Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Airavat Gold Class...

After a sleepless night, I was sitting at the front seat of an MTC bus headed to Ambattur from Broadway. I love the design of MTC buses – very functional and fairly spacious. Just as the bus approached Central, I receive a call on my phone – an interview that I had attended in Bangalore was positive. Now, that was the icing on my cake – two job-offers together, and it was no secret that I chose the one I felt was the best. I now had to head to Bangalore to take up my new assignment. A quick round of calls to my family followed, and I confirmed to my new employer in Bangalore that I would join them at the earliest.

The hunt for a ticket to Bangalore just began. I browsed the KSRTC website over phone and found that tickets were available. However, due to the awfully low speed on the GPRS connection, it wasn’t a very good idea to book over phone. I called up my brother in Bangalore, and he booked the tickets for me. The bus was the 1530 Chennai-Hubli Airavat Gold Class. Jayasankar had called me and he was to join me to carry my heavy baggage to the bus station.

He joined me for lunch, and we started off from Central after lunch. We decided to head to Broadway, and take a bus to CMBT from there. The bus to CMBT from Broadway runs via Central, but getting a seat at Central is difficult. Not wanting to take chances, we took a bus to Broadway – it was a Marcopolo. Once at Broadway, we began searching for the Volvo to CMBT. The Broadway-CMBT route (#15B) is very busy and there are buses throughout the day. I headed to the timekeepers’ office to enquire if there were any Volvos to Koyambedu (CMBT – Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus) at that time – the officers kept pointing at the next counter, and finally the last counter pointed back to the first counter. This was sure to become a vicious circle and hence I dropped the idea of searching for a Volvo. We got into an ordinary bus and took the first row seat. The conductor was adamant that we buy luggage tickets. The bus ride from Broadway to Koyambedu CMBT took about 45 minutes – was fairly fast.
 We reached CMBT at around 1430hrs – an hour left for my bus. The Bangalore bound buses of KSRTC are parked at the far end of Platform-1. At the departure area, there were about two Airavats, one Rajahamsa and my Airavat Gold Class parked. The Airavats were to Bangalore, and Mangalore, while the Rajahamsa was to Madikeri (via Bangalore). My bus – KA-42-F-1067 – had arrived from Hubli only about an hour ago. The crews were still relaxing in the bus after their long drive. Around 1500hrs, the drivers (the bus had two drivers and one conductor) were busy cleaning the front windshield and filling water to the windshield washer tank. The conductor rushed off to their office to get the reservation chart. The crew were really friendly, and they allowed me take a couple of images of the bus before boarding started.
The bus: KA-42-F-1067, of Hubli Rural-3 depot
Boarding commenced at 1515hrs. By now, the other two Airavats had left, and there was on Express parked in the place. There were about 20 reserved passengers, and the conductor managed to get in about 6 more passengers. The bus was pretty young – about 39000kms on the odo. It was well maintained – clean both inside and outside. Most passengers were curious to know what was special in the Gold Class. The Gold Class is basically an Airavat with two axles at the back. The bus has 53 seats, as compared to only 49 in an Airavat Club Class. The seats in Airavat Gold Class do not have calf support, and have lesser angle of recline as compared to the ones in Club Class. The leg space is tighter as well. The only speciality of the gold class is that it charges less than the club class, but more than a regular Airavat.
Inside the bus. The blue-green upholstery doesn't really go well with yellow curtains. A brown/dark-red theme would've been great.
 The bus started moving at 1533hrs – three minutes past scheduled departure time. Just as the bus got moving, the second driver came up and pulled down the near LCD screen. A bollywood movie was played. The second driver headed to the last row to sleep – this guy would drive the night portion of the journey. The guy at the wheels was well composed – a very stable style of driving. The conductor distributed water bottles to passengers soon after the bus got moving. Blankets are not provided for the Chennai-Bangalore leg. The progress until Poonamalle bypass was painful – crawling most of the time. One point that I liked was that the driver was gearing the bus properly – he did not lug the engine anytime, and kept using the appropriate gear every time.

The driver got a bit relaxed after we crossed Poonamalle bypass – but the top speed never exceeded 80kmph for quite some time. The engine did not sound strained – meaning the gearing was proper. The movie was played at low volumes – comfortable enough for people to sleep. All the window seats in the bus were taken. When the passenger in the row ahead of mine reclined his seat to the maximum, I struggled a bit to find space for rest my leg. The leg space was the sole negative point about this bus. The driver increased the top speed to 90kmph now, and consistently maintained the speed. Lane changes were properly indicated, and he used the horn to the bare minimum. There were no rash cuts or sudden braking – a very disciplined driver, I must say.

The run was eventless – the bus just kept running at the right gear, at more or less a consistent speed. We crossed Vellore at around 1800hrs – two-and-a-half hours for CMBT-Vellore seemed high to me. I had done this journey in exactly two hours in a TNSTC Volvo a couple of years back. I got worried if this bus would reach Bangalore on time. We kept crossing a lot of Chennai bound Volvos – the frequency of these buses increased after Vellore. We overtook an SRM B9R (The new Chennai-Bangalore day service) at Ambur – the SRM guys were stopping at every town looking for passengers. Our bus did not stop anywhere to search for more passengers. We stopped right after the Vaniyambadi toll gate for a quick break – there was tender coconut vendor at the place. I downed one and got back in to the bus. We started off at 1917. The second driver was still asleep.

We passed Krishnagiri at 1955. The SRM bus was ahead of us now (they overtook us, when we stopped for a break). There was one Kallada B9R for company after Krishnagiri – I guess that was the day service bus coming from Trivandrum. The Kallada guys went ahead of us as we neared Shoolagiri. Our bus stopped for Dinner at Kamat Upachar, just past Shoolagiri (2035hrs). Unlike other hotels where buses stop, Kamat did not practice the “pre-paid” policy. Food was served fairly fast, since they offered limited menu for bus passengers. The bus was locked as all passengers got off. The conductor opened the doors (by entering through the driver door) only when there were passengers waiting to get back in – this kept the baggage safe! We started from Kamat at 2109hrs – the break took 34 minutes. Bangalore terminating buses would usually not have this break, but they’d stop for evening tea instead.
At the dinner break...
 The first driver continued even after the break, while the second guy headed to the last row again! The movie was switched off after the break – they played two-and-a-half movies! All the movies were bollywood ones – really appreciated for an inter-state route. We crossed Hosur at around 2140 – a couple of passengers got off here. The bus lost a lot of time at the Attibele toll gate - heavy traffic, plus wrong selection of toll lane jammed us in. A couple of passengers got off at Electronic City (2209hrs). I was dropped at Bommanahalli at 2220hrs. That was 6hours and 50 minutes, from Chennai Koyambedu to Bommanahalli, including a 34 minute break. Not really bad considering the fact that the bus did not go beyond 90kmph at any point of time.

The bus was young, and well kept. The crew were really friendly – all of them spoke Kannada and Hindi. The conductor spoke English as well. They did not mumble when passengers asked them to be dropped at certain specific points – the conductor helped passengers to take the luggage out as well. The only thing I did not like about the bus is the low leg-space – the legroom is same as that of the regular Airavats, but not anywhere near that of the Airavat Club Class (thanks to one extra row of seats). The bus is excellent for day journeys – night run might be tight. The crew behaviour was top class. The driving style was really good. Absolutely no rash overtakes, and he did not lug the engine at all. I’d recommend this service.

Cleanliness: 5/5 | Punctuality: 5/5 | Staff Behaviour: 5/5
Overall: 5/5
Definitely recommended!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Bed-bugs, cockroaches and a dead AC: Tale of a train journey

End of April: I was beaming in joy as I received an offer letter for a major newspaper company in South India, offering me a job in their editorial department. The posting was in Tamil Nadu, with training at Chennai. I decided to take up the job, and accepted the offer. I was to join in the first week of May, but certain personal commitments made me postpone the date to mid May. (It is a different matter that I  did not join the job at all at a later stage) I had the option of taking a bus or a train from my place to Chennai – I initially planned to take the bus, but later changed my mind to take a bus due to the amount of luggage I would be carrying. I booked the ticket at the newly opened railway ticket reservation counter at my hometown, Kodungallur. I took a ticket in 2A of 12696 Trivandrum-Chennai Central Superfast – I still do not know why I booked this train. The ticket was waitlisted – WL16.

Days passed quickly. The ticket did not move even a bit for about a week. Over the last one week, the ticket fell to WL15, then to WL11, then WL9 and finally reached WL4 a day before journey. I could not even try booking a tatkal ticket due to lack of internet connectivity on the opening day.

May 14, 2012: The day of journey.

13:10hrs: It is exactly 4 hours left for the train to start from Trivandrum central. I anxiously checked if charting was done. The status claimed “Chart not prepared”. If the ticket wasn’t confirming, I wanted to get a bus ticket. Most buses to Chennai that evening was more-or-less full.

14:10hrs: Three more hours left. The ticket moved to WL1. Chart still not prepared.

15:30hrs: Chart Prepared. My status was now “RA1 3”. Oops! It just moved to RAC! Anyways, I can board the train, and by now preparations for the journey was on warfooting. The train would depart from Thrissur at 2310hrs.

Since I am the only driver at home, a driver was hired to drop me at the station. I started from home at 2130hrs – so sentimentally charged that I could not bid bye to my mom. We reached the station at around 2210hrs – my dad, and two neighbours were accompanying me. Just as we entered the station, the Ernakulam-Guruvayur passenger pulled in with a WAP4 doing the honours. Moments after the passenger left, the Mangalore-Trivandrum Express (16348) came in with a WAP4. Later, the Tirunelveli-LTT Holiday Special came in with a Kalyan WDM3D at the helm. Behind the special was the Yeshwantpur bound Garib Rath Express, with a Krishnarajapuram WDM3A. By now, the time was past 2310hrs. I kept enquiring the status of my train through Trainenquiry, and found that my train was coming closer to the station. In the mean time, a couple of freights passed through. The PA system came alive with the typical irritating chime at around 2325hrs – this raised hopes in me. But that was to announce the arrival of the Trivandrum-Guruvayur Intercity Express. This one came behind a WAP1. My train finally came in at 2340hrs – WAP4 #22224 of Erode was in charge.

My coach was the 8th from the loco – WGACCW 05051, based at BBQ (Basin Bridge Jn.) Chennai. It was hot inside the coach, and I felt things were not all-right as I got in. There was eerie silence in the coach – the co-passengers around my seat seemed very uncomfortable in their berths. I bid bye to the send-off committee at the station, just as the train got moving (2345hrs). By now, I understood that the AC was dead! There was some electrical failure in the coach, and they couldn’t switch on the air-conditioners. The TTE came around to check my ticket – the other RAC passenger hadn’t turned up and hence my seat got confirmed. He marked the seat number on my ticket and moved to the nearby coaches for checking. Coach attendants were now running helter-skelter to get the power supply restored.

Finally, jumper cables were laid from the nearby coach, and they managed to partially restore power supply. The power supply was barely adequate to run one AC unit at a time (AC coaches have two units, one at either end of the coach). The supply would trip the moment they switched on the second AC unit. So finally, our fate was decided – we had to travel without AC that night. Not a great start to my journey – I rued booking the train instead of taking a bus. In the meantime, the loco pilot unleashed all the horses and we were at a fairly good speed. The train slowed down near Bharathapuzha Bridge, and then picked up speed again. The passenger on the side-upper berth near my seat was now sitting up. It was very hot in the coach – the fans were dead as well. The AC on the other end of our coach was running, but that unit could hardly pump in enough cool air to reach us. The train rolled into Palakkad, and the TTE literally ran off from the coach. The new TTE was welcomed to our coach with a handful of complaints.

This TTE just ran away from the coach and settled down in some other coach. His berth (side lower berth #5) was allotted to a passenger now. The train started off from Palakkad, and picked speed quickly. I was exhausted completely, and fell asleep despite the unbearable heat in the coach. I woke up hearing some commotion in our coach – the passenger who was allotted the SLB was now sitting up and shouting at the coach attendant. The passenger on the SUB was sitting all this time. Both of them were disturbed by bedbugs! The coach had a lot of cockroaches – they were running all around, on the curtains, walls, berths and even on people who were sleeping! There were a few kids in the train, and all of them were crying for most of the time. The TTE had disappeared from the scene, while the AC Attendant was sleeping at the other end of the coach! We reached Tiruppur sometime around 0200hrs (from my vague memory).

Just as the train left Tiruppur, the TTE re-appeared in our coach to get hold of the AC Attendant. It seems the AC in B2 (where this TTE was holed up) was not cooling enough – by now, my patience was running thin, and confronted this TTE. It was “cooling less” in B2, while it was “cooling nil” in A1. By now, some more passengers joined in complaining about cockroachs and bedbugs. The poor passenger in SLB #5 ran away to 3A to sleep a bit. The Attendant was not asked to find a solution to the power supply issue. By now, the train pulled into Erode. The staff took absolutely no effort to repair the power supply issue or seek assistance from the coaching staff at Erode station. The train started off from Erode after its usual 10minute halt. What disappointed me a lot was the fact that not a single passenger in the coach joined me to get the AC repaired – people were cribbing within themselves, while some people were complaining about torn bedsheets.

The TTE felt that things were not alright, and he called up some officer in Salem division (at 3 in the morning!). That officer spoke to the Coach attendant and they discussed some idea to solve the issue. The AC at our end of the coach was now switched on. The AC was at full blow, and it was dead cold in the coach now. I was now terribly tired, and just fell asleep. I do not remember seeing Salem station – woke up just when we were departing from Jolarpet. I barely had any energy to get up – just fell asleep again. I woke up a while before reaching Katpadi, when Jayasankar called me to know the status of my train. A lot of unreserved passengers got in to the train at Katpadi – the TTE refused to allow anybody in our coach. The red-eyed, sleep-deprived TTE was not in the best of his moods. The coach attendant was now running the AC at either ends of the coach alternatively.

I decided to call off my sleep and got off the berth. Since power supply was partially up and running, water supply in the coach was restored. The only catch is that it would work only at the end where the AC is running. The train picked speed soon after leaving Katpadi. This was my first journey in the Jolarpet-Chennai section during the day time. But the incidents of the previous night drained all the excitement of the journey. And, yes – I too was attacked by bedbugs, but to a lesser extent as compared to the unlucky passengers in the Side-lower berth. We stopped at Arakkonam briefly (it’s a scheduled halt). I got my breakfast after Arakkonam – the only good part of the journey was this. The breakfast (idly-wada) was seriously good. The progress slowed after Arakkonam – we were riding yellows for quite some time. We slowed at Perambur, but did not stop. We lost all the steam after Vyasarpadi junction.

The train almost stopped at Basin Bridge – quite a lot of passengers got off here. We did not stop in reality, but crawled through at walking speeds. I curiously looked at BBQ Trip shed for WAP-7s, but there were only WAP4s everywhere. We pulled into Chennai Central (I did not see which platform where we on) at 0935hrs – a full 15 minutes before time. Jayasankar was waiting for me at the station – thanks a lot buddy. There ended a journey that I would love to forget at the earliest. This awful experience makes me averse to trains further – the bus would’ve taken me to the city earlier in better comfort. Southern Railway has stopped to its lowest cleanliness levels in recent times – once rated the best, BBQ is now very bad at maintenance. This indifferent approach by the railways (whichever zone it is) is only fueling the shift of passengers to the roadways. Buses have taken over the scene in many routes now – while wider roads seeded the shift, the railways have nurtured it. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

First on Viji-Yathra…

May 03, 2012: My quick visit to Bangalore was heading to a close. I was desperately looking for tickets to return home. Thursday night plus summer holidays meant that almost every bus to Kerala was running full! I tried every operators’ website, but every bus was either full, or had only the last row seats empty. The story was same for Karnataka SRTC as well. I decided to check out the travel agents in Madiwala area. I headed first to Friends Travels – Kallada G4’s bus was full by then. Then went to Shama – they were full as well. Then tried a handful of operators including Kallada (Suresh Kallada), KPN, Viji, etc – all of them had tickets only to Thrissur bypass. Getting off at Thrissur bus at 4 or 5 in the morning is a nightmare – public transportation would wake up only after 5:30 or 6 in the morning. I decided to return home empty handed, and may be try out my luck with some train (yeah... a bit over-ambitious for sure).

After returning home, I checked the railway site and was shocked to see that tickets were available (RAC, though). As usual, the IRCTC site was down – thus train goes out of the window. Tried desperately on the KSRTC (Karnataka) website to see if there was some luck – no luck though. Now, I was on Redbus to see if there was some ray of hope. That was not the case, again! I decided to change my destination to Ernakulam now, and checked for some buses. I finalized Viji-Yathra’s Pathanamthitta B9R – this one would leave at 2030hrs and reach Ernakulam at 0530hrs. The ticket fare was Rs. 1050, and I booked my first ticket on Redbus. The reporting time at Madiwala, according to the ticket, was 2015hrs. My brother dropped me at Madiwala around 1945hrs.

I headed first to Viji-Yathra’s office in Madiwala – the guy at the office said the bus was already at the “petrol pump”. The fuel station – commonly known as “Friends Petrol Pump” – in Madiwala is a parking place for many operators in Madiwala region, and is also the boarding point for many operators now. The fuel station is not working anymore, and it is more of a “bus station” for Kerala bound buses now. The place resembled a peak hour government bus station. There was one SRM, Viji, Kallada-G4 and Shama B9R parked in that small piece of land. I headed straight to the Viji bus – only to be told that the bus was not mine. That bus was heading to Trivandrum. Around 2000hrs, the Viji Trivandrum bus headed out. The Shama B9R was parked properly, while the Kallada-G4 headed to Kalasipalayam to pick up passengers. The SRM started boarding as well. My bus, KA-01-AB-1767, came in at 2010hrs and managed to barely make space to enter the place. There was one Golden Travels’ two-axle B9R heading to Kannur as well.
My bus: KA-01-AB-1767. The bus had about 34000 kms on the odo.
 There was not much light at the place, and it was confusion all around. There was nothing much to do, and hence I just got into the bus and took my seat. My seat was K4, a window seat in the last-but-one row. The bus was running 100% full that day. The guy who was verifying tickets had a tough time managing passengers – there were quite some “duplicate” bookings i.e., two passengers given the same seat! But, the guy somehow managed to seat all of them. The bus did not move even an inch upto 2030hrs – we were still half into the “bus station”. The bus finally reached upto the exit, but just backed up and waited till the guy finished checking all the tickets. He finished about 50% and signaled the driver to start. We started off at 2054hrs. When he came to, I reconfirmed if my bus would be entering Thrissur – the answer was “no” (as expected). I had booked upto Ernakulam anyway. The bus went through St. Johns, Koramangala water tank and came through Madiwala market. By this time, the guy had finished checking all the tickets and he got off the bus. Our bus had two drivers and one cleaner now. They played a movie as the bus got on Silk Board Flyover.

The cleaner came to the back to see if everyone had received blankets (already kept on the seat) and to open the rear LCD panel. The lights were switched off as the bus reached Bommanahalli. We took the elevated highway to Electronic city. The bus had a pickup at the toll gate at the end of BETL! We had some more passengers joining at Chandapura (near Narayana Hrudayalaya). After all the pick-ups, the driver meant business, and he was flying, quite literally. We clocked speeds in excess of 100kmph immediately past Chandapura – he did a couple of high-speed ‘Z’ maneuvers, testing the stability of the bus big time. He was rash till the time we crossed into Tamil Nadu. He mellowed down a bit after entering TN (may be due to the fear of speed-checking). There was thankfully no traffic block near Hosur checkpost. We rushed into Hosur flyover at three digit speeds (as usual), and the speed was maintained for quite some time.

Heavy traffic slowed down our progress as we neared Krishnagiri (thankfully – the speeds he did until then wasn’t very comfortable). The movie was getting stuck very often – it got more irritating as the bus hit bad roads. The movie was switched off as we neared Krishnagiri. I drew the curtains close, and got set to sleep after the movie was switched off. All lights – including night lamps – were switched off. The driver was back to three digit speeds again now. My GPS was going crazy with the kind of speeds our driver did (the top speed was only 105kmph), but the way he reached the speed was crazy. I dozed off as we were approaching Dharmapuri. I woke up as we were entering the flyover at Salem – he entered the circular approach at high speed, almost throwing out my co-passenger from his seat. I slept off after we stabilized on the highway.

I woke up just as the bus entered the regular fuel station at Perundurai for break, at 0134hrs. The bus took in 225lts of diesel, while the passengers emptied their tanks. The break was quite short – the drivers just took a quick loo break, and took tea from a vendor present at the petrol pump. No refreshment options for passengers. We got moving from the fuel station at 0143hrs. Now, that was a very quick break. I was back in my seat, trying to continue my sleep. Just sometime after we resumed our journey, I noticed that our bus wasn’t taking the regular route. The road seemed smaller than the regular route. I quickly switched on the GPS on my phone, and checked which route we were heading on. It turned out that we were now heading to Tiruppur. The bus took the Chengampalli-Tiruppur-Palladam-Irugur route, and reached Coimbatore bypass. It was the usual route after we got on to the bypass.

I had a nice sleep after Walayar. I do not remember seeing the bus stopped anywhere. Guessing by the timings, I believe there was no traffic block at Walayar, either. I vaguely remember feeling the bus hitting the rough patch near Kuthiran. I woke up only when the cleaner called out “Mannuthy” and the lights went on. We reached Mannuthy (Thrissur bypass) at 0442. About 5-6 passengers got off, and a whole lot of parcels were unloaded. I was perplexed if I should take the risk of getting off at the bypass – it’s a nightmare to reach the bus station at that time, and autorickshaws are sure to rip off my wallet. I decided to continue to Ernakulam – getting transportation at Ernakulam would also be an issue, but the distance involved would be lesser. We started off from Mannuthy at 0445. Three minutes is all it took for them to unload quite a lot of parcels!

I slept off again after Mannuthy. I vaguely remember seeing the bus cross the controversial toll gate at Paliekara. I dozed off again, and woke up just when the cleaner called for a passenger getting off at Ankamaly. The time was around 0515 or so. I slept again after that. I woke up just as the cleaner shouted again… this time “Aluva”. A split second decision – I decided to get off at Aluva. I jumped off my seat just as the bus was about to stop. It was a struggle to get my bag off the overhead bin. By now the bus had stopped. I rushed out of the bus. I was dropped at Aluva, at 0530hrs. We covered around 520kms in 8 hours and 36 minutes. That was an impressive average speed of 60.47kmph.

The bus was well maintained. It was clean as well. The shawls were thicker than the ones given on some other buses, but were too narrow (as usual). Water bottles were not provided. The bus was delayed throughout the run - started off with a 24 minute delay, and perhaps maintained the same delay at Aluva. The driving was not great - rash at times. They maintained three digit speeds most of the times - but the driving was not very confidence inspiring. I've done such three digit speeds even earlier, but never felt so insecure. Overspeeding by these operators are a cause for concern - it is these over-enthusiastic travellers who force operators to be rash - people want to leave late from their workplaces and reach their destination at the earliest. The roads cannot be safe unless we stop operators from being rash.

Cleanliness: 5/5 | Staff behaviour: 4.5/5 | Punctuality: 4/5 || Overall: 3/5
Recommended? Not really, but this operator is mostly the cheapest on the route.
Will I take this service again: Only as the last option!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Home coming... Bangalore to Thrissur

 A day after returning from Hyderabad, I was busy looking at options to head back home. The last time, I took Kallada. This time, I decided to try the Airavat Club Class to Thrissur. It took time to finalize, and finally booked the ticket online. I selected my new favorite seat, #16. The bus was mostly empty at the time I booked the ticket (the day prior to my journey).

April 02, 2012: The evening of journey. For the first time, I did not ever remember to get a print-out of the ticket. I left from home at around 2000hrs for a 2110 departure (pretty late). My brother dropped me outside the bus station at around 2050hrs – my bus was standing there all set to move. I showed my m-ticket to the conductor, left the baggage in the boot and got into the bus. My co-passenger was already there. The load was looking impressive – not less than 40 seats, on a Monday from Bangalore! Just as the clock ticket 2110, the crew at the bus station remembered that they had parcels to load! Loading the parcels too some time, and we finally got moving at 2128hrs, an 18 minute delay at the origin!
My bus: KA-01-F-9346. At Thrissur.
 The bus took the usual, Lalbagh route to get to Hosur road. We had another pick-up at Dairy circle (2138hrs). There was no pick-up at St. Johns, and hence the bus took the road via Ayyappa temple instead. There was heavy traffic block after Silk Board flyover – but our bus driver took the service road, and we managed to get past the snarl quickly. We stopped at Electronic City (2204) for pick up. The pick-ups were quick – we did not lose much time here. The driver picked up speed after Electronic City and we made quick progress. There was no traffic block at Hosur, thankfully. The bus went below the flyover at Hosur. We had yet another pickup – at Hosur (2231)! While we waited for the passenger, Kerala SRTC’s Bangalore-Palakkad Super Deluxe overtook us.

The bus stopped for dinner break at Shoolagiri (the usual Sreekrishna bhavan – Coffee Day – McD joint), at 2254hrs. This break is absolutely unwarranted – why should a bus leaving at 2110hrs stop for dinner? The bus is barely two hours in the run – passengers just about settle down when the bus stops for a break! While I do maintain that this break is unwarranted, I have used this break every time to grab a bite from McDonalds. This time was no different – except the fact that the burger was too hot and I burnt my upper palate with the food. We started off from the hotel at 2315hrs. I slept off soon after the bus started off – I just learnt the trick on how to sleep in a bus :)

I slept through the journey, and woke up around 0400hrs. I was expecting my bus to be past Coimbatore now. Had a hard time figuring out where we were. I was literally shocked – we were just reaching Coimbatore! We reached Coimbatore bus station at 0412! It took us 6 hours and 44 minutes! Not really bad considering the break we took, but still this was on the higher side. And, guess what – the Palakkad super deluxe which overtook us at Hosur was already standing at Coimbatore! Aaw! There was enough salt on the injury now.  We left Coimbatore at 0414hrs. I slept off again.

Thankfully our bus did not stop again for break (at the bakery near Ettimadai). We rushed through, and reached Palakkad at 0520. Quite a lot of passengers got off here. They did take in some new passengers from Palakkad as well. The ride after Palakkad was nothing great to write about – the usual bad road, heavy traffic run. The roads seemed to have worsened from my past ride – there was a lot of body roll. We stopped at Mannuthy to drop a passenger, and continued into the town. We stopped near Sakthan stand (private bus station) to drop another passenger. I got off my seat now, and headed towards the front to have a look at how the bus manages its way to the KSRTC bus station. Just as we reached the KSRTC bus station, the 2120 Ernakulam Mercedes came out of the bus station (wonder where did this guy overtake us – most probably when we went into Palakkad town). The bus finally dropped me at Thrissur KSRTC Bus station, dot at 0645 (late by exactly an hour).

The 483 km journey took 9 hours and 17 minutes. That was too long, by all estimates! That was the longest in my history (or may be the second longest) of trips between Bangalore and Thrissur. The cake for the longest would also be held by KaSRTC, for sure. The quickest was undoubtedly by our own Kerala SRTC Garuda. The bus, KA-01-F-9346, was less than a year old – and had about 40K kms on the odo. This driver did lug the engine a lot – I was awake for most part of the Palakkad-Thrissur run, and it was evident that he was having the engine cry out on the highest gear most of the time. The new obsession that KaSRTC has on mileage is making their drivers torture the engines, and in turn making the bus reach its destination well behind schedule. After unwanted breaks, the next thing to drive off passengers is the obsession on mileage – absolute insensitivity to punctuality is not a great idea!

Cleanliness: 5/5. Staff behavior: 4.5/5. Punctuality: 3/5. Overall: 4/5

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Sleeping like a baby… Hyderabad to Bangalore

March 30, 2012: After a tiring day in Hyderabad, I was looking at my options to return to Bangalore. I called my brother in Bangalore to check availability of tickets in Karnataka SRTC for that night. He couldn’t book online due to some issues with the reservation website. I now asked my cab driver to head straight to Hyderabad Mahatma Gandhi Bus Station. I first went to the APSRTC counter to see if there were tickets in the Vennela Sleeper – but only upper berths were vacant. I went to the KSRTC counter to check for tickets in their evening buses. I specifically asked for a Multi-axle Volvo – he issued tickets for the “2001HYDBNG” Airavat Club Class bus. I was looking for a bus later in the night, but he was adamant to sell this bus. I got a right side window seat, and headed back to my hotel room in my cab. After a quick bath, I asked the same cabbie to drop me back at MGBS.

I reached MGBS at around 1900hrs. I walked around the bus station to click some pictures – but did not notice anything interesting. An entire day starving meant that my gastrointestinal tract was not in great shape. I did not want to have any heavy dinner, and hence decided to wait till the bus takes a break for dinner. By now, Platform 23 at MGBS was heating up. KSRTC was lining up their buses to Bangalore, one after the other. APSRTC did not have buses to Bangalore at that point of time, but they had their buses to various parts of Andhra now. My bus was brought in at 1948hrs. I did not want to waste time clicking pictures – just walked to the conductor, showed my ticket and got into the bus. My co-passenger was already at the seat. I got into my seat (#16) and waited for the bus to depart.
The white monster on the right: KA-01-F-9137, was my bus
 The interiors did smell bad – not really fresh. They did not use any air-fresheners to lighten our difficulty. I checked if it was the blankets that emitted the foul smell – but that was not the case. My bus backed out of the platform exactly at 2000hrs, and got moving quickly. We had about 40 passengers on board, and hence the crew did not try getting more. The layout of MGBS is not exactly great – buses from some platforms have to drive in the opposite direction to reach the exit gate. I guess APSRTC needs to add another entry/exit gate for the bus station. The conductor quickly checked if all passengers were inside, and started distributing water bottles to passengers. He issued tickets to passengers without a reservation and checked if passengers had any requests.

A movie was played on the entertainment system – not a full movie, but part of a movie. They played only the climax of a recent bollywood flick. Passengers were not interested in watching the movie anyways – no body protested when the move finished in less than 30 minutes. I slowly drifted off to sleep. I had a short nap, and woke up just when the bus stopped for dinner – at Hotel Yagnesh Virat Regency, Jadcherla (2145hrs). The food on offer did not look very inviting, but I still had a plate of Chapati with some vegetable curry. The food was too expensive for the quality. After stuffing down the food, I decided to stay around my bus for some time. The hotel is on the highway, and is a regular stopping point for various operators on the route. My bus had stopped at this very place for breakfast on my previous trip from Hyderabad to Bangalore – then, the food was good. We left the hotel at 2215 hrs.

The curtains were drawn and lights were switched off. I reclined the seat to the maximum, and adjust the calf rests. All I remember is lying down to sleep. I woke up sometime around midnight – it was raining like crazy at that time. My co-passenger was struggling to sleep, while I was fast asleep all the time. I slept off soon afterwards. The ride was smooth – no hard brakes or rash cuts. I slept like a baby with multi-axle comfort for most of the time. I woke up just as the conductor switched on the lights and shouted...“Hebbal” (0520hrs). A good number of passengers got off here. Our next stop was at Mekhri Circle (0525hrs). I was in a semi-awake state and did not notice much of what was happening outside.

However, from what I could gather, we weren’t following any conventional route. We took some short cuts here and there, and we landed up straight at Anand Rao Circle. The driver cut short the route and landed up outside Majestic straight away. The bus stopped near the subway outside Kempegowda Bus Station (Majestic) dot at 0535 hrs. It was drizzling outside. I asked if the bus would drop me at Shantinagar (as claimed by their website) – a blunt “no” was the reply. I was just thinking of ways to avoid getting drenched. With no other options, I got off the bus, and made my way to the city bus station. I was headed straight to the Volvo platform, right in time to see a Volvo on #360B waiting to start its day. The bus dropped me at my place about 40 minutes later.

The bus was from the first lot of Volvo multi-axles. The bus had done over 2 lakh kms, but was in fairly good shape. The ride was good – no unusual noises from anywhere. The crew did lie a lot to passengers – a lady was misguided to believe that the bus would drop her at Marathahalli, while many others were led to believe that they would be able to get off at Shantinagar! That lady finally had to get off at Hebbal early in the morning to find her way home. Otherwise, the crew did their job fairly well. The bus was clean both inside and outside. I chose KSRTC with the intention of being able to sleep for some time – and my aim was fulfilled. The bus took 9 hours and 35 minutes, including 30 minutes break for dinner, end-to-end. This compares with the 8-hour run done by APSRTC.

Cleanliness: 5/5. Staff behavior: 4/5. Punctuality: 5/5. Overall: 4.5/5