The Airavat to Thrissur, via Gudalur

Sometime during Dussehra, Karnataka SRTC came up with a new Airavat service to Thrissur via Mysore. This bus curiously starts from Mysore Road Satellite Terminal at a very awkward 3pm, reaching Thrissur at an even awkward 1AM. The timing is no different in the opposite stretch. This service made me quite curious. The website did not give any clue about the route it takes beyond Mysore. But the running timings somewhat gave me a clue that this could be via Gudalur-Nilambur. Some days after the bus got running, I got information that the service is operated by Mysore depot! Now that was something quite interesting. I thought I must try this service once. But I travel very rarely these days, and I did not see an opportunity in the near future to try the service as well. Sometime later, I so turned out that my Niece's first birthday is to be celebrated at our hometown - and that was on a working day. This was the chance - sure!

December 09, 2013:
I had to leave for my hometown on this day. Although I had booked (or blocked) my return seat, I hadn't booked any for going home. While sitting in the office, I decided to try the 3pm Airavat to Thrissur. Quickly booked a ticket through my phone - and I got seat #4 - the first row left side window seat. I left office at around 1pm. The auto guys outside refused to take me to Majestic - since they did not have the mandatory "License Display Card". But one guy offered to drop me at the next bus stop - for a sum of Rs. 30. He literally hunted buses for me, and finally dropped me at a bus stop in Sultanpalya. After waiting for about 10 minutes, I got a bus to Market. I flashed my reservation ticket (e-ticket) to the conductor - he quickly replied, "Majestic hogalla" (This bus will not go to Majestic). I replied that my destination was Satellite BS - to that he questioned what time is my reserved bus. I said 3pm. He quickly checked his watch and said okay. (Free travel is permitted in BMTC buses for passengers with a reservation in KSRTC upto 2 hours prior to the service' departure time). I was dropped at KR Market bus station around 1.50pm. Just as I got off the bus, noticed another boardless bus crawling towards the Mysore road Flyover. Ran to it and asked the driver if it goes to Satellite - he asked me to get in.

The conductor did not bother seeing my e-Ticket, nor did she ask if I had one! The bus crawled its way to Satellite, and dropped me there around 1405pm. I still had 55 minutes to go. Quickly headed to the restaurant there for my lunch, and then headed out to the platform where this bus should arrive. Interestingly my e-ticket did not have any information about the platform number, nor did I receive an SMS about the service 30 minutes before departure. The clocked ticked past 1445 and there was no sign of the bus. I called up the enquiry number provided in my e-ticket - the person at the other end asked me to get in touch with the inspector on Platform 4. I headed there - he said the bus normally arrives around 1500 and will come in Platform 6. I headed back there. At around 1507, an Airavat of Mysore Rural Depot-2 pulled in - it had a board reading "Mysore". The bus parked at Platform 6. The conductor got off the bus and ran to the "trip sheet" counter. About 3 minutes later, I got an SMS with the drivers' phone number and the bus number - so this was my bus.
The First bus: KA-09-F-4695, of Mysore Rural Depot-2
In the meantime the driver asked if I had a reservation - as I said yes, he asked me to get in. The reservation chart came, and he was shocked to see only two seats sold! He was certainly worried. Now the crew started their attempt to get some seats to Mysore, and they managed to get about two passengers. In the meantime, the driver moved the bus to the Mysore platform.The crew tried getting a few passengers, but the inspector manning the platform was in no mood to let our bus hawk itself. He wanted to protect the interests of another Airavat (of Bangalore division) standing there, trying to get passengers. The inspector literally made the crew start off. At 1528hrs, we backed out of the platform, and headed towards the exit gate. In the meantime, the other Airavat (of Bangalore division, heading to Virajpet) also pulled out and parked across our bus. The conductor tried getting a few pax, but no luck - finally we started off at 1532hrs - 32 minutes late.

The crew were seriously upset about the bus being empty (literally!) - there were just 4 passengers in all! Two reserved (yours truly and another gentleman to Guruvayur), two unreserved (both to Mysore) and there was one KSRTC staff. The driver forced the conductor to call up their superior at the depot and report that the bus was running empty. After a few rounds of phone calls, they reached a decision to terminate the service at Mysore and send the passengers in another regular service from Mysore. The conductor was making calls to the crew of the next bus, and asking them to wait for us - and the driver was promising to get to Mysore by 1800hrs. The driver surely meant it, as he floored the pedal wherever situated permitted him. People who've been on the Bangalore-Mysore state highway would know what I mean - lots and lots of speed breakers and the maniacal traffic - that day was no different.

In some stretches I could see the speedo going close to 100kmph - but did not cross into the three-digit zone anytime. No movie/songs were played and I spent my time spotting various vehicles that rushed past in the opposite direction. The crew were in constant touch with the crew of the vehicle on which we were to be sent - and the driver promised every time to be there by 1800-1815hrs. Since the crew were rushing against time, they had no plans of taking a break (its good that they did not take a break). Traffic thickened as we passed Srirangapatna. The city traffic slowed us down after we passed Columbia Asia hospital in the outskirts of Mysore city. We crawled through the city traffic and reached the Suburban Bus Station at 1817hrs - a good three minutes before time. The driver directly headed to the platform (#3) instead of stopping at the arrival platform. The driver stopped the bus and ran to the platform - but alas! Our connection bus already left! Another Airavat was standing there, but that was to Ernakulam via Kozhikode.

Our driver called up his superior in the depot, and decided to pursue the bus - which, according to the inspector at the platform had just departed. We left from the bus station at 1823hrs. In the meantime, the conductor called up the crew of the other bus and asked them to stop wherever they were - and informed them that were on their pursuit. Traffic in the city did slow us a bit, but the driver was quite an expert and he made use of every opportunity we got. We exit from the city and got on to Nanjangud road. I wondered if this chase would last very long. Our conductor receives a call from the other crew asking our whereabouts now - as he disconnected the call, I spotted an Airavat parked on the roadside a little ahead - and we were near that ashram (forgot the name of the Ashram - believe its related to JSS). Finally our driver parked ahead of the other bus - at 1833.

The crew explained us that they are merging the services since we were only two passengers - the other passenger was shocked hearing that, since his ticket was to Guruvayur, and ours was the only bus that goes to Guruvayur. The bus on which we were being sent doesn't go to Guruvayur - but our crew requested the other crew to help the gentleman get some kind of a conveyance from Kunnamkulam to Guruvayur. The connecting bus was KA-09-F-4638 of Mysore Rural Depot-2, working 1805MYSTRI to Trivandrum via Gudalur. I was quite shocked to see the bus fairly full. I headed to the last-but-one-row and took a window seat. The last two rows of the bus were empty, and a few empty seats here and there. We started off at 1835hrs, after the customary paperwork (of entering our details in the waybill of the new crew).
The second bus: KA-09-F-4638 of Mysore Rural Depot-2 (Shot using my phone)
A Bollywood movie was being played in the bus - and a pretty interesting one. The driver was quite fast - he was maintaining good pace wherever he could. He competed with a KeSRTC Super Express, and after a fairly long chase (lasting about 15 minutes), we overtook the Express. Traffic was quite heavy and the road was not in great shape either. We pulled in at a Restaurant in Gundlupet for dinner, at 1945hrs. The conductor announced a 15 minute break and got off the bus - the restaurant was quite slow. The food wasn't overpriced - quite surprisingly. We started off after Dinner at 2013hrs. The crew exchanged their positions now - the driver headed to the last row to sleep while the driver-cum-conductor now took over the wheels. We now had 47 minutes to go for the forest closing time. The road was not in great shape, and there were lots of vehicles trying to beat the deadline.

We passed the forest checkpost at 2045hrs. I was traveling in a Volvo through that route for the first time - the driver had to crawl at every curve due to poor roads. Sometime after crossing into TN, the roads got worse, and we were crawling most of the time. We reached Gudalur at 2126 - stopped outside the bus station. A few passengers got in, and we started off again at 2128hrs. I slept off soon after Gudalur. I made most of the two seats I had at my disposal. I vaguely remember seeing Vazhikadavu town. Slept for quite some time. We passed Perinthalmanna at 2345hrs. I slept off again, and woke up as we stopped at Perinthalmanna. Instead of switching on all the lights, the driver-cum-conductor stopped the bus, went up to the passenger and woke him up. He get off the bus and arranged an auto for the passenger as well. We left Kunnamkulam at 0042hrs. I dozed off soon after we left Kunnamkulam, and woke up just as the bus was entering Thrissur bus station - it took me a few seconds to realise that I had reached my destination, and to gather my belongings and get off the seat. The time was 0109hrs.

What I liked the most was, the conductor actually came calling each passenger reserved to Thrissur instead of shouting out from the cabin. As I got off the bus, saw a lot of passengers crowding around this bus asking for seats to various places in South Kerala! Wonder why Kerala RTC never wakes up to this demand. I walked out of the bus station, and took an auto to go home - 36kms away. The auto driver flagged down the meter and we headed to my destination.

End notes: The first bus - KA-09-F-4695, of Mysore Rural Depot-2 had about 7.8lakh kms on the odo. The bus seemed fresh out of the paint booth .The maintenance seemed quite okay - no squeaks were heard. Both the crew were well behaved - the conductor was in Khakhi, not the characteristic White Uniform. I really appreciate their concern about running an empty bus - it was any day better to merge two services than running an empty bus all the way. While it did cause some inconvenience to the Guruvayur bound passenger, it atleast saved the corporation some money.

The second bus - KA-09-F-4638, of Mysore Rural Depot-2 also had 7.8lakh kms on the odo. This bus was a complete contrast to the first bus. This one did not seem well kept - it had that irritating noise from the rear axle and a malfunctioning AC. The compressor kept cutting off quite often and ended up fogging all the windows every time. The crew were great - and both of them were in White uniform as well. The end-to-end running time, including changing buses and dinner, was 9h37m - quite good for a service that runs through a ghat section and predominantly two laned roads.

Facilities:
Blankets: Yes
Water Bottles: Yes (500ml bottles in both the buses)
Snacks: No

Ratings:
Maintenance: 4.5/5 for the First bus, 3/5 for the second bus
Punctuality: 4/5 (overall)
Crew Behaviour: 4.75/5
Overall: 4/5

Will I take this service again? Sure. The arrival time is quite odd, but lets me go home and catch up some sleep on the bed!

Comments

Krishnaprasad said…
First, great pleasure to see a post after a good two and half months!
Variety trip. Nice to read.
I thought this service was via Dimbhum-CBE, I remember seeing a Guruvayur bound Airavat at Mannuthy around 04.00 (I was in Kerala Lines) early this month. Any idea which service was that?

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