Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Earlydays of busfanning...

During my childhood, buses and trains were my first love. My kindergarten school was close to a railway line - trains used to run close to my classroom. As I kid, I used to crawl out of the class to see trains going past. However, our family rarely traveled by train and almost all journeys to our hometown were by bus. My oldest memory of a bus is quite interesting - That was one Tata bus running on a city service in Coimbatore - I distinctly remember seeing the broken tail lamps as the bus ran away. I was fond of traveling sitting at the front seat - thankfully, my dad was always supporting of this craze and he would sit with me in the grueling heat.

Those days, there were just of a couple of government run TATA buses in our area - one them, I remember, had round headlamps, and two destination boards above its windshield. The driver would let the bus switch off every time they bring it to a halt (may be to avoid the irritating vibration from the engine). Those buses had conventional bulb lamps - dim lit. It got dark everytime the bus was crowded. The driver never used to let the bus idle - he just switches off the engine every time he had to stop.For some reason, I was a fan of TATA buses then - the Leylands were noisy, and they crawled out of bus stops. The then Cheran Transport Corporation (now Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation (Coimbatore) Limited) had mostly Leyland buses running to the area we resided in.

A major private company in the area, Anamallais group, launched an innovative service in the area - their buses had lower floors. The buses were painted in a distinct blue-white colour. The buses were airy due to the ventilation hatch on the roof. All their buses were TATAs and they were operated on some very crowded routes. Those buses had a huge board on their roof at the front, which showed the route number - these boards were lit, and hence passengers could identify the bus from far. Buses of Anamallais were always well maintained - their drivers never switched off engines at bus stops.
This is how Anamallais buses looked like. The colour was different back then.

During our frequent travels to our hometown in Kerala, I always made it a point to aim at getting the front seat. In the olden days (1990s), Kerala SRTC buses had just one entry door at the back. The seating was in 2x3 layout (like today) - one could sit right next to the driver at the front - the seating was not as good as it is today, but still heaven for a bus-fan. My dad used to accompany me there. I always wanted it to rain when I traveled in a bus - the reason was simple: I loved watching the wipers in action. When the entire family traveled, we hardly took a KSRTC bus - we used to take private omni buses. Some time in the 1990s, KSRTC introduced 'town-to-town' buses on the Thrissur-Palakkad route. Majority of the buses in that route were TATAs - I used to love traveling by them.

One "frontseat" that I vividly remember is a travel from Ooty to Coimbatore - it was Bharathiar Transport Corporation bus (those days, the state operator in Nilgiris district was BTC - today, its amalgamated with TNSTC Coimbatore). BTC buses used to let males sit at the front, while CTC (Cheran) buses always had the front portion reserved for Ladies - I hated traveled in CTC buses due to this sole reason. Coming back to the BTC ride - the steering wheel of this bus was covered with green plastic wires. The driver was a young chap - he was very fast, but had very good control of the bus. I was enjoying each and every turn the ghat - he would struggle to turn the bus, then just leaves the steering to come back to its position. That was perhaps the last time I went to Ooty by road. (I went to Ooty again in December 2011 - after more than 13~14 years!). That is perhaps the only ride I can remember about a TN bus.

The private non-ac omni buses that I have traveled in were on Conti travels. They used to operate from Coimbatore to Alappuzha in the evenings. Almost all our bus journeys to my mother's home town were by Conti Travels' buses. Their buses used to painted distinctly in white, with a blue line running along its length. The buses did not look great - even at that time. They were just simple buses, with pushback seats. There used to be two drivers - both of them in white-and-white uniform. They had one Mahe registered bus and a few Kozhikode registered ones. They did not have TVs or any other source of entertainment - the bus would leave at 4 pm from Coimbatore and take a break at Vadakkanchery. They would reach Alappuzha around 9.30~10 in the night. They were the first operator to introduce an Air-suspension bus to Kerala. The buses were built by Azad. These buses had hydraulic pushback seats - they were easier to recline compared to the spring loaded ones.

We moved out of Coimbatore in 1999 - there ended long journeys by bus. Journeys to our hometown was still by road, always in our car. I hadn't traveled by train to our hometown until 2004 - which incidentally was also my first journey on Konkan Railway. After shifting to Mumbai (in 1994),  my journeys by bus was limited to city journeys. I fell in love with the BEST/NMMT design instantly - they were so comfortable for city journeys. The two doors meant ease of alighting/boarding even during peak hours. The buses were always Leylands. Sometime during this period, I started loving Leylands more than TATAs. The rare journeys in TATA buses (MSRTC used to run a few of them) were usually marred by those heavy vibrations and screeching noise from the brake. The Volvos came in 2002 - I remember a quarter page advertisement in a news paper about these buses making intercity travel very comfortable.
My first Volvo journey - I have fond memories of this bus.
I remember seeing them on the road for the first time sometime in 2002 end - that was a private bus, if my memory serves me correct. Volvo buses kept eluding me very often - I missed chances to travel by them on every occasion. Volvo buses attracted me every time I saw them. My chance to travel by them came in 2006 - and that was not a short journey. The journey was in a KSRTC Airavat from Bangalore to Mumbai!! That journey changed my opinion about bus journeys forever. Since my intercity travels by buses were very rare, most of my journeys were by train. Most of my Volvo journeys were by KSRTC Airavats. I shifted to Bangalore in 2008 and bus journeys got more frequent since then. The Volvo Multi-Axle buses came sometime in 2008 - those monsters were elusive to me. My first spotting of a Multi-axle bus was by chance - by spotting one of them rolling past me while I was waiting for bus to go to office!
My first Multi-Axle journey was in this bus - in 2009. (This is a recent photo)
The first journey by a Multi-axle bus was in 2009 - that was a Kallada bus. Since then, I've managed to do 24 journeys in Multi-axle buses and 25 in regular ones (Volvo B7R or two-axle Mercedes Benz). The Indian bus scene changed dramatically after the introduction of Volvo buses. Mercedes Benz buses came into the market with the promise of creating a storm - Sadly, they couldn't make their presence known to a greater extent. With the improvement of the National Highways, road journeys have just received a boost.

Bus tickets got replaced by Volvo Tickets and now people ask tickets for the "10-wheeled" bus (They refer to Multi-axle buses - which actually have only 8 wheels). Almost every operator is buying atleast a pair of these buses, and it has become a prerequisite for survival now.  Volvo buses reduced the journey time substantially on many routes, and have often given the railways a run for their money. The Bangalore-Mumbai route takes 24 hours by train, while a bus would do it in 18hours! Bangalore to Ernakulam takes atleast 12 hours by train, while the bus does it in less than 10 hours (this is set to reduce further as the 4-laning works of the National highways get completed). Buses entered newer routes like Ernakulam-Hyderabad (18 hours by bus compared to 26 by train!) and Trivandrum-Hyderabad (20 hours by bus compared to 30 by train!!).

Personally, my longest journey by bus till date is a 19.5hour journey from Ernakulam to Hyderabad. The second longest is 18hours from Bangalore to Mumbai in 2006! Frequent bus journeys brought my old love for buses back, and converted a once hard railfan to a busfan! Buses have evolved, so have busfans. From those innocent teenagers who mimicked the sound of those buses, collecting tickets and imitating drivers, the new ages busfans wield cameras and focus more on taking photographs, calling the buses with adjectives the earlier generations used for the fairer sex!

Where there is a road, there is a bus.. so are bus fans...

Monday, August 27, 2012

College life: then and now..

College life is the most happening time in ones' life. Having grown up in Mumbai and completed education in a technical institution, my college life was devoid of a lot of happenings. The strict internal assessment system often means that students of technical education are deprived of much of the fun that the regular college going joe does.

My college life did not end after my education ended - but it just begun. My profession keeps me a student for life - I get to learn a lot of concepts that I had left as an option during my education. The question paper oriented learning process (I more often read the full syllabus than focusing on question papers) often deprives the student of an opportunity to learn lot of concepts. Teaching is a profession which demands the teacher to learn all the concepts - at least in brief if not in detail.

So what difference do I have in my college life now..

Back during my graduation days, I had the option of taking leaves at will. Reaching late at the college never was an issue - there is no hard-and-fast time to get in (we did have a reporting time - which I used to adhere to, sincerely). But its all different now - getting a leave is a task, and its very important to clock in before the reporting time now!

I enjoyed holidays and vacations during graduation (and post-graduation) - now, I am in college even when there are no students! Of course, I do have my engagements in office, but the vacation is no more a vacation!

Earlier I had to worry only about my results - given my carefree nature, I hardly had apprehensions before an examination. Now, I worry about the results of all my students - its a satisfaction to see a student scoring good at exams. I now understand why our teachers pestered us to study harder.

I often fall down reading some answer scripts - I must admit, the current generation is a lot more creative that what people of my age were. I never knew how to write an answer if I did not know it properly - but the current generation has acquired that capability. I am sure my teachers would've had their share of humour reading my answer scripts.

There was an interesting thing today at college - most of the faculty members in our college were heading to another institute in our campus to attend an examination (skills improvement training). On our way, some students of our college crossed us - and jokingly asked us to write us only the answers we knew and giggled off wishing us all the best - ah! The very same dialogue teachers make mocking their students!

Teaching is indeed an interesting profession - you see your students achieving greater heights, even as you remain in your position. A teacher is one, whom you would never forget in life. I am enjoying my new job - have lots to do, but nothing to do :)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Shama BigBus: Bangalore to Thrissur

This journey was planned almost a month ago – I was to get three continuous days off for the first time after I joined my new job, and I decided to make utmost use of it. To add the icing on my cake, a family function was decided to coincide with my ‘vacation’ as well. Tickets for both the directions were booked through my friend. The tickets were booked both ways by Shama Transports buses. Eventually, I had to cancel my return ticket since some members from our extended family were returning by car, and I was invited to join them. 

Fast forward by about two weeks – It was a Sunday, and I was roaming around Madiwala post noon. My friend had joined me, and we were talking about almost everything under the sky. During the course, I met a few people from Kallada G4 – they knew me through this blog and recognised me as soon I said my name (that was really an award for me).  What followed was something undreamt of. On the day of my journey, Kallada G4 were taking delivery of a pair of new buses. I was invited for the pooja ceremony – and later joined the management in sending off the buses on its first trip as well.

August 17, 2012. 1930hrs:
It was drizzling outside my home – left with no option to wait, I decided to start hunting for an auto. It was more windy than rainy – it was wetting my pants. I got an auto about 5 minutes into my walk, and the driver agreed to drop me at Madiwala for Rs. 10 more than the meter fare – getting a driver to switch on the meter is no less than winning a medal in this part of Bangalore, this was akin to winning a lifetime achievement award! It was all fine till we crossed Bommanahalli – we then entered into one of the worst traffic blocks I’ve seen in recent times – thankfully, the driver managed to dodge through fairly well. But he was worried about his income – he had agreed to run on meter charge, and this block would drain a lot of money for him. He dropped me at Madiwala at around 2010hrs – as I got off, I rounded off the fare and paid him Rs. 100. He certainly was delighted.

The new babes of Kallada G4 were being prepped up for departure now – the management was present at the Friend’s Travels office. Pleasantries were exchanged, and I decided to hang around till the bus was sent off. The management were really serious about the passengers and their requirements – suggestions were taken positively, and some earlier suggestions were implemented as well. I really admired the way the brothers took passenger feedback – this will surely take them to heights in the coming days. Passengers’ satisfaction is one thing which money can’t buy – only consistent quality of service would take them to that level. The passengers travelling by the new bus were treated with sweets and some packed fruit juice. A lucky draw was held and two lucky winners were given some gifts as well. The first bus was sent to Trivandrum (as regular service) and the second to Ernakulam (as a special service) – I badly missed travelling in a brand new bus. Both the buses had really experienced crew. I bid bye to the people from Kallada G4, and headed towards the Shama office to get my boarding pass.

The ever smiling Manoj at Shama’s office greeted me there – pleasantries were exchanged and he handed over the boarding pass to me. My seat number was changed, but it still was a window seat. I was moved from Seat #A to Seat #H – no complaints, since I was a bit iffy about travelling in the first row. I headed out for dinner – did not have time to find out a hotel, and hence decided to eat from the new mobile restaurant right outside Shama’s office. The food was really tasty – they do really good business as well. I headed back to their office at 2135hrs, and had some light chat with Manoj. I rechecked with Manoj, and confirmed that the bus would drop me inside Thrissur town, and that I would not have to wage an ugly fight with the crew like last time. The ever smiling Manoj reassured me.
The bus.. KA-01-AA-17. This is an old image. But it is the same driver..
 In the mean time, the bus pulled in – KA-01-AA-17, with about 5 lakh kms on the Odo was parked right outside Shama office, and not in the petrol pump as is the norm off-late. The pump was slushy and dirty – parking it on the road was surely a better option. Boarding was very quick – luggage loading also was handled quickly. Farooq from Shama’s office was the checker – he quickly counted the number of passengers and Okayed the departure. We had 49 seats and one cabin – making the total passengers 50. One off-duty driver of Shama too got in, and one more random guy got in. The driver for the trip was Mr. Sebastian – a regular crew of Shama. The bus got moving at 2140hrs – around 5 minutes ahead of schedule! The Ayyappa temple underpass was chocked, and Sebastian took the bus through Madiwala market instead.

The bus was showing its signs of aging – it’s been running for the past 3 years or so. The pickup was awesome – the bus was out of a service that day, it seems. Sebastian was initially very vocal with the cleaner – but the volume decreased as the journey progressed. My co-passenger seemed to be a regular in the bus – he knew the driver well. But this guy (the co-passenger) was behaving as if he owned the bus. The bus took the elevated highway, and flew past the traffic below. On the way, I noticed that the KPN office in Bommanahalli resembled a government bus station with passengers taking up every inch of space there. The Electronic City toll gate wasn’t as chaotic as I expected it to be, but the Attibele toll gate lived up to its (dis)repute. The traffic block was even worse at Hosur incoming Checkpost, since the people there decided to check every incoming commercial vehicle – being Friday, a lot of special buses were being operated, and they were sure that at least a couple would be running without permits! The result – a massive traffic jam.

Our bus was stopped and the crew were asked to produce the documents. Our documents were in perfect order, and hence we did not lose time. I slept off soon after the bus crossed Hosur. I woke up sometime in the middle of the night, when my ill-behaved co-passenger pushed my hand off the armrest. It seems he had ‘purchased’ the arm-rest while booking the ticket – he spent Rs. 1000 and the bus belongs to him, it seems! I requested him to let me use the arm-rest. His answer was, “Don’t you see me using the armrest? Don’t behave like a child”. Ohh! Did I ask him to give his property for free to me? I did not have the patience or time to argue with such people, who think they own the entire bus just because they paid for the ticket. I found another better position to sleep, and continued my forty winks. 

I woke up sometime (may be around 3~4 AM) later when the bus stopped for a break. His Highness my co-passenger might not take it lightly if I disturb him to make way for me – so I decided to please goddess sleep.  I fell asleep very quickly again. This was one deep slumber because I did not even realised what route my bus took – whether it went through Walayar or did it take the alternative route via Velanthavalam! I woke up again at 0605hrs, when the bus stopped to drop someone – the groggy eyed me read the place name as Ottapalam. I was in a state of shock – we were still at Ottapalam? I decided to continue my sleep since we still had a long way ahead... but wait; the bus took a right turn. Oh! Which is this turn? The road here was bad – really bad. The bus swayed all the time as it moved forward. I realised now that we were at Wadakkanchery and not Ottapalam! The board I read earlier was “Ottupara”, which my sleepy eyes interpreted as “Ottapalam”!

I was now relieved – we were surely late, but not very far from my destination. It was raining fairly heavily outside, as I understood. I slept for some more time, and woke up at around 0620hrs. My co-passenger was still the owner of the bus – I did witness some trouble he created for the poor lady passenger on the seat ahead of him. This time, his highness did not like the lady reclining her seat. The reason: his highness was not able to keep his legs upright! This was the height of things – he deserved to be kicked out of the bus for such behaviour. It was anyways not my business – the lady did not protest, and instead kept the seat upright! In the mean time, we rushed past North Bus stand in Thrissur. The driver asked the cleaner to wake up Thrissur bound passengers now. Lights were not switched on.

I most humbly and politely requested his highness to make way for me, so that I could get off his bus. Of late, I carry almost negligible baggage – except for my backpack. I picked up my bag from the luggage rack, and made my way to the cabin – I was still groggy as I struggled to hold myself up in the cabin. The bus slowly ran past Round, and stopped outside the District Hospital, at 0628hrs. I wanted to thank Mr. Sebastian for his safe driving – he did not have the itch to overspeed even though the bus was late. He drove very carefully through the wet, slippery roads on the Palakkad-Ponnani state highway. He did honk a lot – even during the night, but his overall style of driving deserves applause. As I got off my bus, I saw the Viji-Yathra B9R to Pathanapuram sneaking out of Thrissur. Fresh from my previous experience of denial by auto guys at the rickshaw stand, I decided to walk a little bit ahead and flag down an auto – but a god sent driver near the stand (not in the stand, but on the road) agreed to ferry me to the Sakthan Bus Station.

Remarks: The bus, with over 5lakh kms on the odo, did show its age. It made a lot of noise from the rear suspension set-up – a problem fairly common with buses of this age. The interiors were otherwise very clean. The bus appeared fairly fresh inside – the seats were clean, and the blankets provided were of proper size. This bus (and its pair, KA-01-AA-13) have a good angle of recline for its seats – it somewhat hits the knees, but the seat is fairly comfortable to sleep on. The crew behaviour was good – the driver instructed the cleaner only to wake up the passenger who were alighting (he was reading out the seat numbers). The driving was excellent – no sharp cuts, rash driving or overspeeding in the rains. He was very cautious. He deserves applause – such drivers would surely entice safety lovers. The co-passenger I had was irritating to the core – such people should not be allowed to travel on peak days, or put them in some isolated seat, or even better charge them for two seats (or four seats, since the passengers ahead of them should not be disturbed). Such people should never be tolerated – they spoil the fun of travel of everyone around them. That fellow surely left a bad taste in my mouth, and even for the lady sitting ahead of him.

Cleanliness: 5/5
Punctuality: 4/5
Staff Behaviour: 5/5
Overall: 4.5/5 (why should the operators’ rating suffer due to one uncooperative passenger?)

Will I take this service again? Shama is a mixed bag – I’ve had good and bad experiences from them. They service is no-nonsense, but lacks consistency. They have really good drivers, who are consistent with their style. I would not hesitate taking this service, but would doubly ensure that they would adhere to the promises they make while booking. As of now, it is surely a good option.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Thrissur to Bangalore in a brand new Shama BigBus

The return ticket for my unplanned journey to my hometown was booked over phone through a contact. The ticket was for Shama’s Pathanamthitta-Bangalore service. In the few days before my journey, I was busy finding out which bus would I be travelling in. I found out that it would be a bus that I had travelled earlier in – I was a bit disappointed. 

August 06, 2012: It was one heck of a day. I was busy throughout, and time was running out quickly. I reached home only around 1900hrs, and had to leave by 2000hrs to make it to Thrissur on time for my bus. I left home a while past 2000hrs, and my brother dropped me at Thrissur. I headed straight to the travel agent, and paid the money for my ticket. I had the choice of selecting a seat – and I took a window seat on the first row. Just a while after getting my ticket, my contact called me and informed that I would be getting a brand new bus! I certainly was excited. 

Shama Transport is a Bangalore based operator, operating only to Kerala. They operate to Ernakulam, Pathanamthitta and Trivandrum (via Alappuzha as well as via Nagercoil). They recently bought some new buses for replacing their aging warhorses. Shama is pretty quick, and they have a good number of regular passengers – they buses are decently maintained (there are exceptions – refer to my earlier review for a very bad experience of mine). Crew are a mixed lot – but they would be good to you, if you are good to them. 
The bus: KA-01-AB-5342
 My bus was at 2130 – there was no sign of the bus even at 2125hrs. Around 2128hrs, I saw a shiny black bus curving through to the travel agents’ office. It indeed was a brand new bus. The bus stopped and boarding started. The bus still had the characteristic “new vehicle” smell inside – seats still had plastic covers on it, and carpet was yet to be installed. My seat number was “A”. I took my seat, while the agent was listing out where all the passengers were to be picked up, and settled the cash. There were a total of 14 passengers boarding from Thrissur, of which 4 were from this agent, and the remaining 10 from the next agent. While the conversation was going on, another 9 passengers got into the bus. Now we had 36 passengers in the bus. They were calling up the other passenger – who was still away. The driver was getting increasingly impatient due to the delay. Sometime later, the agent asks the driver to start – and informs the missing passenger that he would be accommodated in the next bus.

The bus started off from Diwanjimoola in Thrissur at 2151 – about 21 minutes late. The driver entered Thrissur round, and headed straight towards Mannuthy. I was expecting the bus to go through Shoranur – but the driver had other ideas. He reached Mannuthy quickly – there was no pick-up there. Then the bus headed towards Kuthiran – I was a bit concerned since the road conditions were really poor and there were high chances of a traffic block. The road turned from bad to worse as we neared Kuthiran. Kuthiran is a small pass along the border of Thrissur and Palakkad districts. The pass is not very steep, but is steep enough to trouble trucks. Our speed reduced as we neared Kuthiran. It was potholes everywhere – the bus was rocking all the time.
Another look at the bus...
There was a mini snarl on the ghat – not as bad as I had expected, though. The movie got over a while after we passed Kuthiran – the cleaner switched off the TV and closed the curtains. The night lamps remained on.  I was travelling in the first row for a night journey after some 5 years – adjusting to the seat was a bit difficult. I somehow found my convenient posture and slowly slipped into sleep. I woke up just as the bus hit a rough patch near KK Chavadi. I heard a B9R sound – quickly moved the curtain to see a Kallada B9R rushing off. Soon, the bus pulled into a petrol pump, just before the start of Coimbatore bypass (near Madukkarai) at 0035. I got off the bus and took a stroll. Then it was clicking time – went around the bus taking snaps of the bus. Had a short chat with the cleaner – a friendly guy. The bus already had a broken front windshield – a case of air crack.

The bus took in 407 litres of diesel, and we started off at 0050hrs. Just as we started moving, the Kottarakkara-Bangalore Kallada G4 pulled in. The bus got into the bypass, and took a right towards Palladam. I learnt later that the bus regularly takes the CBE Bypass-Palladam-Tiruppur-Perundurai route now. I slept through the run – and woke up just when the bus stopped at Dharmapuri for a tea break (0407hrs). Another driver got in here, and we started off at 0414hrs. I slept off as the bus started moving. I slept uninterrupted till around 0530hrs – just as the bus stopped for someone to get off at Hosur. We reached Attibelle toll around 0545hrs – like always, the toll gate was chock-a-block with vehicles. Thankfully, the lane we chose was relatively free, and we got moving in about 10 minutes.
From the rear..
The bus stopped outside Narayana Hrudayalaya (0615) to drop a few passengers, and later near Electronic City (0622hrs). After E.City, the bus took the elevated highway, and the driver let the beast stretch a bit. The bus reached Silk Board at 0629hrs – I was the only one to get off. The auto drivers there were a bit disappointed since I bargained hard and no other passenger got off from my bus! While travelling towards my house, I saw two more Shamas and a couple of KPNs heading towards Madiwala. The ride took 8 hours and 38 minutes. The bus took 41 minutes more than my outbound – but this bus went through Kuthiran, and had one refuelling break as well!

Some points: The bus (KA-01-AB-5342) had just 2000kms on the odo! It had run one Bangalore-EKM-Bangalore trip over the past two days, and was on its second trip then! The blankets provided were of decent size – not the narrow shawls. The bus was about 30 minutes late compared to their mentioned arrival time – but that is pardonable considering the fact that the bus is new. The bus was picking pace slowly, and did not exceed 100kmph at any point of time. The bus was mint fresh – no point in writing about the maintenance. The interiors were bare – no mats. The plastic covers on the seat were still not removed. Shama does not install musical horns in their buses – so no irritating honking at night. The drivers were sane – no rash driving or braking. I liked the style of driving. The crew did not have uniforms (they are getting uniforms now).

Cleanliness: 5/5
Punctuality: 4.5/5
Staff Behaviour: 5/5
Overall: 4.75/5

Will I take this service again? It surely is a good option for me. My current requirement is to reach Silk Board before 0630hrs – any bus that achieves this is a good option for me.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

G4 again! Kallada G4 to Thrissur

It all started while talking to mom on phone. I had already booked tickets for a journey to my home town in the mid of August (after Independence Day). The phone conversation ended up in me searching for another ticket for the first week of August. Since I was looking for a Saturday, almost every operator had enough tickets – I had enough choices this time. I decided to take Kallada G4 this time. A quick calculation revealed that I would be getting the Yellow bus – I had travelled in their red bus earlier. Selecting a bus for the return trip was easy – just called up a contact and he got my return ticket blocked (more on that later). 

I was looking at booking the outward ticket online. Only the last row seats were shown available on the website – I doubt if anybody would take the last row seat by choice. I checked some other dates, and found that only 7 seats were normally opened for online booking – that is the last row, and two other seats somewhere around the middle of the bus. This was told to some insiders at G4, and they have now opened up more seats. In the meantime, I called up Friends Travels at Madiwala, and they blocked a seat for me. However, the call got disconnected in between, and I was not sure if they blocked the seat. So I headed to their office the next morning on my way to office – the weary guy sitting at the counter was surprised to see someone coming to book a ticket at 7.30 in the morning! I had the choice of selecting my seat – took a window seat around the middle of the bus on the right side.

Days flew past. I headed to Madiwala on Friday morning to confirm that I would be getting the yellow bus itself – for some reason, I have a “red jinx” with Kallada, where I end up getting a red bus every time I book a Kallada bus (either of the Kalladas). I saw the red bus coming in on Friday morning – so the yellow was confirmed.

August 04, 2012: I took an auto from near my home at around 20:00hrs. The rate was fixed at Rs. 120 for the 7km journey to Madiwala. The driver was quite quick, and I was dropped at Friends Petrol Pump at 2020hrs. I still had an hour and 10 minutes to go for my bus. The petrol pump was now crowded with buses all around – there was the Trivandrum B9R (Via Nagercoil) of SRM, Kottarakkara B9R of Viji, a couple of SRM AC Sleepers and Shama B9R to Pathanamthitta. There was some commotion around the Shama bus – a drunken passenger created a scene there. He was made to alight and the bus departed. The pump was chock-a-block with buses coming in by the moment. 

Then came the Shama to Trivandrum (via Nagercoil), followed by Viji to Trivandrum (via Nagercoil), Golden to Thrikkaripur, Viji to Pathanapuram and some SRM AC sleepers. There was a stead inflow of KPNs coming in from various places in Tamil Nadu. There was no sign of my bus even as the clock ticked past 2100hrs. I headed to the Friends office and took my boarding pass – they confirmed that the bus would come in a while. The road was now getting busier with all 13.8 metre monsters running through every moment. My bus (KA-01-AA-7723) came in at 2128hrs. The bus came in to the pump, and boarding started immediately. The bus had just a couple of passengers when it came in from Kalasipalya – I really wonder if the bus should waste fuel going to Kalasipalya to pick up one or two passengers. A pickup vehicle would be better, or better still make Madiwala the starting point.
The bus: KA-01-AA-7723. With 2.26Lakh kms on the odo, the bus was really well kept.
The first impression of getting into the bus – the bus was very clean inside. Shawls were kept on the seats already. Some old Hindi songs were being played. The drivers greeted their regular passengers – this simple gesture makes people loyal to the operator. That warm feeling when someone recognises you and enquires about you is a good feeling. The interiors were fresh – no foul smell. AC was running – the temperature set to ambient temperature. Curtains were all drawn and seats were in upright position. The bus got full in less than 5 minutes – there were few empty seats here and there (may be around 2-3 vacant seats). My seat was #32. My co-passenger was already there.
A guy from Friends travels came in at around 2140 and issued boarding passes to some passengers, and took a headcount of the passengers on board. They signalled the driver to start at 2145hrs. The bus got moving at 2152hrs. There were some cars parked haphazardly on the main road –that delayed our run slightly. The bus took a U-turn at St. Johns signal and we headed through Madiwala underpass. The driver took the elevated highway, and headed quickly towards Hosur. A movie was played (a recent Malayalam flick – which did not see much success at the box office) soon after the bus got running. The driver was well behaved on the road – but he honked a lot. The other driver headed backwards and he slept on the floor. 

There was heavy traffic around Attibelle and all the way to Hosur. There was more traffic after Shoolagiri – including quite a lot of diversions due to road widening works. The bus had to stop many times since they only one lane was being allowed at some places. The slow moving traffic continued all the way to Krishnagiri. The driver broke free after Krishnagiri – he picked up pace quickly after we crossed Krishnagiri flyover. The movie continued on till around 0010hrs. Although I was very sleepy, I remained awake till the time the movie got over. The cleaner did not bother to switch off the TV after the movie got over – the blue standby display emitted more light than the night lamps, and it was a royal pain as I struggled to get some sleep. The bus stopped after a toll gate (I was half asleep - so did not check which toll gate was that) for a quick break. I took a break as well – and a small stroll outside. The break was quite short – we started off in about three minutes (0022 to 0025hrs).

When I got back to my seat, the rear LCD panel was locked by some passenger (the cleaner and the second driver were fast asleep). The driver switched off the main switch for the entertainment system. All I remember was getting back to my seat – the seat ahead of mine was unoccupied – so I had the freedom of adjusting my seating posture. I slept uninterrupted until around 0330 – when the bus shook violently as it went through a rough patch of road. I vaguely remember seeing the bus stopped at Walayar – it was raining hard outside, and we were stuck in a traffic block. The bus went inside Palakkad town, and stopped right outside Palakkad bus station (@0430hrs) – the cleaner switched on all the lights and shouted “Palakkad” – no passenger got off, but he managed to disturb all the passengers in the bus! I thought that the bus would go via Ottapalam, given the fact that the bus was inside Palakkad town. I was proven right!

The driver let the beast free as we entered one of the best State Highways in Kerala – the Palakkad-Ponnani State Highway. The road is well paved and well-marked – fairly wide as well. The driver made the most of the good road. It rained very heavily on the way – and at some places, I felt that the bus was losing grip. The road has a very slippery surface and it calls for a lot of caution during rains. The driver made very frequent halts on the route – for reasons unknown. No passengers were getting off though. I slept soon after we stabilised on the road – and vaguely remember seeing the bus crossing Wadakkanchery railway overbridge – we were now on the Shoranur-Kodungallur state highway. I slept again, till we crossed Viyyur. I woke up just as the bus approached Thrissur Vadakke (North) bus station. Just as I got off my seat, all the light in the cabin went on, and the cleaner shouted out “Thrissur” – disturbing the entire bus again! Around 6-7 passengers were readying to get off at Thrissur – the driver stopped outside General Hospital – at 0549hrs. That was a 49 minute delay from the promised dropping time – but that was understandable, considering the traffic block and the heavy rain!

Auto drivers, as usual, did not want to take me to the bus station – all they want is long trips. Their arrogance made me feel that they would not get any passengers – like a curse, all of them returned empty handed as my bus left towards Thrissur. Laughing hard myself, I got into another auto who did not hesitate taking me to the bus station. I missed my bus to Kodungallur (the driver decided to leave 5 minutes earlier than scheduled time) narrowly. I got into the next bus and settled down on the seat near the front door. Just as my bus was backing out to head towards Kodungallur (at 0610hrs) – the Kottayam bound Airavat Club Class came in – that bus leaves at 1916 from Bangalore! That bus took almost 11 hours to reach Thrissur from Bangalore!! My bus had taken 7hours and 57 minutes!

Some points: The bus (KA-01-AA-7723) had around 2.26lakh kms on the odo as we started from Madiwala. The bus was in immaculate condition – very good maintenance. There were no abnormal sounds – no irritating squeaks. The interiors were clean and well maintained. They do not waste time for refuelling while heading towards Kerala – they fill on the other way. No unwanted tea breaks – a characteristic of the other Kallada. The shawls given were too small. The spare driver sleeping on the gangway gave a very unprofessional look – it is also a major safety concern. The crew did not care switching off the tv on time. The cleaner also switched on all the lights and disturbed all the passengers just to alert one passenger! The AC was set to a very comfortable temperature – the crew get points for that!

Kallada G4 is doing a very good job with their punctuality and maintenance of their buses. The crew also gave a very personal welcome to their regular passenger – that is a great idea. But, the spare crew should be given a place to sleep and they need to change their overall approach to handling passengers – just wake up the passenger who is alighting. Why disturb the entire bus? A better reservation system, and a more personalised touch by the crew will take Kallada G4 to better heights – they are a very good option for passengers. I liked them both the times I took their bus – highly recommended if you are looking for a no-nonsense operator.

Cleanliness: 5/5
Punctuality: 4.5/5
Staff Behaviour: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

Will I take this service again: Why not? Getting a ticket in G4 is a big task these days! You guys are doing a great job – just don’t dilute them!

Sunday, August 05, 2012

What is "Kallada G4"?

I have often received questions on my photos asking what is the difference between "Kallada" and "Kallada G4". Both are travel operators operating from Bangalore to Kerala, and belong to the same family. Out of curiosity, I managed to dig out some information from some connected people, which gave me a lot of information. So thought of sharing it with all..

The Kallada Group was founded in 1975 by Kallada Ramakrishnan. Mr. Ramakrishnan has 5 sons. Kallada Group was split into two after the death of Kallada Ramakrishnan in 2003. One of the five brothers, one brother, Mr. Suresh Kallada, started his own travels business, while the other four brothers established themselves in other fields. "Kallada Tours and Travels" operated by Suresh Kallada established themselves in the business - they have very good presence in all routes running out of Bangalore to Kerala (mainly south Kerala). The Kallada Group (run by the 4 brothers) established themselves in various fields like Hospitality, Finance, Packagings, Oil mills, Cement agencies etc. The four brothers came together and launched a new travel company by the name “Kallada G4” in 2003. Kallada G4 was a respectable name in all the sectors they operated in – an operator respected by passengers and other operators alike.

Kallada Group shifted their focus from their already well established operations in other fields to the travels operations from 2011. Their travels business got a shot in the arm with the arrival of their new Volvo Multi-Axle buses. Their first route with Multi-axle buses was Bangalore-Changanassery via Alappuzha. Their renewed focus on the travels business comes as a blessing for thousands of Keralites residing in Bangalore, and Kallada G4 comes as a dependable operator for them to reach their hometowns in a safe and economical manner.

Kallada G4 recently introduced a new service to Kottarakkara (via Kottayam) with two new Volvo B9R Multi-Axle buses. They are introducing new services to Trivandrum (via Nagercoil) in a few weeks from now. They have placed orders for 6 new Volvo Multi-axle buses, and are in the process of ordering even more. Going forward, Kallada G4 has taken a decision to use only Multi-axle buses – this means more comfort and more safety to the passengers.
As mentioned earlier, Kallada G4 operates two routes at present, and will shortly be expanding to more routes. Their routes are:
1. Bangalore-Changanassery (via Thrissur, Ernakulam, Alappuzha)
2. Bangalore-Kottarakkara (via Thrissur bypass, Kottayam, Thiruvalla, Adoor)
 In addition to the above two, they are launching Bangalore-Trivandrum (via Salem, Nagercoil) from August 17, 2012. They are also planning some other routes, and the new services will start as and when their new buses are delivered.

Some facts that impressed me about Kallada-G4, as a passenger, are:
1. Faster drivers - who do not waste time on unwanted tea breaks
2. Well behaved crew - who give personal attention to regular passengers
3. Online booking through www.kallada.com
4. A very friendly travel agent in Bangalore - Friends Travels, Madiwala.
5. Punctuality - they are punctual and reliable on all their services.
6. No extra charges for booking online.
 The next time you think of booking on a Kallada bus.. just find out if its a G4, and be sure of a punctual arrival and well behaved crew.

Some major concerns owned by Kallada Group:
Kallada Regency Pvt.Ltd., Irinjalakuda, Kerala
Kallada Travels, Irinjalakuda, Kerala
Sunil Enterprises, Thanissery, Kerala
Kallada Residency,Kodungallor,Kerala
Kallada Oil mill, Thanissery, Kerala.
Kallada Hotels, Mannuthy, Kerala
Golden Bar & Restaurant, Kodakara, Kerala
Mamatha Motels, Kechery, Kerala
Kallada Financiers, Irinjalakuda, Kerala
Kallada Enterprises, Thanissery, Kerala
Kallada Agencies, Thanissery, Kodakara, Edapally, Kerala
Gold City, Irinjalakuda, Kerala
Ace Enterprises, Irinjalakuda, Kerala
Kallada Packagings,Thanissery,Kerala

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Kallada: Kodungallur to Bangalore

About two months after my last visit to Kerala, I was itching to go back home and enjoy the typical Kerala monsoons. The sound of rain that I hear everytime I call up home increased my urge to visit home.  My office gives an off every third Saturday. I decided to take a day off on Monday and make it a three day vacation. Since I was returning on a Monday night, I went slowly about booking my tickets. Made some enquiries around, and found out that Kallada’s Kodungallur-Bangalore B9R would be the safest bet for reaching Bangalore before 6 AM. Accordingly, booked a ticket on that service, departing on Monday, July 23, 2012 from Kodungallur – and I got seat #D1. The bus was having fairly good loads by then. My journey from Bangalore to home was by car.

Monday, July 23, 2012. 1730hrs:
I was hurrying from home to reach Kallada’s agent in Kodungallur in time for my bus. I was a bit shocked on not seeing the bus at their regular parking place. I reached the agent at around 1740hrs. He gave me a surprised look when I asked about the Bangalore Volvo. His looks gave me jitters – would he say that the service is cancelled today? He continued giving me jitters as he handed back my ticket to me. He said that a pick-up bus would come since the actual bus was parked at Irinjalakuda that day, and asked me to wait. Around 1800hrs, he asked me to board a van that was waiting outside. Two more passengers joined me at around 1810hrs. There were five bookings from Kodungallur (including mine). Three were now on board – the other two were to join at Thrissur. The pick-up van driver started from Kodungallur at 1815hrs.

The van went via Mathilakam to Moonupeedika. Three more passengers got in. Then the bus headed straight to Irinjalakuda. The van driver drove sedately – no rash driving or honking.  While the van approached Irinjalakuda, I hoped I wouldn’t be getting the red bus – for some reason, I get a red bus every time I travel by Kallada. The van dropped us at Kallada’s office in Tana, Irinjalakuda.  As luck would have it, it was the red bus again! KA-01-AB-1361 – the very same bus that I had travelled in a few months back was waiting there!  The bus was parked some distance away from the office – the drivers were still relaxing around, while the office people were preparing to load parcels.
The bus: KA-01-AB-1361. This is an old photo.
The bus was brought to the office at 1900hrs. Boarding started immediately. They also started loading parcels quickly. There were some parcels to be unloaded at Thrissur itself, while the rest were heading to Bangalore. The bus started moving at 1910hrs – total 18 passengers were on board! The driver had to do a bit of circus to get the bus out of the road. It was a narrow road, exiting onto another narrow road at a 90-deg angle. To add to the misery is the non-stop traffic on the road. After about 10 minutes of struggling, the bus got moving swiftly on the main road. There were two drivers and one cleaner – all from Tamil Nadu. Some album songs sung by Kalabhavan Mani was played on the music system.

We reached outside Sakthan Nagar bus station in Thrissur at 1950hrs. Some luggage was unloaded quickly, and some more loaded. Passenger boarding started around 2000hrs – a total of 24 passengers got in here! The bus started moving at 2012hrs – with 42 passengers on board! Not bad for a working day!! The bus headed straight towards KSRTC bus station – and picked up one more passenger from Jabbar Travels there. After KSRTC stand, the bus headed straight to the round. A movie was now played (a very recent Malayalam flick – I wanted to see this movie since long). The movie kept me glued to the LCD now. There was no pick-up at Mannuthy, and the bus did not stop either. The drivers were quick – they picked up pace pretty well and we were doing fairly decent speeds now. Sometime around 2055hrs, the bus came to a halt. I thought it was a pick-up, and I remained glued to the TV screen watching the movie.

The driver got off and walked away – this brought in some curiosity. I realised that we were stuck in a traffic block on Kuthiran pass! The bus crawled for some time, and then waited again. This continued until 2145hrs. I had my dinner in the meantime (I had packed food from home). I was so engrossed in the movie that I did not realise what was happening outside. We stopped at a hotel near Alathur for dinner, at 2205hrs. It was more of a wayside make-shift motel than a proper hotel. I remained outside the bus for the entire duration of break. A KaSRTC Rajahamsa had parked behind our bus, and we could not back out. The break continued till the time the Rajahamsa driver finished his dinner and agreed to move the bus! We started off after the break at 2238hrs. It was raining heavily at this point – heavy would be an understatement, though. I am sure the driver was blinded by the rain.

The movie got over a while after the bus resumed after dinner break. After the movie got over, the cleaner came around and closed the rear LCD screen, and also closed the curtains. I dozed off soon after this. I had a fairly good sleep and woke up just when somebody sat on my adjacent seat – we had reached Palakkad for pickup now (2309hrs).  The pick-up break was fairly long, and we got moving only at 2317hrs. I slept even before the bus crossed Walayar. I vaguely remember seeing the bus stopped at Walayar due to a traffic block. I remember the break at a fuel station as well – but was too sleepy to get down or even note the time!  I slept through the journey – I enjoyed the journey for this very reason.

I woke up around 0520hrs when the cleaner shouted out Hosur and switched on the lights. I think a couple of passengers got off at Hosur – not sure. I was half asleep even at this time. There was a mini traffic block at Attibele Toll gate – this place is a royal pain at any point of time. The driver ripped after Attibele Toll – he was fast and maintained a very good pace. A few passengers got off at Electronic City, and the bus then took the elevated highway. The driver ripped on the flyover as well. I was dropped off at Silk Board exactly at 0600hrs.

Considering the awful traffic block at Kuthiran – the driver did a very decent job. The bus took 6:40 hours from Palakkad to Silk Board – adding the traffic block at Walayar, the timing is fairly decent. It took close to 12 hours end-to-end, which is not to my liking, considering the short distance involved. It typically takes me 8-9hrs to cover the same distance while driving down – and I usually do not driver long distance at one stretch.  The bus took a lot of stops – and the crew wasted a lot of time everywhere.

About the bus: The bus had clocked about 1.07Lakh kms. It was maintained really well – the bus was in really good shape. No abnormal noises or dangling/broken parts inside. The engine noise did not intrude much into the cabin as well. The drivers were decent – no rash driving, hard braking or excessive use of horn at night. I really liked the way the two drivers handled the bus. The bus had 47 passengers - on a Monday evening! That certainly implies that they are doing well on the route. The timings need to be tweaked a bit – but otherwise, the service was very decent. The bus arrived at Bangalore 30 minutes past its scheduled arrival time – but that might be pardoned considering the traffic block.

Cleanliness: 5/5
Punctuality: 4/5
Staff Behaviour: 5/5
Overall: 4.5/5

Will I take this service again: Certainly! But please tweak the timings a bit. The bus can start an hour later from Kodungallur, and still make it to Coimbatore at the same timings.