Sunday, June 26, 2011

Suicidal Driving...

05:00AM, May 09, 2011, Somewhere between Mannuthy and Vadakkenchery on NH47 in Kerala.

I was driving my Silver Punto, rushing towards Bangalore for a week long vacation. The road narrows down from a well-paved 4-lane road to a horribly paved, dingy two laned road a while before Mannuthy on NH47, while approaching from Ernakulam side. Despite being too early in the morning, the traffic was messy around Mannuthy. The road got emptier as we crossed Pattikad. I had an uneasy feeling right from beginning of the day. It started pouring down as we crossed Mannuthy. My kitten was crying through the time (yes! she was traveling with us to Bangalore).

A while into the 2-lane driving, I started noticing trucks in the opposite direction driving ruthlessely - they came straight head-on, and the onus was on me to avoid an accident! I slowed down, so that I get more time to save ourself from an accident. Trucks in the opposite direction were too rash, and one could feel the effects of overnight driving on them. LCVs - like Mahindra Pickups - too were very rash.

I usually prefer early morning and late night driving, for the simple reason that traffic would be thin - and private vehicles would be very less at that time. I find two-wheeler drivers the most dangerous lot on highways, followed by Autorikshaws and Private buses - these known dangers can be avoided by starting early in the morning. But this time around, early morning driving was proving more cumbersome. I was dead tired by the time we stopped for breakfast at Karumathampatty, near Coimbatore. Perhaps for the first time I regreted starting early in the morning..

The problem was compounded by the fact that this was a Monday morning - so many people were returning to their workplaces. Truckers were surely slipping asleep - a word of caution to people who drive early - overtake with care. The trucker in the opposite direction might be asleep - do not depend on his reflexes. It is said that most of the accidents happen at such hours - between 5 and 6, while one feels the most sleepy.

Note: This post was composed and left in Drafts for a long time...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Real superfast.. in Kerala!!

Perhaps for the first time in life I made one real superfast journey in a train in Kerala! In what could be described as a soon to be extinct species, this train made hardly any stops in the 223 kms journey I made in the train! After a mind-boggling day bus fanning and some tourism in Trivandrum, I was returning home. I was accompanied by fellow railfan Vibin Andrews.With some late bus fanning plans in mind (which got washed down, thanks to the rain), I decided to take the weekly 12698 Trivandrum-Chennai Super Fast.

We both were drop-dead-tired at the end of the day. After a light dinner, we headed out to the platform where our train was berthed. Sadly, the train was taken on PF4. Walking over the foot-over-bridge, we saw a loco with "top headlamps" pulling in to take charge of the train. It was a WAP4 - road number and shed unknown - rather, we did not bother checking which loco was that. My seat was in S1, while Vibin was in S4. S1 was fully reserved - all seats were taken, and most passengers were joining at TVC. However, S4 was a different scene - more than half the seats were booked from ERN! I decided to join Vibin in S4.

The train started off perfectly on time. The train picked speed in no time - we literally flew past Kochuveli, and the flight continued until we reached Paravur. We slowed down at the LC before Paravur, later picked speed and flew past the station. We reached Kollam on time. We crossed the LTT-Kochuveli Garib Rath here. While at the station, I was busy explaining to Vibin that QLN (Kollam) doesn't have any platform numbered "1". The 'first' platform at QLN is numbered 3. Platforms 1 to 3 were under the Metre-Gauge system earlier. Once the MG line was dismantled, a new platform was built on the BG line adjacent to PF4, and was numbered PF3. PF3 is peculiar in many terms - this platform starts around the mid of Platform 4, and runs a long distance after the station.

On hearing my explanation, a co-passengers jumped in, and argued Platform 1 exists! While both of us tried to explain to the 'intruder' that PF1 'existed' and does not exist anymore. Later, as the train pulled out, he (the co-passenger) was satisfied that he was wrong. Vibin was surprised to see that the new MEMU shed is 'almost inside' the station. Meanwhile the red beast at the front of our train put all its horses to work, and we were literally flying. Vibin slowly retired to his berth, as the passenger on the Middle berth wanted to sleep. Vibin tracked the train's progress in his GPS, and found that we were maintaining decent pace all the time.

With not much to see, I too retired on the lower berth (the remaining passengers in the bay were to join only at Ernakulam). I feel asleep soon after the train crossed Sasthamcotta. I jumped up all of a sudden when water gushed into the train - it was raining heavily outside. I pulled down the shutter, and continued sleeping. I woke up when my phone beeped - it was 2250, and we were pulling into Kottayam already! The remaining passengers in the bay, who were supposed to join in at Ernakulam, decided to turn up early! They got in at Kottayam. We left Kottayam at the scheduled time, 2310.

I could not lie down after this, but continued sleeping sitting upright. I remember seeing the train slowing down near Vaikom Road, but kept pace and ran through. We slowed down at Mulanthuruthy, and kept crawling for quite some time. In the mean time Vibin woke up and asked if we were close to Ernakulam - I said Yes. We stopped near the Ernakulam Coaching yard around 00:05.  I could see the Trivandrum-Mangalore Maveli express - this is the only train with LED boards that would run through the section at that time. After a longish halt near the yard, we were allowed to enter the main line, only to stop at Ernakulam Town's Home signal. This wait was very long, and we finally entered ERN at 0025, late by 10 minutes. I got off - still half asleep. Vibin was in deep sleep, so thought not to disturb him. I walked through the length of the station, still half asleep - went to the rickshaw stand, and got a rick to Ernakulam Junction, where i had left my car.

This train is perhaps the only "Real" superfast train in Kerala - Covering Trivandrum to Ernakulam in 4 hours and 5 minutes, that too via Kottayam is a huge task - this train managed doing that! The Halt pattern was mind-boggling as well. There should be more such trains in Kerala - almost all trains running in Kerala resemble passenger trains, and more halts are added each year! If only the railways could introduce the proposed MEMUs, and reduce the number of halts for these long distance trains. (But where are the tracks to run all these ??)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Yet another overnight bus journey in Kerala..

Yet another bus fanning trip, this time to the North. This one was lingering around for a long time, but the decision to do it came at the last moment. I was to join Sankar on some bus fanning at Kozhikode on Saturday, May 28, 2011. My initial plan was to start off on Saturday morning - very early in the morning. I had almost finalised the 4AM from Thrissur, but later had my mind hanging around. I then thought of taking a train - but the lack of reservations just nipped the plan in the bud itself.

Towards evening of Friday, May 27, 2011, I get a call from Sankar saying that he is taking the Trivandrum - Kozhikode AC bus, from Kollam. I changed my mind at the last moment, and decided to join his bus at Thrissur. I called him up and asked him to try to block a seat for me from Ernakulam. No news from him till later in the night. I got set to travel, and left home around 11 pm on Friday. I was to leave my car at the railway station, and then take the bus from the bus station.

Around 23:24, my phone beeped.. a message from Sankar: "Left ekm. No halt here. bus full tight". A hard feeling sunk in.. if the bus was full at Ernakulam, there are very little chances of getting a seat from Thrissur. I was very sedate until then.. just pushed down the throttle after this. My intention was to reach Thrissur at the earliest, and then take the first bus towards Kozhikode. I reached Thrissur around 23:50. Rushed into the bus station and had a glance at the timetable - a "Limited Stop Fast Passenger" bus was the immediate next bus. I called up Sankar once again - he repeated, it was very tight. Very little chances.

At 00:05, the Fast Passenger bus comes in.. RNA648 of Thottilpalam, working Kottayam-Kozhikode-Tottilpalam. I pushed myself in - intially dejected to see all seats taken. All of a sudden, I notice one 'middle' seat empty - just rushed in without a second thought. There was no sign of movement - the bus filled up in no time. Around 00:20, the drivers gets on board - we move at 00:21. No sign of Sankar's bus. Just as my bus pulls out of Thrissur bus station, Sankar's bus pulls in. I somehow make space for myself in what could best be described as a 2-and-a-half seater bench, with 3 people sitting on it. The window shutter was closed - not just the one at my seat, but most in the bus.

The bus was unbearably hot and humid - the driver was struggling to keep the windshield free of condensation. It started raining as well. The bus was crawling, and we kept making very frequent stops. This continued till we reached Kunnamkulam. In the meantime, my neighbour - a tamilian - was remarking how people in Kerala did not know Tamil!! They got off at Kunnamkulam, and a new co-passenger came in. This person - a tall and well built person was struggling to seat on the "half" seat space he got. Poor guy almost fell off at quite a few curves.

Past Kunnamkulam, the driver made it clear that he meant business. We were flying past - the road here is well paved, marked and accessorised with reflectors. The BSII Cummins powered TATA was vibrating like no-body's business. The ride was horrible once the bus went past 60kmph, and I had a tough time not itching my nose. I fell asleep sometime after Perumbilavu. I slept upto Kuttipuram. We reached Kuttipuram at 0133 - left after picking a couple of passengers. Since it was night time, there were little passengers waiting for the bus at the wayside. However, we still had standing passengers in the bus.

Valanchery was crossed at 0144. I was half asleep all the time. I woke up when the bus pulled aside all of a sudden. The place was Velimukku, and the time was 0225. That was a break for tea. I got off the bus and decided to have a stroll. The Trivandrum-Mangalore bus overtook us at this time (I did not notice the number). I had a tea and walked around for some time. In the mean time, the Trivandrum-Bathery deluxe also went ahead. We started off at 0245. I realised that we were not very far from Kozhikode, and decided not to sleep anymore. The windows were shut again since it was cold outside. I continued in a half-awaken state. We turned off the bypass road and headed towards Ramanattukara. The territory ahead appeared very familiar - I was traveling through the area after a good 6 years.

We turn left near Baby Memorial Hospital, and rushed straight into the Municipal Bus Station. The time was 03:16. Just 2:55 hrs, including a 20 minute break, that too in a Fast Passenger bus! I spent just Rs. 78 for the run - but my back was making unusual noises at the end of the journey. It was tiring, plus the lack of sleep made me more tired. Sankar's bus was yet to reach. I had another tea and some light snack, before Sankar reached Kozhikode.. we then took the Kannur Deluxe, and go off at Thalassery, for a day full of bus fanning....