Ashoka Volvo 9100: Kannur to Bangalore

Sometime in the beginning of April 2013, I decided to head to Kannur to attend a wedding in May. May month would be punctuated with lots of journeys and hence taking a call to head to Kannur was a bit crucial. I was going there with my brother by road, and return tickets were being searched. For some reason, operators in Northern Kerala, aka Malabar, aren't very net savvy - they, either do not offer online bookings for their Kerala-Bangalore services, or put very few seats online. I checked on RedBus, and found that only Ashoka Volvo was listed on the route - Golden was shown "Sold Out". I had already traveled by Golden, so decided to check out Ashoka, who was offering a brand new Volvo 9100. I booked through Redbus, and chose one of the two seats available.

May 01, 2013:
Beginning of a happening month - it was a tiring day attending a wedding in Payyannur - the heat had sapped most of my energy. I had a short nap in the afternoon after returning from the wedding. I had my dinner from home, and left towards Kannur with my brother's brother-in-law by around 7pm. The reporting time for my bus was around 2015hrs. We reached Kannur well in time for the departure. I headed to the office to get my boarding pass - they allotted the same seat that I had chosen on RedBus, and issued a boarding pass. I left my bag in the bus and got off. While in the office, I understood that the bus was full. There was no sign of the bus departing even at 2030hrs (the scheduled departure time). In the meantime, they called me from the office (on phone) and asked me to come there - I went there, and they took back the boarding pass and changed by seat number. I was now allotted seat #10 - my seat choice was retained though. The driver was fairly old guy - he looked quite experienced with Volvos. The attendant was a young guy - he was upset when I took a picture of the bus - and was saying that I needed permission from the office, blah, blah, blah. The Kalpaka office on the opposite side was very busy - lots of departure one after the other from there.
The bus: KA-01-AC-1161 (Photo from Archives)
The bus finally got moving at 2047hrs - the office guys said that the official departure time is 2045hrs - wonder why they put 2030hrs on Redbus. We had a couple of pick ups in the town - a long halt at Caltex Junction for a passenger too thrown in. Our last pickup in town was at Thana - at 2101hrs. We then stopped at the new Bus station in Thalassery, at 2129hrs. Quite a lot of passengers got in here, and a lot of parcels were loaded as well. We started from there at 2145hrs. A fairly recent malayalam movie was played after we started off from Thalassery. The road seemed good as the ride quality was decent. The bus did not sound strained or struggling. We had pickups from Koothuparamba (2203/2209hrs), Mattannur (2226/2228hrs) and Iritty (2246hrs). Now the bus was full - we had 41/41 bookings. The movie was still on. We reached Koottupuzha junction at around 2308hrs. There was long line of buses waiting to cross the bridge then. The bridge is at a 90* turn from the road and the bridge is quite narrow as well. Buses really struggle to take that turn to enter the bridge. My bus too struggled - he had to take a well planned turn, and reverse once. This was the first time I was seeing the turn from a bus.

Once past the bridge, we enter Karnataka. The bus made a brief stop at the check post as well, and then continued our run to Bangalore. The movie got over sometime later. I slowed drifted as sleep. I woke up when the lights were turned on, and the cleaner announced a break - it was 2349hrs, and the boards in the area read "Perumbadi". There is a hotel and a small shop on the banks of a lake here. I got off the bus, took a short stroll and waited till the crew came back. We started off at 0005hrs. Wonder why these buses need to take a dinner break in the middle of the night. The concept of "non-stop" services should evolve here as well. I started struggling to sleep after we started off again. The seats weren't very comfortable. The bus was a 41 seater, and hence had fairly good leg room. The seat design was faulty, and it offered very little under-thigh support - plus it was very "flat" - so one keeps sliding out whenever the driver applied brakes!

The bus was struggling in the ghats, and it did not sound very confident of being able to handle grades. I slept off sometime in between. The sleep wasn't very continuous, since I kept sliding out of my seat. Did not realise if we took the Elivala-KRS-Srirangapatna route, or if we went via Mysore. I woke up as the bus stopped at Kengeri to drop some one - at 0500hrs. We stopped again at Satellite (0516hrs). The attendant left the lights on, and spoilt all the chances of catching up some more sleep. We stopped at Market (0529), before reaching Kalasipalya - 0534hrs. What shocked me was, all the non-ac buses which left before us, was already standing there! In effect, we had no time advantage. We left Kalasipalya at 0537hrs. The bus slowly crawled out of Kalasipalya. We stopped at Lalbagh to drop a passenger (0545hrs), then again at Dairy Circle (0552hrs). The bus finally rolled into Madiwala at 0556hrs. The driver was adamant about dropping passengers only after parking inside the petrol pump!

Ending notes: The bus, KA-01-AC-1161, had about 28-thousand kms on the odo. The maintenance was fairly good - not dents, no rattles. The interiors were clean as well. Seats had fake-leather upholstery - it offered very little comfort. The seat design was flawed, and I felt quite uncomfortable. The running time seemed too high for the distance - it took 9h09m end-to-end for a 300-odd kms journey. I agree there was a ghat section in between, but they seemed to waste a lot of time here-and-there. My last journey in Golden was faster, and they seemed to keep time better. The advantage of Ashoka over Golden is that Ashoka provides blankets, while Golden doesn't.

Blankets: Yes
Water Bottle: No
Snacks: No

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

Will I take this service again? I doubt. Might take it other alternatives aren't available.