The visit to Mumbai was very fruitful – the work we had in Mumbai was finished on the very first day itself. By the evening of our arrival in Mumbai, I was busy searching for return tickets. Dad was keen of reaching back in Bangalore in the morning – 9AM latest. So, I had to search for buses leaving in the afternoon. I had originally planned to try Kesineni or Kallada – but both leave in the evening. I checked for tickets on RedBus, and found out that Sharma, National and Neeta had afternoon departures. I checked the VRL website, and they too had a bus in the timeframe I was looking at – but had seats only in the rear half of the bus. So VRL was ruled out. Neeta was never part of my consideration. I wanted to try MSRTC, but their website was not operating for some vague reason – and I did not want to go to the counter. So the tie was between Sharma and National. I decided to try out National – have heard a lot of good reviews and my calculations showed that it could be an iShift on that trip. So booked a ticket immediately. [For those who missed: Read the review of the outbound journey by VRL here]
December 04, 2012:
We vacated our hotel room well before 12noon. I had kept Vashi as our boarding point eventhough the bus had a boarding point at Belapur. We headed to Vashi by an NMMT Volvo – the fare was Rs. 35 per head. The bus was maintained fairly well – it was heading to Borivali. The ridership was fairly good as well. I was still in awe seeing such a frequent Volvo service between Belapur and Vashi – in the good olden days, it used to be non-AC buses in Navi Mumbai. The journey evoked a lot of nostalgia. We reached Vashi by around 1240hrs, and headed straight to the famous Navaratna restaurant for lunch. After lunch and some shopping, we took an auto to reach the boarding point of our bus – “Juna Toll Naka”. The boarding point is the place where a Toll plaza existed long back. This place is now the pick-up point for long distance private buses.
The place is no less than a torture for passengers – there is no shade or even places to sit. We had some torrid time waiting for the bus. A couple of non-ac buses came in while we waited for our bus to turn up. The pick-up time according to the ticket was 1415hrs – but the bus was nowhere in sight even at 1425hrs. I was keeping my fingers crossed that the bus turns out to the iShift one. Sometime past 1430hrs, I saw the National bus turning up in the horizon and approaching the Vashi gaon signal – and that was the iShift! The bus came in to the pick-up point at 1435hrs – the bus was KA-01-AB-3101, “Sangam”. I was hoping to get the pairing bus, “Sanam” – but nevertheless the iShift was surely the icing on the cake.
|The bus - KA-01-AB-3101 (Photo from archives)
We were the only people to board from here – the moment the bus stopped a guy asked us if our seat numbers were 11 and 12 – it was. Bag was left in the boot and we got into the bus. The bus got moving at 1438hrs. The bus was clean and fresh – a very good air freshener was used. The headrest covers on the seat had the characteristic National logo as well as the name of the bus. Shortly after the bus started, the attendant came around distributing water bottles – they gave 1ltr bottles for each passenger. The bus took the flyover at Nerul as well as Belapur, but went below at Kharghar – but nobody was picked up. We next stopped at Kalamboli (near McDonalds) for pickup – at 1504hrs. The agent’s guy got off here. Some more passengers joined in, and we left at 1506hrs. The bus got on to Mumbai-Pune Expressway and the driver maintained pace on the mid lane. I was expecting him to let the beast loose, but my GPS continuously recorded speeds in the range of 90~95kmph only. I guess he was engaging the cruise control. A fairly recent Bollywood movie was being played at the time.
The bus pulled into the food plaza just past the Khalapur toll plaza for a break – at 1532hrs. The bus was refuelled, and we started off at 1603hrs. The run was eventless after the expressway. We dropped a couple of passengers at Wakad (1659) and proceeded towards Katraj. We reached Katraj at 1733hrs. A whole lot of passengers got off, and a lot of passenger got in. The bus was full in no time. The crew took a lot of time to settle accounts and re-start the journey. The bus started off at 1745hrs. The bus got onto the Katraj Ghats – I was travelling through a proper ghat section in a multi-axle bus for the first time – the bus handled the curves beautifully. Traffic was fairly heavy and we weren’t doing great speeds. The bus stopped for another pickup at Hotel Natraj (1821hrs). The second movie was also a recent bollywood flick.
The bus stopped for dinner at Hotel Sagar Plaza, at a place called Vathar, near Kolhapur (2119hrs). After the passengers got off, the crew locked the bus and they too headed for dinner. The place was not great, and was overpriced like all motels where buses stop. Our bus was the only vehicle to stop at the hotel – there was a better hotel nearby, and a lot of cars had stopped there. We left the place after dinner at 2200hrs. The bus stopped again for pickup at Kolhapur bypass (2212hrs). We left the place at 2216hrs. The bus was full now. I slept soon after the bus started. I slept really deep – did not realise anything till the point the cleaner switch on all the lights and shouted out “Tumkur”. We stopped at Tumkur bypass to drop passengers at 0559hrs.
We started off from Tumkur at 0605hrs. The promised arrival time at Bangalore was 0700hrs, and there was no way the bus could make there by that time now. The driver showed no signs of hurry – steady pace was maintained. We had one Neeta B9R for company now (I had seen that bus while waiting for my bus at Vashi) and some KSRTC buses. The bus stopped just past Nelamangala toll gate to drop a passenger, at 0650hrs. After Nelamangala, the bus got into the tollway and maintained steady pace. I tried calling a couple of taxi guys to find if I could get a cab to reach home – but none of them had free cabs at that time. Our next stop was at Goruguntepalya – at 0711hrs. Next stop was at Yeshwantpur Rly Station, 0717hrs. Normally buses go through Rajaji Nagar, but National normally goes through Mekhri Circle. Keeping the same tradition, my bus also took the Yeshwantpur flyover and headed towards IISc. Instead of turning towards Mekhri Circle, the bus directly headed through Sankey tank road.
We reached Anand Rao Circle at 0736hrs. I went to the driver and asked if he could drop me at Corporation circle – he agreed and asked me to keep my baggage inside the bus. I got the baggage from the boot and kept it inside the bus. There was slight traffic after AR Circle. We were dropped at Corporation Circle at 0746hrs. From there we took a BMTC Volvo to Bannerghatta road, and my brother picked us from the bus stop near home.
End remarks: The bus, KA-01-AB-3101, had some 2.16lakh kms on the odo. The bus was clean both inside and outside, and was really well maintained. No scratches or dents on the bus. The bus was too non-National style – there were no dazzling lights! The engine was super-silent – all I could hear was a hum from the engine. The crew were not in uniform – infact, I’ve never seen a National crew in uniform. The crew were well behaved – the drivers were friendly. They switched off the engine during breaks, and even kept the bus locked during the dinner break. The second driver slept in the luggage boot, and hence all the 49 seats in the bus were for sale. Driving was top-class – no honking at night, no rash cuts or overtakes and no hard braking. Both the drivers maintained steady pace all the time. The iShift did a good job – the engine sounded relaxed all the time, and ensured that the drivers did not lug the engine. The only grouse with National is the kind of places they stop for food – the hotel did not look very clean and was very pricey. Food was very average. They provided water bottles in the bus – I hadn’t received water bottles during my outbound journey in VRL, which charged more for the ticket as well! The end-to-end journey took 17h08m – an hour more than the VRL journey. The distance I travelled extra was only 12kms.
Water Bottle: Yes
Staff Behaviour: 5/5
Overall: 4.5/5 (0.5 points less for the bad choice of dinner break)
Will I take this service again: The service was great. I’d surely love to try them again.