Monday, August 31, 2009

Garib Yathra: To Bangalore and back... Part-II

As the purpose of my visit to Bangalore comes to a good end, it was time to begin the pursuit for the return ticket. Be it a weekend or a weekday, getting a ticket from Bangalore to Kerala is a task in itself. Fortunately, on three days of the week, a very good alternative is available - in the form of the Yeshwantpur - Kochuveli Garib Rath. With over 1200 AC berths, the train is a real cheap alternative, that one could actually walk into. Over 400 berths were available on this train (#2257) and one was booked quickly. My request for a lower berth went through, and was allotted berth #16 (Lower) in coach G13.

The Garib Rath departs at 2100 from Yeshwantpur, every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. However, a mis-understanding meant that I believed the departure time to be 2130. Accordingly, started from home at around 1900. I was at the wheels, driving a Toyota Innova. Thankfully, the traffic on the road kept flowing, without much hiccups. Driving through Bangalore's traffic during evening hours is a pain in itself, and the pain magnifies as we near Sampige Road and Yeshwantpur. Call it fortunate, I reached Yeshwantpur at around 2030. Instead of entering the station through any of the main entrances, I entered the station through the "Parcel entrance" from the highway, on the Bangalore end of Platform 6.

I had very heavy baggage to lug across, and pulled it through a trolley path. An unknown train was parked on Platform 6. Platform 4 was occupied by the Karnataka Sampark Kranti (which arrived, may be, an hour back). Interestingly, that was my only sighting of a WDP4 on that trip to Bangalore - WDP4 #20040 was parked near the rake. I took a night photograph of the loco. While the camera was in process of clicking the dippy, WDM2 #16566 of Guntakal pulled in to platform 5 with the rake of my Garib Rath. My coach was the 5th coach from the rear end of the train. I loaded my baggage into the coach, and stored them at my berth. Locked up the baggage, and then decided to check the power for my train.

While walking towards the loco, I noticed that the LED signboard on the platform were displaying the departure time of my train as 2100 - instead of 213o that I had assumed it to be. I had a shock-wave across my spine on seeing the departure time - had there been a traffic snarl, I would not have made it to the station in time. I reached the loco, and found a twin-set getting attached to my train. The locos that were to power my train that night was WDM3A #14057 (leading) and WDM3A #18782 (trailing) - both from Gooty. Therefore, my return train too had twin WDM3As to work the 18-coach load.

Twin Gooty WDM3As preparing to start the Kochuveli Garib Rath from Yeshwantpur...

On my way back to the coach, which was the 14th from the loco, I noticed the reservation chart on each coach. On an average, there were about 7 berths vacant in each coach, and one coach - G5 - was almost totally vacant. The occupancy for the train was about 85% on an average. My coach - G13, WACCNH1 08132 - was built by Rail Coach Factory, Kapurthala in December 2008. The coach was well kept and air-conditioners were at their full pace turning the coach into a refrigerated container. My co-passengers had all arrived, and were settled down. I had my dinner well before the train started. We started from Yeshwantpur at 2104 - with a delay of 4 minutes.

The run from Yeshwantpur to Banaswadi is painfully slow, and is better described as a crawl than a run. We reached Banaswadi at 2131, and left at 2134 - a delay of 7 minutes. By now, passengers were preparing to sleep. Catering guys were busy selling dinner at this time - Veg and Egg Dinner were on offer. The train crawled till the moment we crossed Chennasandra By-Pass cabin. Once we crossed the cabin, the LPs let the beast show their worth. We rushed through Hosur at full speed by around 2234. By now my bed was ready, and I decided it was time to sleep. I fell asleep in no time. I woke up at around 0330 - for an unknown reason. I had kept an alarm for 0530, and hence decided to sleep again. I slept till about 0545. We were near Vallathol Nagar when I finally got out of the berth. We made a brief halt at Wadakkanchery.

We left WKI after a three minute halt. We crossed the Thrissur - Kannur Passenger just outside Mulagunnathukavu - WDM3D #11214 of Erode was in charge. We slowed down shortly after Punkunnam. We pulled into Platform 1 of Thrissur, at 0622 - delayed by 7 minutes. I had a tough time hiring a rickshaw to head to the bus station, with all the baggage that I had. After about 5 minutes, got a rickshaw to the bus station. I got a bus within minutes of reaching the bus station - but what followed was yet another painful crawl. I reached home with a couple of minutes to spare for 8, ending a marvellous journey.

The Garib Rath is the best travel option currently to travel between Bangalore and Kerala. It is the fastest train, and the cheapest option. Expecting some more journeys this year, and more reports right here...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Aana Vandi - a new blog for the KSRTC Lovers

KSRTC, or Kerala State Road Transport Corporation is a charming little transport corporation. Though much older than most other state run road transport corporations, KSRTC is a small organisation, that concentrates more on providing basic transport solutions to the weaker sections of the society.

Expressing my love for the corporation, and to disseminate more information on this lesser known company, Here I present another blog for all my beloved patrons. Here comes Aana Vandi. Click here to visit this blog. Do drop in to get more information on KSRTC.

Be aware that the blog is just being put together and hence more information would be added soon. Remember to bookmark the page, you might just require it in the future :)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The First Class experience...

Unfurling a new stage in my life also presented a gigantic challenge – getting some papers from the University of Mumbai as well as my old college. Well, one might as what was the challenge in these. Here is the catch – I was conveyed this need on a Wednesday evening, and the papers had to be in town on Monday. However, the challenges were quickly met and a way to reach Mumbai by Friday morning – by train – was quickly finalised.

At the end of a tiring search for trains and ticket, I left home at around 2030. Getting a bus from my home to the nearest town is another challenge, in itself, especially if the time is past 2000. A bus turned up after about 7 minutes of anxious wait. The bus short-terminated before the scheduled bus terminus – as luck favours, the bus stopped right near the place where I would get my onward connection. The wait for the onward connection was even longer – about 20 minutes. A private bus heading to Parur turned up – a passenger waiting at the bus stop asked if buses to Ernakulam would be turning up anytime soon. I replied in positive.

A couple of home-returning KSRTC buses passed by, as my wait progressed. Two buses heading to Ernakulam turned up one behind the other at 2100. The first guy stopped, while the second went without stopping. The bus had just about 10 passengers. Both the buses – my bus, RT177 of Thrissur depot, and the other, RT87 of Ponnani Depot – made it a point to compete with each other all along the journey. The bus dropped me near Ernakulam Town Railway Station at about 2205. Had a nightwalk from the bus stop to the railway station. Quickly joined the queue at the ticket counter, and asked for a sleeper class ticket to Mangalore – the counter clerk said that was not possible, and issued a second class ticket.

Armed with the ticket power, I headed straight to the platform. Just around this time, WDM3A #14140 of Ernakulam arrived on the main line from Idappalli side with an empty 4-wheeled tanker rake. I desperately wanted to click an image of the loco, but a couple of RPF guys decided to admire the loco at the very moment. I chucked the idea of every pulling out my camera, and headed off in the direction of the starter. Being at the middle of the week meant that the platform was sparsely crowded, much to my happiness. A while later, WDM3A #14081 of Ernakulam pulled into the station with the Trichy bound Tea Garden Express. The only little crowd on the platform went by this train.

A little later, Arakkonam WAP4 #22768 arrived on the other platform with the Chennai Egmore Express. This train takes over 24 hours to reach its destination, taking a circuitous route via Alappuzha, Thiruvananthapuram, and Madurai. A train via the shortest route would reach Chennai in less than 12 hours. The train was heavily crowded, and appeared pretty popular among passengers heading to the capital city (Thiruvananthapuram) and beyond to places in Southern Tamil Nadu. Erode WAP4 #22256 rushed through the main line, towards Idappalli, with the Mangalore-bound Maveli Express in tow – at around 2330. The boards “Thiruvananthapuram <-> Mangalore” on the train worried some passengers waiting for the Malabar express – many were unaware of the existence of Maveli Express. Not much after Maveli went through; an announcement was made about the arrival of Malabar. A headlamp was visible not far away by now – surprisingly, from both sides. Erode WAP4 #22729 crawled through the main line with the Bilaspur-Tirunelveli holiday special, while Erode WAP4 #22665 arrived on the platform line with the Mangalore bound Malabar express.

As soon as the train stopped, the TTE had a busy time – giving out seats in upper classes. I asked for a seat in either of the AC coaches, which was turned down due to non-availability. I asked for First Class – the TTE gave out a surprised look, and said I could take coupe G! The train started from Ernakulam at 2349, delayed by about 4 minutes. Soon after the train started, the TTE came around and collected the fare difference. A receipt was issued, and my name was entered on the reservation chart. The 26-seater coach had about 16 passengers and two RPF guards.

My coach – F1 – was built in 1989 – just three years younger to me. The coach was classified as “WFC”, and was numbered “89876/G”. There was a marking inside my cabin, which said “6 by day 4 by night”. The cabin was dusty and seemed not cleaned for ages. The attendant came around and offered a bed roll – for Rs. 20. We were rushing through Kalamassery by now. The coach had four fans, two lights and one night-lamp. We made our first halt at Aluva – at 0005, early by 7 minutes. The RPF Patrol in my coach were walking around the coach on the platform.

I locked up my cabin, and prepared for a nice sleep. We left Aluva, perfectly on time, at 0015. While I struggled to get some sleep, the train made stops at Angamali (0024/0027), Chalakudi (0041/0044), Irinjalakkuda (0054/0057) and Thrissur (0118/0125). I woke up just as the train was entering Kannur station. We arrived at Kannur, early by 5 minutes, at 0630. I got off from my coach and headed to check out my loco. The loco working my train was Golden Rock WDM2 #16884. On the adjoining platform, WDM2 #16880 of Golden Rock was waiting with a Mangalore bound passenger train. After a couple of snaps of both the locos, I headed back to my coach. On the way, picked up a cup of tea. Just as I finished tea, I purchased a pack of Idli-sambar for breakfast. The clock ticked past 0640, but there were no signs of my train moving.

WDM2 #16884 of Golden Rock after dropping off my train at Mangalore...

The PA system now announced that the Trivandrum bound Parasuram express was arriving on Platform 3. We waited till Parasuram came in, and finally left Kannur at 0656, delayed by a whole 16 minutes. Malabar runs more or less as a Passenger train after Kannur. It stops at almost all stations enroute, barring halt stations. Doubling works in the Kannur-Valapattanam section is currently at a standstill. There appears to be some kind of a land stability issue in this section, which is preventing the railways from commissioning the newly laid tracks. Due to these issues, the section is turning out to be a bottleneck, and is preventing addition of more trains.

We had a halt at Valapattanam, and then continued the run. The journey ahead was eventless, and there is not much to state about. It rained slightly on the way, and I had to pull down the glass shutters for a while. There were plenty of First Class Pass holders on this route, and they made sure each cabin was packed to the brim. The TTE on his part ensured that all who boarded FC coach had a valid ticket or a pass. The train continued its “stop where you request” run, making a halt every 7 kilometres on an average. The next major halt was Payyanur (not counting the 4 other stops between Kannur and Payyanur). A good crowd alighted, and a better crowd got in. We left Payyanur at 0740, delayed by 15 minutes.

The gangway... to the left are passenger cabins..

We crossed the Mangalore-Chennai Egmore express right outside the station. After Payyanur, we stopped at Trikarippur, Cheruvathur, Nileshwar, Kanhangad, Bekal Fort, Kotikulam… Huh! And so on, till we reached Ullal. Ullal was the last halt before our destination. I was expecting my train to halt at Netravati Bridge as well, but that did not happen. We crawled through the bridge and slowly curved towards Mangalore Central station. This was my first day light journey to Mangalore Central station – my earlier sojourns were at night.

We crawled past Netravati “B” cabin, and continued on towards Mangalore. The countryside resembled that of Malabar Kerala. We stopped at the Home signal for about two minutes. I spotted a Krishnarajapuram loco shunting an unknown train at a distance. We were finally let to enter the station. Closer inspection revealed that the Krishnarajapuram loco was shunting the rake of Maveli Express to the coaching yard. We were received on Platform 2. Platform 1 was vacant, #3 was occupied by the rake of Matsyagandha Express that arrived at morning. A very heavy crowd got down from my train at the terminus. I stood confused on my next move for a while, but later headed to Platform 1. I had about two hours to spend at the station – most of which rained down. More on the railfanning experience later…

The coach that I had my first First Class ride on - WFC #89876/G

Before closing, I thoroughly experienced the First Class ride – the legacy of that class is unmatched by any other class on the Indian Railways. My earlier experience on “First” was on Air-conditioned First Class – that is an experience in itself, and one needs to experience it. A journey on the conventional First Class coach is a must for any railfan. There aren’t many First Class coaches around. The only little are nearing the end of their life spans. The privacy offered by a coach that has cabins for passengers is unmatched, and is worth every penny you pay. While it is sad to see a legacy getting closer to extinction, it makes commercial sense to the railways to carry more passengers per coach, than just 26 passengers. The year 2009 has been kind on me till date, with many firsts happening. There are some more firsts waiting to happen – hopefully they are accomplished by the end of this year!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Garib Yathra: To Bangalore and back... Part-I

A journey to Bangalore, from my new base - Kodungallur in Kerala - was on the cards for a long time. Road journey was ruled out at the beginning itself, and the ever overflowing trains were the only option. The only train that could provide seats at the last moment, was the iconic Garib Rath. A decision to head to Bangalore was finalised post noon on Thursday, August 13, 2009. Headed straight to the booking counter a while past evening, to find an absolutely deserted booking office - at Ernakulam North Station. Booking a ticket took just under 5 minutes, compared to over 90 minutes at Thrissur on all occasions.

The Kochuveli - Yeswantpur Garib Rath Express (#2258) is a triweekly train, and runs at obscure timings (departs Kochuveli at 2000 and arrives Yeswantpur at 1130). This train is usually sparsely occupied, and getting tickets is pretty easy. This time too, there were more than 330 seats still vacant - against a total capacity of 1248 seats. (The train has 16 AC Sleeper coaches, each having 78 berths). My request for a Lower berth was declined, and the system allotted an Upper Berth in G8. I reached Ernakulam Town Railway Station at around 2230 (for a 0015 departure). Platform 1 was crowded to the brim (thanks to Friday), while Platform 2 had moderate crowd. I was given a grand welcome to the station by WDP3A #15524 of Golden Rock, that was cruising through the main line with the Nizamuddin bound Rajdhani Express in tow.

A while later, Golden Rock twins, WDM2 #16882 and #17619 rushed through the station towards Idapilli. Just after the twins cleared the station, Itarsi's WAG5 #23345 arrived on the main line from Idapilli with a freshly painted NMG rake. While the NMG rake came to a complete halt on the main line, New Katni Junction's WAG7 #27373 arrived from Ernakulam Marshalling Yard with a single Caboose in tow. A while past 2310, WAP4 #22380 arrived on Platform 2 with the Chennai Egmore bound express from Guruvayur. The platform was totally emptied by this train.

It was soon time for Mangalore bound Malabar to arrive on Platform 1. The crowd waiting for Malabar was just humongous. Malabar arrived at around 2330 with WAP4 #22269 of Erode doing the honours. The entire crowd somehow managed to fit into the train a while after it arrived. There was no sign of Malabar leaving even as the clock ticked past 2345 (its scheduled departure time). The cause of the delay was soon made public - that was to let Maveli overtake this train. Maveli rolled through the main line a while past 2350. Malabar was given the go through at about 0005. Some minutes after Malabar cleared the platform, the PA system came alive, and announced - "Train number two two five eight.. Kochuveli Yeshwantpooor Gareeb Rath express will arrive on Platform number one shortly...".

The headlamps were visible by now, and I had the mammoth task of lugging my baggage to the place where my coach was expected. My coach was expected to be the 10th from the loco. I reached the place, and saw the headlamps coming closer. The loco passed me - was WDM3a #18724R of Pune. Sooner, the second loco too went through - WDM3A #18651 of Pune!!! Yeah!!! We had twin WDM3As, both live as well!!! I was sure we were to have a rocking journey! My coach - G8 - came at the 11th position instead. I got in and checked my berth - was an upper. I decided to check with the TTE if there were empty lower berths anywhere. He quickly allotted me a lower berth in G6, two coaches backwards. I went to my new berth and settled down. We left ERN at 0033, delayed by 13 minutes now.

We overtook the Malabar express at Idapalli and then embarked on a high speed run. It was raining pretty heavily outside, and the sound of rain water lashing on the coaches was audible inside the coach. I dozed off a while later. The coach was chilling cold, and the temperature was forcing people to hire blankets from the attendants. I woke up a while before 0630. The sun was just rising, and one could see the distinct golden rays shining through a very overcast sky. We crossed the Trivandrum bound Sabari Express, and overtook an unknown train at Sankaridurg. The twins were clearly enjoying with the light load behind. By this time (Around 0650), most passengers in my coach had woken up. The Catering guys were busy selling breakfast and hot beverages. After a quick visit to the toilet, I headed towards the loco. Walked all the way to G16 (the coach, second from the loco).

The locos at Salem....

Salem yard had about two freighters, both parked with their loco towards MAS. I jumped out of the coach and headed to the loco for a quick snap and rushed back to G16. By now, the starter had already turned amber. We left Salem at 0725 - about 25 minutes late. I purchased breakfast (Idli and Sambhar) from a vendor on the platform. Surprisingly, the food tasted really good. The train crawled out of the station and we were soon on the main line, heading to Magnesite junction - from where the lines split to Chennai and Bangalore/Mettur Dam. I headed back to my coach, and down the breakfast. We crawled through Omalur and pick up speed soon after we entered SWR territory.

My train at a curve in the Toppur-Dharmapuri Ghat section..

The twins picked speed quickly and we were cruising at around 90kmph in no time. We made a momentary pause at Toppur home signal, and then rushed through the station. Toppur marks the beginning of a ghat section. The section has gradients in the range of 1 in 70. The locos smoked their way up the grade towards Dharmapuri with utmost ease. We crawled through Muttampatti, which had a speed restriction owing to track renewal works. Muttampatti is the second brake test halt for trains that come down the grade. We picked speed after Muttampatti. We halted on the main line at Dharmapuri. The platform was crowded with passengers waiting for the Ernakulam Intercity Express. The day being India's 62th Independence Day, had lots of police personnel roaming around.

Most people in my coach decided to grab the opportunity for a stroll on the platform. The Intercity came after a long wait. The loco in charge of the Intercity was WDM3D #11187 of Erode. We left Dharmapuri at 0907 (after a wait of over 25 minutes). I chose to remain indoors after this crossing. It appeared that most passengers in my coach were regular on the train. Most passengers were attracted to the train by its cost, while many others liked the ease of getting tickets. Whatever be said, the concept surely has been accepted by passengers.

We made yet another halt - this time at Rayakkottai home signal. After about 5 minutes, we were let ahead, and we crossed the Bangalore-Salem passenger here. After this crossing, we had a free run to Bangalore. The train slowed down at Hosur home signal. This evoked some surprise and hope in me. I quickly prepared myself to get down, just in case the train stopped at Hosur. Unfortunately, things were not to be that way. The train picked speed soon after Home, and we rushed through Hosur station at a decent speed. The run was decent till the time we crossed Heelalige. After Heelalige, the train crawled for most of the time till we reached Chennasandra Bypass Cabin. After the cabin, we picked up some speed.

We finally reached Banaswadi at 1123 - delayed by 23 minutes. Most of the crowd alighted here - almost 75% of the passengers in the train. We left Banaswadi at 1126. The train never exceeded 60kmph during the journey from Banaswadi to Yesvantpur. We slowed down further as we neared Hebbal, but never stopped. We slowly crawled to Lotte Gollehalli. The speed dropped even further as were neared Yesvantpur by-pass cabin. The train curved towards the station at painfully slow speeds. The coaching yard was packed with rakes of many trains parked.

Entering Yesvantpur Railway Station...

We were allotted platform #5. The train crawled past more points to reach Platform 5. The catering guys were the first to jump out of the train. They unloaded all that was remaining in the train. The bed-roll guys to were busy pushing out huge bundles of used linen. I walked over the Foot over bridge, and decided to take the exit at the farthest end to Platform 6 instead of the main exit. My earlier attempt to travel by bus from Yesvantpur to Majestic by bus turned out to be a sour adventure and I decided to adopt a different strategy this time. Instead of exiting via Platform 1, I exited straight on to the highway. I managed to get a Volvo this time and had a very comfortable journey to Majestic. Here ends Part-I of the Garib Yathra...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Onam is around the corner!!!

The most celebrated festival in Kerala - Onam is now just 10 days away. Onam, a festival to celebrate paddy harvesting, is believed to be the day when the mythical ruler of Kerala - Mahabali - visits his old subjects. History says it that Mahabali was a very generous king, and his rule had evoked jealousy even among gods. It is said that during Mahabali's rule, there were thieves and the country was at its height of prosperity. Mahabali was banished from the world by Vamanan, and he was given the rights to visit his subjects each year.

Astrologically, Onam is celebrated on the day marked by Thiruvonam star in the Malayalam month of Chingam. The first day of Chingam is also celebrated by some sections as the Malayalam New year. As a sign of welcoming the erstwhile ruler of the land, households would decorate their doorsteps with floral designs, called as Pookkalam, locally. Onam is always on the tenth day from the day marked by Atham star in the Malayalam month of Chingam. Floral Designs are made on all days starting from the Atham day. Today was Atham.

Wishing all Malayalees a very Happy Onam, and a very prosperous year ahead!!!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Poor man's way to travel...

Airconditioned train travel was always away from the reach of most common men in the country, before 2006. The then railway minister, Lalu Prasad Yadav, announced a revolutionary concept, to bring AC travel to the masses. Garib Rath, or Poor man's Chariot, was introduced during the railway budget in 2006. The first Garib Rath in the country was run between Saharsa (in Bihar) and Amritsar (in Punjab). The train was flagged off on October 4, 2006. What was revolutionary in these trains was the fact that the fare was much lower than AC coaches in normal trains.

Garib Rath trains have high-capacity AC coaches (Sleeper and sitting). Sleeper coaches accomodate 78 passengers (compared to 64 in normal AC 3-Tier coaches), while Sitting coaches can take in 108 passengers (compared to 71 in normal AC Chair Car coaches). The increase in number berths (in AC Sleeper coaches) has been achieved by slightly reducing the width of coaches, reducing leg space, and removing space wasted for linen storage and power equipment. The train survives on lower fares by doing away with frills like bed-rolls and also increasing the number of seats. Normal trains subsidise non-AC accomodation by charging much higher fares for AC coaches - Garib Rath coaches do not charge for these subsidies and hence charge much lesser fares.

Garib Rath coaches also have side-middle berths, which have been accomodated by raising the internal height in these coaches. These coaches are powered by Generator cars, which help in making these coaches lighter, and therefore allow then run at higher speeds. The first Garib Rath was painted in the age-old Maroon livery. The second one had a Golden band running across the length of these coaches in addition to the Maroon body colour. The third rake onwards, had an eye-catching Gold on Olive livery.

A Garib Rath rushing off to its destination...

The first Garib Rath in Kerala came in February 2008 - in the form of the Kochuveli-Lokmanya Tilak Terminus Garib Rath. This train also became the second-fastest train connecting Mumbai to Kerala. Excellent timings and the right days of run made the train a run-away hit among passengers. The second Garib Rath to Kerala came in February this year - running between Kochuveli and Yeshwantpur (in Bangalore). This train was initially born as a special train between the two cities, running for about three months. Notwithstanding wrong days of run and bad timings, this train is now on the verge of becoming a hot hit among passengers.

Garib Rath trains soon earned a new name in Kerala - Garibi Rath - or the Chariot of Poverty. The number of passengers using these trains for intra-state travel is on the rise - low cost AC coaches has its takers for sure! There are a couple of write-ups about some Garib Rath journeys coming up soon... stay tuned... In the mean time, you should have a look at this album to catch some glimpses of the interiors of this revolutionary concept.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

On a quick trip to Bangalore

Ever since I quit my job in June this year, I had been on my toes traveling to different parts of the country (on various reasons). After about being in the air for about two months, my new base has now been fixed. I have relocated to Kerala (my very own hometown, in Kodungallur) effective this August. As part of the shifting process, I returned to Bangalore.

I reached Bangalore on Independence Day (August 15, 2009) afternoon, and would return today night. I arrived by 2258 Garib Rath, and returning by its pair - 2257 Garib Rath Express. During my stay in Bangalore, did some railfanning and some busfanning. (Expect to put up some reports in the coming days).

The city welcomed with its trademark cold climate, a welcome change from the furnace that Kerala was over the past weeks (thanks to the failed monsoon). I now hope to have a blast in Kerala. More reports as I reach back at home (tomorrow morning).

Friday, August 14, 2009

The First let down...

Breakdowns are not a rarity on state run transport corporations. In most cases, the tyre is to be blamed, while in some cases it could be the engine. However, Kerala SRTC has never ever let me down, and not a single time has my bus broken down. Things were all set to be different yesterday. I and my dad were heading to Ernakulam yesterday morning, and we were on board an old model bus. The bus (TP373 of Guruvayur depot) was all fine when it started from Kodungallur. I got my favorite seat up-front, near the driver.

All fine, as we started from Parur depot. The bus was crowded to the maximum now, and there was no space for new passengers. However, that being at peak hours (the time was sometime around 0745 now), there were lots of passengers at each stop. I could hear some rattling from the rear axle all the time, and felt it was something normal with the bus. We rattle picked up strength every time the bus went above 40kmph, and gets pronounced as he approaches 60kmph. The driver did not notice anything amiss, and he continued his typical KSRTC driving style.

At one place, the bus had to get off the road to avoid getting hit by an oncoming vehicle. He pulled back onto the road, when the conductor signalled him to stop. The conductor got down from the bus, and called the driver to check the rear axle. I now guessed what was in store for me. Soon the conductor announced that the bus wouldn't go ahead and asked everybody to get down. That was my first ever breakdown experienced on a KSRTC bus. My bus now had close to double its carrying capacity (of 48 passengers). Right behind my bus was another bus to Ernakulam. Close to 5 passengers were sent on that bus. Right behind this was the next rescue bus - about 40 passengers were sent on that bus.

We (I and my dad) along with about 10 more were now waiting for the third rescuer. In the meantime, the conductor called up their depot and passed on the message. The third bus - TS837 of Parur depot - now arrived. The bus had enough space to accommodate us, and finally we headed off to our destination. Luckily, the breakdown was on a route that sees a KSRTC bus, every 7~10 minutes on an average. The incident happening at peak hours also meant we had buses running much closer to each other. However, this single incident would not mar the image of KSRTC for me... this corporation is all set to be my basic mode of transportation for the next two years now! (More on that later)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A very quick trip to Mumbai

Wednesday (August 05, 2009) presented a new demand to me - a visit to Mumbai. A huge list of works to be done in Mumbai - the fact that I had to be back in Kerala on Monday meant that this was no simple job to be done. The time was already past 1700 hours. Most of the direct trains to Mumbai had already departed by then, and the only remaining one already had closed reservations. Now began the hunt for alternate connections - the deadline of reaching back on Monday was making things difficult, given the fact that all I had was one day - Friday (Satuday, being the second one this month, was a holiday).

Matsyagandha Express (that runs between Mangalore and Lokmanya Tilak Terminus) was quickly zeroed in, and it had plenty of seats. I made a reservation quickly, without thinking how would I reach there. Now the hunt for trains to reach Mangalore began - those trains too had closed reservations. Road journey was completely ruled out - for the lack of proper connections. Finally, I decided to take a risk - to travel unreserved. Finally, left home at around 2030.

The final route plan to reach Mumbai was:
By Bus from Home to Ernakulam Town Railway Station. Train 6629 (Malabar Express) from there to Mangalore. Then, Train 2620 (Matsyagandha Express) from Mangalore to Panvel and finally an EMU from Panvel to Vashi (where I would be staying). Malabar Express was chosen over 6347 Trivandrum-Mangalore Express just to rule out being stranded at Ernakulam for non-availability of seats on 6347.

I had a very very tiring day in Mumbai, almost completely on my toes until about 1700 at evening. Now, plans for the return journey were being charted out. I called up my brother to find out ticket availability for that night, and finally managed at Tatkal ticket on 1013 Lokmanya Tilak Terminus - Coimbatore Express. Reached Coimbatore on Sunday morning, and then took a bus to Palakkad. From Palakkad, took yet another bus to reach Thrissur, and then a third bus to reach home.

Very detailed reports from the journey is expected to be posted in the days to come...

Sunday, August 02, 2009

A rainsoaked journey...

Monsoons is sometimes the best season for a journey - but it often is not. Kerala's State Transport buses are often praised - and very often cursed - for using shutters for windows instead of sliding glass windows that are now a norm in most states. The shutters, made of rexine and metal bits, allow uninterrupted flow of air, when they are opened. However, during a rain, a shutter can be a torture.

In one of my earlier posts, I remember having praised KSRTC for its decision to retain the shutters (a statement, that I often regret making). On a very recent journey (which would form the nucleus of this post), I almost continuously cursed the shutter - the reason: it rained almost continuously for most of my 4 hour journey. The end-result was that we were sitting in a metal box that was closed from all sides. No light inside the cabin - other than for the coach lighting - and no possibility of knowing what was happening outside.

Coming to the journey, It so happened one evening that I had head to Coimbatore the next morning. The intention was to reach there at the earliest, but not later than 1 pm (1300 hours IST). I was accompanied by my dad on the journey. The night, prior to the journey, was spent almost sleepless. The bus that we had to board would depart at 0700 from the KSRTC bus station at Thrissur. This bus station was about 35kms from my home, and we had to leave home latest by 0530 to ensure that we were at the bus station with sufficient time to spare.

We started from home with about 7 minutes to go for 0530 (that is at 0523). It was drizzling slightly, but not hard enough to open an umbrella. The countryside was still silent, except for a bus growling at the top of its voice, preparing for its long day ahead. A casual enquiry with the conductor of that bus revealed that the first bus would be passing the nearest bus stop at around 0535~0540. The bus - I should rather call it a Midi Bus - arrived at 0550. I was slightly tensed due to the delayed departure. The vehicle was based on a Tata 407 chassis, and hence could seat not more than some 20 passengers. All seats were taken. The smaller bus also meant it was slightly unstable at higher speeds.

At the end of the 55 minute ride, the bus stopped near the KSRTC bus station. It was raining slightly, and had to make a dash to the bus station (for two reasons: one - the typical mentality to avoid the umbrella getting wet; two - to make it on time for the 0700 bus). On reaching the bus station, I noticed that the bus was standing ready to depart. Most seats were taken, and we managed a couple of window seats at the rear of the vehicle. Just as we settled, I noticed another bus parked near my bus. That too was heading to Coimbatore. We decided to change buses, and jumped into that. Thankfully, that bus departed before the other.

That bus - RAC501 of Trivandrum Central Depot - was working a Trivandrum-Coimbatore Super Fast Schedule. The bus was pretty new (just 3 months old), and the engine was super silent. The ride was really good, and the seats were too good (in terms of leg space). Rain was still continuing, and about 5 minutes into the ride, the passengers sitting behind me objected to keeping the windows open. I did overcome their pressure for some time, but later the rain increased and I had to shut it down. The ride was getting boring and I chose to catch up with some sleep. As fate would have it, the bus entered a rough patch of road and all hopes of even sitting calm were dashed.

The bus that 'transported' me to Coimbatore, during the Breakfast break at Palakkad

The rain dried up, and I opened the window. The rest of the journey was average - with a 30 minute halt at Palakkad for breakfast. The skies were overcast, and roads were wet - with intermittent showers - punctuated the rest of the journey. The bus finally dropped me off at Ukkadam Bus Station - a suburb of Coimbatore - at around 0955. The journey took exactly three hours to complete. The rest of the day was busy, with us roaming around the city.

We reached back at the bus station at 1445. There was one good looking Super Express bus waiting to depart. Both me and my dad wanted to travel by that - but unfortunately no seats were available. Better sense prevailed, and we decided to take the later Super Fast bus. The next bus in line was RRC842 heading to Kottayam, departing at 1530. There were frequent Fast Passenger buses towards Palakkad. Reservation coupons were being issued at a counter.

The bus that brought me back to Thrissur... being prepared for departure from Coimbatore...

We got two of them, and got into the bus. Being a Friday, there was heavy rush for each bus departing from the bus station. A board inside the bus proclaimed that it would reach Thrissur at 1815 - just two hours and 45 minutes from Coimbatore. The bus did depart exactly on time from Coimbatore. But, what happened was a replay of my journey between the same pair of towns back in July 2003. Very heavy rain through the journey, taking much longer than the actual running time.

Just after departure from the bus station, I understood that the driver was on the route for the very first time. He was not sure of where to take a turn, and an off-duty driver traveling in the bus (interestingly, that was the very guy who drove my bus to Coimbatore) was his saviour guiding him through the journey. The bus was crowded by the time we left City limits. The journey was eventless till we crossed over into Kerala. Hardly 100 metres in the Kerala, the skies opened up and the rain lashed mercilessly on the road. Visibility was poor, and I could feel the driver's desperation.

On a rain-soaked KSRTC journey... Image is only representational; not from the journey being described...

To add to his agony, the wiper broke down about 70 minutes into the journey. The wiper blade just broke off the arm and flew away while it was working. The driver just switched off the wiper and continued driving, albeit at a slow speed. The rain still continued incessantly. We had a long halt at Palakkad to facilitate repairs. A guy came around and installed a new wiper arm. We left Palakkad well past 1740 - delayed by about an hour now.

The crowd inside the bus just increased, and so was the rain. The rain continued with even more vigour. Although the wiper was repaired, bad condition of the roads now added salt to the injury (of being delayed). The driver maintained speeds in the range of 65-70kmph through the run. Everything went normal till we reached the foothills of a small ghat section of the route - called Kuthiranmala. The approach to the ghat is around a curve. The road takes a right curve, then a left curve, then a bridge and finally a sharp right curve, which is on an up-gradient. The bridge is just wide enough to let two heavy vehicles cross each other (see this place on Google Maps, here).

Just as my bus finished crossing about 75% of the bridge, a huge multi-axle tractor-trailer hauling a vehicle carrying container (see here) decided it was time for him too to enter the bridge. The length of his vehicle meant he couldn't take a sharp turn. Traffic piled up behind my bus, making it impossible for the driver to reverse. The truck driver seemed very inexperienced - by the way he decided to enter the bridge irrespective of the traffic on the bridge. The entire circus ended up in wasting 15 minutes on the bridge. The end result was huge traffic pile ups on both sides of the bridge.

It got dark by now, and the continuing rain meant that the journey was getting boring by the second. The shutter can only be either completely opened or completely closed. There is no provision to keep it half open. As the seconds passed, I kept cursing the designers for making it a blind journey for all passengers. Although sliding glasses would not allow the kind of airy journeys that the current designs permit, they would at least allow passengers have a clear vision of what is happening outside.

After a long agonising journey, the bus slowly entered Thrissur town. We got down outside Sakthan Thampuran Nagar Bus Station - a municipal corporation run bus station, from where buses towards my hometown are operated. We reached Thrissur only at 1930 - an hour and 15 minutes past the scheduled arrival time! What followed was a nerve-wracking ordeal on a Priva bus, with the driver trying to compete on an F1 championship. We got down from the bus, even as the rain continued... Finally reached home a while past 2030, ending a truly rain-soaked journey.