December 19, 2011. 0245hrs, Coimbatore: One cold winter morning, I was sitting in a rickety autorickshaw heading to the SETC Bus Station in Coimbatore city, from the Railway Station. I was returning home after a 'dream-come-true' trip to Ooty by train (a separate travelogue in the pipeline - just some technical glitches preventing me from hitting that publish
button). That was during the time the tension between Kerala and TN was at its peak due to the Mullaperiyar issue. I made it to the SETC Bus Station (Thiruvalluvar Bus Station, Gandhipuram) around 0250hrs or so. The city bus station opposite to the SETC bus station was deep asleep - a couple of city buses were seen making "night special" rounds.
The SETC bus station was abuzz with a lot of Kerala bound buses parked in the bus station - I was actually excited to see so many to Kerala at that time. But... Wait! None of them (about half a dozen) were moving! Some were there since 0100hrs it seems! I headed straight to the enquiry counter: the station master was instructing crew not to start their buses until they are instructed to do so. They were waiting for confirmation from the Police for security! I was now sure that there would be no buses until daybreak. The Kerala SRTC office was shut, and there were no buses anywhere around - so that option was ruled out as well. I was too confused on what my next action should be - thought of heading to the railway station and taking the Kanyakumari express at 5:30am - that was still more than 2 hours away.
|The beast: KA-01-F-9346 of Depot-4, Bangalore.|
Around 0325hrs, I see a white colour beast rolling in towards the bus station - that was an Airavat Club Class. That one was surely heading to Kerala - the bus just rolled past me, took a "U" turn and parked on the other side of the road. I ran across to make sure I'd get a seat - the icing on the cake was that the bus was heading to Thrissur! I asked the conductor for a seat - "seat #6" was his answer. Some 6-7 passengers got in at Coimbatore - one passenger was accomodated on the conductor seat (in the cabin) while the conductor chose to stand. We left Coimbatore at 0335. The ticket cost me Rs. 193 - the Conductor laughed his way! The bus made very quick progress - we did not stop for any break after Coimbatore. The bus stopped at Palakkad bypass to drop a passenger - now the passenger sitting in the cabin moved inside the bus, and the conductor got back his seat.
The bus went to Palakkad bus station - at 0435. Quite a lot of passengers got off here - they took in some passengers here as well. The bus took a long way to get our of the town - instead of just turning it around and getting out. The driver was pretty quick - very fast, but not rash. I was in an aisle seat after a very long time - being used to window seat rides, this one was boring. The seat was very comfortable though - the bus was very new. The ride was rough around Kuthiran - thanks to the under-construction roads. We finally made it to Thrissur at 0555hrs - just 2 hours and 20 minutes from Coimbatore. That was my fastest in a bus.
At Rs. 193, the trip was total value for money. The service was god-send, and rescued me from having to stand there till daybreak for services to resume. A 2:20hrs journey time for the 123kms from Coimbatore to Thrissur in an Airavat Club Class was surprising - even more surprising that they did not take a break! The entire distance is 2-laned, with about 40% of the distance under widening. The bus was brand new and the crew did a good job. I loved the trip on that bus.. another one on the same service coming very soon :)