: After a very tiring and hot day, amid heavy crowd attending a wedding, I walked slowly towards an auto rickshaw, which would take me to the KSRTC Bus Station at Kasaragod. I was travelling back to Bangalore, and fortunately without any baggage – other than a small back pack that contained by camera. The bus station at Kasaragod was in shambles, as most part of the land was being utilized to construct a multi-storied bus station. KSRTC recently discovered that the land it held – in the form of bus stations and garages – had a high value in terms of revenue, and the corporation started exploiting the value of these lands by constructing shopping complexes in them. Kasaragod was among the first bus station to go under the exploitation hammer. The one coming up at Kasaragod is called “KSRTC Tulunad Shopping Complex”.

Having a bus station cum shopping complex had many advantages to the passenger, in additionto the revenue that it brings in for the corporation. For the passenger, these shopping complexes would also present an avenue to have some shopping before they get into their buses. These shopping complexes would ideally have a restaurant, some light snack stalls, a pharmacy and some other miscellaneous shops. I wish the ones being built by KSRTC make good shopping avenues. Coming back to my journey – the construction work meant that the bus station did not have any space for staffs to rest or for controllers to work from. Buses were parked in every possible space.

One side of the bus station was being utilized to operate buses towards Kanhangad, and the other towards Mangalore. A couple of Karnataka SRTC buses were already preparing to head to Mangalore. I initially planned to take a Kerala bus – just for the fun of travelling sitting at the front along the driver. However, the blue and silver buses of Karnataka SRTC were luring me into them, and decided to try them out. After stocking up a cold bottle of water, I got into one of Karnataka’s buses – KA19-F-2712, of Depot 2-Mangalore. The seating was 2x3, and seats had fabric seat covers. While fabric seat covers do give a plush feel, their maintenance is tough – and in the absence of which the seats would look avoidable. I sat somewhere towards the middle of the bus.

The bus that I took to Mangalore, from Kasaragod

The crew boarded, and we left at around 1905. The bus – I learnt from the controller – was running out-of-turn. The bus headed straight to the private bus station, from where the crew managed to fill about 60% of seats. The bus was built on a TATA Chassis, and it was making an annoying noise through the journey. The crowd in the bus was never above 75%. The conductor issued me ticket for Rs. 27 – but the ticket, printed on Thermal paper using an ETM, turned out blank. He said that the machine had some problem and wasn’t printing properly – aren’t these crew issue back-up provisions, in the form of normal paper tickets? The run to Mangalore took about 2 hours including a 5 minute halt at Kumbala, and the bus reached Bejai KSRTC bus station at around 2100.

This was my first visit to the KSRTC bus station at Mangalore – I was visiting the City after long 5 years. My bus from Mangalore to Bangalore was at 2220, and therefore had about 80 minutes to spend. I headed straight to a shopping mall right opposite the bus station for my dinner. After a slightly heavy dinner, I reached back at the bus station. The bus station looked too small for a city with pretty high importance in the state. The bus station was around the same size as that of the Mysore Road Satellite bus station in Bangalore. One part of the bus station was held exclusively by buses heading to Bangalore. There were almost all classes of service being offered by KSRTC waiting at this side of the bus station. There were atleast 4 Volvos, two Rajahamsas and one Express bus heading to Bangalore at that point of time. Boarding was happening for a bus that was to depart at 2150. I noticed on Volvo in a very pitiable state standing among the lot. As luck always ‘favours’ – the bus that I termed pitiable a while back was announced as the 2220 Volvo to Bangalore.

The bus that was to take me back to Bangalore was KA01-F-7737, of Mangalore Depot-2. I had an e-ticket, and that wasn’t printed properly. The conductor was slightly confused if the ticket was indeed genuine – he was satisfied after checking my identity card and on seeing my name on the reservation chart. The maintenance seemed average, with seat covers seen torn. My seat was in the first row. I stood outside the bus, since it was too hot inside. The driver switched on the engine – and the AC – at around 2215. The departure was delayed, and we left only at 2227. The bus was rattling badly and the pick up was too poor. The bus struggled at the slightest grades, while normal buses easily overtook us. We stopped at some place to pick up some more passengers, and left from there at 2236.

The Mangalore-Bangalore route sees a lot of Volvo services by the state run KSRTC as well as private operators. There are to different routes between the two cities – one via Hassan and the other via Mysore. The one via Hassan includes the infamous Shiradi Ghats, while the other runs through Madikeri. My bus was initially announced to run through the former route, but was later rescheduled through Madikeri. My sleep through the run was disturbed due to bad roads, intolerable sound from the front suspension assembly and sudden braking. I somehow managed to doze for a while, and got up when the bus stopped at Madikeri for a break at 0138. A bus that had departed earlier from Mangalore was waiting there. The toilets were in real bad shape and the bus station was dirty overall.

We left Madikeri at 0150. The driver picked up some speed after Madikeri. I slept as soon as the bus crossed Kushalnagar, thanks to good roads from there. I had an undisturbed sleep after there. I woke up as the bus crossed Ramanagaram. The drop down screen between the passenger cabin and the driver cabin was pulled up around 0600. The bus stopped at Kengeri to drop a passenger, and again near the satellite bus station to drop some more passengers. The bus finally reached Kempegowda Bus Station at 0636 – about 36 minutes delayed over the scheduled arrival time.

The bus that brought me to Bangalore, after alighting.

The crew were courteous, and the blankets provided were in better condition, compared to some buses of Bangalore Division. The maintenance of the bus leaves a lot to be desired. I headed home in a city Volvo from the bus station at around 0700, and reached home by around 0730.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My first on a Jan Shatabdi

Jan Shatabdi Expresses were introduced in 2002 by the then Railway Minister, Shri Nitish Kumar (who is currently the Chief Minister of Bihar). The concept of these trains were to provide "Shatabdi express-like" speed, with non-AC accomodation. The concept also included offering a premium service (in terms of onboard services) at a cost affordable to the common man. These trains received specially manufactured coaches, that were fit to run at 120 kmph (compared to 110kmph for normal coaches, and 130kmph for Shatabdi/Rajdhani coaches).

Jan Shatabdi expresses are accorded the same priority as a Shatabdi Express, when it comes to section control and these trains are usually allowed an uninterrupted run. In the initial versions, Jan Shatabdi Expresses (herein referred to as JS Express) had onboard catering, the cost of which was included in the price of the ticket. This concept, however, affected patronage in the train adversely and hence Catering was made optional. The fares collected for these trains are all-inclusive fares - which include surcharges and other fees like reservation charges. Today, there are over 16 pairs of Jan Shatabdi Express running around the country.

These trains have specially designed coaches, painted in a distinctive livery. These trains provide AC Chair Car, and non-AC "Jan" Chair Car accomodation. The AC coaches seat 71 passengers, while the non-AC coaches seat 106 passengers each. The AC coaches have a 2x3 seating layout, and the seats recline. The non-AC coaches have a 3X3 seating layout, with non-reclining seats. The seats are designed in a manner, that half the coach faces the direction of travel, while the other half faces the other way. Interestingly, these trains lack luggage space. The end-coaches (SLRs in normal trains) are specially designed, and these coaches too accomodate passengers (81 of them).

My first ever journey on a Jan Shatabdi express happened on June 13, 2009 (long seven years after these trains were introduced). This journey too was an opportunity, that presented itself by sheer chance of luck. I had to travel from my home town, in Kodungallur - Thrissur District in Kerala, to Trivandrum on a personal reason. My initial plans were to take a bus from my place straight to Trivandrum. However, the prospect of traveling that long distance in a non-AC bus, given the sultry weather gave me jitters. I decided to check out AC buses - but the available ones were either too late - and would land me up in Trivandrum at a very odd hour - or too early. So, the call was obviously for a train. It was then that I remembered about the Jan Shatabdi. The availability was checked - Bingo! 30 seats were vacant. I made a reservation quickly, and I got a window seat in C1.

On the day of the journey, my brother dropped me at Ernakulam Junction station. The time was just around 1630. The rake of my train was yet to be brought from the coaching yard. Announcements were being made that the train would be brought to Platform 2 very soon. Platform 3 had two passenger trains parked 'back-to-back', while Platform 4 had the Trivandrum bound Raptisagar express. Platform 5 had the rake of an unknown passenger train. The rake of my train was brought in at 1655 by WDM3A #16479R of Erode. The rake was about 14 coaches long - one AC chair car, eleven non-AC chair car and two brake vans. My coach- C1, WGSCZACJ 02151 - was the second from the loco. The loco for my train - WAP4 #22388 of Erode - was brought in at 1705.

Interiors of my AC Chair Car coach... notice the fabric seat covers and the carpeted floor. Compare this with a normal AC chair car coach here.

The crowd was more than average - most seats in Non-AC coaches were taken. My coach had seven vacant seats, and all of them were allotted were unreserved passengers on first come first served basis. A few passengers in my coach were to board at Alappuzha. The Alappuzha-Chennai express arrived on Platform 1 at around 1719, with WAP4 #22244 of Erode doing the honors. The arrival of this train meant that the way ahead was clear for my train. The starter for my train was taken off on time, and we started from Ernakulam perfectly on time - 1725.

The red monster up ahead was making merry of the 14 coach load and were cruising at decent speeds in no time. I was too tired after about three days of travel, and was now sitting in a state of lethargy. I remember the train rushing past the picturesque Aroor bridge, and later fell asleep. I vaguely remember the train slowing down at an unknown station enroute. I woke up as the train pulled into Alappuzha. We pulled into Alappuzha at 1823, late by about 5 minutes. We left Alappuzha at 1825. We were put on the loop line at Ambalapuzha. I was perplexed as to why was the Janshatabdi put on to the loop line. We had a crossing here.

My train waiting at Ambalapuzha for a crossing....

We crossed the Kochuveli-Bangalore express here. The train was worked by WAP4 #22220 of Erode. We continued our good run after here. We reached Kayamkulam at 1917 - delayed by 17 minutes. Quite a few passengers de-trained here, while an equal number got in. My co-passenger too changed at this station. We left Kayamkulam at 1918. We kept crossing trains at a steady pace - the cumulative speed of both trains and the darkness meant that all I could see was a streak of light.

We reached Kollam at 1953 - late by 16 minutes. My co-passenger was saying that the train cannot make up time and we would reach Trivandrum only at 2115 or so. I was slightly disappointed about this. The Mangalore bound Malabar express pulled into the nearby platform now. We left Kollam at 1955. The stream of crossing trains continued, while we continued our journey ahead. Varkala was reached at 2018 - late by 15 minutes now. We left the station a minute later. Interestingly, the crowd in the train was consistent, and most of them were upto the destination station.

It was too dark outside, and I couldn't gather as to where was the train now. I relied solely on the cell tower data shown on my phone to find out the location. The train hit a speed restriction suddenly, and I guessed we were near Trivandrum Pettah now - And! I was right!!! We slowed down to a crawl as the train approached the home signal. We were sent on to Platform 3, and we stopped at the station, sharp at 2055! Perfectly on time!!! Platform 1 was kept ready for Amritha Express, while Platform 2 had the rake of the Nagercoil-Trivandrum passenger. I headed straight to check if retiring rooms were available, only to get a negative response. I then checked into a hotel right outside the station - to have a nice sleep accompanied by train horns for lullaby :)

I loved my first ride on the Jan Shatabdi. The seating was comfortable, and the seat design was nice. My only sore point is that the coach seemed to be badly kept. From the stickers inside the coach, and the Tamil Nadu tourism posters, I gather that the particular coach was being operated on the Coimbatore-Thanjavur Jan Shatabdi. The seat covers were torn in some seats. These would get attended to at the next POH - but these things are not consistent with the "premium" projected of a Jan Shatabdi train.

Monday, June 15, 2009

On two legs... finally!

After being on four wheels (Read tyres) continuously for about 5 days, I am back on my feet finally! During the said period, I clocked about 1650 kms on road, and about 206 kms on railways. I started from Bangalore on June 10, 2009, and finally stopped at Kodungallur on June 15, 2009 traveling via Madikeri, Kasargod, Mangalore, Sullya, Bangalore, Mysore, Kozhikode, Thrissur, Kodungallur, Cherai, Ernakulam, Trivandrum, Alappuzha, Nedumudy, Vyttila and Varapuzha (Phew!).

The journey was done on different modes of transport, in different legs. Some notes of the journey are here.....

Started from Bangalore by car - I was at the wheels. We (myself with my brother, and sis-in-law) started from home at 0700, and reached Kasaragod at 1350. This includes a 30 minute break (0800 ~ 0830) at Kamat Upachar (Loka Ruchi), near Ramanagaram. The journey was amazing. The roads were good at most parts, except the Kushal Nagar - Sullya stretch.

From Kasaragod, I headed (All alone) to Mangalore by a Karnataka SRTC Karnataka Sarige bus. The Rs. 27 journey lasted about two hours. The bus was part of the fleet introduced recently amid great fanfare between Mangalore and Kasargode.

From Mangalore, it was a KSRTC Airavat to Bangalore. The ticket said that we would go via Hassan, while the bus actually went via Madikeri. This is, reportedly, due to bad roads on the route via Hassan. The driver pushed in old Volvo (It was a Mark-II bus) to its limits, and we made it to Bangalore by 0645.

From Bangalore, it was yet another KSRTC Airavat to Thrissur. This is was incident that let me down. The bus - that was scheduled to depart at 1830 - left only at 1900, and we arrived Thrissur only at 0530. That is a good 10-and-a-half hours for a Volvo! What made me more sad was the fact that the Kerala SRTC AC bus that left Bangalore at 1930 had already arrived at Thrissur when my bus rolled in. The only saving grace was the fact that the bus was a new one, in the 9400 series.

From Thrissur to Kodungallur (my home town) was by a local bus, and from Kodungallur to Ernakulam was by Car. We went to Ernakulam, from Kodungallur, through a different route this time. The normal route is via Paravur, Varapuzha Bridge, Edapally. This time, we decided to check out the Njarackal - Goshree bridge route. The route is amazing, and is pretty fast.

From Ernakulam to Trivandrum was by train - the 2075 Jan Shatabdi Express!!! That was my first journey on a JS, and I was totally excited. The train was perfectly on time at Trivandrum, and we had a mind boggling run from Kollam to Trivandrum as well. The loco that worked my train was WAP4 #22388 of Erode, and my coach was WSCZACJ 02151 (C1).

From Trivandrum to Alappuzha was by a KSRTC Super Fast bus. The bus was RRK902 of Irinjalakuda depot. That was my first Super Fast Journey since 2007, and the first in a "new generation" KSRTC Leyland bus. The run was mind-boggling, and we covered the 160km distance in just three hours and 15 minutes.

Expect more details of the Bus and train journeys in the days to come... just stay tuned till then. I have uploaded the photos of my train journey here... have a look at them, and do remember to post your valuable comments.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A whirlwind trip to Chennai.... Part-2

After a humid day in typical Chennai weather, I got into a chilled box - called the Volvo. That was my first tryst with a volvo operated by MTC, Chennai. MTC had applied heavy film on to the windows, and that ensured that very little exterior light entered the bus. The bus was heading to Thiruvanmiyur from Chennai Central. The bus was chilling cold, but the temperature was too little for the heat that Chennai was reeling under.

A Volvo operated by MTC

The fare was Rs. 23, for a 45 minute ride to Adayar Depot. The bus started off from Chennai Central. MTC buses are fitted with a device that gives off an alarm as soon as the bus nears 60kmph in speed. The pick-up of the Volvo, and the empty roads, meant that the alarm was entertaining passengers almost through the journey. The rear suspension made lots of noise as the bus went over any rough patch of road - a phenomenon exhibited by old Volvos in Bangalore. The bus that I was riding on - TN-01-N-4852 of Central depot - was supposedly of the initial lot.

The crew in MTC Volvos have a cream coloured uniform. The driver also had a 'cap' - a design very similar to crew on Ships. The driver was fast. The patronage on the particular trip (1900 hrs from Central Station) was poor. The conductor kept announcing stops - that was important since visibility outside the bus was relatively poor. He announced by destination, and I was at the door by then. The driver stopped for me, and I was the only passenger to alight. I had a long walk from the bus stop to my place.

Some confusing moments later, I and my cousin were walking briskly towards the bus stop. He was to board a bus that departs from CMBT at 2200, while my bus was at 2310. We took a bus from Adayar depot to Thiruvanmiyur. From here, we took a bus that goes to CMBT. We were on a "Golden Chariot" bus. The bus fares in Tamil Nadu are among the lowest in the entire nation. In order to keep the services floating, the authorities found innovative ways of charging more without any apparent fare hike. New classes of services were introduced, and each of these were paying higher rates. While the minimum fare of normal services is Rs. 2, these so-called premium services charge anywhere between Rs. 4 to 5. (Corrections on this figures solicited).

These so-called premium services employ semi-low floor buses, with an air-suspension and awkwardly designed ABS Plastic seats. The number of stops are apparently the same, while the buses are relatively fast. Meanwhile, our chariot was now rushing towards Koyambedu. All seats in the bus were taken, and we had some standees as well. Me and my cousin were busy discussion everything under the sun, that we suddenly noticed the bus entering CMBT. We reached CMBT at 2130 - about 35 minutes after the bus started from Thiruvanmiyur. We both parted ways after we alighted from the bus.

The good looking facade of Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus, Koyambedu

I had a walk around the bus station, clicking some pictures of the bus station. The entrance to the bus station is well-lit, and provides a very professional touch to the entire set-up. I entered the bus station, and began my pursuit for a restaurant. I couldn't find any restaurant and was totally disgusted with the scene. I had a very refreshing cold drink - flavoured milk - from an Amul store, and began another search for a restaurant. Later, I settled for a small kiosk on one of the platforms. The kiosk was no where near being called good - or even average. I had some snack from there, with a half-hearted mind. Later, I headed to the Ice-cream stall for a nice ice-cream.

I then stocked up water and a cold drink and then headed in search of the platform from where my bus would depart. I was initially told that my buses would depart from Platform 2. I was shocked to see my bus standing on Bay 26 of Platform 1 instead!!! Bay 24 to 30 were occupied by KSRTC AC services (mostly Volvos) and all of them were to depart one after the other. A few photos later, I noticed that there was a change in the order in which the buses would depart. A bus that was marked to depart at 2310 was rescheduled to 2345, and the one scheduled for 2345 was rescheduled to 2310.

I just noticed that the bus that was now allotted to work my return schedule - 2310 departure from CMBT - was the same one that brought me to Chennai. The bus was standing still on Bay 26 of Platform 1. Bay 25 was hosting another KSRTC Volvo, that was to depart at 2230. (The bus eventually departed at 2255). My bus was opened at 2250, and boarding began immediately. The conductor checked my ticket and I boarded the bus. I left my baggage there and went around to get fresh. The 2300 Volvo too was open for boarding. One fact that I noticed that, almost all the KSRTC AC Buses that departed after I reached there - about 4 of them - were packed to capacity, while TNSETC was announcing out its vacancy.

My bus - KA01-F-8259 - preparing to depart back to Bangalore...

The driver switched on the AC, and I decided to board the bus. I got in at around 2305. Most seats were taken by now, and very little passengers were remaining to board. The conductor had left one bottle of water (500ml, of a brand Cool) and a blanket on every seat. The driver prepared himself for the departure. The conductor made a final call, and every body was finally inside the bus. She - the conductor - came around for a head count and shouted "right" from inside. I heard the gear lever being pushed into Reverse, and the bus slowly moved backwards. We moved out of CMBT at 2320 - delayed by 10 minutes.

The bus was same as the one that brought me to Chennai - KA01-F-8259. Coincidentally, the driver too was the same guy who brought the bus the previous day. The bus soon crawled out of Koyambedu and entered the highway. The AC was already chilling the bus to a good extent, and I dozed off even before the bus covered 10 kms on the highway. I remember awaking slightly at night, but don't remember taking a break anywhere. The bus stopped at some place some time around 0300 - but the break was not longer than 3-4 minutes. I slept off again, only to wake as the conductor announced the arrival of Electronic City.

We reached Bommanahalli at 0437 - just 5 hours and 17 minutes after we started from Chennai. I got a rickshaw, and headed home. I hit the bed straightaway, and finished the rest of my sleep... ending a marvellous marathon run on KSRTC Volvos. Hold on... another similar marathon is coming up next week too.... stay tuned. Some more tit-bits from the Chennai trip are yet to come!

Monday, June 08, 2009

A whirlwind trip to Chennai.... Part-1

I had to head to Chennai on a personal requirement over the weekend. I did the ticketing a while after I landed in Bangalore after the B9R journey from Thrissur. I did think about a lot of options before ticketing - including a couple of private operators - but decided to stick with the tried and tested operator - KSRTC. The icing on the cake would be the fact that I would be getting on to a KSRTC Volvo after good 6 months! My last KSRTC Volvo journey was an amazing journey from Coimbatore to Bangalore.

The KSRTC Online booking portal was behaving wierd during my attempts to book. The process never went even up payment, for long 30 minutes. Finally, on my fifth attempt, the payment gateway appeared and the booking finally went through. I got a ticket on the 1400 departure from KBS, and my favorite seat - Seat #4. This seat is diagonally behind the driver, with a commanding view on the dashboard. Now, I headed for the return reservation. I had a look on the return buses even before I booked my onward ticket, and had noticed that most buses had some 25-30 seats remaining.

I took my own sweet time to start my return booking. I got shocked when I noticed that the availability had dropped to 5 in most buses! In all cases, only the last row was remaining. I had a mad rush through all buses to find if any of them had a seat elsewhere other than the rear row - and landed up on the 2310 bus, which is via Hosur. This bus had quite a few seats. Finally selected Seat #29, and confirmed the booking. I noticed a difference of Rs. 100 in the onward and return tickets. I then realised the goof up of not making a two-way booking, which would have saved some money :(

Saturday dawned finally... I left home at around 1230. My brother dropped me at Shantinagar Bus Station. I then got into a KBS bound Volvo bus from there - at around 1315. I was slightly worried since my departure was only 45 minutes away, and Bangalore's traffic is unpredictable. The driver of my bus was least interested in driving fast, and stuck mostly to the left lane. We got held up at the Richmond Fly-over signal for a pretty long time, and by the time the bus moved from there, it was 1335. The driver continued his slow run, and we got held up at all traffic signals. Finally, the bus was near State Bank of Mysore signal by about 1345. The traffic ahead was moving too slow, and I could feel my heart beating at a frantic pace. The red coloured bus (my Volvo) finally pulled into the bus station at 1350. I just jumped out of the bus, and ran towards the long-distance section of KBS. I reached the bus station at 1353, and saw my bus standing at the platform. Quickly picked up a bottle of cold drink and ran towards the bus.

The conductor, a lady, was standing outside with the reservation chart. She quickly checked my ticket and I got into the bus. The bus was about 50% empty now. The conductor shouted out aloud, and managed to get in a couple of unreserved passengers. The clocked ticked slowly to 1400. However, there was no sign of the bus moving. Finally, got to know from the conductor that they were waiting for some reserved passengers, who were yet to reach. The wait continued till 1415, while the conductor continued selling unreserved tickets.

The conductor signalled the driver to start at 1418. Two reserved passengers were yet to join. The driver slotted the bus into the first gear, and the 260hp, 7-litre engine mounted at the rear slowly pushed the bus ahead. The bus, KA-01-F-8259, was an early Mark-III bus. This one did not have the new CRDi engine, and therefore had the old styled dashboard.

The dashboard of my bus... check here for a detailed look at it...

The conductor went out to the controller, while the driver slowly inched the bus ahead. Two passengers came running towards the bus and the driver stopped for them, and asked if they had reservation. They said yes, to which the driver gave a wicked smile. The conductor came in, and the bus finally pulled out at 1420, delayed by a whole 20 minutes. The conductor went to the late joinees, and gave a mouthful for delaying other passengers by a whole 20 minutes. They were apologetic. The bus crawled out of the bus station, and then headed towards Hudson Circle. The conductor listed out passengers who were to join at different pick up points ahead, and she found that there were passengers to board at each of the boarding point.

One off-duty staff member was traveling in the bus, and the conductor was cursing the online booking system for the proliferation of so many pick-up points. She was saying that so many pick-up ultimately end up wasting more time - a fact that I agree with her. We were now crawling towards Shantinagar, the second pick up point. The pick-up at Shantinagar was introducted when the buses operated by TNSETC was shifted to Shantinagar. We reached there at 1441. Some four reserved passengers, and about 3 unreserved passengers got in here. The conductor quickly got her timesheet signed, and we started our onward journey at 1445.

One passenger, who wasn't reserved, created a scene inside the bus on not getting a good scene, and demanded that he be allowed another seat, which according to him was empty. The conductor politely said that he could either be happy with what he got - since the other seats were reserved - or get off the bus. The passenger chose to remain silent. The bus was now crawling past Wilson Garden police station. The traffic, as usual, was slow moving. This was my first experience on that particular road on a Volvo B7R. I have zipped through that road umpteen times on a BMTC Volvo.

The turn near Lakkasandra - the point where the road from Wilson Garden, 12th cross, joins Marigowda Road - was chaotic as usual. The turn took a real long time. Once we were on Marigowda road, the driver quickly picked speed, and we were soon on the Dairy Circle flyover. We slowed down to the bus stop near KMF (Bangalore Dairy), where the bus has a pick up point. We stopped at 1458 and left at 1500 - three passengers joined the bus here. The traffic ahead was typical of Bangalore - slow moving, and indisciplined to the core. The driver never required to go ahead of the third gear anywhere till we crossed Bommanahalli. It rained slightly as we crossed Bommanahalli.

The driver maintained about 80kmph after we crossed Bommanahalli. The road around Electronic city was in a bad shape. We stopped for a pick-up right outside Electronic City Depot of BMTC. We stopped at 1530 and left at 1532. We were now 42 minutes behind the scheduled time. The run from Electronic City to the state border was painfully slow, owing to bad roads at most stretches of road. The driver let the beast free after we crossed over into Tamilnadu. By now, all the 45 seats in the bus were taken. The driver maintained a steady pace through the journey, and he never exceeded 90~95kmph anywhere along the route.

My bus at the place where we stopped for a break....

We pulled over for a break about 11 kilometres before Krishnagiri. The place basically consisted of a pretty big parking lot, one restaurant and about 5 other stall selling books, cold drinks, light snacks and hot beverages. There was one pay-to-use toilet at one end of the parking ground. The break lasted 23 minutes - from 1640 to 1703. I had some yummy Vegetable puffs from a bakery there, punctuated with some amazing rice murukku.

Once back on the highway, the driver was back to his 90kmph show. Overall, I was really impressed by his driving style. He maintained speeds between 80~95 kmph through the run, never made a rash overtake and ensured that he gave way to vehicles that were faster than him. He was frustrated at some drivers driving in a very rash manner, and we did witness some near accidents involving motorbikes.

The driver enjoying the run...

There were about 5 Toll-plazas on the way, and at each point, the driver gave an average of Rs. 150 (for a two-way journey). So, that is about Rs. 750 in road user fee for a two-way journey of the bus. We were closely tracing a railway track a while after we entered the Krishnagiri-Chennai stretch of NH46. There were quite a lot of Maharashtra registered vehicles of this part of the road. The road had slightly lighter traffic now, compared to NH7. The bus stopped near a flyover, that by-passes Vellore, for dropping a couple of passengers. About three passengers got off, and we continued the run ahead.

The bus stopped for yet another break a while after Vellore. The restaurant was serving some hot and crisp raw banana bhajjis. Passengers used this opportunity to stretch their legs a bit and also for a leak. I downed some hot bhajjis, and washed them down with a cold sip of cola. The run after the break was eventless. A bollywood movie was being played inside, and I concentrated more on the movie than on the road. There were quite some traffic junctions on the way. The bus stopped at Kancheepuram by-pass to drop some more passengers. Some more eventless time later, we crawled down from the highway, on to a road that leads to Koyambedu bus station.

The traffic was slow-moving here, with dozens of private omni buses parked haphazardly along the road, waiting for passengers. Add to this innumerable cars and autorickshaws roaming around to drop passengers. The bus crawled through the traffic and finally took a sharp right turn to enter the service road used by buses to reach the bus station. The bus finally arrived at the final destination at 2115 - early by a full 15 minutes. The actual running time turned out to be 6 hours and 12 minutes, excluding all breaks.

It was then a task for me to find a bus to my destination. The crew sitting at the time-keeper's office of MTC, at Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus (CMBT - at Koyambedu) were least helpful. The lady at the counter said that the bus is gone, when I asked about details of services to Adayar. Finally, a couple of drivers helped me to the spot where my bus would arrive and they provided me with the route number the service. A bus on this route, 23M, arrived at around 2140. I managed to get a seat in the rickety old bus - based at Adayar Depot. The conductor seemed to be doing the job for the same, and gave a grumpy response when I requested him to let me know when my destination - Adayar Depot - arrives.

The bus rolled through places which I have heard of, but never been to. Usman Road, Panagal Park, T Nagar, Guindy, etc passed through. The bus reached Adayar Bus Station, and I got alert. Finally, the bus passed through certain areas, which I had been to in December 2007. I asked a couple of co-passengers, and they said that my destination was next. I went to the conductor, and asked if my destination had arrived - he made a surly yes. I got down from my bus, and called up my cousin, who came and picked me up. Here ends Part-I of my Chennai Trip Report. Stay tuned for the remaining parts to come.....

Friday, June 05, 2009

The B9R finally captured.....

The plan to travel by the B9R was hatched while I was heading to Thrissur from my home in Kodungallur. I was traveling to Thrissur to book my return ticket - and was confused if I should book on the Kerala SRTC or the Karnataka one. It was then that the B9R idea popped up.. I got down near KSRTC bus station, and walked straight towards a Kallada Agent. The office had a huge bannering announcing the introduction of B9R services. 

I book a ticket on the B9R - the agency charged me Rs. 800, and the seat provided was F3. The day arrived. I left home at 1845. I took a bus from Kodungallur at 1950, and the driver dropped me at Thrissur by 2050. The driver did not have to utilise much of his F1 skills, since the road was too empty for heroism. I had a pleasant ride on the bus. Thrissur had more or less closed down by now - most shops had downed their shutter. Just a few shops and a couple of restaurants remained open, catering to many passengers who were arriving at the Bus station. 

I had a short walk around at the KSRTC bus station - but found nothing much interesting. I walked out, straight to the travel agent's office. I reached the office at about 2105. He issued a boarding pass quickly and told me the bus's number. I asked him if the bus was on time - he immediately called up the driver and found out that there could be a 15 minute delay. There were no buses around the time, and quite a few passengers came asking for tickets to Bangalore.

Soon, a Yathra travels bus to Bangalore came in. The bus was more or less full when it came in, and it picked up more passengers from there. At around 2150, my bus came in. There was one Kallada G4 volvo right ahead of my bus. The Brown-and-Gold sleek lady slowly took a short curve and came on to the travel agent's office. Four passengers were to join here. The doors were quickly opened and all of us got in to occupy our seats. 

My seat was F3 - an Aisle seat on the left side of the sixth row. I sat down, and turned back only to realise that I was approximately around the middle of the bus. The entertainment system in the bus had a 21 inch LCD monitor, and another drop down monitor just a row behind my seat. The drop down screen was not being used since only half the bus was occupied. A recent release Malayalam movie was being screened - the movie was close to getting over. The 13.8 metre whale started crawling forward at 2205 - 35 minutes past the scheduled departure time. 

The bus crawled past the city centre and continued its way past a city that was by now fast asleep. There was no pick up at their office at Thrissur By-pass. The other Kallada bus (a Volvo operated by Kallada G4) stopped at the place for a pick-up, while we continued a full force run ahead. The movie finished by around 2300 - the monitor was switched off, while the lights were all switched off now. I initially tried sleeping at my seat, but later decided to pick an empty seat at one of the last rows. 

I moved to the last-but-one-row, on to seat K4. This seat was right above the engine, and I could hear ever single grunt from the 9-litre monster sitting right below. The engine churns out a massive 340hp of power at 1900rpm. The engine puts out a stomach churning torque of 1632 Nm at 1200 rpm. The engine showed what it was capable of, every time the driver stepped on to the gas pedal. The engine responds instantaneously, and the bus just jets ahead. The driver did face some difficulties overtaking trucks in Kerala, due to continuous oppposite side traffic. 

The bus made a brief halt at the Kerala Sales Tax Checkpost at the border - the halt also doubled up as a tea break for the driver, and a leak break for passengers. We continued on towards Tamilnadu - the run was slow, with roads in a bad condition across the border. The bus stopped at the Incoming RTO check post - the assistant ran with the papers, got it checked and rushed back. The driver got into form, and we had a brilliant run from here on. The bus rushed past the by-pass junction and entered the by-pass road. 

The halt at the first toll-gate was smooth. The bus came down to the halt, without any jerk inside the bus. We crossed the speed breakers - and all that was felt inside the coach was a small disturbance. The driver crossed the toll gate and we continued out run ahead. The feel inside was as if the bus was crawling, but the distance covered clearly identified that we were cruising at a pretty good speed. About half way through the by-pass road, the driver stopped near another Kallada bus. The bus - a non-AC semi-sleeper bus - had broken down in the middle of no where. The passengers were immediately offered seats in our bus - a very good initiative considering the fact that ours was the top-of-line offering by Kallada. The move, however, is a disgrace to paying passengers - Kallada charges a premium over the normal Volvo. 

The "rescue" meant a detention of about 20 minutes. Quite some luggage from that bus too was dumped into the under-carriage baggage space in our bus. The driver was now back into business. I adjusted my seat slightly, and got into a comfortable position to sleep. I fell asleep instantaneously. The Airconditioners were set to lighter temperatures - it was getting hot inside the coach before the compressor kicked in again. The ride was comfortable - the engine's grunt provided a well needed lullaby to my sleep. I woke up as the bus pulled into a fuel station at Perundurai - on the outskirts of Erode.  

My bus while it stopped for refuelling...

The bus filled up about 230 litres of diesel here, while many passengers emptied their tanks there. There was a sole tea-coffee vendor at the fuel station, who also stocked up some biscuits and buns. Our bus was accompanied by the Yathra bus that left from Thrissur 30 minutes before us, and a Kallada Sleeper bus. The halt was about 15 minutes long. Government operators and some private operators stop at proper motels for break, so that passengers could stretch out a bit while also having some refreshments. The 15 minute break was optimally utilised to snap some pics of the bus. The cleaner came around to check if everybody was in and then signalled the driver to start. We started after the break at 0145. 

The rear profile of the bus.... the break lamps were powered by LED lamps...

The bus ran on the highway for some more distance, before taking a deviation to Bhavani. Private operators operate via Perundurai-Bhavani-Mettur-Dharmapuri, instead of the conventional Perundurai-Sankari-Salem-Omalur-Dharmapuri route of government buses. The former is about 16 kilometers shorter than the latter, and also has lighter traffic. The initial stretch of this route (Bhavani-Mettur) was not very good. The roads were too narrow, and some turns were too tight. I dozed off a while after the bus entered the stretch. When I woke up, we were somewhere near Toppur. The bus had stopped at a way side stall for yet another break. 

I dozed off again as the bus moved out of the stall. The AC was very effective now, and I pulled over the woolen shawl provided by the operator now. I had yet another deep slumber as the bus moved ahead. I woke up as the bus was approaching Hosur. The time was close to 0530 now. I then noticed that my spectacles were missing - I had left it in my shirt's pocket. It perhaps fell down during a sharp roll. I searched around for a while, and found no trace of the spectacle anywhere. The bus crossed Hosur bus station just around 0600. 

The driver picked speed after Hosur. We were flagged down by a sales tax guy at the Karnataka Check post (The Karnataka government office at Attibelle). The bus just slowed down, and was then allowed to proceed. My pursuit for the spectacles continued. We crossed Electronic city, and the bus continued its run towards the city. The bus stopped at Bommanahalli (the place where I usually get down) while I just spotted my spectacles lying right below the seat right behind mine. I was perplexed as to how it landed there... my stop was gone and I decided to continue on to Madiwala in any case. The bus pulled into Madiwala at 0640. Auto drivers swarmed the bus like every time.

The bus after dropping me off at Madiwala...

I took some photos of the bus, and some buses standing around. Then walked straight towards St Johns Hospital bus stop, and got into a bus heading towards my destination. I was finally at home by 0700. The 447-kilometre journey took about 8 hours and 35 minutes - a decent time considering the time we lost at the three breaks that the bus took. Although the premium charged for the service is not justified, the bus is surely the future of road travel in India. The ride is very comfortable and jerks are very much restricted in the bus. One very important - and interesting - feature that I felt was the effectivity of the retarders. Passengers remained at their seats even as the bus braked hard, unlike the B7Rs where the passenger feels a forward pressure.

The Volvo B9R rocks!!!