Conti... A nostalgic journey to the past

Conti Travels, or UMS Conti, is a established bus operator based in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. UMS, or United Motor Service, was launched in 1920. Since then, UMS turned into one of the most efficient passenger transport company in this part of Tamil Nadu. Conti Travels was the first Inter-city coach service in Tamil Nadu. UMS operated a few city buses in Coimbatore, under various names. I have vague memories of them, but I distinctly remember that their buses were well maintained during the mid-90s. UMS diversified into various business, and are now a formidable name in the electronics manufacturing industry.

The Conti Travels "bus stand" on Avinashi Road

UMS is headquartered at Avinashi Road in Coimbatore, not very far from the Railway Station. I was a regular passenger in Conti Travels during the mid-90s, traveling very often from Coimbatore to Alappuzha and back in their coaches. Their buses used to be white in colour, with "Intercontinental Coach" painted in blue on its side panels. The buses used to have 2x2 seating, with a single front exit door. They never had any TV or other entertainment system. The drivers were unpredictable - some guys were damn quick, while some others crawled along. They always sent two drivers for the 6 hour journey to Alappuzha from Coimbatore. If my memory serves me right, they were the first operator to introduce Air Buses out of Coimbatore. Conti had regular services to Alappuzha, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Chennai and Bangalore back then. The services to Kerala started returning losses as newer operators started operating.

The services to Kerala were consolidated, and they cancelled all services to Kerala and retained one to Trivandrum - which too fell through very soon. Currently, Conti operates only to Bangalore and Chennai. Conti Travels operate out of their own "bus station" near the Avinashi Road flyover in Coimbatore. The bus station used to have a decent snack outlet, and passenger waiting area as well as restrooms. My last visit to their "bus station" was in October 1998 - a good 12 years back! And, my last trip was in one "Azad" built Airbus running to Alappuzha. 12 years down the lane, I desired to travel once again in their bus... and this trip was special, very special.

One trip to Bangalore was hovering over my head for over a month, and one fine evening, I decided to make it the next day itself. I called up Conti and inquired seat availability - thankfully, they were available. Bags were packed quickly. I started off from home at 7 in the morning, and luckily got into a KSRTC bus to Thrissur. The first thing I did on reaching the Thrissur bus station was to get details of the next bus to Coimbatore - that was at 0850. The bus, RAK675 of Kottayam, came in at 0830, and we started off only at 0900. The run was uneventful - the road was horrible, but the driver did a good job. The bus reached Palakkad at 1030, and we started off at 1045. The halt at Palakkad was supposed to be only 5 minutes long, but it turned out to be 15 minutes long after a few passengers went 'missing'. I was dropped right outside the Conti office at 1150.

My bus to Bangalore..

The first thing I did was to get my ticket - the bus was more than 50% full by now. The ticket fare was only Rs. 370. I was initially allotted seat 27 (the last-but-one row). After paying for the ticket, I went out for lunch.  Lunch was from Sree Annapoorna, near KG Hospital. I returned soon to Conti, and just as I reached there, my bus was brought out from their garage - the Isuzu LT1 (Swaraj Prestige) bus. The bus has an Irizar designed body, powered by a 230hp Isuzu rear-mount Engine. Complete with all bells and whistles, the bus has 36 semi-sleeper seats. The bus features a 7-speed manual transmission. I got my boarding pass, and left my baggage inside the bus. My seat number was now changed from 27 to 22. The bus was clean - both inside and outside. All curtains were drawn and the seats were in their regular position. An air-freshener was used, and the smell inside was pleasant. The engine was started at 13:20. The departure was perfectly on time, at 13:30. The bus had some 10 passengers when we started from Avinashi Road.

Inside the Isuzu bus..

The Driver cabin..

The 'conductor' came around checking if everything was well, and if any one had any specific request. The entertainment system was playing out a local FM station. The AC was noisy at the beginning, since the blowers were set to the highest speed. The engine noise was feeble, and the ride was amazingly smooth. It started drizzling a while into the run, even before we reached Gandhipuram. We had three pick up points at Gandhipuram, and at the end of all pick-ups there were 26 passengers on board. We next pulled into the "Omni Bus Stand" at Ganapathy. Conti Travels has an office inside the bus stand, and a guy from the bus stand came into carry out a headcount of the actual number of passengers inside. Satisfied with the papers produced by the crew, the guy signalled the bus driver to start. We finally started off at 14:00.

On the run...

The bus takes the route via Sathyamangalam, Athani, Anthiyur, Mettur Dam, Thoppur, Krishnagiri, Hosur and terminates at the Conti Travels office on Richmond Road in Bangalore. Although the route offers some (very little) advantage interms of distance, the route is predominantly two-laned, with quite some rough patches in between. The main road, via NH47/NH7 is now 85% four-laned, and offers much faster travel between Coimbatore and Bangalore. The driver was initially slow. The ride was really comfortable, and the bus was taking rough patches very well. Forward jerking while braking were less intense as compared to a Volvo/Mercedes. The noise levels were low - important considering the fact that I was just two rows away from the engine! Vibrations were absent (at idle as well as on the run, even at high RPMs).

The two Contis together at Mettur Dam

The driver maintained a very good pace through out. Overtakes were a pain on the two-lane road, since the traffic appeared pretty high on the day. We were soon trailing the KPN Multi-Axle Volvo, which started off a while before us from Coimbatore. We stopped for a break at Mettur Dam, around 1645. The restaurant was small, and there were no washrooms. I felt pity for the ladies traveling by the bus. While we just stopped, our pairing bus (from Bangalore) too arrived. Both buses were parked one behind the other. The break lasted till 1715. Our bus was the first to start off after break. The bus ran around the dam, and then the thermal power plant and finally hit the state highway to Thoppur, via Mechery. The drivers changed after the break. The run from Mettur to Thoppur was painful - we were running through towns during evening peak hours, when factories were just leaving out General Shift Employees. A huge number of trucks and buses on the road made matters worse. We had to trail trucks for long periods before a gap to overtake was found.

The road condition got worser as we neared Thoppur, but the ride inside was amazing. Once on to the National Highway, at Thoppur, the bus started picking up speed again. The bus faltered badly at Thoppur Ghats, and it struggled to climb up the ghats - However, more than the underpowered nature of the bus, I felt the driver wasn't gearing the bus properly. We struggled up the ghats, while a KPN Multi-Axle volvo overtook us through the left with ease. Our struggled repeated at every ghat section, and we were losing time at every Ghat. The toll-stations were chaotic, while just one or two lanes kept open despite heavy traffic. Our driver kept losing his cool every time we reached a toll-station, and it took an average 15-20 minutes to clear each toll. We stopped at a fuel station near Shoolagiri, for passengers to stretch themselves. We reached Hosur around 8pm. We had a longish halt at Hosur for some unknown reason. I was finally dropped at Bommanahalli around 2100. The journey took 7 and a half hours.

Another view of the driver cabin..

Some miscellaneous points... The Isuzu LT134PR (Swaraj Prestige) bus was launched in India, in June 2008. Two years into the market, the bus has been making ripples recently. Off late, many major operators in Bangalore have purchased these buses. Conti Travels were operating Isuzu buses initially on the Coimbatore-Chennai route. They were only recently introduced to Bangalore. The crew were not very happy with the bus - mainly because its underpowered. However, on flat roads, the bus picked up speed at an amazing pace. The AC is of Denso make. The passengers get individual ac vents and reading lamps. The overall ride was excellent - on par with other premium bus offerings in India. The engine did feel underpowered for the Ghats, but is reportedly fuel efficient, and would save money for operators on the long run. The bus is definitely recommended, for its excellent ride quality.

Comments

Deepak said…
Hi Binai

do you the mileage of ISUZU bus as it is powered by 230HP it should give more mileage than volvo B7R and B9R.

Deepak

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