Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dimbam Ghats.. on a Volvo

Dimbam Ghats lies along the Tamilnadu-Karnataka border, on the route from Mysore to Coimbatore via Chamrajnagar and Sathyamangalam. This route is also known as the "Sathyamangalam Ghats" and is infamous for the forest brigand Veerappan. This ghat section is about 11 kilometres in length and has about 27 hair-pin bends. It was my long standing dream to travel through this section in a bus for long - I had driven through and traveled in a car through this route many times. Finally, the chance to travel through this section dawned on Independence day!

After a mesmerizing trip with fellow railfans up and down the ghat section between Subrahmanya Road and  Sakleshpur (on the Hassan-Mangalore Railway line), I landed up at Mysore around 4 in the morning. A short nap and a round of freshening up, I headed to a restaurant for breakfast - around 0700 or so. After breakfast, walked into the disoriented Mysore mofussil bus station - it was cold and I wasn't carrying any protectant clothes with me. The bus station was relatively empty that morning - thanks to Independence day, compared to my last trip here. The Bangalore platforms were active, with no less than 3 Airavats and Sheetals each parked, and a really long line up of Karnataka Sariges complementing them. I reached the place from where my bus would depart. but there was no sign of my bus anywhere.

I walked into the Station Master's office and enquired - he replied the bus would come near "platform 1" very soon. I chose to remain around the appointed area. There was one Kerala SRTC Fast passenger (heading to Kozhikode) and one TNSTC bus heading to Salem. There was one Karnataka Sarige to Coimbatore and one to Thrissur. My bus (KA-01-F-8437) came in at 0752, just 8 minutes short of departure. The bus was backed up at the very first "bay". The conductor went out to get the reservation chart, while the driver helped passengers leave their baggage in the underbelly carriage.

My bus being backed up at the platform, at Mysore

The conductor came back and checked tickets of all reserved passengers, while issuing tickets to unreserved passengers. I settled in my seat - my favorite, the hot seat (#4) on the first row! The bus was a Mark-III Volvo, with a 290hp CRDi Engine. The engine was left on all the time, and the airconditioner had a very light role to play since it was equally cold outside the bus as well. The conductor tried attracting more passengers to the bus - we finally moved out at 0810, with about 30-odd passengers on board the 45 seater bus.

We rolled through somewhat familiar roads of Mysore. The road around the bypass road was in horrible shape and the traffic made matters bad. The driver picked speed soon after we crossed Nanjangud. The road was not in very good shape, requiring frequent slow-downs. Potholes were huge enough to swallow a small car easily, making matters even worse. The bus pulled into Chamrajnagar bus station, allowing the conductor to get the timing entered in the way-bill. This time was utilised by some to take a break. The driver loaded loads of biscuits and roasted bread from here (more on this later).

We started off from Chamrajnagar very soon. The roads were somewhat good after Chamrajnagar. The driver was back to his self after Chamrajnagar. He stopped everytime he spotted a monkey to feed them with biscuits, roasted bread or bananas. We stopped at Hassanur for breakfast, around 1025. The place was full of KaSRTC buses, two Expresses and my bus. I decided to skip eating from the hotel (Since I had a sumptuous breakfast from Mysore before starting off), and had some crisp snacks from a nearby stall. We started off at 1045. Hassanur marks the beginning of the descent. The ghat section is only 11 kms long, but takes about 45-50 minutes to finish descending. There are 27 hairpin bends in all.

The Foggy start...

The start was foggy, and visibility was poor at the beginning. The driver maintained slow speeds through the run. We managed to descend 25 of the 27 hairpins without any issue, but got stuck at two of the bends. At these bends the bus stopped 90-degree to the curve, then backed up and turned off. At about three bends, we encountered traffic pile-ups, mainly due to private cars not co-operating with heavy vehicles at curves. The first half of the ghat was all covered in fog, and made for an amazing experience. The ghat ends at Bannari - famous for a temple and a sugar factory.

Approaching one of the 27 hairpin bends enroute..

We ran through Sathyamangalam, dropping a couple of passengers there. We encountered a bit of traffic as we neared Coimbatore - but thanks to Sunday, it was all thin. We pulled into Gandhipuram SETC Bus station exactly at 1300. I narrowly missed a bus heading to my place, and then headed for lunch and then a bus-hopping trip back home.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kerala welcomes Mahabali

Yet another Onam has arrived! Kerala is in full force celebrating this harvest festival. Onam is celebrated in the month of Chingam, which happens to be the first month in the Malayalam Calender. Onam is historically considered to be a festival when the mythical ruler of Kerala, Mahabali, returns to the land on an annual visit of his old subjects.

All Keralites celebrate onam irrespective of their caste or religion, with equal spirit. Every household would have floral design made near the door step to welcome the mythical ruler to their home. Lunch is usually marked with a sumptuous meal, punctuated with a variety of dishes suiting every taste - from sweet to sour to spicy. I have written about Onam many times in the past, and would not like to repeat the same.

Quoting my own post last year (read it here):

Onam is celebrated to mark the Harvest season, and also to welcome the mythical king Mahabali is regarded as the best ruler the state has ever seen. History has it that Mahabali was an Asura (or Devil) and he ruled over all the three worlds, including the Devas. Annoyed by this, the Devas approached Lord Vishnu for help. It is said that Lord Vishnu approached Mahabali in his Vamana avatar. Mahabali was performing a Yagna at that time, and he had promised to fulfill the needs of any one approaching him. Taking advantage of the situation, Vamana said to Mahabali, "You need not give me anything great. It is enough if you give me that extend of land covered by three footsteps of mine".

Although Mahabali was warned by the sages performing the Yagna that Vamana was an avatar of a Deva and the statement was a trap. Mahabali, determined to keep up his promise, begged pardon from his Guru (among the sages) and disregarded his advice. On hearing this, Vamana grew in size until he towered above the heavens. He measured all of the earth with one Footstep. The second claimed all of heaven. With one more foot of territory still remaining, Mahabali requested Vamana to place the final step on his head as the third step of land, since had no other territory left. Vamana did so and in doing so, pushed Mahabali down to Patala, the underworld.

As a parting blessing, Lord Vishnu allowed Mahabali to rule over the underworld, and also visit his subjects once every year. Anecdotal evidences show that Onam was celebrated in as early as 800 AD. Onam is celebrated in the malayalam month of Chingam. Coincidentally, the Malayalam calender also starts with the month Chingam. Onam falls on the tenth day from the day, the star Atham is marked.

Happy Onam to all Keralites!!!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The good ol' Glo-bus

After a stomach filling three days in Bangalore, I was all set to head back home. It was cold in Bangalore, and I had a few apprehensions about the effect of the climate on me. I searched for tickets, and the 2200 Bangalore-Thrissur AC bus was a "no-brainer" decision. I zeroed in on this bus quickly and reserved tickets through the Kerala SRTC Online Booking. The online booking facility is one huge leap for KeSRTC given their overall way of functioning. The interface is kind-of amateurish. After a payment is made (sadly, they allow only credit/debit cards, no online banking, yet), the ticket does not appear on itself. One has to go to "booked tickets" and then print out - overall an amateur feel.

On the day of journey (July 26, 2010), I called up the bus station around 9.30 pm or so to get the conductor's number. I was quickly given the number. The bus starts from Mysore Road Satellite Bus Terminus at 2200 and take the weary route via Corporation Circle and Lalbagh to reach Madiwala and thence to Electronic City and to Hosur. I had nominated "Bommanahally Bus Stop" as my boarding point. KSRTC has this good idea of providing every conductor (only on AC services) with a mobile phone - passengers can call up the conductor to get live position of the bus and also seat availability. One can even change the boarding point even after charting/departure of bus by just calling up the conductor. I called up the conductor around 2220, to let him know that I would be waiting near the Silk Board Flyover - since the traffic at Bommanahalli was huge. He said, I need to wave my hand when the bus comes, so that he can stop - I okayed.

Shot while waiting for my bus.. near Silk Board Flyover...

The bus turned up at around 2245 - impressive run time! The bus was my good ol' Globus, RR210 of Thrissur. This was my third journey on the particular bus. I waved my hand, and the driver was a bit doubtful - to stop or not. Later he stopped across the road, causing a bit of traffic pile up as well. I hopped in - the driver kind of argued that I should have stood at "Madiwala" else would've missed the bus. The conductor quickly intervened and said I had informed him. Anyways, the ticket was checked and I got into the passenger section through the cramped door. My seat was #5. Although there was a passenger reserved on seat #6, he did not turn up. I had two seats all for my self.

I did a quick headcount, and found no more than 20 passengers in the 45 seater bus. Monday night has its effect! The bus did not feel as cold as it used be during my past two journeys - but I had to run a bit to get into the bus. I settled down, and heard a bit of music from my iPod. The driver had a hard foot on the gas pedal and the bus was flying through almost empty roads now. We did not have pickups anywhere on the way. He kept overtaking other vehicles throughout the run. We were stuck up at a traffic snarl near Hosur for a while - the main cause for this is the haphazard bus station at Hosur. The bus station always has buses pouring in from all sides of the road, causing really horrible traffic pileups.

I dozed off a while after crossing Hosur. All I remember was pulling up the bed sheet I had with me, and lying down across the two seats that I had for myself. I woke up with a jerk as the bus hit a pothole while entering the famous "Hotel Uthaiyya". This joint, a place frequented by almost all buses running through Krishnagiri, has a huge toilet block and lots of parking space for buses. Almost every bus leaving Bangalore, and running via Krishnagiri would stop here for a break - my bus was no different. The time now was 0005. We reached Krishnagiri, from Bommanahalli in an impressive 80 minutes! (Thats about 80 kms). I am sure the driver did fly briefly.

A pic of my bus, RR210, while waiting outside Hotel Uthaiyya, near Krishnagiri...

The halt was boring - I had to get off the bus since the engine was shut and it was getting stuffy inside the bus without the AC running. The parking space was jam packed and my bus was parked outside on the road side. There were quite some 12M Karnataka Sariges around. I took a leak and then walked around seeing the buses parked there. I did a bit of photography and then decided to wait till we leave. The crew were back at 0020 - just then a passenger jumped out of the bus saying that he wants to take a leak. This "not-so-gentle"man came back a whole 3 minutes later and we started off at 0025 only. The crew were saying that guy was drunk and made some trouble at the beginning of the run. Whatever, I was back at my "double"seat!

I dozed off in no time. I am sure the bus was flying again! We reached Coimbatore at 0445 - thats about 4 hours and 20 minutes of run from Krishnagiri, about 275 kms. I couldn't believe my eyes - I check my watch again. About 5 passengers got off, and about 8 got in. We left at 0450. I slept off again, and woke up only when the bus parked itself at Palakkad bus station. The time now was 0550. The bus picked up some diesel and about 8 passengers (the 8 who got in from Coimbatore got off here). We started off from Palakkad at 0600. I dozed off again.. I vaguely remember someone coming and sitting on seat #6. I slept through the run - I woke up as we stopped at Mannuthy - (Thrissur bypass) to drop a passenger. I slept again, and woke up only when the bus was finally pulling into its final destination - Thrissur Bus Station - at 0715.

Inside RR210.. had to be content with this shot...

I waited inside till the entire bus emptied with plans to take a shot of the interiors. But sadly, a couple of passengers were adamant on counting the money they had in the pocket before they got off. I had to be content with a routine grab shot. I got off the bus and took a rickshaw to Sakthan Thamburan Bus Station (my bus had run through this place roughly 10 mins ago - just that I was fast asleep then!). Coupled with the tiredness of the journey and remnants of sleep, the bag felt too heavy for me. I lugged it across - private bus crew where shouting at the top of their voice to attract passengers. I dodged a few of them to head to the forbidden track - the one from where KSRTC buses would depart. Two White cuties were parked, ready to depart. I found out which would depart first, and took my favorite seat - the hot seat. The bus started off around 0745.

We kept crossing private buses at a regular pace - all of them were packed to the hilt. The KSRTCs that crossed us were mostly empty! I was saddened at that sight! I was dropped near my home around 0845, and hit home by 0850. The Bangalore (Bommanahalli) - Thrissur run took exactly 8 hours and 30 minutes - Thats about 460-odd kms! Thats an average speed over 55kmph, for a bus powered by a 160hp engine (which also has to power the AC)! The ride quality in the bus had deteriorated badly since my last journey (April 2009) in this bus, but the performance was still too good! Its high time these buses are replaced - they are too uncomfortable for long runs, now.