Thursday, December 31, 2009

The year.. that was...

Finally, another glorious year comes to a close. A truly eventful year - much more than all the years in my life. In the 3 years and 17 days since this blog was started, my life has been through a variety of phases, twists and turns. A quick recap of what happened in the last 365 days...

Following the foot steps of 2008, 2009 too had three things in common:
  1. Another base shift : Shifted base from Bangalore, to my home town, Kodungallur, in Thrissur district of Kerala.
  2. Too little railfanning
  3. Lots of bus fanning :)
I shifted my base from Bangalore to Kerala in June this year (in 2008, the event happened in April).

Unlike last year, I spent January 01 of 2009 sitting at home. The two years prior to 2009 saw me railfanning in the first week of January.

I quit my job this year, and got back to my studies. I joined Amrita School of Pharmacy, under Amrita Vishwavidyapeetham Deemed University, at Kochi, Kerala - to do my Masters in Pharmacy.

My love with Kerala's own KSRTC grew in leaps and bounds - to a level that I am now a daily commuter in my own aana (Elephant - KSRTC buses are often called so due to the presence of two elephants on its logo).

From a Railfan's point: This year had a huge share of 'firsts' - this includes my first journey on a Shatabdi Express, a Jan Shatabdi, first ever spottings of WAG9, WAP7, WAP5 and WDP1 and a journey up north to Chandigarh.

From a Busfan's point of view: First ever journey on a Volvo B9R - the longest bus currently in India.

Above all, I am now in a place where I belong to - my Hometown. Kodungallur is a small town located at the southern end of Thrissur District, in Kerala. The town has a huge historical prominence, and was referred by different names including Muchiripattanam, Muziripatnam, and so on. The town boasts of the country's first - and the world's second - mosque: The Cheraman Perumal Juma Masjid. Staying in Kerala has been an experience of sorts - what makes life easy here is the ease of communication - no language beats the convenience of communicating in one's mother tongue. I'm lovin Kerala to no end (more on this love later)...

To conclude, its been a great year, and with all hopes that the next year would be even better....

Wishing everyone a very prosperous and fun-filled year ahead!
Happy New Year 2010!!!
With lots of wishes that all your wishes come true in life... but, remember that better things in life happen only with hardwork.

My India! My Pride!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The 'Grande' ride...

Here comes a 'Grande' new ride... the all new Fiat Grande Punto 1.3. Buying a car was on the cards for a pretty long time now - a long list of Hatches were perused, and the competition was tough. On the list of considered cars were: Maruti Suzuki Swift, Maruti Suzuki Ritz, Hyundai i20 CRDi and Fiat Grande Punto 1.3. The first one was eliminated owing to waiting period, while the second was eliminated for lack of features. The competition between the last two was tight. The i20 was ruled out due to the high price tag - and finally, it was the Grande Punto.

The "Punto" badge..

Fiat Grande Punto is the world wide successor to the Fiat Uno. Punto was launched in 1993. The current version of the Fiat Punto (called as Grande Punto) was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2005. The Grande Punto was styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro. This car is based on the SCCS platform developed jointly by Fiat and GM in 2002. Fiat Punto - and its Sedan version, Fiat Linea - were premiered at the Auto Expo at Delhi in January 2008. The Punto was finally launched in June 2009. Both the offerings from Fiat are manufactured at the Tata-Fiat Joint venture at Ranjangaon, near Pune.

The Grande Punto is offered in India in four major variants - Active, Dynamic, Emotion and Emotion Pack. There are two fuel options - Petrol and Diesel. The Petrol versions are powered either by the 1.2 litre FIRE engine or the 1.4 litre FIRE engine. The Diesel version is powered by the now famous 1.3 litre Multijet engine. This diesel engine is currently used by Maruti Suzuki for the Swift, Swift Dzire and Ritz, while TATA uses this engine for their Indica Vista and Indigo Manza. Reputed for high fuel efficiency, this engine is dubbed as the National Engine by auto enthusiasts.

Finalising the Punto was not an easy task - the car was initially out-of-race due to the bad reputation TATA dealers have build up in the country. However, we decided to give the car a chance - honestly, we never planned to even buy it. We first checked the car at Concorde Motors at Dairy Circle, Bangalore. The car swept us off our feet by its looks. We were interested in a test drive - but, Alas! There was no salesman to even attend us! We were completely dejected by the dealer attitude, and the car was once again out of race.

The next time, we tried a dealer in Kerala - RF Motors, Kochi. This experience was pleasant - a test drive was offered immediately (on a Sunday!) and we finalised the car at the showroom itself. The variant was decided on the basis of stock availability - of the colour of our choice. We chose Minimal Grey (Silver) and the Emotion variant of this colour was available. The executive now gave a block - we had to handle the registration ourself. This made us consider Hyson Motors at Kodungallur. This guy too had the car ready in stock, and was ready to deliver the car in 24 hours!

The car being delivered... at Hyson Motors, Thrissur.

The dealer was finalised. Me and my dad made a visit to their stockyard to check if the car was allright. Once we gave a go ahead, complete payment was made and the car was taken to the RTO for temporary registration. Finally, the beauty was delivered on Wednesday.

The car, this morning... all set to seek divine blessings...

This was perhaps the quickest car purchase we ever made. Our earlier purchases took anywhere between one to two months.

The beauty seeking divine blessings...

Hyson Motors - Thrissur (and, their branch at Kodungallur) were cordial to the core. It was really a pleasant experience dealing with them. There were some glitches during delivery, but the process went on as scheduled. The car was delivered to us in clear condition. Hyson is surely recommended to all people interested in getting a Fiat car in Thrissur area... Now, looking forward to have some amazing drives on this head-turner... we did turn a few heads last night ;)
And, Finally... she's all set to drive me around....

Monday, December 21, 2009

Seeing two ends of customer service - all in an hour...

Keralites would remember a recent TV Commercial made by a reputed jewellery retail chain in Kerala, depicting a "salesman training center", and the instructor teaching the tricks of the trade. As a buyer, my focus always is on the level of customer service - the attitude of the sales team. Yesterday was one day, that showed me two ends of the service spectrum, and all in an hour. And what swept me off my feet was the fact that I got the best from the place that was expected to be the worst, and the worst service was doled out by a supposedly customer friendly place.

To the good one first: This was a car dealership in Cochin, Kerala - This particular dealer is reported among the notorious ones, and also listed among the customer unfriendly ones by a reputed automobile community. We made a visit to the dealership only because this turned out to be the only dealer open on Sunday (by chance, the shop normally remains closed on Sundays). Memories afresh of a previous visit to a dealer selling the same brand, we walked into the showroom expecting no body to attend us. Completely unexpected, an executive walked to us, and was ready to explain all features of the car we were looking at. He got us the price list, brochures and all relevant details. Our request for a test drive was quickly attended to, and the Test car was ready in about 5 minutes! He let us have a long ride and gave us lots of information on the car. This service attitude swept me off my feet, and the car was finalised on the spot! (More details on this later).

The bad one: The next visit was to a very reputed electronic goods retail chain. The shop was opened only recently, with much hype. We were shopping for quite some goods - sadly, not a single salesman turns up. Forget explaining about the product, not a damn soul was interested to know if we wanted to get something. While we had plans to purchase three products, we wound up after the first selection itself. The billing was in mess, and it took over 15 minutes for us to get a bill, and the delivery process took forever. The customer was directly directed to the warehouse and it was upto the customer to go get the product. The salesman cared a damn about even being with the customer till the product went outside their gate.

In complete contrast, we walked into another showroom to continue our shopping - the sales team here was completely customer-friendly, and they ensured that we did not have to walk around places to get things done. The product was completely explained, the billing was handled by the salesman himself, and finally he got the product from their warehouse and kept it into the car's boot.

I would recommend even my enemy to avoid the first showroom, and would recommend the second to anyone who asks me for a suggestion. Kerala - for some reason - is never customer friendly. People are taken for granted, and "we don't care for anything" attitude of sales people is sure to take us down.

Names of the showroom have been deliberately omitted from the post.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The KSRTC Garuda... after long...

After a very thrilling trip to Bangalore, and an even thrilling road trip to Mumbai, it was time to head back home in Kerala. I had contracted Viral Fever during my stay and was still on drugs on the day of my journey (rather, i made a visit to the Doctor just that morning). Despite the fever, my plans to return home on the Kerala State RTC Volvo - which is called Garuda - was to go ahead (and this is despite strong reactions from home).

On the particular day, my brother offered to drop me at Corporation Circle. Now KSRTC buses operate from the Mysore Road Satellite bus station and hence boarding from the origin is a damn pain. Although they offer boarding at Madiwala, I opted to join the bus right from the starting point. We started off from home, only to get stuck in heavy traffic blocks on each route we took. We had to change our course thrice to beat the traffic, and finally got into one that was less crowded - albeit longer in distance.

I was dropped at Corporation Circle exactly at 1600. Much to my happiness a bus working G-6 was waiting at the bus stop. This bus heads to Kengeri Satellite Town via the satellite bus station. I got into the bus - which had just about 4 passenger then, and took a good seat on the left side. The bus showed no signs of movement till 1605 - I was slightly tense. I decided that I'd dump the bus and take a rick if the bus did not move till 1610. But lo! At 1609 the engine roars to life, and dot at 1610, the conductor shouts "Rightsssss"... The bus slowly inches forward. We were too lucky that all signals till KR market turned green exactly at the moment we reached there.

The bus waited at KR Market for some agonising moments, and then continued its journey - only to crawl around Chamrajpet. After some more painful moments, we were on Mysore road. But - the traffic was at a standstill here! The bus driver, however, managed to keep finding spaces and kept pushing through. After some damn tensing moments, the bus almost reached the bus station. BUT! Dash-Clang! A KSRTC bus driver banged on to the rear glass of my bus - the glass cracked pretty badly and our driver had no option but to park the bus on the road side. And, I had no option but to get on to the road and run!

The Big10 bus that brought me almost upto Satellite bus station...

The time was already 1650, and my bus would leave at 1700. Kerala SRTC is always known for their punctuality, and I did not want to take a risk. I saw some quite interesting buses on my way - but there was no time to pick my camera! My bus was still there - the time was 1655. I got into the bus, the conductor checked my ticket. I got off the bus, and ran straight to the washroom. I got back to the bus exactly at 1658. By now, the conductor was counting if everyone was inside the bus - and if people were occupying the correct seats. The driver was all set to back the bus out of the parking, and to head on to the roads.

Exactly at 1700, the gear was slotted to reverse, and the 16-tonne whale slowly moved backwards. The driver working my bus on the day was the same guy who worked my first ever trip on a Kerala RTC Volvo. I had experienced his caliber once, and was looking forward to another show of his excellence. We slowly crawled out of the bus station. However, the bus appeared to resist the climb. We entered Mysore road (towards Bangalore) and the crawl began. It took 20 minutes for us to reach Gopalan mall from the bus station - that is just a couple of kilometres! We slowly inched towards the flyover - but instead of going up, the driver went below. That was the beginning of another crawl. Three traffic signals, and lots of traffic was in store for us.

We crawled through Chamrajpet, then to JC road, and finally to Lalbagh. I somehow felt that the route through the flyover would have been faster. The crawl was even slower from Lalbagh. The crawl continued all the way to St John's hospital signal. We were finally at Madivala at 1820 - that is a solid 80 minutes to cover just 12 kilometres. Some four passengers joined us at Madivala. The crawl continued after Madiwala. The driver made yet another wrong move at Bommanahalli - instead of take the service road on the left, he continued on the main road - which remains blocked during evening hours with vehicles waiting to take a right turn.

The bus kind of eased up after Bommanahalli. We picked up speed pretty quickly and kept doing a pretty good speed all the way. There were some deviations on the way, and some slowdowns owing to them. The bus suddenly screeched to a halt, and pulled over to the left side, some where after Chandapura, but before Attibelle. The conductor was talking to someone in a slightly heated tone. The bus showed no signs of movement even 5 minutes after the halt - i spoke to the driver to find what was wrong. He responded - a reserved passenger was left behind near Electronic City. The said person had booked a ticket with boarding point at Madiwala - he later called up the conductor and requested for change of boarding point to Electronic City. This was immediately agreed to, but on the condition that the passenger had to be waiting on the road and flag down the bus.

The driver saw none of these, and kept going. The passenger called up when he did not see the bus - but a whole 30 minutes after the promised arrival time at his stop! The driver agreed to wait, but asked the passenger to rush. The guy came in at 1920 - after 15 agonising minutes of wait for the rest 35 passengers in the bus. The driver asked everyone to rush in, and he quickly started off. The conductor came around to the seat, and gave his mindful to the passenger. Meanwhile, our journey continued. The AV system was playing some malayalam flick, but the disc was getting stuck pretty often.

I was tired of seeing the movie getting stuck, and decided to doze off for a while. Oh! I forgot this - I had packed dinner from home, and downed the food whilst the bus was waiting for that passenger chasing our bus. I couldn't sleep since the movie was still blaring. We made a brief halt outside Hosur bus station, around 1940. Nobody boarded from here. I slept immediately after we started from Hosur. I had a straight sleep, and woke up just as the bus pulled in for dinner break. The time was 2125 now - and the place was Thoppur. I got off the bus and walked around to click a couple of pics.

My bus - RA100 - during the dinner break at Thoppur...

I downed a cup of tea and purchased a bottle of water too. The bottle I had taken from home was already empty. The dinner break was about 25 minutes long. We got back to the road at 2150. The bus was pretty late already (100 minutes) and the driver had a mammoth task at hand to get the bus on time to Trivandrum. He quickly picked speed once back on the highway, and we cruised through Salem at around 2225. Another movie was played now. I watched for some time, and then slept.

I was too drowsy - hence made it a point to remind the conductor to wake me up at Thrissur. I had an uninterrupted sleep till about 0230 in the morning. I initially thought we were still in Tamil Nadu looking at the paintings on walls along the board - but suddenly realised we were in Kerala after I saw road signs in Malayalam. A while after I woke up, the conductor came around calling out for a passenger who was to alight at Thrissur by-pass junction (Mannuthy). The conductor found the passenger after about 5 minutes of calling out. The bus dropped the guy at around 0240, and continued to Thrissur city. I got out of my seat as we reached Swaraj Round at the heart of Thrissur City.

It was too difficult to stand inside the bus, since the driver was trying to get the best out of empty roads in the city. The bus finally glided into Thrissur bus station at 0255 - about 95 minutes past the scheduled arrival time. However, the conductor had mentioned that the normal arrival time at Thrissur is 0300. The bus had a 10 minute halt as the bus station - as the crew and some passengers went for some refreshment. The bus went out at 0305. Thrissur bus station was busy at this hour, and buses were heading to almost all parts of the state at this hour.

I initially planned to wait till the first bus to my place - that leaves only at 0445. By sheer luck, I spotted a bus waiting to depart towards Guruvayur then. I immediately got into this bus, and took a ticket to Guruvayur. Although that is a circuitous route, it was better than standing for almost two hours at the bus station - which was too crowded. The bus was coming from Kattakada - near the capital city. The ticket cost me Rs. 22, and the run lasted about 25 minutes. I reached Guruvayur at around 0340. The first bus toward my place from Guruvayur leaves at 0400, and that bus was already parked, ready for departure. I hurried into that bus, and took a seat near the rear door.

This bus started off exactly at 0400 - with most of the seats taken. The driver took maximum advantage of empty roads, and he simply zipped through. What took me completely by surprise was that there was a ticket checker on board, and he checked tickets of all passengers on board. The bus got jam-packed at Thriprayar - the crowd was of the kind that one sees at peak hours. I later found there was some festival at Thriprayar the previous night, and all the crowd were people returning from the temple. However, a co-passenger in the bus said the first bus is always crowded, but not to the extent seen on that day.

That bus dropped me at Kodungallur, near the temple, at around 0510. Had I waited for the first bus at Thrissur, there was no way I'd have reached my home before 0600. However, taking the longer route cost me Rs. 22 + Rs. 22.50 = Rs. 44.50 in bus fares alone and a running time of almost 100 minutes, while a direct bus would have taken only about 60-70 minutes and Rs. 19.50. Whatever be it - I was back home early! Although pretty delayed, I loved the run on the Volvo. I was traveling in one after a whole 5 to 6 months!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

On the Garib Rath to Bangalore

Almost three months after my college started, there came an opportunity to take a week long "vacation". A short visit to Bangalore and Mumbai was on cards. The decision came at the last moment, and ticketing was a problem. We booked on the Kochuveli-Yeshwantpur Garib Rath from Ernakulam to Yeshwantpur. As luck always favours, we (I, and my parents) were given all upper berths. The train had some 580-odd berths still available, when the PRS decided to play a game. Later, we decided to exchange berths once on board the train.

We started from our hometown (Kodungallur) on Friday night. It was raining heavily during the day, and decided to hire a taxi instead of traveling by bus. The cab - a white colour Ambassador - came home by around 10 at night. The driver maintained a sedate 60kmph all the way to Ernakulam Town Railway Station - taking about an hour to cover the 35 km journey. The station was all buzz with activity - cleaning works were on at a very mad pace - thanks to an expected visit by the Minister of State for Railways the next day. The platforms were crowded, with lots of passengers waiting the next few departures.

The Mangalore-Trivandrum express came in at around 2345, with WAP4 #22793 in charge. Later, the Trivandrum-Mangalore Maveli Express rolled through the main line without stopping. The Mangalore bound Malabar express came in at around 0015 with WAP4 #22792 in charge. Loads of bags containing post were loaded on to the RMS coach during the time the train stopped there (and an equal number were unloaded as well). There was no sign of my train arriving, even as the clock ticked past the departure time. An announcement was made at around 0030 about the arrival of my train. The train arrived at around 0044 behind WDG3A #13049 of Krishnarajapuram. I was clearly disappointed about having a WDG3A given the tight schedule we have. We started from ERN at 0054.

The train picked speed pretty quickly. The train appeared pretty crowded that night. There was just one lower berth vacant in the entire coach. We sat on the berth till the TTE turned up. An Information Display system was installed inside the coach, and it appeared to be working as well. The display was constantly showing messages like the speed of the train, time to the next station, distance to the next station, etc. We stopped at Aluva at around 0113, and left at 0115. Just two passengers were seen on the platform when the train reached there - the train was already full then, underlining the fact that most passengers board the train before ERN.

The TTE turned up at around 0145. He quickly allotted us Berth 1, 2 and 9, instead of #9, 12, 14 as per our tickets. Berth #1 was a lower berth. We quickly locked up the baggage and headed to the berth. I slept the moment I got on to the berth (I took #2, a middle berth). I got up well past 7 AM. We reached Salem at around 0737, delayed by about 45 minutes now. We left Salem at 0742, almost 50 minutes late now. The LP appeared to be at no rush to reach Bangalore, and the train accelerated at a sedate pace. I chose to remain indoors, since I had symptoms of developing fever (partially due to lack of adequate sleep, and the sudden change in climate - from hot and humid to chill and dry).

My train, somewhere between Salem and Dharmapuri...

The terrain between Salem and Bangalore is always my favorite - with grades, twists and sharp curves all the way. The loco did a good job in this section. We had a non-stop run from Salem to Dharmapuri. The Halt at Dharmapuri was added only very recently. The train reached Dharmapuri at 0900, and left at 0902. We crossed the 2677 Ernakulam Intercity here - WDM3D #11111 of Erode was in charge. The caterers on board the Garib Rath, are under the same management as that of 2677 - both trains are served by Our Aariya Caterers. WE made an unscheduled halt at Rayakkottai, to cross the Bangalore-Salem passenger. The passenger came in after almost 15 minutes of us waiting there - behind WDM2 #17603 of Krishnarajapuram.

It was an uneventful run after Rayakkotai. I chose to remain inside the coach, watching a movie on my laptop computer. We ran through Hosur at a low speed. I called up my brother, who was to pick us from the station, to inform him of our whereabouts. We reached Banaswadi at 1120 - where we alighted. The station's signals are powered by a diesel generator - which was making a very annoying "Phut-Phut" sound. The generator was shut down about 5 minutes after the GR headed to Yeshwantpur. My brother lost his way to the station somewhere, and he landed up there well past 1230. The return journey from Station to home was even more interesting with us landing up at alien territory many times - only to vow that we'd never ever get down at Banaswadi.