Sunday, December 30, 2012

Golden Travels - Kannur to Bangalore by the two-axle B9R!

I always wanted to travel to Kannur by bus from Bangalore once. The ghat section between Virajpet and Iritty has some brilliant curves – from what I heard. Sometime late last year, I got an opportunity to drive through the route as well. I never had a reason to go to Kannur by bus – always went by car. An opportunity to travel by bus suddenly appeared in the mid of December – a function at my relatives’ place. I had initially planned to avoid the event, but some other personal reasons coerced me to partake in the event. I was going there by car, but the return would be by bus – yippee!! There are only two Volvo services to Kannur – one by Karnataka SRTC and the other by Golden. Golden’s Volvo is special. I first saw this bus in July 2011 – I did not notice what was special with this bus then. I saw the bus again in August 2011 – did not notice anything special even then. But a couple of days later, while looking at the photo of that bus, I noticed that the bus was special – went to check the bus again the next day, and confirmed that the bus was indeed special.

Ah! Cut the cr*p – what is special? The bus was a two-axle B9R! A 340-hp engine powering a 12M bus! Now that was raw power. Some extensive searching on the internet convinced me that the model was very rare, and it surely was special. The bus fan in me wanted to try this bus desperately – me and a friend even planned going to Kannur just for the heck of trying the bus – but that never happened. When my opportunity came, it was a no-brainer decision to book the very same bus. The operator’s (Golden) website did not allow bookings for Kannur-Bangalore direction. So I booked through RedBus. I always make it a point to take a print out of my tickets – and this time too, I took a print out. I booked the ticket just the day prior to my journey, and managed to get a seat on the last but one row – seat #27. My journey to Kannur by car was largely uneventful except for the horribly horrible roads.

December 19, 2012:
It was one eventful day – busy with the function and later in the afternoon made a visit to Pappinisseri snake park and Parassinikadavu temple. Sometime in the evening, I got a message from RedBus reminding me of my journey, with an addendum that “You DO NEED to carry a print out of the ticket”. Normally RedBus asks you not to print, but this time it asked me to do so late in the evening – I thanked my fortune for having taken a print out long back itself. The bus was scheduled to depart at 2100hrs from Kannur. My brother suggested changing the boarding point to somewhere nearby, since Kannur was a good 28kms away. Later on, I decided that I should board from Kannur itself – I could catch up some sleep then. My brother agreed.

We left home at 2000hrs – on the 28kms journey to Kannur through narrow roads. We made it to Kannur exactly at 2045hrs. I rushed to Golden’s office and showed my ticket. They issued a boarding pass and told me that the bus would leave at 2115hrs – so I still had 30 minutes to go. We (I, my brother and a cousin) we headed for a dessert at a nearby ice-cream parlour. We finished the dish and came out at 2100hrs and I saw my bus already standing there. I bid bye to my brother and headed towards the bus. I left my bag in the bus. The engine was running and the AC was switched on already. An FM station was being played. The bus started off at 2120hrs – with about 23 passengers on board. The engine’s growl was clear – I was enjoying the grunt of the 9-litre monster sitting below my seat.
The bus: KA-01-AA-7313, ready to start from Kannur.
No blankets or water bottle were provided. Soon after the bus started off, they switched off the FM radio and started playing a movie. Thankfully, volume was kept really low – it was a movie that I had seen already. I reclined by seat to the max and slowly pulled off to sleep. My adjoining seat was empty – the seat’s calf rest was not retracting – the spring was damaged. We reached Melechovva at 2130hrs, where one passenger got in. I just started sleeping – but the roads did not let me sleep. I switched on the GPS for some time to find out the route my bus was taking – we were just past Chalode then, and proceeding towards Mattannur. I was awake till we crossed Mattannur (one passenger got in here). I slept lightly after that and woke up just as the bus stopped at iritty – two more passengers got in – so we had 27 passengers on board the 41 seater bus now.

I had some seriously deep sleep after Iritty – seriously deep that I did not even wake up when the bus went through the seriously horrible patch of roads past Iritty. I woke up just as the bus pulled into a hotel and the cleaner announced a break. He switched on the cabin lights, and the engine was switched off. The time was 0137hrs, and the place was somewhere outside Hunsur town. Our pairing bus too was standing there at the time. I got off the bus and realised that it was chilling cold outside – I used the restroom (not lit and in horrible shape). I took some pics of the bus. The pairing bus left a while before ours and we started moving at 0157hrs. The lack of blanket was disturbing my sleep now – the windows were fogged up due to the heavy temperature variation – it was cold outside and comfortably warm inside. I somehow managed to sleep after the bus got back on to the good road.

I was expecting the driver to do some serious driving and make it to Bangalore earlier than scheduled. Despite the lack of a blanket, I managed to sleep. I woke up just when the bus fell into an XL sized pothole somewhere near Kengeri. I pulled up the backrest and decided to cut short my already short sleep. We stopped outside Mysore Road satellite stand to drop someone and continued the journey. Lights were switched on as the bus reached the KR Market flyover. We stopped near KR Market bus station at 0529hrs – some passengers got off here. We pulled into Kalasipalaya (TSP Road) at 0533hrs and stopped outside the Golden Travels office. A lot of passengers got off here and loads of parcel was unloaded. Some passengers got in here (people who came by various buses from the Malabar side and to be dropped at Madiwala). We started off at 0538hrs. The bus took the normal route via Lalbagh, Lakkasandra, Dairy Circle. I was in confusion if I should get off at NIMHANS, but was afraid if I’d get buses at that time to Bannerghatta road – just then a Volvo to Bannerghatta road overtook us! I now decided to continue to Madiwala. We reached the last stop (opposite Friends Travels) at 0555hrs. I then took an auto to head home – the meter was surely faster than the auto.

End remarks:  The bus, KA-01-AA-7313, had some 2.01 lakh kms on the odo. The maintenance was above average – no dents on the body or broken lamps. The interiors were in good shape. Some seats had a damaged Calf recliner mechanism. There were occasional squeaks – thanks to the bad roads. The interiors were clean. No  blankets were provided (as mentioned earlier). The bus was scheduled to arrive at 0530hrs (RedBus says that is the arrival time at Madiwala) – it came in 25 minutes late. No complaints though. The departure itself was 15 minutes late. I think they should provide Blankets – it’s difficult to sleep without a blanket/shawl. I kept both the AC vents closed, but that did not really help matters. I loved playing movie at a low volume – those who want to see can concentrate while the others to catch forty-winks. The driving was really good – no honking at night, or rash brakes. The driver maintained proper rpm all the time – it was musical to hear the grunt from the engine. The journey time seemed a bit on the higher time – especially since the distance was only 320kms! The end to end journey took 8 hours and 35 minutes – the driver drove really slowly after Mysore so that the bus does not land up in Bangalore too early. May be they could delay the departure a bit, so that the bus reaches at the same time.

Blankets: No
Water Bottle: No
Snacks: No

Maintenance (including cleanliness): 4/5
Punctuality: 4.5/5
Staff Behaviour: 4.5/5
Overall: 4/5

Will I take this service again: I am not a regular on that route, but would love to try them/recommend them.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

National Travels: Mumbai to Bangalore by iShift B9R

The visit to Mumbai was very fruitful – the work we had in Mumbai was finished on the very first day itself. By the evening of our arrival in Mumbai, I was busy searching for return tickets. Dad was keen of reaching back in Bangalore in the morning – 9AM latest. So, I had to search for buses leaving in the afternoon. I had originally planned to try Kesineni or Kallada – but both leave in the evening. I checked for tickets on RedBus, and found out that Sharma, National and Neeta had afternoon departures. I checked the VRL website, and they too had a bus in the timeframe I was looking at – but had seats only in the rear half of the bus. So VRL was ruled out. Neeta was never part of my consideration. I wanted to try MSRTC, but their website was not operating for some vague reason – and I did not want to go to the counter. So the tie was between Sharma and National. I decided to try out National – have heard a lot of good reviews and my calculations showed that it could be an iShift on that trip. So booked a ticket immediately. [For those who missed: Read the review of the outbound journey by VRL here]

December 04, 2012:
We vacated our hotel room well before 12noon. I had kept Vashi as our boarding point eventhough the bus had a boarding point at Belapur. We headed to Vashi by an NMMT Volvo – the fare was Rs. 35 per head. The bus was maintained fairly well – it was heading to Borivali. The ridership was fairly good as well. I was still in awe seeing such a frequent Volvo service between Belapur and Vashi – in the good olden days, it used to be non-AC buses in Navi Mumbai. The journey evoked a lot of nostalgia. We reached Vashi by around 1240hrs, and headed straight to the famous Navaratna restaurant for lunch. After lunch and some shopping, we took an auto to reach the boarding point of our bus – “Juna Toll Naka”. The boarding point is the place where a Toll plaza existed long back. This place is now the pick-up point for long distance private buses.

The place is no less than a torture for passengers – there is no shade or even places to sit. We had some torrid time waiting for the bus. A couple of non-ac buses came in while we waited for our bus to turn up. The pick-up time according to the ticket was 1415hrs – but the bus was nowhere in sight even at 1425hrs. I was keeping my fingers crossed that the bus turns out to the iShift one. Sometime past 1430hrs, I saw the National bus turning up in the horizon and approaching the Vashi gaon signal – and that was the iShift! The bus came in to the pick-up point at 1435hrs – the bus was KA-01-AB-3101, “Sangam”. I was hoping to get the pairing bus, “Sanam” – but nevertheless the iShift was surely the icing on the cake.
The bus - KA-01-AB-3101 (Photo from archives)
We were the only people to board from here – the moment the bus stopped a guy asked us if our seat numbers were 11 and 12 – it was. Bag was left in the boot and we got into the bus. The bus got moving at 1438hrs. The bus was clean and fresh – a very good air freshener was used. The headrest covers on the seat had the characteristic National logo as well as the name of the bus. Shortly after the bus started, the attendant came around distributing water bottles – they gave 1ltr bottles for each passenger. The bus took the flyover at Nerul as well as Belapur, but went below at Kharghar – but nobody was picked up. We next stopped at Kalamboli (near McDonalds) for pickup – at 1504hrs. The agent’s guy got off here. Some more passengers joined in, and we left at 1506hrs. The bus got on to Mumbai-Pune Expressway and the driver maintained pace on the mid lane. I was expecting him to let the beast loose, but my GPS continuously recorded speeds in the range of 90~95kmph only. I guess he was engaging the cruise control. A fairly recent Bollywood movie was being played at the time.

The bus pulled into the food plaza just past the Khalapur toll plaza for a break – at 1532hrs. The bus was refuelled, and we started off at 1603hrs. The run was eventless after the expressway. We dropped a couple of passengers at Wakad (1659) and proceeded towards Katraj. We reached Katraj at 1733hrs. A whole lot of passengers got off, and a lot of passenger got in. The bus was full in no time. The crew took a lot of time to settle accounts and re-start the journey. The bus started off at 1745hrs. The bus got onto the Katraj Ghats – I was travelling through a proper ghat section in a multi-axle bus for the first time – the bus handled the curves beautifully. Traffic was fairly heavy and we weren’t doing great speeds. The bus stopped for another pickup at Hotel Natraj (1821hrs). The second movie was also a recent bollywood flick.

The bus stopped for dinner at Hotel Sagar Plaza, at a place called Vathar, near Kolhapur (2119hrs). After the passengers got off, the crew locked the bus and they too headed for dinner. The place was not great, and was overpriced like all motels where buses stop. Our bus was the only vehicle to stop at the hotel – there was a better hotel nearby, and a lot of cars had stopped there. We left the place after dinner at 2200hrs. The bus stopped again for pickup at Kolhapur bypass (2212hrs). We left the place at 2216hrs. The bus was full now. I slept soon after the bus started. I slept really deep – did not realise anything till the point the cleaner switch on all the lights and shouted out “Tumkur”. We stopped at Tumkur bypass to drop passengers at 0559hrs.

We started off from Tumkur at 0605hrs. The promised arrival time at Bangalore was 0700hrs, and there was no way the bus could make there by that time now. The driver showed no signs of hurry – steady pace was maintained. We had one Neeta B9R for company now (I had seen that bus while waiting for my bus at Vashi) and some KSRTC buses. The bus stopped just past Nelamangala toll gate to drop a passenger, at 0650hrs. After Nelamangala, the bus got into the tollway and maintained steady pace. I tried calling a couple of taxi guys to find if I could get a cab to reach home – but none of them had free cabs at that time. Our next stop was at Goruguntepalya – at 0711hrs. Next stop was at Yeshwantpur Rly Station, 0717hrs. Normally buses go through Rajaji Nagar, but National normally goes through Mekhri Circle. Keeping the same tradition, my bus also took the Yeshwantpur flyover and headed towards IISc. Instead of turning towards Mekhri Circle, the bus directly headed through Sankey tank road.

We reached Anand Rao Circle at 0736hrs. I went to the driver and asked if he could drop me at Corporation circle – he agreed and asked me to keep my baggage inside the bus. I got the baggage from the boot and kept it inside the bus. There was slight traffic after AR Circle. We were dropped at Corporation Circle at 0746hrs. From there we took a BMTC Volvo to Bannerghatta road, and my brother picked us from the bus stop near home.

End remarks:  The bus, KA-01-AB-3101, had some 2.16lakh kms on the odo. The bus was clean both inside and outside, and was really well maintained. No scratches or dents on the bus. The bus was too non-National style – there were no dazzling lights! The engine was super-silent – all I could hear was a hum from the engine. The crew were not in uniform – infact, I’ve never seen a National crew in uniform. The crew were well behaved – the drivers were friendly. They switched off the engine during breaks, and even kept the bus locked during the dinner break. The second driver slept in the luggage boot, and hence all the 49 seats in the bus were for sale. Driving was top-class – no honking at night, no rash cuts or overtakes and no hard braking. Both the drivers maintained steady pace all the time. The iShift did a good job – the engine sounded relaxed all the time, and ensured that the drivers did not lug the engine. The only grouse with National is the kind of places they stop for food – the hotel did not look very clean and was very pricey. Food was very average. They provided water bottles in the bus – I hadn’t received water bottles during my outbound journey in VRL, which charged more for the ticket as well! The end-to-end journey took 17h08m – an hour more than the VRL journey. The distance I travelled extra was only 12kms.

Blankets: Yes
Water Bottle: Yes
Snacks: No

Cleanliness: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5
Staff Behaviour: 5/5
Overall: 4.5/5 (0.5 points less for the bad choice of dinner break)

Will I take this service again: The service was great. I’d surely love to try them again.

Monday, December 24, 2012

VRL: Bangalore to Mumbai by Volvo B9R Multi-axle

Mumbai is the city of love for me – it is the only place that I miss a lot. I did my graduation in Mumbai, and like every college going student, enjoyed a lot of the city. The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Mumbai is the umpteen varieties of snacks that one can pick up from road-side stalls. I last went to Mumbai in 2009 – and I had been longing to go there once again. There was some reason to visit Mumbai as well – but the trip kept getting delayed time and again due to various reasons. The chance came up finally in December – I and my dad were heading to Mumbai. Trains were ruled out due to lack of tickets and the long running time. So bus it was. I had already shortlisted the operators that I’d look at for the trip (based on various reviews and timings). Selecting the final operator was based on the availability of seats in the front half of the bus and the arrival timings at Mumbai (I preferred an arrival before 9AM). VRL met all my requirements – so VRL it was.

December 02, 2012:
It was one very busy day at home – there were a function at home, and hence there were some guests. I and my dad rushed through lunch and were ready by around 2pm. My brother dropped us at the VRL Bus station in Anand Rao Circle. Vijayanand Roadlines Limited, or VRL, is one of the biggest private bus operators in India – they also own the highest number of Ashok Leyland Trucks. Given the size of the organisation, they have elaborate workshop facilities in Hubli (their headquarters) and Bangalore. They also have a full fledged IT backbone to manage the operations.

As we were travelling to AR Circle, i received a message with the bus number and departure details. We were dropped at the VRL bus station at around 1455hrs. I just confirmed at the counter that my bus would be coming there. The bus station is a miniature government bus station – with the old styled metal benches and complete lack of signboards. The place also has a poorly kept toilet too. There is no PA system – there was one Volvo B9R parked in the departure stand, and one Non-AC seater/sleeper too came in at that time. That bus was also headed to Mumbai. My bus (KA-25-C-8920) came in at 1529hrs (for a scheduled departure at 1530hrs). Boarding started immediately – the attendant neatly tagged luggage and kept them in the luggage hold. He arranged the baggage according to the alighting point of the passengers. The interiors of the bus looked a bit tired, but appeared well maintained. The interiors did not smell very fresh. The crews were in uniform.
My bus to Mumbai - KA-25-C-8920
The bus got moving at 1541hrs. The attendant came around with the chart and checked tickets quickly. He ensured that all the passengers booked from AR Circle were on board – he quickly listed out various pickup points as well. The second driver got into the “berth” soon after the bus got moving. VRL replaces one seat on the first row (left side window seat) with a crude contraption that resembles the stretcher in an Ambulance – its long enough for a 6 feet person. The drawback is that the passenger who sits in the left side window seat in the second row ends up sitting in an awkward position. A movie was played on the TV. VRL does not use conventional DVD players, but an HDD based player. A fairly decent collection of movies were saved in the hard disk – the attendant just needs to select the language and choose a movie – passengers get some choice as well! The first movie was a recent bollywood flick. The HDD player ensures that the movie does not get stuck in the middle, nor does it skip scenes when the bus goes on rough patches.

The bus took a left turn after Mantri mall, and we headed towards Rajkumar road. We had a pick-up after Navrang (1603hrs) – the wait for passengers was fairly long here. We got moving only at 1610hrs. We again stopped for passenger pick-up at Yeshwantpur (1619hrs). The last pickup in Bangalore was at Jalahalli cross – here too, we had to wait for some time (1631hrs to 1636hrs). We passed 8th mile at 1639hrs. From here, the bus enters the “access restricted tollway” towards Nelamangala. The driver made a much disciplined progress on the highway – not over speeding at any point of time, and maintaining steady pace most of the time. We stopped at Tumkur bypass to pick-up a passenger (1731hrs). Here we crossed an SRS B9R- guess it was coming from Ahmedabad going by timings.

We left Tumkur at 1733hrs. I dozed off for a while after Tumkur. There were lots of diversions on the road – the bus kept exiting the highway and taking the service road every now and then. The driver did not overspeed, but we managed to overtake a Neeta B9R (This bus had left some 30 minutes before us from Anand Rao Circle). After the first movie got over, they played another one – this one was Kannada movie. The run was uneventful. We pulled into Hotel Vijayanand at Chitradurga at 1922hrs. This one is a massive facility – a huge parking yard, a fueling station, an array of toilets and a restaurant. They have a time-keeping point here, and the crew are required to report to the station. The restaurant had hardly anything to eat at that time. We left Chitradurga at 1941hrs. While the bus was about to start, the person at the counter informed the crew about pick-up at Davangere (rather, the crew were reminded).

We pulled into Davangere for pick-up at 2035hrs. A few passengers got in, and the bus started off at 2039hrs. The bus ran through the service road for a long time and then entered back on the highway. I dozed off for some more time – by now the movie was switched off. I woke up just as the bus was pulling into a restaurant for Dinner – the time was 2119hrs. That was at Deol’s Punjabi Hotel, somewhere on the outskirts of Ranebennur. It was more of a dhaba. Soon after we stopped, a KSRTC Airavat Club Class (Mysore-Shimoga-Mumbai) and National Travels B9R “Paalki” joined in. By the time we were ready to leave, another Airavat Club Class and the Bangalore-Mumbai Neeta B9R (which we had overtaken before Chitradurga) came in. We left at 2150hrs. The second driver took over after dinner. I slept after some time.

I woke up just when the bus pulled into VRL’s HQ Workshop in Hubli (2255hrs). The bus joined the queue for refuelling – the other vehicles were trucks. Our turn came quickly. The crew got off to sign some papers, while the bus was being refuelled. We started off at 2313hrs after refuelling. I slept off soon after the bus joined the highway. That was one really deep sleep, and I woke up only when the bus deviated from the highway and headed towards Katraj – to be precise, I woke up just as the bus was approaching that lone tunnel on Katraj Ghat. In fact, I had woken up at the same location during my previous journey on the same route – back in May 2006. I was taking the bus on the same route after 6 long years now! (Read that review here)

The bus stopped at Katraj, at 0515hrs – some passengers got off. We stopped again at Wakad (0540hrs) to drop a couple of passengers. The driver maintained steady pace on the highway – no honking, no rash cuts. He stopped just past the Talegaon toll plaza on the Mumbai expressway – at 0556hrs. I got off the bus to use the restroom – it was chilling cold outside. I felt the temperature was optimum in the bus. The bus started off at 0610hrs. The pace was constant, and the driver stuck to the mid lane for most of the time. We exited the highway and stopped for drop at Kalamboli – at 0713hrs. There was one more VRL B9R parked on the road side – that was a break down. Passengers from that bus were moved to our bus, and we continued the journey. We stopped for another drop at Kharghar (0722hrs). Finally was dropped off at CBD Belapur, at 0725hrs. Just as I picked my baggage, the attendant asked for a tip – this is something I hate. Tip is something passengers give as a token of appreciation, not demanded. We took a rickshaw to reach our hotel. There ended the outbound journey – and starts a visit to Mumbai after three long years.

End remarks: The bus, KA-25-C-8920, had some 4.6 Lakh kms on the odo. The bus was maintained fairly well – I wouldn’t call it excellent, but surely good. The interiors appeared a bit tired. Both the drivers did an excellent job – no over-speeding, no unwanted honking at night, light use inside the cabin was limited – but the attendant did shout out aloud waking all the passengers at drop points. The crew appeared professional in their uniform, and behaved properly to passengers. One passenger did irritate both the crew by asking the expected arrival time at Mumbai – drivers usually consider that a bad omen, and hence were irritated at the question. They did not lose their cool while answering though. Overall, the service quality was good. The running time was 15h44m. Given the time they reached Belapur, they'd have surely reached Borivali at the scheduled arrival time of 9AM itself.

Blankets: Yes
Water Bottle: No
Snacks: No

Cleanliness: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5
Staff Behaviour: 4/5 (one point less for the tip part)
Overall: 4.5/5 (loses out for the tip incident)

Will I take this service again: Surely, why not? I am not a regular passenger on the route – so I may not take the particular service, but would surely love to try VRL on some other route.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Hindusthan Travels: Coimbatore to Bangalore by day service Volvo B9R

After booking the tickets for my outward journey, I had a tough time getting tickets for the return. I did not want to spend another night in the bus (I was spending every alternate night in buses that week – and wanted to enjoy that Sunday night in the cosy comforts of the bed at my home). So night buses were ruled out – the only day bus was the Kallada B9R. For some reason, that bus did not have any tickets for that day – there were tickets for Coimbatore-Bangalore in that bus though. I called up Conti, but they did not have tickets for that day. KPN was full as well. I booked on the Hindusthan weekend special day-time service. I chose the first row seats – to enjoy the road ahead and also take advantage of the huge led room.

November 18, 2012. 1045hrs:
I walked out of Gandhipuram city bus station and headed into the SETC bus station to see if there were some surprises out there. For some reason, my phone wasn’t able to hook on to the network – so did a bit of jugaad (typical scenario: remove the sim, wipe it and re-insert it), and it worked. After that, I headed to Annapoorna-Gowrisankar, for a breakfast-cum-lunch. Stuffed in some really delicious stuff, and headed to the Omni Bus station. I purposefully selected Omni BS this time so that I could take some photos there. Hindusthan’s Chennai day bus came in exactly at 1145, and went at 1200hrs. I was hoping that I’d get an i-shift this time – but the bus to turn up was KA-01-AB-2653, one from their first lot. The bus came in at 1221hrs.

I was standing outside the BS when the bus turned up, and was the first passenger to get on board. The driver went to their office and informed about the arrival of the bus. The “checker” came after that, and started verifying tickets. A few passengers were yet to turn up – the checker was busy calling them one-by-one. One passenger said he’d joined at the Nava India office while another one said he is not travelling. We started off from Omni BS with 12 passengers on board, at 1232hrs – a delay of two minutes. By the time the bus got moving, he was already getting calls from the office asking reasons for the delay! The bus went around fairly crowded roads, and reached Nava India (the Hindusthan HO) at 1245hrs. Boarding started immediately after the bus stopped.

While I was busy looking outside, someone called my name and said “hello”. I turned back, and that was my bus fan friend Dhandapani – I had met him at Madurai the previous month. I had in fact remembered about him when I was in the bus. He too was in the same bus to Bangalore. Interestingly, my co-passenger would board only at Salem – so Dhandapani took my adjacent seat. That was the first time I ran into someone I know, that too in a bus! A total of 12 passengers got in at Nava India, and the bus started off at 1254hrs. The curtains separating the driver section from the passenger section were closed immediately after the bus started off.

There were two drivers and one attendant in the bus. The attendant went around confirming the number of passengers in the bus, while the drivers were busy discussing the pick-up points with the number of passengers getting in from each point. We stopped at Hopes College for the next pick-up (1306hrs).  The bus was before time, but the guys at Hindusthan office had already alerted the agent there – he had kept the passengers ready. A family was yet to turn up – so the crew were busy calling them and the driver was upset at the fact that the bus would hold up traffic on the busy road. The family turned up quickly, and we started off at 1306hrs – 11 passengers got in here. We had 35 passengers on board now.

The second driver headed off to the berth for some sleep, while the attendant was playing around with the Entertainment system. He switched it on, put in a DVD as well – but the TV wasn’t displaying anything. He had jumbled the TV settings and also the Amplifier settings. I asked him for the TV remote – he quickly handed it over to me. I changed the channel to AV. It was a fairly new movie – the same one that I had seen in KPN last month! The two of us had a lot to talk about – and we concentrated a bit less on the movie. The bus stopped for another pick-up at Karumathampatti (1332) where two passengers joined. The next pickup was Avinashi (the bus goes inside the town to pick up passengers) – at 1353hrs, two more pax joined in.
The bus: KA-01-AB-2653. Taken when the bus stopped for break.
 The driver wasn’t very comfortable driving a day trip – he honked a lot, and was struggling to make overtakes. He wasn’t rash or did not show hurry though. After entering the 4-laned section after Chengampally, the driver calmed down, and starting using cruise control more often. My GPS kept displaying speed in the range of 88~92kmph all the time. My friend was expecting the bus to stop at Perundurai for lunch (based on his previous experience) – but the bus just went past the plaza without stopping. The movie got over before Salem – the attendant just shut down the entertainment system (also remembered to close the rear screen). We reached Salem at 1530hrs. There was some confusion regarding the boarding point – the guys at the office in Salem told passengers that the bus would pick them from the office (near the bus station), while the crew have been told by the head office to pick-up passengers from the bypass. We were waiting all the time near the first signal on Salem bypass (the one where the road to Salem Steel Plant branches off).

The confusion resulted in a long wait for us on Salem bypass. The guys in the office brought the passengers to the bus in an autorickshaw. One passenger was still missing – the crew called them, and found that they were waiting for the bus at the next junction. We picked up the passenger from the junction. The people who came to send off the lone passenger (a lady with two kids) was bit furious about the “crew changing the pick-up point at the last moment” – the driver apologised profusely and mentioned that the bus normally picks up from the bypass only, and the office guys in Salem goofed up. Now, the lady passenger was throwing tantrums – she had two tickets – one for herself and the other for her boy child (looking aged around 10~12). She had another girl child along. Now she wants all of them to sit together – her booked seats were far apart.

The crew explained their inability to help her in this regard – the bus was full – 44/44 bookings (43 passengers travelling – one “no-show”). There were no seats to accommodate her request. The bus started off after all the confusion at around 1550hrs. Traffic was on the heavier side – but still not the worst. My friend, who was drop dead hungry by now, asked the crew if they’d stop for a break somewhere – they replied that the bus would stop at Thoppur, and gave a “sorry expression” when my friend told that he hadn’t taken lunch expecting the bus to stop at Perundurai. Thoppur toll gate came and went, so did the A2B. My friend was a bit confused now – A2B is gone, so where are we stopping? We pulled into the new Rajabhojanam restaurant, located at the first IOC Fuel station just past A2B (1652hrs).

I wasn’t feeling hungry (thanks to the heavy brunch I had) – so decided to take a juice instead. The food items were overpriced (like at every restaurant where buses stop) – a small 150ml serving of fresh juice cost me around Rs. 50. I picked up a packet of air and a cold drink before heading back to the bus – oh, yes! I was indeed lucky to find some potato chips in the packet of air. I walked around the bus – and found dents on the rear panel. The bus had done around 1.03lakh kms (according to the odo). We started off at 1716hrs – the second driver was at the wheels. This person too felt very uncomfortable with a day drive – Hindusthan operates day services only over weekends.

As it got darker, the guy at the wheels felt more comfortable. He planned his overtakes really well, and we kept evading traffic at every toll gate effectively. We passed Hosur at 1907hrs. Thankfully, Atibelle toll was unusually less chaotic. Our driver chose the least crowded lane, and he managed to beat the traffic here as well. We reached Electronic City at 1939hrs – after dropping a few passengers, the bus got on the BETL and we rushed towards Madiwala. The curtains were moved apart, and I could see the driver clearly now. The moment the bus stabilised on the elevated highway, the driver activated cruise control at 90kmph. I was dropped at Silk Board, at 1948hrs – bid bye to Dhandapani and got off the bus. I took a rickshaw back home. This was the first time I reached Bangalore so early after taking a day bus!

Concluding remarks: The bus, KA-01-AB-2653, had around 1.03lakh kms on the odo. The interiors had a blue theme, and it looked a bit worn out. The seats were clean. The exteriors of the bus had some marks. The rear has some damages. However, the mechanical maintenance was good – no squeaks or rattles. The crew were very polite, and were really concerned about punctuality. Hindusthan has won a lot of regular passengers of itself – a lot of people migrated from other players to this player. They’ve really emerged as a good competition for some established players in the industry. This is one operator, I am eagerly looking at. There are some news reports that they’ve acquired an operator running on the Bangalore-Kerala route – if that is true, it would mark their entry to the Kerala route.

I loved their punctuality – the left on time, and arrived on time. I had reported an issue with their website the last time I used them – they called me up on my phone and took stock of what the real issue was. And, this time, I found that they’ve fixed the issue. I did not expect an operator to follow up passenger feedback seriously and get their acts right. I wish them all the best and hope they continue the good show in the future as well.

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

Will I take this service again: Surely, why not? Hindusthan is too good an operator to be avoided.