Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Thrissur to Bangalore in the KSRTC Merc Benz

My return ticket was booked using the round trip discount on the KSRTC (Karnataka) website. At the time of booking (on December 29, 2012) – almost a month in advance, the 2131TRCBNG Airavat Club Class Volvo service was almost sold out – only a few last row seats remained. At the same time, the 1828EKMBNG Airavat Club Class Mercedes bus (2040hrs pickup at Thrissur) had lots of seats vacant! I am not a fan of the Merc tri-axle (all thanks to the window facing air vents) – but left with no choice, I booked this bus – Seat #5 was my choice. My journey to Thrissur by KaSRTC was almost disastrous, with the bus taking more than 10 hours for the 464kms journey. I did not have many expectations about the journey, but had only one prayer that the bus should reach in time for office.

January 27, 2013:
There was a major risk of a big traffic snarl on the way to Thrissur, from my hometown (35kms away from Thrissur) – due to a temple festival. The traffic police had announced a diversion, well in advance. Since the diversion is through narrow roads, we thought it would be better if we left home well in advance. Sometime around 1815hrs, I receive and SMS indicating the bus number and the crew’s phone number. Accordingly, we started from home by around 1900hrs – for the 2040hrs bus – 35kms away. Dinner was packed from home. I had my dinner before getting off the car. I was dropped outside the KSRTC bus station at around 2015hrs. The bus station was chaotic at this point – it was all crowded – with people and buses. I roamed around without any aim for quite some time, until someone called me from behind – that was my colleague! He was taking the 2131hrs bus – he is a regular on that one. We had some official stuff to discuss – ah! Official talks even on a vacation!! There were buses to quite a lot of destinations at this point – including some to Bangalore.
The bus: KA-01-F-9260. This is an old photo.
As we were busy talking, I spot my bus sneaking into the bus station in the background – I was shocked! It was only 2048hrs! That was too good by KaSRTC standards! I bid adieu to my colleague and moved towards my bus.  Boarding was chaotic – one there was no space, so the bus was parked awkwardly, two passengers for almost all KaSRTC Bangalore buses rushed seeing this bus! The conductor had quite a task finding out the passengers booked on this bus. I got in at around 2055hrs – my co-passenger had boarded only a minute before me. A movie was being played on the LCD screen – a fairly new Bollywood flick. The interiors looked a little tired – some lights were dead, and paint was peeling off the overhead rack edges and some other painted parts. Some passengers were missing – so the conductor kept shouting out “Twenty Forty Bengloor” time and again. He called up a few and finally managed to find all, but one passenger. Finally, the bus backed out at 2113hrs. It was quite an effort to get the bus out of the bus station – but the driver handled it efficiently. As we were moving out, the 2131hrs bus was boarding.

The guy at the wheels lugged the engine big time as we crawled through city roads. After the movie got over, the curtain separating the driver cabin and the passenger section was closed, and the LCD panels were closed. I slowly pushed back my seat and started searching for the elusive position that would let me sleep. The window facing AC vents were already making life difficult for me. The driver showed no hurry – he maintained speeds around 75kmph on the highway. Sometime past Mannuthy (just as we were nearing Pattikad), the conductor receives a call from the passenger who was missing at Thrissur! He was left behind – rather he did not report to the bus. The conductor wasn’t able to decipher what the caller said, and handed over the phone to the driver. The driver quickly asked him to head to their office at the bus station (Thrissur) and promised that he would be put in the next bus. But the guy at the other end was insisting that we stopped immediately and waited for him – the driver politely refused that, asked him to report to the office and disconnected the call.

The phone rings again – the same caller, the same demand, the same reply from the driver, call disconnected. Phone rings again, the same cycle repeats. By now, we were on Kuthiran. The road appeared patched up – surely better that its condition earlier this month. The bus swayed as we ran through the rough patches. Just as the bus finished ascending Kuthiran, the phone rings again – this time the driver agrees to stop. We stopped at Vaniampara – at 2152hrs. The passenger had reached right behind us – the conductor politely handled the issue, and quickly gets the passenger on board. We start off again at 2154hrs. Now the roads become slightly better, and the driver picks speed. I struggled hard, and managed to catch forty-winks. I was awake by the time we passed Kannadi. We passed Palakkad bypass at 2244hrs. I dozed off again. There was no block at Walayar – there were no private buses there either.

I dozed off for some more time, and woke up just as  the bus entered Coimbatore bypass. The bus stopped just past the first toll gate – for a biobreak (2332hrs). We started off after a quick 3-minute break. The driver changed, and the conductor took to the wheels now. This fellow had the typical KaSRTC style driving – shift from 1 to 6 quickly, and then lug the engine at 70kmph! I could hear the cries from the engine throughout. Sometime during the run, I fell asleep hearing the cries from the engine. It was not the usual continuous sleep that I have in buses – this time the sleep was disturbed. I vaguely remember the bus stopping outside some shop – not sure if it was real, or was part of my dreams. I woke up just as the bus passed Krishnagiri toll – as usual. In all my recent trips, I woke up as the bus passed Krishnagiri toll!! Not sure if it was just coincidence.

In my last trip by Airavat Club Class too, the bus had passed Krishnagiri toll at 0400hrs – but on that day, there was hardly any truck traffic, the case wasn’t the same today. I wasn’t very confident of the bus reaching at its scheduled time – the driver had changed (I understood that from the driving style) – we were still running slowly (rather, steady at some two-digit speed). I dozed off again, and woke up only as the bus pulled out of Attibele toll – it was just past 0500hrs now! This means the driver did an amazing job between Krishnagiri and Attibele. We stopped at Hebbagodi to drop a passenger – 0516hrs. By now the conductor switched on all the lights, opened the curtains and shouted “electraaannicc city nodi”. We stopped at the Electronic city bus stop at 0519hrs – some passengers got off. One passenger got off at Hosa Road. I moved to the cabin now – to alight at Bommanahalli. I watched in awe as the bus effortlessly reached 95kmph, then had to slowdown to avoid hitting a cab changing lanes, and then picked speed again to cruise around 85kmph. I was finally dropped at Bommanahalli – at 0528hrs. The scheduled time for the bus to arrive KBS (Majestic) was 0600hrs – which it would’ve easily met.

End remarks:  The bus was KA-01-F-9260 – one from the first lot of Mercedes Benz Tri-Axle buses delivered to KaSRTC. The bus was based at Bangalore Central Depot-2, and had about 2.6 lakh kms on the odo. Maintenance was above average – a lot of paint was peeling off the solid partition between the passenger cabin and the crew jump seats – the base metal was exposed. Lights were not in full working order – some were dead. There was some odd rattles here and there – acceptable given the kind of roads the bus goes through. The bus reached Thrissur with a delay of only 8 minutes, and reached Bangalore well on scheduled arrival time. It took 8hrs and 15 minutes – amazing running time. The driving was steady, and devoid of all the high speed heroics. Honking was absolutely minimal – not absent though. I loved the ride – and I surely love to try them again. The only question that hounds me is, why can’t KaSRTC do Bangalore-Thrissur in less than 9hours when it manages to do Thrissur-Bangalore in around 8 hours? The distance does not change – the traffic scene is similar.

Blankets: Yes
Water Bottle: Yes (500ml bottle)
Snacks: No

Maintenance (including cleanliness): 4.5/5
Punctuality: 5/5
Staff Behaviour: 5/5
Overall: 4.75/5

Will I take this service again? Both the experiences with them on the Thrissur-Bangalore route have been good, but poor in the opposite direction. I might take them for my Thrissur-Bangalore runs.

KSRTC Airavat Club.. er Crawler... Class from Bangalore to Thrissur

During the end of December 2012, after the holiday list for 2013 reached me – I chanced about this weekend of January which had three continuous holidays. Since I saw this almost a month in advance, I decided to book both ways by KaSRTC – getting tickets during weekends is a dream on KaSRTC. By booking both ways, I managed to get a 10% discount, and got a round-trip ticket for a cool Rs. 1666! Private operators charge Rs. 1000-1150 one way. This round trip ticket was really cheap. I chose Shantinagar as the boarding point for my Bangalore-Thrissur journey – but later, I was wondering why did I choose the bus station – St. Johns would’ve been better. The KSRTC website allows modification of boarding point through the website upto preparation of chart. I thought I’d take the decision on the day of journey.

January 24, 2013:
I had class till evening on that day – quite unusually. I had to rush out of office. Took the NICE road and reached home around 1815hrs. Quickly packed my bag, got fresh and was ready to leave. I left home at 1850hrs – for a bus leaving at 2111hrs!! I rushed to the auto stand, and found no rickshaws anywhere around! Luckily, got an auto that was returning empty – the rick dropped me on Bannerghatta road. Thankfully, there was a Volvo bus standing just past the bus stop, stuck in traffic. The driver opened the door for me. There were a couple of vacant seats. The bus got crowded later. The road was horrible crowded –the driver took the Dairy Circle-MICO-Wilson Garden route, instead of going via NIMHANS-Lakkasandra. The bus reached Shantinagar around 2000hrs. I headed to the Andhra hotel at the bus station for my dinner – the hotel was all crowded, with lots of passengers. Being single, I managed to find a seat quickly.

The bus station was chaotic – as usual. I roamed around the bus station for a while. Sometime around 2035hrs, the bus was brought from the depot. The bus was parked in the long queue of buses. The driver was inside the bus, but did not start boarding. Boarding started around 2049hrs – after the conductor came with the reservation chart. The bus was KA-01-F-9346 – the very same bus that I travelled the previous week. Interestingly, the crew were the same as well! I was excited about the interesting journey I’d be having that night. I got into the bus, left my baggage and returned outside – AC was still off, and it was very stuffy inside. The driver kept moving the bus forward as and when the bus ahead moved ahead. Around 2100hrs, the driver switched on the AC.  I got back inside the bus and occupied my seat. FM radio was being played. Our bus reached the exit gate perfectly on time – 2111hrs. But we were not yet ready to start – the reason: they were still loading parcels! Our driver was annoyed at the delay – he was shouting at the parcel guys. The dispatching inspectors finally signalled our driver to move – at 2120hrs. The road outside was horribly chocked.
The bus: KA-01-F-9346 of Bangalore Depot - 4 (old photo)
After a lot of struggle, our bus finally got moving at 2129hrs. By now, the crew started getting calls from passengers about the whereabouts of the bus. We had less than 20 passengers on board now. The conductor distributed water bottles, and blankets were kept on all the seats. The bus waded through traffic and we reached Dairy Circle at 2144hrs – only one passenger got in here. The area around Forum mall was all jammed up – we reached St. Johns, Madiwala at 2154hrs. The bus more or less filled up here. We started moving at 2157hrs. Roads were less crowded from here on – thankfully. I was expecting massive snarls at Bommanahalli – but I was proven wrong. The roads were free hereon, except for mini blocks at traffic lights. We reached Electronic city at 2219hrs – that was less than 20 minutes from Madiwala – a record for sure! All seats, except two, were filled now. We left Electronic city at 2222hrs. No movie was played (thanks for that) – but the FM station was still on. I was too sleepy – I slowly drifted asleep. I saw someone rushing to the cabin – the crew switched off the FM radio now. I remember seeing the bus stuck in traffic block at the TN checkpost (Zuzuwadi) – I continued sleeping.

I woke up just when the crew announced a dinner break – the time was 2358hrs, and we were at A2B restaurant (Chinnar) instead of the usual Krishna Inn, Shoolagiri. I was too sleepy to get up or move out of the bus. The AC was still on, so I continued sleeping. I did not know when the bus started off again. I had a nice long undisturbed sleep. I woke up only at 0533hrs – when the crew announced another break! I could see the “Amrita Vishwavidyapeetham” board – meaning we were at Ettimadai already! Oh! It would be better to say we were still at Ettimadai! The bus was supposed to be at Thrissur now. I got off the bus at this break – for a short stroll and a leak. The Bangalore-Ernakulam “Non-stop” B9R was also present there. The crew came back and we started off at 0543hrs.

The road ahead was broken and in poor shape – the bus swayed badly. I was awake till we crossed Walayar checkpost. I drifted asleep again. I woke up only when the conductor shouted out “Palakkad”. The time was 0622hrs – and we were outside Palakkad KSRTC bus station. My co-passenger too got off here. Quite a lot of passengers alighted here. We started off at 0625hrs. KaSRTC buses take a different road to get back to the highway – not the normal route that KeSRTC buses take. I have still been not able to trace this route. I slept off as the bus came back to the highway. I did not even realise when the bus went through those horrible patches around Kuthiran. The bus stopped at Mannuthy to drop a passenger – 0741hrs. I pulled up my backrest and got set to get off the bus. I moved to the front as the bus passed East fort and entered the ring road. I was dropped outside Sakthan Nagar Private Bus station at 0750hrs. Before getting off, I noticed the trip meter – it read 464.1kms.

End remarks:  The bus was KA-01-F-9346, of Bangalore Central Depot-4. The odometer read around 1.99lakh kms. The crew were good – the conductor was a bit ill-tempered and talked very loud. The crew was silent – he meant business. The end-to-end running time was very high – at 10hours and 21 minutes, for a 464.1kms distance. I am sure something was wrong on the route – because the driver was fairly aggressive on the road. Driving was very stable – absolutely no use of horn at night, and no rash braking – the fact that I slept undisturbed for over 5 hours is a testimony to that. Most of the delay happened in the Attibele-Chinnar section – the bus was a whole hour late for Dinner break. I have always, and still, wondered why a bus starting at 9pm should require a dinner break on the way. Instead of wasting over 25 minutes on a dinner break, they could stop the bus at a good fuel station or a toll station for a quick bio-break instead. The break at Ettimadai is unwarranted as well – there is absolutely no toilet facility there (except talking to the wall). KSRTC needs to work on these breaks and understand the fact that weekend passengers would love it if the bus sticks to its timetable – we reached over two hours late at Thrissur.

Blankets: Yes
Water Bottle: Yes (500ml bottle)
Snacks: No

Maintenance (including cleanliness): 4.5/5
Punctuality: 2.5/5
Staff Behaviour: 5/5
Overall: 3.5/5

Will I take this service again? The driving style was good – I might try service this again.

Monday, January 28, 2013

On Kallada B11R - Aluva to Bangalore

I was a quandary when it came to deciding the operator for my return journey from Kerala. I was heading to Trivandrum; from there would be coming home and then take a bus from there back to Bangalore. I was not sure if I would be able to ride the new B11R of Suresh Kallada on its maiden run, so decided to book the B11R for my return journey. I tried booking Thrissur to Bangalore, but the boarding point offered was only at Mannuthy (Thrissur bypass). I changed my plan, and decided to book ex-Aluva. I chose a seat towards the rear of the bus – seat #I1 it was. Booking was done online.

January 20, 2013:
This was one very busy day – roamed around my hometown, and we went to some new tourist attractions in town, and later went for a movie in the afternoon! After all this, I had very little time in the evening. By the time I finished by dinner, it was past 2000hrs – and my bus would depart from Aluva at 2100hrs! My brother was at the wheels of our car – he did not speed up much since he was new to this road. I was a bit tensed as we continued slowly towards Aluva. We finally landed outside Kallada office in Aluva at 2050hrs – five minutes past my reporting time. The office was in the first floor of a building on the bypass. I rushed to the office and showed my ticket – he said the bus would come in at 2100hrs, and I could wait in the office. I told him that I’d be in the car. The office was fairly big, with enough waiting place – the only problem was that it was on the first floor, and the access stairs were fairly away from the road.

Just as I came out of the building, noticed a Viji B9R rushing off. I was in the car, when I saw a bus approaching the office – it was a Kallada bus. I was sure that this wouldn’t be my bus – since the time was still 2059hrs. I still checked which bus it was – I was shocked to see it was indeed my bus! The bus came in perfectly on time – a record of sorts for Kallada! I got into the bus immediately – was happy to see Joby at the wheels. He had driven the inaugural trip too, and I knew his capabilities well. It was the same crew as on the inaugural trip. I rushed into my seat – I1, a right side window seat in the 10th row. There were some more pick-ups at Aluva – from the agents nearby. We finally got moving at 2102hrs. Some Malayalam movie songs – from the late 1990s and the early 2000s – were being played on the ENT system.
The bus: KA-01-AC-40. Photo from Archives.
Traffic was on the higher side – we did not do great speeds. The bus stopped at Ankamaly for a pick up – at 2117hrs, and got moving after the pick-up at 2118hrs. I was not sure if the bus would stop for dinner (or if the dinner was already over). The bus went past the normal restaurants were Kallada (Suresh Kallada) stops – so I thought there was no break for dinner. But, I was wrong – the bus pulled into Hotel Jubilee, at Pongam. There were two Kallada G4s, and two KaSRTC Volvos standing there already. We stopped for break at 2126hrs. There was no photo opportunity – the bus was parked in an awkward place, and it was all congested with other buses. Three more KaSRTC Airavat Club Classes joined us – interestingly, all of them parked one behind the other. There were 3 Kallada G4s as well at the time. During the break, had a chat with the crew – Joby was all smiles about his machine. We started off at 2150hrs.

We stopped at Chalakudi for a pickup at 2202hrs, and left within a minute. The bus slowed down after Chalakudi, since we were fairly ahead of our schedule. We reached Mannuthy at 2228hrs – a whole 17 minutes before schedule. Passengers were yet to turn up at the office, since we reached even before the reporting time for passengers! Some 4 passengers got in, and we finally left Mannuthy at 2233hrs. While we waited for passengers, all those buses we had seen at Pongam (during dinner break) overtook us (except the G4s). The roads ahead were painful. I slowly drifted asleep – despite the bad road. I felt the ride was slightly better. I woke up briefly as we stopped at Palakkad bypass – 2345hrs. No pickup – but the bus stopped briefly outside the Palakkad office. We started moving, and I drifted asleep again. We were running through some horrible roads, and the bus stopped somewhere – I thought we were at the normal tea shop at Walayar – the time was 0021hrs. The place did not look like Walayar to me, but then I thought we had crossed over into TN – this could be KG Chavadi.

I slept for some more time. When I woke up, we were still at the very same place – the time was 0050hrs. I switched on my GPS to find out where we could be – it turned out that we were at Gopalapuram, on the Palakkad-Pollachi road! I dozed off again, and woke up a while later – the time was 0111hrs, and the bus was just starting off, from the check post – so we lost 50 minutes waiting there! The road ahead was more or less inexistent. It was a choppy ride ahead – the bus was swaying all the time. We crossed Pollachi shortly (around 0128hrs). We turned off to some narrow road from there. There was one Kallada G4 bus for company, and both the buses kept moving at the same pace for quite some time. Later, my bus overtook the G4 bus and we rushed ahead. I dozed off.

I woke up when the bus was stationary at the Perundurai pump – this is one Kallada lovers’ heaven. By the time I realised that we were at the pump, the bus got moving – the LED clock in the bus read 0330hrs. I have no idea when did we pull into the pump. I had a very deep sleep after Perundurai – in fact, I was asleep even before the bus entered the highway! I woke up around 0600hrs – the bus was stationary, and the road was all jammed up. We were moving slowly at some points – sometime later, the bus moved over to the opposite lane – rather, traffic cops were asking vehicles to move to the opposite lane. We were running behind two other Kallada buses and some trucks. We were moving at a slow pace – I saw that the other side was jammed, and there were lots of buses in the block including a G4, and some KaSRTCs. I understood that we were past Krishnagiri – since road widening works were in progress. I noticed that a truck had flipped over, lying perfectly across the road! A crane was trying to remove the truck – so the traffic block wouldn’t be cleared quickly – I thanked the cops for diverting our bus.

Now, our bus overtook the other crawlers, and was on the tail of a Kallada B9R. Both the buses gave company to each other, overtaking at times and then getting overtaken by the other. The drama continued all the time. We passed Hosur at 0635hrs – now, it was over 240kms done in 3 hours flat – including the traffic block! The driver did a good job – given the fact that the bus is speed locked as well!      Thankfully there was no block at Atibelle check post (all the vehicles were stuck at the accident site) – both the buses cleared the toll together. We reached Electronic City BETL toll gate at 0657hrs. The bus took the BETL, and we reached Silk Board at 0704hrs.

End remarks:  The bus, KA-01-AC-40, had around 59xx kms on the odo. The bus was brand new – so no point in talking of maintenance. The iShift was as noisy as the one in the B9R – but I think the transmission was more refined in the B11R. The leg space was somewhat better – maybe just a feeling, or it could be real – I really don’t have an answer. The driving style was excellent – I loved both the drivers. The bus would’ve surely done good speeds between Perundurai and Krishnagiri – since we did over 200kms in less than 2.5hours – but I did not feel the speed. Good driving. The end-to-end running time was about 10h02m – about an hour more than the scheduled running time. That is acceptable – since we lost over 50 minutes at Gopalapuram checkpost, and then again at the accident site. Kallada has got a really big network, and has service to most parts of Central and South Kerala from Bangalore. They need to get their staff behaviour improved – especially the office staff at Bangalore. A lot of delays happen at the Bangalore end - especially at the Madiwala office where ticket checking begins only after the scheduled departure time – a minimum 30 minutes delay in departure is guaranteed. Kallada has been heavily criticized by passengers for their delay – the drivers are doing a fairly good job within their limits – but the office staffs need to co-operate more. These days, a lot of positive opinion about Kallada is appearing on the net – hope Kallada keeps up the steam and changes for good.

Blankets: Yes
Water Bottle: Yes (1ltr bottle)
Snacks: Yes (50g Good Day biscuit)

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

Will I take this service again: This service was too good. The crew were well behaved. Kallada is too inconsistent and unpredictable. If only they kept could be consistent in their services. Maybe I’ll try it again.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Gripe water... Bachha ro raha hai...

I could not resist making this post. My bro's newborn was crying incessantly for some time now. One dose of the most famous brand of Gripe water in India, and the kid is now playing joyously now. It was one simple case of griping pain in the stomach.

Gripe water is a home remedy for minor gastrointestinal discomfort in children. During my days in college as an undergraduate student, we had prepared Gripe water as part of our Pharmaceutics practicals - I vividly remember the aroma of its ingredients. Gripe water is made mainly out of various aromatic oils - like Dill oil, fennel oil, etc. Purified water is used as the vehicle, and it also contains a sweetening agent and Sodium bicarbonate. Alchohol used to be used in earlier formulations, but has been removed now.
Image taken from the Internet - copyrights rest with the actual copyright owner

Gripe Water is actually a brand, owned by Woodwards. Wikipedia says:

Gripe water was discovered accidentally by William Woodward, an American who was working in England, and quickly became adopted as a prescription by physicians. The original Woodward's Gripe Water contained 3.6% alcohol, dill oil, sodium bicarbonate, sugar and water. Woodward registered "Gripe Water" as a trademark in 1876. It was initially marketed with the slogan "Granny told mother and mother told me."
 Many companies came with gripe water, but the leader in the market always remained the famous "Woodward's Gripe Water". My childhood memories are of a glass bottle, neatly wrapped in blue coloured paper wrapper with the label on it. The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear Woodward's Gripe Water is this advertisement:
This is the Hindi version, while I usually saw the Tamil Version of this. This is one classic advertisement - many people of my age would've surely seen this advertisement.

Back in College, I had eagerly tasted the concoction - it tasted sweet, with a punch of the aromatics. With the arrival of my bro's kid, I got to taste it all over again - the same old sweet aromatic taste. The recipe worked like magic on the kid - thanks to Woodwards :)