Hurdle race to Madurai!

Nine Thirty PM, on February Twenty Four Twenty Eleven. I was roaming outside the office of Kallada Travels, at Palarivattom, Ernakulam. I had booked on the Kallada Travels' Ernakulam-Madurai Volvo service. I had to be in Madurai before 9AM the next morning, and this bus was promising a 6 AM arrival there. There were just one more person at the office waiting for the bus. This bus is the last Kallada passing through the place, and hence the guys at the office were preparing to close down.

I took a couple of night shots of the road, and the church on the other side of the road. I was hoping for a "purple" coloured bus, and it so happened that the same bus turned up! The bus was KL-45-E-7929. My seat was #12. But there was a gentleman already occupying the seat - the bus was totally empty, and I decided to take Seat #8 instead. We had all of 7 passengers in the bus. The bus was noisy, and the ride was a bit patchy. The driver drove at a slow pace all the time - he was worried about poor effectiveness of the headlamps.

From the talk between the driver and the assistant, I got to know that this bus had an accident a few months ago, and the front was rebuilt after the accident. The accident happened when the driver fell asleep while on the job - it seems the driver was working continuously without a break for a couple of days. The narration send shivers down my spine - and just kept praying that the driver take us to Madurai in one piece. The driver maintained speeds in the range of 60~80 kmph all the time.

The bus stopped at the Aluva office (near the traffic signal).. just as the bus was about to start, a guy (in mid 40s) literally forced into the bus. He identified himself as a "Sub-Editor" for one of the big "M" newspapers (the one that is based in Kottayam), and also the Secretary of Youth Congress. The driver patiently explained that he is not permitted to carry passengers without a ticket/boarding pass, and that he should get off the bus. The guy threatened the driver with consequences, and threatened to call up the owner of the bus. The driver reiterated that he is not permitted to carry passengers without a ticket - by now the guy had already taken a seat. The bus too started off.

The assistant took over the role, and explained patiently to the guy that they were not permitted to carry passengers not mentioned in the manifest, and they could be at risk of losing their job if the extra passenger was detected. He also asked the guy to behave properly, and not threaten crew. This guy, who is surely a politician, now pulled out his phone and pretended to call up the owner of the bus. The crew retired to themselves, and were back to their pep-talk. This guy was now calling up people one after the other, and proudly informing them of his "adventure". I was trying to sleep somehow, but this guy was talking too loud for me to sleep.

The bus stopped at the Kallada office outside Sakthan Bus Station in Thrissur at around 2300. (I purposefully chose the Ernakulam boarding point, to avoid waiting at Thrissur at such odd hours). This "unruly" visitor was unloaded here. The bus also unloaded lots of parcels. We started off at 2315, and picked a few passengers from the office near the KSRTC bus station - we now had a grand total of 9 passengers (in a 41 seater bus)! I struggled hard, and managed to doze off. I woke up when the bus braked suddenly, and it switched off. The driver restarted the bus, but the gears wouldn't engage! He switched off the bus again, shifted to second gear and then cranked the bus. The bus inched forward using the power of the starter motor, and switch on.

He now realised that the clutch had failed! I was disturbed - was wondered on what was lying ahead! The bus was vibrating very badly, and the ride turned poor (the roads were inexistent around here). The bus ran for about 10 minutes on second gear, and the driver tried changing gears, but they they just don't engage! The ritual of turning off the bus, and restarting it with the second gear started again! Finally, we reached Alathur, and the driver stopped outside a petrol pump. The assistant went in, woke up the guys at the pump and got some clutch fluid. The driver replenished the clutch reservoir, and tried pumping the clutch. All this while the engine was left on, and passengers inside the bus were sleeping without being aware of the happenings!

I fell asleep sometime in between - I woke up around 0130, to find the bus still stationary at the very same place! I got off the bus now, and enquired what was going on. The driver broke the expected-but-unexpected news - the bus was dead! It cannot run anymore. He was now trying to flag down some bus, to help us get to our destination. But no buses in sight. The driver woke up passengers in the bus, and broke the news to them. A few of them got agitated, while some others were watching the drama without an idea of the happenings. A couple of us confronted the driver and asked him to get an alternative arrangement for us. He tried calling their office, but no response.

Finally, around 2:15, we had enough. A rickshaw came around, and the good soul stopped. He called up a few travel agents in Palakkad, but nobody were ready to send a vehicle to rescue us. Later, we decided to take this autorickshaw to Palakkad town and get a cab from there. Six of us got into the Autorickshaw (the remaining three were foreigners, and they chose to return to Ernakulam. The driver promised to get them a seat in one of the Kallada buses heading to Ernakulam). The rickshaw driver made a quick run to Palakkad, and dropped us there by 0250. Getting a cab was not easy - two people out of the six dropped off, and they decided to take a bus the next morning.

The remaining four were roaming around to find a cabbie who was ready to take up to Palakkad. One cabbie finally agreed - for Rs. 16 per kilometre. We had no choice, and decided to give in. The car was a Tata Indica Vista Terra (TDI). I took the front seat, and the three others took the rear seat. We started off exactly at 0300. The roads were were bad for the initial few kilometres - but turned good as we crossed Kozhinjambara. After the customary halt at the Checkpost (at Gopalapuram). We stopped for a break a while after the checkpost - I had a hot tea (It was just Rs. 2 for a tea!). I slept off sometime after we crossed Udumalaipettai - and woke up only a while before Oddanchatiram.

The driver started chatting soon after I woke up - perhaps it was attempt from him to avoid him falling asleep! I reciprocated his attempt, and we were soon chatting non-stop.We quickly reached Dindugal bypass, and stopped for refueling soon after we entered the highway. After refueling, the driver made a real quick run to Madurai. We were all dropped outside Periyar Bus Station. The city was all dirty, and roads were mucky. I had a tough time negotiating stagnant water to make my way to a hotel. I thus began my six-day long stay in Madurai on a frustrating note - the ugly environs and the "helpless" behaviour of the Kallada guys left me fuming. I retired to fate, and got ready in a jiffy and headed out for my day...


Anonymous said…
These Kallada guys are frustrating sometimes. I once had a terrible experience with them when their G4 bus was broken down somewhere near Perundurai. The crew were lazy and not in a helping mood. We waited for one hour and luckily another Kallada bus came around and everybody boarded it, some persons required to share their seats for 3 people too! But whenever I travelled in the Multi-Axle, these things never happened. 9.45 BNG-EKM Shama and 9.30BNG-EKM Airavat ClubClass seems perfect in my view.
Binai K Sankar said…
G4 is completely different from the Kallada that operates multi-axles. G4 is a small operator. In our case, we were left helpless since ours was the last kallada bus of the day, and also the last bus on the Madurai route.
rejoy leen said…
i had a similar experience when i was coming to join my college in Bangalore in 2005. the entire silencer unit came off our Kallada G4 volvo in some by route near delayed by close to 8 hours:-(.Have never ever got into a kallada bus after that incident.