Thursday, July 28, 2011

Kallada Multi-axle.. with a decent driver!

Four days after arriving at Bangalore - four days of gastronomical treat, and a totally unexpected rail experience - it was time to head back home. I had to carry some baggage back home and chose the Kallada B9R for my return. It was sunny until the day before my journey. My boarding point was the Kallada office at Madiwala. We reached the office around 20:30, while my bus was scheduled to depart at 2130 (reporting time was 2115). On reaching, I headed straight to get my boarding pass, and also book the luggage that i was carrying alone - the guy who takes care of the Parcels asked me to wait till the bus comes.

In the mean time, I walked around clicking the multi-axle monsters of various operators that were parked around. It started pouring down by then - it was very heavy. I had no option but to return to the Kallada office. The clock ticked past 2115, there was no sign of the bus. Enquired with the guys at the office, who confirmed that the bus would arrive only by 2130. The bus, KA-01-AA-103, came in sharp at 2130. It was almost completely empty when it came - but it filled up in no time! We started off at 2148 - just as a lady in the bus started shouting that her husband was yet to board. The crew showed no interest in stopping the bus for him - but they later said they will take a 'U' turn and stop on the opposite side of the road - which they did.

We were there until 2154 - few 'off' duty Kallada staff too got in - a guy slept in the undercarriage luggage hold, while the others took the seats in the last row. As we started off from Madiwala, the 'assistant' announced that we had only two vacant seats. The bus was about 13 months old (info gathered from the talk among the crew) and had about 2.15 lakh kilometres on the Odo. The bus was still in good shape - the suspension was in top order, and there were very little squeaks. Once past Silk Board, the bus picked up pace rapidly, and we took the Elevated highway (there was a bit of traffic at Bommanahalli, but we stuck to right lane, and could negate them quickly) to Electronic City. The driver was very sane, and made very careful overtakes. He was using the low tone horn at night, and preferred using the dipper more than the horn.

We had a pick up at Hosur – we left there at 2238. The driver and the attendant(s) [there were two of them] were chatting all the time – the Driver was an old hand at Kallada, and had been driving right from the time Volvos were introduced by Kallada. I was in love with his style of cautious driving. We did a top speed of 111kmph somewhere on the elevated highway – his top speed was in the range of 105kmph in other sections. I struggled to catch up some sleep – succeeded in it only as we were crossing Krishnagiri. I slept through – and woke up briefly as we were running past Salem. I slept again, only to wake up as the bus pulled into a fuel pump in Perundurai – at 0200.

The fuel station had an array of toilets – all clean and well kept. The bus took in 222 litres of diesel. We started off at 0215. Just a while after starting off, we crossed our pairing bus – the drivers exchanged pleasantries as we moved on. The driver did not change here – and the guy was chatting all the time. The road was in horrible state after Perundurai. We did not go via Tiruppur, but stuck to the conventional route via Avinashi, Coimbatore bypass. The road was really horrible – but the body roll was minimal, unlike the Merc. I might be biased here – since I was in the second row in this bus, and on the ninth row in the Mercedes.

The bad roads contributed to my misery, and was left absolutely sleepless – hardly grabbed a bit of sleep after Karumathampatty. I woke up as we stopped at Neelambur toll gate – we were joined by the SRM’s Chennai-Thiruvalla Multi-Axle and the Shama’s Bangalore-Ernakulam Multi Axle (which leaves 15 minutes after us) here. Both of them overtook us on the way – I was happy that our driver did not engage in a chase, but remained composed. (We did take our revenge later). I slept lightly after the bypass ended – but was woken up by a call from dad as we neared the border.

We stopped at Walayar Check post at 0404 – the assistant ran to the office, and returned very quick. We started off at 0408 – that was real quick! SRM and Shama were still waiting, while we rushed ahead. The bus stopped briefly to drop off someone at Palakkad bypass. The road worsened soon after we crossed Vadakkenchery – but the ride was much better than my outbound. We made another stop at Mannuthy – at 0547. The bus took a right, and literally rushed to Thrissur town. We surely did three digit speeds in this section. We stopped at the Kallada office at Sakthan Thampuran Nagar sharp at 0557. My dad was already there to pick me up – the luggage was retrieved from the luggage hold. The bus was still there when I got into the car and started my return. They unloaded a lot of parcels here.

Concluding points.. The bus was old, but it did not show its age. It was decently kept, and most importantly, it rode really well. The NVH levels were well under control – the bus did not vibrate when idle, while the noise levels while on the run was under control. The bus took all of 8 hours, including the breaks, to reach Thrissur – that was decent, given the fact that the driver was sane!!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Mercedes 'Tri-Axle'

After rounds of planning, replanning, cancellation, planning.. and so on, I finally decide to take the plunge and head straight to Bangalore. Some urgent personal work, with some railfanning in the agenda, made this weekend the perfect time for my trip. Accordingly, I booked a ticket on the Bharathi Multi-Axle Mercedes Benz bus leaving on 21st July 2011, with boarding point at Aluva. The day arriving very soon..

An accident near my home meant that the power supply to our area was disrupted. With clouds looming large, it was wet and dark around my home. A short walk from my home, I reached the bus stop to get a bus to Kodungallur (38kms south of Thrissur, Kerala). Had to wait for quite some time to get a bus (the first two that came went without stopping). I got off at Kodungallur, and quickly got the next bus to Parur. As I reached Parur, I got a bus to Aluva as well. Except for the long waiting time near my home, travel to Aluva was a breeze. The bus dropped me well away from the place I needed to go, and this ensued hiring a rick to get to my place. I reached the pick up point (Zam Zam Travels Aluva) at 2035. The bus was scheduled to arrive at 2045.

I showed my ticket and enquired if the bus was on time - the reply was affirmative. I decided to remain seated out side the office - it was drizzling on and off, and hence standing on the road was not a choice. The bus came in at 2050, right behind the KPN Multi Axle to Chennai.The bus, KA-07-A-1212, looked sleek, decked up in Yellow Colour. The attendent (cleaner) and agent of the GSA for Kerala got off the bus. I was the only person to board at Aluva - the attendent took my bag and deposited it in the baggage hold, and the other guy checked my ticket. I got a 'boarding pass' on board the bus soon after we left Aluva. The bus started off from Aluva at 2100.

First Impressions: On entering the bus, came a whiff of fresh air. They had used some air freshener, and there was a very good fragrance. The cabin was well lit - the driver cabin looked much better than the two-axle Mercs running with KSRTC. I headed straight to my seat - I1, which was in the 9th row. The bus was about 50% empty. Blankets were already kept on the seat. The attendant came around to check if anyone had any requirements. Soon after the bus left, the attendant came again to distribute water bottles - they gave out 1 litre bottles!! The blanket was fairly big, unlike the ribbon sized shawls that most other operators pass off as blankets.

A dubbed movie was being played - the story was too bad to digest - hero kicking off many people at one go, and the heroine falling for the hero's stupid antics. My view of what was happening outside was badly disturbed by the condensation formed on the window glass. This led me to investigate what was happening - there are air vents directed at the windows. These vents cannot be closed - and ends up fogging the windows. This is surely a very bad design flaw - This flaw exists in almost all Indian built buses - wonder why there should be an air vent directed at the windows!

In the mean time, we roll into Angamaly - the time was 2118. A couple of passengers join in, and we continue forward. The road was in good shape, and we were cruising at a decent pace. We stopped at Koratty for dinner - The time now was 2128. There are a few decent sized restaurants on the road side, and we stopped at the last of them. This one was attached to a Petrol Bunk - there was a hotel and a US Pizza outlet there. I had dinner from home, and had nothing to do other than loiter around the bus. We started off at 2200 - a 20 minute break turned out to a 42 minute break overall! The bus was back to cruising. The driver made good use of the 4-laned road, and we were surely doing 3 digit speeds.

Went below Chalakkudy flyover, but did not stop to pick up anyone. We slowed down after the 4-lane roads ended a while before Mannuthy - we stopped at Mannuthy as well, where the travel agent's guy got off - 2234 hrs. Past Mannuthy, the road was in awful shape. The bus was rolling badly - I was being thrown around badly all the time. A while past Kuthiran ghats, I saw a Shama Multi Axle (the one running Ernakulam-Bangalore) running ahead of us - that guy was very fast, and our bus could not come anywhere close. But we did manage to trail him for a long time. In the mean time, the movie finished and the screens were closed. The curtains were pulled down, and lights were switched off - replaced with night lamps, rather.

I had two seats at my disposal, and decided to make full use of the opportunity. I couldn't see anything outside since the windows were fogged badly - and I had nothing much to do other than sleep! I vaguely remember reading "Walayar" on my mobile phone, but continued sleeping soon after. I woke up around 0115, only to see the bus running through Tiruppur - I was shocked! What was the bus doing in Tiruppur?? In the mean time, I fell asleep again! I woke up just as the bus stopped at Tiruppur bus station - 0133 hrs. They unloaded a few parcels and the drivers changed. We started off again at 0138 - that was pretty quick! We stopped again, this time at a petrol pump - 0150hrs. The bus took in a good 260 litres of diesel, while the passengers went out for a leak. The drivers too took a leak, and we started off at 0203. Just as we were moving out, our pairing bus came in.

I slept soon after the bus returned to the road - It was one deep sleep - I vaguely remember seeing us cross Salem. The bus did stop somewhere in the middle of the night - perhaps a leak break for the drivers. Both the drivers were sane - they did not overspeed, or do any dangerous heroics on the road. There were no rash overtakes, or hard braking. I was asleep for most of the journey - I woke up only as the bus stopped near the border. We had a very slow crawl till we crossed Attibelle toll gate. The bus took the Electronic city Elevated Highway. I called up my home well in advance, to arrange for my brother to pick me from the bus stop. The bus dropped me at Silk Board flyover exactly at 0613.

Overall: It was an awesome journey. The drivers were well mannered - they behaved well on the road. The attendant was also well behaved - he was patiently replying to passengers, and also ensured that he distributed bottles to all passengers. The airconditioner was powerful - but the vents pointed at the windows are a sore to passengers. The windows get fogged, plus the vents ensure that the passenger sitting at the window seat is frozen! This is a serious design flaw that needs to be corrected ASAP. The gangway is too narrow - very tough for passengers with bags to walk through.. no wonder the attendant asked me to leave my bag in the baggage hold. The ride was hard - no wonder the poor roads in India force manufacturers to go for harsh suspensions. The bus had a very good amount of roll - not very comfortable when the bus runs through poor roads. The engine was very noisy inside as well.

The AC Vents lack volume control - one can only adjust the direction of air flow. The passengers' control console is very stylish - two spot lights, a small night lamp, a switch to turn off the speaker and two AC vents. The seats were the standard Harita stuff, that one sees on most buses these days. The bus is surely better than the regular Indian buses - but is certainly not the best, only shares the spot with Volvo. Volvo had first mover advantage and they surely cashed on it - they did revolutionise bus travel in India. Mercedes sadly maintains the revolution at the same level - the star doesn't roll much forward!