Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hindusthan Travels: Coimbatore to Bangalore.

After getting my tickets for the onward journey to Kerala, I was busy searching for return tickets. Cold response from one contact ticked him off from my list. My second contact would’ve succeeded in getting a confirmed ticket - but decided to give him a break as well. I checked for tickets on the websites of some operators - none of them had tickets. RedBus showed up some really expensive options. I changed my strategy a bit and searched for tickets from Coimbatore - Bingo! All buses had enough tickets. Choosing Hindusthan Travels for this journey was a no-brainer - since I’ve never tried this operator, and have heard good opinion about their service.

I booked the ticket through their website. Their fare was Rs. 10 less than KPN. The website looked like a page put up by an amateur. The layout was simple, but lacked professionalism. After the ticket got booked, instead of heading to the e-ticket printout page, I got logged off from the website. I was confused if my ticket got booked or I lost my money. I received an e-mail with a copy of the ticket in it. I played around the website, and found out that I could take printouts by visiting “My Account”. It was all in all a confusing experience. Thankfully the payment went through without a glitch.

After getting a confirmed Coimbatore-Bangalore ticket (departing Coimbatore at 2300hrs), I was now  searching for a Thrissur-Coimbatore ticket. Kallada had two buses at that time - but none of them showed reservation availability. One of the two buses had enough seats, but It wouldn’t let me book from Thrissur to Coimbatore. I was ready to pay for an Ernakulam-Coimbatore ticket, but with boarding from Thrissur - a guy at Kallada’s office in Thrissur rudely replied that it wasn’t possible. I now decided to take a KeSRTC bus, no matter what.

September 03, 2012: I had planned to start from home by 1600hrs - the clock went past my planned departure time and I was still hesitant to start moving! Felt like not leaving home, but had to. I finally walked out at 1615hrs, and rushed towards the bus stop. I spotted a KeSRTC LS bus to Thrissur coming in much before I reached the stop - waved at the driver to stop, and he did! It was RRM827 of Kodungallur. I was dropped near Metropolitan Hospital in Koorkenchery - because buses from Kodungallur side are not allowed to go towards the round during evening hours

After a bit of struggle, I managed to get an autorickshaw to get to KSRTC bus station. During my chit-chat with the driver, I came to know that buses from Kodungallur side are not permitted to go towards Thrissur round during evening hours. He was cursing the municipal corporation for their disinterest in maintaining city roads and was blaming the traffic cops for the traffic fiasco. After wading through heavy traffic, the driver dropped me near the entry of KSRTC bus station.

As I entered the bus station, I spotted a TNSTC bus heading to Coimbatore – but I wasn’t very interested in sitting that long in a TN bus (they crawl slower than a tortoise). I headed straight to the enquiry counter – the person sitting there said one bus was expected soon, but suggested that it would be safer to take a Palakkad bus and change over there. I decided to do as suggested. There were no Palakkad buses at the bus station at that time. Around 1745, a tired looking Leyland bus of Vadakkenchery (TP934) came in. I hovered around the bus, and was delighted to know it was heading to Palakkad – managed to get into the front seat and made myself comfortable. Around 1750, a Superfast heading to Coimbatore came – it was already crowded. I decided to stick to the Palakkad TT itself. An FP to Palakkad too came in – but it was a risk getting off my bus – the risk of losing my seat.

My bus started moving at 1757hrs. I was slightly worried since it takes 2hrs for a TT bus to travel from Thrissur to Palakkad – that meant an arrival around 2000hrs at Palakkad. I didn’t have any choice but to continue in the bus. The bus was crowded beyond capacity – the engine, though sounding tired, pulled through effortlessly. The road upto Mannuthy was in decent shape – beyond that there wasn’t any road for me to describe its condition. The bus was rattling off to glory – no point blaming the maintenance, since it runs through inexistent roads throughout the day.  The run was eventless – there were a couple of traffic snarls on the way. We crossed Vadakkenchery at 1920hrs. Time was running out – I was getting worried as time went past. We finally made it to Palakkad bus station at 2022hrs – 2hours and 25 minutes for the distance. The running time was decent considering the bad shape of roads.

Just as I got off the bus, I spotted RAE791 of Palakkad heading to Coimbatore. Waved at the driver, and he stopped for me. I got into the bus – which was half empty. Finally, started from Palakkad BS at 2023hrs. That was perhaps my quickest bus change! The road was in average condition. I was praying that there be no block at Walayar – my prayers were answered. It rained heavily though, as we crossed the border. The driver picked up speed after we crossed the border. The engine sounded very different (this was a 12M bus), and had excellent pickup. We overtook that Thrissur-Coimbatore TNSTC bus just after Madukkarai – this bus had left close to 30 minutes before I started from Thrissur! I was glad my decision wasn’t wrong. I was dropped at Ukkadam BS at 2153hrs. It took exactly 1hour 30 minutes for Palakkad-Coimbatore.  Thrissur to Coimbatore was 3hours 55 minutes (and 5 hours 05 minutes for home to Coimbatore – travelling time alone). The running time was longer than average.

I headed to a small hotel outside Ukkadam BS for my dinner. After dinner, I took an auto from Ukkadam, straight to Hindusthan Travels’ office near Nava India bus stop on Avinashi Road. I had selected this boarding point to check out the lounge of Hindusthan Travels. I reached there at 2230hrs. (The auto charged Rs. 130 – not bad considering the time and distance). I showed the ticket – the guy at the counter said the bus would come at 2300hrs, and requested me to wait. Headed out to use the toilet – the toilet was in shambles – quite a disgrace for the plush waiting lounge they had! I checked out the complimentary Wi-Fi they offered and caught up with mails. The lounge was airconditioned, and they were playing some satellite TV channel on the LCD screen.
The Hindusthan Travels office at Nava India, Coimbatore
The bus came in at 2246hrs – it comes after picking up passengers from Omni bus station. Boarding commenced immediately. A checker stood near the door and checked tickets before passengers got on board. The bus was fresh inside – it was clean and well kept. The interiors had a red tone – their waiting lounge also had red coloured walls and red furniture. They were playing some old Tamil songs (FM Radio) in the bus. I had a window seat towards the middle of the bus – seat #14. My co-passenger also got in from Nava India. Settling accounts and tallying the ticket list took some time – there was one driver and one attendant in the bus. One passenger requested if he could use the driver berth (At the rear end) – the attendant readily allowed. A quick headcount was done – 38 passengers were on board. 4 more would board at Hopes College. We started off at 2258hrs – 2 minutes before time.
KA-01-AB-2952. My bus to Bangalore.
 We stopped at Hopes College pick-up point at 2301hrs. The passengers were already at the pick-up point. They got in – but there was some confusion, and we kept waiting. Finally, the bus started moving at 2307hrs (Still before time). The lights were still on, and the FM station was still playing. The attendant came around to distribute shawls and later with 500ml water bottles. I slept off soon after the bus hit the highway – I vaguely remember seeing the bus passing Chengampalli toll gate. I slept through the journey – was woken up when the bus stopped for a break somewhere near Thoppur/Dharmapuri. The attendant switched on the lights and disturbed everyone – but nobody got off. I did not get up either. I slept off even before the bus started from the break. I was woken up when the attendant switched on the light again – this time at Hosur. I was shocked to see that it was just 4AM! We were about an hour early! A passenger or two got off, and the bus continued.

I woke up again as the lights were switched on, again. This time the attendant was shouting “Electronic City” – the time was 0427hrs. Some 5-6 passengers got off here. I pulled up my seat and kept the shawl aside, preparing to get off. The bus took the elevated highway and flew through. I got off my seat and headed to the cabin – the lights were still on, and most passengers were seen pulling their shawls over the face in an attempt to keep sleeping. The bus stopped at Silk Board at 0436hrs – close to 1hour and 30 minutes before their scheduled arrival time of 6AM! I am thoroughly impressed with the service – but not with the unearthly arrival time. Auto drivers at Silkboard robbed me of Rs. 250 for the 7km ride home (I had no choice – it was too early in the morning for me to look for other options). The Coimbatore-Bangalore run took only 5 hours 38 minutes. The travelling time from Home to Silkboard was only 10 hours and 43 minutes – not really bad since the direct bus takes close to 12hours!
The waiting lounge..
Comments: Hindusthan Travels is a Coimbatore based operator, who commenced operations in April 2012. They have successfully carved a niche market of their own – they’ve won over quite some loyal customers from other operators. The waiting lounge at Coimbatore was just awesome – I only hope they continue their class of service even as they expand their services to more routes. This bus was really well kept. I couldn’t see the odometer, but guess the mileage to be around a lakh-and-a-half kms. The service was warm – except the attendant having a fetish of switching on the passenger cabin lights every now and then. I wrote to Hindusthan about this, and was pleasantly surprised to get their reply about sensitising the crew regarding this. They supplied water bottles – which I feel is unnecessary for such a short overnight trip. They could reduce the plastic burden by avoiding this. Shawls were good in length, but were narrow. I am really impressed with their service – would surely try them again.

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

Will I take this service again: Surely. Just that I don’t travel Coimbatore-Bangalore very often and changing too many buses to reach Coimbatore from my hometown is a tiring job. I only hope Hindusthan enters the Kerala market soon.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

University Exams... reversal of roles..

The very thought of University exams brings about a chill past my spine. Cold hands, a racy heart and tonnes of anxiety is what comes to my mind as I think of a University examination. The last time I wrote a University exam was for my post-graduation. That was a painful experience - I was writing a three hour examination after some 3 years, and my hands were thoroughly unprepared for the torture that I was putting it through.

More that a year later, I was standing in another University exam hall. But this time, the role was reversed - I was standing there as an Invigilator! I was sweating profusely, out of anxiety. I was scared of making a blunder, which might put the students' future into jeopardy. The format of the answer sheet itself was puzzling - it was not the simple unicolour answer sheets that I am used to. This one had lots of boxes and a lot of shading to be done - yes! The answer sheet requires the students to fill in their register number, subject code and some other stuff to be filled into an OMR portion.

As the first bell rang, it reminded me of my good ol' days - I used to develop cold hands as the packet containing question papers is distributed in the hall. The exam superintendent came in with question papers - the students looked with anxiety. I did not have the liberty to distribute the question papers in advance - but I did read the question paper and reassure them that it was quite easy.

The second bell rang, and the question paper was distributed. I was bogged down with a lot of clerical work now - filling in a lot of papers in duplicate (yes.. those sheets with carbon paper kept in between) and circulating them for students' signature.  While the students fought it out with the answer sheets, there was absolutely nothing for me to do. Invigilation is one of the most boring jobs a teacher is put through. Three hours of boredom. The format of examinations in this university means that there are no supplementary answer sheets to distribute - students are expect to complete their exam in the 52 page main answer book.

Another bell rang - I was happy now. Just 15 minutes more to go. The regular "Fifteen minutes more" announcement was made. The clock ticked past, and now only 5 minutes left. Another announcement Five minutes left. Followed by the regular announcements - ensure that all the mandatory details have been filled, and so on.

The long bell goes off - like every teacher, I too develop a hard heart. Ask all the students to stop writing, and snatch off papers of those trying to sneak in a word or two. Ah! How much would I have cursed my teachers for denying me time in exams - I rarely wrote exams for the entire duration though. My good ol' days... I do not miss my college days though - since I am still in College ;)

Monday, September 03, 2012

Another trip on Kallada G4: Bangalore to Thrissur again!

Another trip on the drawing board – this was, as usual, an unexpected trip. This was an addition trip – earlier than by planned trip (Just like it happened in August). This time, I decided to book on Kallada G4 (co-incidentally, my first trip in August was also by Kallada G4). I contacted a known person in G4 – but got a cold response. He gave me another number to call – Kallada G4’s office in Kalasipalya. They quickly blocked a seat, and gave me a seat number. I had to pay only at my chosen boarding point (Madiwala). Given the cold response I got for the outward trip, I was seriously not interested in calling him again for my return journey. I decided to try out another operator this time for the return (details would come in a separate post).

September 01, 2012: It was one very busy day in office. I just managed to leave office at 1710hrs, and took the NICE road to reach home by around 1830hrs. After a round of browsing on the internet, I got fresh, had dinner and quickly got ready. My brother was to drop me at Madiwala – we started at 2015hrs. Had to stop on the way for some purchase – thankfully, there was no traffic snarls en route, and we made it to Madiwala at 2045hrs. My brother moved after dropping me.

I headed to Friends Travels’ office there. The guys in the office were dead busy – they were arranging something to send two North Kerala bound buses. They politely asked me to have my dinner and come back by 2115hrs. I headed out of meet my acquaintances around. The entire area was stinking like a garbage dump – the recent garbage block faced by BBMP ended up creating a huge heap of garbage on the other side of the road. A land mover was being used to load that garbage on to a truck – and this resulted in the rotten garbage being tossed around. The stink was unbearable.

I returned to Friends Travels’ office at 2115hrs – My boarding pass was issued and they collected the ticket fare (Rs. 950). A lot of passengers were waiting to board my bus – the B9R to Changanassery. I was chatting with a guy from G4, and was astonished to see the number of bookings they get to Thrissur. The number is enough to have a dedicated bus to Thrissur – that would take off considerable load from their other buses and even help in the other buses reach their destination earlier.

Passengers were flowing in steadily, and all of them were for the G4 B9R. The bus came in at 2131hrs – just a minute late from the time mentioned by the guys at Friends! The bus was KA-01-AA-7734 – the red coloured B9R from their first lot. Boarding started immediately – the cleaner was helping passengers with their luggage. I stood near the bus till most passengers got in – Passengers behaved typically Indian – pushing and shoving around to get in first. The first thing I did on getting on board was to read the odometer – it read 2.54 lakh kms! The interiors were clean and fresh – well kept as well.
The bus: KA-01-AA-7734. (This is an old photo)
I moved to me seat (#9). My co-passenger was already there. He had two heavy bags, which wasn’t getting on to the overhead rack. So he kept it on the floor – I requested him to leave it in the boot, since luggage strewn on the floor could become missiles later. Later, the G4 crew came and requested him to leave the baggage in the boot – they carried it themselves. A quick headcount was performed, and the bus was ready to move. AC was set to very comfortable temperature. The bus got moving bang on time, at 2145hrs. Just as the bus moved half out, the dispatcher realised that one passenger was missing. The bus stopped, and the guy got calling the missing passenger. After waiting till 2151, they decided to start the bus. We took a U turn at St. Johns Signal, came back and stopped right opposite the Friends’ office. We waited for another 2-3 minutes, and then started moving. The bus stopped again, this time near Madiwala Police Station at 2159hrs.

In the mean time, they started playing a movie in the bus. Umpteen buses overtook us, while we waited for the passenger. The wait continued till 2215hrs. We started off – the passenger still hadn’t boarded. The bus picked pace quickly and we got on the Elevated highway, and rushed towards Electronic City. The bus stopped again after crossing the toll gate (at the end of Elevated highway). One passenger got in – I guess this is the same passenger who was missing at Madiwala. We started off at 2227hrs. Lights were switched off now. It was a recent movie, being played in the bus. My recent journeys by bus allowed me see a lot of unseen movies!

There was heavy traffic until we crossed Hosur. The driver was well behaved on the road – no rash cuts or honking. He hardly used the horn at night. I was so engrossed in the movie that I did not notice the time or where we reached. We crossed Krishnagiri toll around 1145 or 0015hrs (something like that – I did not note the time). The movie got over – and like the last time, the crew did not bother switching off the ENT system. Guess what – the movie started playing again! The movie was switched off only after it played again for some 20 minutes or so. I was half asleep by the time they switched the movie off – again like the last time, this was when the bus stopped for a quick break!

I slept really well after the bus got moving – I slept uninterrupted till we reached Walayar (0411hrs)! I got off the bus at Walayar, and made a short stroll. It was drizzling outside – and hence I could not stand outside for long. I got back into the bus. One passenger went outside (for a leak) just as the driver got in – the driver was disappointed by the delay the passenger was making and he used the horn a couple of times. We started moving at 0421hrs. The road was bumpy after Walayar – the bus was dancing all the time. We stopped at Palakkad bypass to drop a few passengers (0442hrs). We dropped another passenger at Palakkad bus station. Our bus took the Ottapalam-Shoranur route towards Thrissur – this route is now used by almost every operator, in order to avoid the treacherous road between Mannuthy and Vadakkenchery – the potholes resemble lunar craters on this route!

The ride was smooth on the Ottapalam route – I slept for most of the time. I woke up as the bus crossed Mulagunnathukavu. I pulled up my backrest, and sat upright for the rest of the run. I was admiring the way the drivers handled the bus – both the drivers were not rash. The bus finally pulled in to Thrissur round at 0559, and I was dropped outside the General Hospital at 0600hrs! The bus was about 30 minutes delayed compared to its schedule – but considering the longer route taken, and the wait for one passenger, I think the arrival time was great.
The bus after dropping me at Thrissur
 Other points: With over 2.5lakh kms on the odo, the bus did not appear even a bit tired – it was maintained really well. All the lights (on the body) were working. I am really impressed with Kallada G4s maintenance – both my recent journeys did not disappoint me. The crew disappointed me again this time – the delay in switching off the TV after the movie got over, and the unhealthy habit of switching on all the lights to aid one alighting passenger. This time too, the cleaner shouted from the cabin itself. The bus had all its seats taken – shows the preference this bus enjoys on the route. I had traveled in the very same bus on the very same day, on the same route last year. (Read the review here) The bus was still in the immaculate condition during journey, exactly as it was in 2011! Hats off for the good maintenance.

A suggestion to Kallada G4: Please start a new bus to Thrissur (better to Kodungallur or Guruvayur). This will take off the load from the Changanassery bus, as well as your other buses. By adding a dedicated service, you can send all the other buses through the bypass and save some time. Also, advance the timings of the Changanassery bus to 2100hrs. Going by the timings on the day of my journey, the bus would not make it to Changanassery before 9AM. That would be too late for end-to-end passengers.

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! I have no complaints about this operator except some minor teething troubles here and there – it’s not an easy task to satisfy everyone.