Friday, June 28, 2013

Kallada G4: Trivandrum to Bangalore via Nagercoil

Another reason to travel to Kerala, and this time to Trivandrum too - a seminar. I did not look much when deciding on which bus for my return journey - I was particular that I wanted to travel via Nagercoil this time. The seminar would run late into the evening, and hence wanted to have some breathing time - the decision was simple, as I booked a seat on Kallada G4. So it was Kallada G4.

June 17, 2013:
As expected, the seminar ran quite late, and I had to leave the seminar before it got over. A quick visit to Thampanoor and some bus spotting, I headed back to Jay's home. It rained on my way back, and Thampanoor was flooded. It was a messy auto ride to reach his place. Jay's mom had prepared delicious dinner for that night and his dad offered to drop me at my pick-up point. We left home around 1925hrs. It was a very short journey to the pick-up point. I reached there by 1945hrs. A couple of A1 Travels buses, the Suresh Kallada buses to Bangalore (both the B9R and the Mercedes Sleeper) and the Golden Travels B9R to Kannur were parked there. I bid adieu to Jay and his dad (thanks a lot for that hospitality), and began my wait for the bus.
The bus: KA-01-AB-7438 (Old photo: Taken during delivery @ Volvo)
My bus rolled in at 2014hrs. Boarding commenced immediately. Although I had a printout, I decided to check out if the SMS would work - just showed my SMS - no questions asked, and no objections - my presence was marked on the chart. I got into the bus - we were having very good loads even on a Monday night! I settled on my seat - my co-passenger was already there. I hate sitting in the bus waiting for it to start - but had no choice today. We started off at 2037hrs - 7 minutes late. The driver was quite relaxed - no signs of hurry, and no honking as well. We had a pickup at Nemom (2052hrs). In the meantime, a fairly old Tamil movie was played on the AV System. I was already half asleep - the sound made things bad for me. We stopped at Neyyattinkara (2112hrs) for a pickup before crossing into Tamil Nadu. Our next pick-up was Marthandam (2141hrs) and then at Nagercoil (2219hrs) - all these points contributed not more than one passenger each! We were running a healthy load even for a working day.

The stopped for sometime on the roadside inside Nagercoil town for some unknown reason. I dozed off for sometime on the way - did not really notice when we hit the highway. We stopped at fuel station at a place called Panagudi for a leak break (on request by some lady passengers). The break lasted about 5 minutes, and we started off at 2252hrs. I slept soon after we started off from break. A nice undisturbed sleep for most of the time. I woke up at around 0530, when we were on the Krishnagiri flyover. I was sure that we wouldn't reach Bangalore at the scheduled time - especially since we were on the Krishnagiri route instead of going via Rayakkottai. I slept for some more time, and woke up just as we passed Attibele. The bus stopped for drops at Chandapura (0644) and Electronic City (0653hrs). I was finally dropped at Silk Board at 0702hrs.

End Notes: The bus was KA-01-AB-7438 (the last B9R of Kallada G4), with about 1.7 lakh kms on the odo. The bus was in pristine condition - no squeaks (except those coming from baggage). The seats were a bit uncomfortable - I felt the recline angle was lesser compared to other buses. The crew were well behaved - and they were concerned about time. The end-to-end running time came to 10h25m - much faster than the buses that come via Ernakulam. No wonder a lot of passengers now choose this route - and we had very healthy loads for a working day as well! I liked the service on the whole.

Facilities:
Blankets: Yes
Water Bottle: No
Snacks: No

Ratings:
Maintenance (including cleanliness): 5/5
Punctuality: 4.75/5
Staff Behaviour: 5/5
Overall: 4.95/5

Will I take this service again? I am not a regular passenger on that route - but will surely prefer this service when needed. I'd recommend this as well.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Kallada B9R: Thrissur to Trivandrum

This was one of the biggest confusions I've ever had when booking a bus journey - Which bus? I was searching for a bus for a 250km ride from Thrissur/Ernakulam to Trivandrum. My only requirement was it should be an AC bus - I did not want to risk getting wet in a non-ac bus given the torrential rains in Kerala. I got some inputs, and I confused myself. I struck off KTC from my list - for the lack of a good boarding point and it was expensive as well (for the distance). I thought of trying the new ACC of KaSRTC running in the Mysore-TVM route, but it did not let me book tickets for Thrissur to Trivandrum. Later, I overran its reservation timing, and the bus did not appear on the booking portal when I logged in. As time ran short, I had not much option - so Kallada it was. Now came the next confusion - which service? They had buses at 0100, 0115, 0300 and 0345hrs from Thrissur. I took the 0100hrs service - chose a seat towards the back, and booked it online.

Now comes the next problem. How do I reach Thrissur at 0100hrs! The last bus to Thrissur from my place goes at 2030hrs, and it takes only 65~75 minutes to reach Thrissur - So, I'd be there by 2145hrs, maximum!! My mom get the next option - call an auto. My dad called a regular auto guy, and arranged for a pick-up at 2330hrs. The auto guy came at the scheduled time - he had decked up his auto with tarpaulin sheets all around - so I wouldn't get wet. He loaded my bags, and we were ready to move - started off exactly at 2330hrs. It was raining - not heavily though. He did not speed much - since he was aware that my bus was only at 0100hrs. It was a Piaggio Ape rickshaw. I turned it to some music as we waded through semi-flooded roads. Rain picked up strength as we neared Thrissur - auto slowed down to prevent water splashing in. I was finally dropped at Kallada's office in Sakthan Nagar at 0020hrs - the auto guy ensured I did not get wet even when getting into the office - Sumesh, you rock! I am sure to call you the next time too.

June 16, 2013. 0020hrs:
I just dumped my luggage near the entrance of the office, and walked in. Two staff were sitting there - one on the phone trying to manage a crossing, while the other was busy entering some records. There were no passengers in the office at that time. The guy who was writing the record checked my ticket, then went to their website to check the chart, found out the bus number and made a marking on my ticket - "KA 01 AB 0154". Oh! So its the regular bus today - I was expecting a rotation and some other bus to turn up - doesn't matter since I haven't travelled in 154 as well. There is a TV in the office and a Malayalam movie was being played - I spent time watching that movie. Around 0045hrs, another passenger for the same bus turned up. All this time I hadn't noticed that my ticket actually showed 0100hrs as the reporting time and 0115hrs as departure time! Two Bangalore-Trivandrum B9Rs come at the same time - one comes via Coimbatore (the one in which I had booked) and another comes via Mysore.

The clock ticked past 0100hrs, but there was no sign of my bus - the guy in the office then announced that my bus was past Kuthiran, and should reach in another 20 minutes. He called up the driver at 0115hrs, and found that the bus was at Mannuthy then - he reminded him about the pickup here. The bus finally turned up at 0123hrs - it was indeed KA-01-AB-0154. The bus was stopped right outside the office - I headed to the bus, and directly headed to my seat - J1. I somehow always book rows I, J or K in Kallada - those are rows 9, 10 and 11. I noticed that my adjacent seat was vacant as well, and the bus had quite some empty seats (14 seats empty according to the chart). I had the temptation to the head to the last row and sleep - but decided to stick to my seat itself. The bus started off at 0130hrs. For some reason, the lights inside weren't switched off - but it was the standard covered type, so too little little actually came in.
The bus: KA-01-AB-0154, parked in TVM.
The driver was pretty quick - he maintained decent speeds till Thalore, and then let the beast rip for sometime on the four-laned section. I slept off for some time. I made full use of the double seat. The bus stopped at Ankamaly (outside KSRTC BS) to drop a passenger (0209hrs), and then continued. Due to the sheer number of checking points, Kallada buses do not pick passengers from the road side (atleast on major routes), and hence does not waste time scouting for last moment hitch-hikers. I had another nap, and woke up when the bus stopped at Vyttila (0240hrs) - quite some passengers got off. We stopped at two places in Vyttila - first just past the signal, then again near the Kallada office. We finally left Vyttila at 0249hrs. Thrissur to Vyttila in 1h10m - not bad, not great either. Its a 73km distance.

I slept again after Vyttila. This time the sleep wasn't continuous - since the bus hit quite some bad patches. The driving was sane - I wasn't woken up by rash braking anytime. I woke up as the bus stopped in Kollam (I think it was near Chinnakkada - not sure) - at 0502hrs. We did not move for some time (guess some luggage was being unloaded, since I could hear the luggage door being closed). We started off at 0505hrs. Our scheduled arrival in Trivandrum was 0500hrs (a tough target). I slept off again - remember stopping at Attingal (0549hrs). The bus stopped at Kazhakkottam (did not notice timings) - we took the route via Pattom instead of going via Chakka bypass. The bus made multiple stops at many places, like Ulloor, etc. I was finally dropped at Aristo Junction, Thampanoor (Trivandrum) exactly at 0627hrs - 4h57m from Thrissur to Trivandrum.

End Notes: The bus was KA-01-AB-0154, delivered in end of 2011. I did not notice the odo reading, but it should be around 4lakhs. This particular bus (and its pair, 0153) runs almost non-stop for most of the time, getting rotated between routes as well. Despite the continuous running, the bus appeared well kept. There was some noise coming from one of the rear tyres at slow speeds, but no issues with the suspension set-up. The interiors were clean and well-kept. The driving was good - no rash cuts or rash braking, and absolutely zero use of horn. The running time of 4h57m is quite good for the distance (my last journey in KTC covered the distance 30minutes faster - but that was quite rash). Blankets were available - they were left on the seat - the used ones weren't cleared out though.

Facilities:
Blankets: Yes
Water Bottle: No
Snacks: No

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

Will I take this service again? Its an amazing option for Thrissur-Trivandrum rides - the odd departure time is a worry though. Recommended!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Kallada G4: Bangalore to Thrissur.. G4 after long..

The third Saturday of June - my traveling weekend. I had planned to head to Chennai that weekend, of course for another round of the Monster Fever. But there was something else in store for me - an invitation for a Seminar in Trivandrum - a chance to meet my beloved teacher. I thought of tweaking the Chennai trip and heading to Trivandrum from there.. but as usual, a call home, and the route was changed to via Kodungallur now. Deciding the operator to take was also a no-nonsense work - it was Kallada G4 this time, after a long long gap. My last journey with them was in January this year - a good 6 months gap since. Just dropped in to Friend's Travels, and got a seat blocked. Booking my return ticket was a bit tricky - that comes in another post.

June 14, 2013:
College was eventless - reached home at my usual timings. Spent some time with my niece. In all the melee, I got late for dinner. I left home at 2130hrs for a bus departing at 2200hrs, that too on a Friday night! Sure recipe for disaster. Just as my bro took the car out of the parking lot, the building's exit was blocked by an auto - it took some more time to get the old driver of that auto to take the vehicle out and clear the exit. Then traffic on the road - I could feel my heart beat faster. It was 2150hrs by the time we reached Hosur road - I was praying that there shouldn't be a traffic block anywhere. By the time we passed Silk Board, I got a call from Friends travels asking about my whereabouts - he asked me to hurry. Thankfully, there was no traffic anywhere on my side, while the opposite side was jammed up totally. My brother dropped me at the pump exactly at 2200hrs - my bus was waiting there for me  - ready to leave. I hurriedly got off the car and ran to the bus.
The bus: KA-01-AB-5738. Photo taken during delivery @ Volvo, Hoskote.
G4's Rajeevettan was standing there - told a hi, just when out DJ called up - he too was right behind. After quick hellos, I got into the bus. Our beloved Ticket checker too was on board - my seat was changed from a left side window to a right side window - I loved it. The bus was full already - me and a couple more passengers were the ones missing. Finally, after a quick checking, the bus was signalled to move at 2205hrs. Some little confusions, and another headcount, we were off at 2209hrs - 9 minutes late. In the mean time, they started playing a movie - a fairly recent malayalam movie, directed Guiness Pakru. The bus took the Madiwala Market route instead of taking a U-turn at St. Johns.

It was heavy traffic then on - the bus will move for some time and then take rest for some time. We were accompanied by a lot of TN buses - and all of them were full as well. We passed Silk Board at 2232hrs - a good 23 minutes just to cover 3.5kms! We crossed a Suresh Kallada Hyderabad bus at Silkboard - not sure which service was that (Kanyakumari or Trichy). Once past Silk Board, the driver picked pace. He did not overspeed on the BETL, but maintained fairly decent pace. We passed Attibele at 2257hrs. After Attibele, traffic was slightly on the higher side, but we still passed Hosur at 2310hrs. Since all seats were taken at Madiwala itself, there were no stops anywhere. After Hosur, the bus turned towards Rayakottai. The driver maintained fairly good pace throughout the run. I slept sometime around midnight, as soon as the movie got over. I had a night sleep from then on.

I was woken up by sounds of rain drops pelting on the side windows - it was around 0355hrs then, and we were stationary at Walayar then. It was raining outside. I still decided to get off the bus and take a stroll. It was only drizzling then. The G4 Pathanapuram Volvo was just leaving from Walayar then. One SRM Volvo B9R (Thiruvalla bus) and the Bharathi B9R were standing there as well. I got back into the bus quickly - it started raining again, and it was slushy all around. We started moving at 0401hrs. By then all the others were gone. The rain started strengthening as we neared Palakkad. I dozed off for some time - woke up when the cleaner came around calling for Palakkad passengers - the lights weren't switched on, and he was actually near two passengers who were to get down at Palakkad. They were dropped outside Tipu Palace, at 0429hrs.

I had a nice sleep after Palakkad - but I understood that we were on the regular route via Shoranur. I could hear the rain all through the journey - it was literally pouring all the time. I was drifting asleep on-and-off - vaguely remember running past Mulagunnathukavu, near Thrissur. I finally woke up just as the bus passed through Ashwini Hospital Junction in Thrissur. I straightened my seat, and got set to get off. Woke up my co-passenger, and got off the seat as the bus was passing by Vadakke stand. By now many more people realised that we were in Thrissur already. On the way to the cabin, I picked up my baggage from the overhead rack, and pulled out the umbrella. It was still pouring outside. The bus finally stopped outside General Hospital in Thrissur round, at 0550hrs. A sweet 7h41m ride from Bangalore to Thrissur, despite pouring rain.
The bus yet again...
End Notes: The bus was KA-01-AB-5738 - this bus was delivered on August 17, 2012 - your's truly had covered the delivery event. She has clocked 1.97 lakh kms since then - that is in about 10 months. Maintenance was the usual Kallada G4 class - no rattles (except occasional rattles from the AC blower - volume controlling rings). Driving was excellent - no rash cuts, absolutely no use of horn at night. I loved the appearance of the drivers - in full white uniform complete with an identity card! It all gave an excellent feeling. The blankets (Rather, shawls) did not appear to be in great condition - time to replace them. I hope they replace them with proper blankets, and not the narrow shawls the next time. The last time G4 had disappointed me with their punctuality, and a lot of errors on their website - which misled me and made me believe the bus leaves earlier than its actual time. I haven't used G4 since - I took a 6 month break from G4, and decided to give them another chance - did not really disappoint me. But I feel they are losing steam - they had set some standards - I feel they shouldn't dilute those standards. Friends Travels deserve special appreciation - they make sure the buses leave on time, and I just love the way their staff behave to passengers.

Facilities:
Blankets: Yes (Shawls, not blankets)
Water Bottle: No
Snacks: No

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

Will I take this service again? Surely! G4 does a great job in the Bangalore-Kerala routes - not sure of their consistency in the opposite direction.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Ernakulam to Bangalore: SRM iShift B9R

End of May, Cousin's wedding, longing to go home - it was deadly combination. It was sure that I had to go for the wedding, and I wanted to have a hassle free journey. It took quite some time for me to evaluate all the options available to me - the process started in the first week of April itself. Since end of May is a peak time for buses - end of vacations and a Sunday too! Did not want to take a risk waiting till May to book my tickets. I wanted a bus that leaves late in the night - I wasn't really particular about an early arrival in Bangalore. I thought of taking the non-stop KaSRTC - but was vary of its arrival time in Bangalore, and the awful driving style too. Kallada sleeper was not listed then. The late night options available to me were from Kallada (Suresh), Kallada (G4) and SRM. I decided to go with SRM this time - to see if its really worth the hype some people spread. I booked the tickets soon after the booking was opened (in the middle of April) - I was actually shocked to see half the bus blocked - not a great habit. My favorite seats on the right had side were blocked - I spoke to Friends' Travels and confirmed that the seats were blocked and not sold.

May 25, 2013:
It was a musical extravaganza at my cousin's wedding reception that evening - the music was too good that I sat absorbed in it till quite late. Luckily, I had taken my dinner early. I was actually alerted when I got a call from the Driver of the bus asking my whereabouts - I was actually shocked if the bus had actually reached - it was only 2130hrs then, and I was about 2kms away from the boarding point. I asked about the position of the bus, and he replied they were near Aroor. I and my family left the venue soon after I got the call. I was dropped at Vyttila at around 2200hrs. I headed straight to the Skyline Travels office there - they were earlier in the Corporation building, but now shifted out of the building. I showed my ticket - he asked me to wait. An Yellow coloured Kallada B9R, heading to Bangalore, stopped by and picked up a few passengers. Next to come was the Kallada G4, iShift B9R - it did not stop there.
The bus: KA-01-AB-3341 (old photo)
My bus came in at around 2219hrs - well past their scheduled departure time of 2145hrs. Boarding started immediately - the crew was in a bit of hurry. A passenger was already sitting at my place - he vacated when I signalled that it was my seat. The bus got moving from Vyttila at 2223hrs. The AC was set to comfortable temperatures. I prepared to sleep - since it was two sleepless nights earlier, and it was going to be a long day in office the next day. Ernakulam bypass was more or less empty by now - Sunday night! We passed Edappally in no time. We picked up a passenger from Aluva (near Zam Zam) at 2241hrs. I set my seat to a comfortable position, and slowly started drifting asleep. I was waken up by a call from home - asking if the bus had left - I had actually forgotten to message when the bus left. Wished good night, and I fell asleep again.

Sometime later, I got another call from home - he began a long drama. The home keys were with me, and that was the only key! I did not realise that the key was with me, and we normally keep a spare key with a family friend - but that wasn't the case that fateful night! I had a chill going down as I wondered about options. In the meantime, I headed to the cabin to have a word with the driver - he said we do not have anymore agents, and he really cannot help me. My plan was to leave with a travel agent en-route and have my family pick it up from there. Since they did not have agents, I requested the driver to stop at the next Kallada office. The driver was now confused if we'd take the Kuthiran route or the Shoranur Route - he said he'll call me once we pass Paliekara toll. I headed back to my seat, and asked my family to leave from there immediately and head towards Thrissur.

The driver stopped for me at Mannuthy - I rushed to the Kallada office there, and explained him my situation. The person there (sorry! I forgot his name) agreed to help me out - he took the key, and took down our phone numbers. The only catch was that the office would close in another 15~20 minutes. I called up my family and updated the details. We left Mannuthy at 2327hrs after the drama. I thanked the driver for stopping (he was a bit hesitant to stop initially - saying that we are late, blah blah, but later agreed after seeing my confidence about convincing the Kallada guys). I headed back to my seat - a big sorry to my co-passenger that night - I did not let him sleep as well. The road ahead was bouncy - the bus kept swaying through the night as we passed the Kuthiran stretch.

I had a short nap - not really a good sleep. The rear axle link-rod was gone, and the bus made a lot of noise - it disturbed my sleep a lot. The bus stopped for fuel at the fuel station just before Coimbatore bypass (at Madukkarai) - at 0111hrs. A lot of passenger got off for a leak. The first driver got off here, and the second guy took to the wheels. We started off at 0125hrs. I slept off after we got on to the bypass - the sleep wasn't really continuous, but I wasn't sleepless as well. The bus rattled every time it went over a bad patch. I was back to my senses as we passed Attibele. It was around 0550 then. The bus rushed through, and took the BETL - flew over it, and finally dropped me at Silk Board flyover, at 0619hrs. That means we took all of 7h56m for Vyttila to Silk Board - excellent running time, but surely did not feel very confidence inspiring to me - I am not a fan of heroics on the road.

End Notes: The bus was KA-01-AB-3341, and had about 2.8 Lakh kms on the odo. Maintenance was average - rattles from the rear axle was really disturbing. The blankets, er! Shawls, were too small - it was long but too narrow - I wonder what do they save by providing such small shawls. I do not have much to write on it - I had a fairly sleepless journey, despite two tiring days prefixed to it. I am not a big fan of these high speed runs - but for those who love it, this is surely the bus.

Facilities:
Blankets: Yes (Shawls, not blankets)
Water Bottle: No
Snacks: No

Ratings:
Maintenance (including cleanliness): 3/5
Punctuality: 5/5
Staff Behaviour: 5/5
Overall: 4/5

Will I take this service again? Not really - I look forward to a rather sedate driving style. But recommended for people who love speed.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Bangalore to Thrissur: In Kallada's newest B11R!


This visit - the fourth in the month of May - was to attend my cousin's wedding. The function was on Saturday, and my initial plan was to reach there on Saturday morning. There were some functions the previous night - and I was in dilemma to attend the functions or not. The thoughts kept racking my mind for quite some time. I had booked my return ticket a month in advance itself - for the simple reason that it was the last Sunday of May, and the end of the summer vacations - so it was a risk waiting till late to get a ticket. But I hadn't booked my outbound due to the confusions. I somehow decided to take a leave on Friday as well, and leave on Thursday night. I thought it would be easy to get tickets - but I was wrong! Almost all buses were sold out, and the remaining ones had seats at the back. I was half-minded about booking in Kallada's Kodungallur bus - but the seats were at the back. I hadn't finalised any bus. A contact in Kallada messaged me that their new B11R had been delivered, and is running in the Hyderabad-Ernakulam route - but the website kept showing all schedules to be B9Rs. A friend confirmed spotting a B11R in Hyderabad. I confirmed the details, and booked a ticket in Kallada's Hyderabad-Bangalore 1st Service - boarding at Kalasipalya.

May 23, 2013:
I had lots of time to go for my bus. I booked a cab through OlaCabs, online. I wanted to try their service since long, and this was a chance. I got a confirmation message almost immediately, and I kept checking their website for the status of my cab. I had scheduled a pick-up at 2230hrs. I had light dinner at home, and then sat down checking the website. At about 2130hrs, the status turned from "Scheduled" to "Allotted", and almost immediately I got an SMS with the details of the cab. I received a call from the driver asking the route to get to my place. The cab reached my place at around 2215hrs (I was alerted of his arrival by means of an SMS from OlaCabs!). I confirmed the arrival by calling up the driver. I left home at around 2220hrs.

It was an Indigo (I had booked for an Indica) - a well maintained one. The driver was very sedate - actually a very good driver. He slowly went through Marigowda Road, reached Minerva, went straight from there, and finally dropped me right outside the Kallada office in Kalasipalya, at about 2250hrs - the fare came to Rs. 202 - now that was quite economical! I still had about 50 minutes to go for the reporting time itself! I roamed around the almost empty Tippu Sultan Palace Road (TSP Road), the nerve-centre of private operators. There were some KPN B9Rs lined up for departure at one end, and a similar line of SRS B9Rs at the other end. I stocked up some snack items from a store there and then headed to the Kallada office.

I showed my ticket, and he said the bus would come at 0030hrs. Had a rather long chat with him, and found that the normal timing of the bus is 0030hrs, but they've put 2355 on the website to avoid date confusions among passengers. He went on to describe some situations were passengers ended up missing the bus due to date confusion - he said the condition was worse for the next schedule (0230hrs from Bangalore), where passengers ofter thought 0230 was in the afternoon! Those confusions were understandable - I am always scared of these midnight departures, solely for the date part. There were lots of passengers waiting for these late night buses at the Kalasipalya office. I was surprised to know that this particular office functions 24 hours - in fact, the whole of Kalasipalya was sleeping at that hour - not a single travel office was opened.

I spent most of the time sitting in the office itself - I was sleepy all the time, as well. I was casually glancing through the chart for the Hyderabad-Ernakulam service (my bus) - I was actually shocked to see that the bus had over 30 passengers booked through from Hyderabad to Kerala! Something else caught my eyes - My seat and the adjoining seat was marked as "ladies" seats!! I was now worried if my co-passenger would be a lady - that would create helluva commotion in the bus. I was worried if my jinx with S.Kallada was continuing. I was down. I asked the guy at the counter to open the master chart - he did, and that too showed the seat to be marked for ladies. Ohh! My! Will this be a terrible ride? The guy at the counter checked if there were any empty seats - there were none - we were running a load of 52/52!

In the meantime, the people in the office were continuously in contact with the crew of both the HYD-EKM and the EKM-HYD buses. On bus was near Mekhri Circle then, and the other near Electronic City! My bus came in at 0040hrs. I was happy and surprised to see Joby at the wheels - he is the same chap would worked the inaugural trip of Kallada's first B11R - I was confident of his capabilities! So I am in for a rocking ride. Now the next tension - the seat. I walked the length of the bus to reach my seat, J1 - my co-passenger too was a "fe"Male! I was now relieved. Squeezed into my seat, and settled down for the long ride. The bus started off at 0043hrs - a quick 3 minute stop to let passengers alight and new passengers join! If only Kallada showed this efficiency at all their offices.

The bus was on the main road in no time - this B11R appeared more refined and silent compared to my previous rides. We had a brief halt outside Lalbagh (reasons unknown) - it lasted about 4-5 minutes. We stopped at Madiwala to drop a passenger (0058hrs), and then continued. I remember the bus going below BETL - I slept off even before we reached Attibelle! That was one really nice sleep - no disturbances, and I am sure there was no rash driving - since I am very sensitive to driving habits. I have no idea if they honked at night - since I was almost at the back of the bus. I woke up at around 0435hrs, when the bus had stopped to drop someone - we were already in Perundurai! The bus slowly crawled into the "No.1 Air" Pump - at 0438hrs. It was then a crowd to get off the bus - almost everyone in the bus wanted to get off and use the washrooms. We were joined by a KL registered B9R of Kallada as well.
The bus: KA-01-AC-4548, at the Perundurai pump.
A lot of tea/coffee vendors had flocked around the bus now - and a lot of passengers patronised them. I went about snapping a lot of pics of the bus. The crew were busy in the refueling process, while the Kallada staff posted at the pump went about verifying the passenger manifest (and cross checking it) and also noting down details like odometer reading, fuel consumed, etc. The break was quite long - we started off only at 0452hrs. I was not very confident of the bus reaching Thrissur on time now, but it was Joby at the wheels now. I dozed off by the time the bus reached back on the highway. Another good sleep, only to be woken when the bus hit some potholes at the beginning of Coimbatore bypass. The bus stopped at the Neelambur office of Kallada, at 0554hrs. The pick-up van was already waiting there. Very few passengers got down here (around 6 of them), and we started off again at 0557hrs - another stellar performance from Kallada.

The bus was maintaining pace throughout the bypass, and we passed Walayar at around 0644hrs. We did not stop there (or did we?). We finally stopped at Palakkad bypass, at 0705hrs - a quick stop, and we started off again at 0707hrs. Now comes the show from Joby. He was at ease driving the 14.5M monster - he kept overtaking slow moving vehicles at a constant pace, and showed all his skills handling the monster as he kept maintaining pace. I was surprised seeing the pace with which works were progressing in the Walayar-Vadakkencherry section - a lot of sections were already levelled and culverts were coming up at a good pace. We passed Vadakkencherry at 0736hrs. Then came the show of power on Kuthiran - he was on the right lane most of the time, but none of the maneuvers were scary! This was the first time I enjoyed someone's driving so well. Now I was re-assured that we'd be in Thrissur at the promised time.

I headed to the cabin after we passed Pattikad. Joby was loving the drive, as he joyously kept overtaking even now! I had a longish chat with him - he seems to love driving the B11R over the B9R. He is the only driver in Kallada to have undergone driver training for Volvo B9R, B11R as well as Mercedes tri-axle! His training showed - he used all the functionalities in the bus. As we neared Mannuthy, it started raining a bit. Joby immediately switched on the speed alarm and modified retarder power. We pulled into Mannuthy Kallada office at 0817hrs - a good 13 minutes before scheduled time! Kallada provides a pick-up van for passengers going to the town. I bid adieu to Joby, and walked towards the office. The office guy was waiting outside the office - he quickly grouped passengers heading to the town, and sent us in autorickshaws. The driver was instructed to get the fare from the Sakthan Nagar office of Kallada. I was dropped outside Sakthan Nagar Municipal Bus stand, exactly at 0830hrs - the scheduled arrival time at Mannuthy!! It was then a KeSRTC ride to reach home.

End Notes: The bus, KA-01-AC-4548, had only about 5700kms on the odo. The bus smelled fresh even as it completed almost a week of running (the bus was delivered on May 17, 2013). Carpet was still not installed. Some seats still had plastic covers on it. The bus kept time throughout. The end-to-end run took only 7h34m - a record for Kallada, sure. Both the drivers were excellent – Joby deserves an exclusive appreciation.  I was bowled over by Kallada this time, ending my jinx of bad experiences with them. I loved the service – and sure to repeat it again.

Facilities:
Blankets: Yes
Water Bottle: No
Snacks: No

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

Will I take this service again? Surely! I loved the timings, and the service.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Back to Bangalore on our good ol' Garuda

The temptation of going home - at the peak of the vacation, without prior ticket booking! None of the regular operators had tickets, and the few available tickets on online booking portals were being sold for astronomical rates. I thought of checking our good ol' Kerala SRTC Garuda Volvo - it had lots of tickets! Not thinking further, I booked one for me. I was to travel by Garuda after a lot of time now! I normally prefer seats on the right side, but had to book one on the left side this time. The ticket worked out to a few rupees below Rs. 1000. The odd system followed by KeSRTC means I had to pay for an end-to-end ticket!

May 19, 2013:
Around 6pm - I search on the KeSRTC website to get the phone number of the conductor working the schedule. I call up the first number, and I get an "Out of network" message in Tamil. So that confirms that I had to call the other number. I call that number and hear an evergreen malayalam song as the caller tune - the person at the other end picks up the call, with the characteristic "Hello! KSRTC!" salutation. I ask him the current location of the bus, and he replies that they are past Alappuzha. He puts the ETA at Thrissur to be 2200hrs.

Left home at around 2045hrs, with my brother. He dropped me outside the KSRTC bus station at around 2130hrs. The bus station was packed to the core - typical of a Sunday night. KaSRTC buses to Bangalore were rolling in one after the other. I made a casual enquiry at the enquiry counter to have an update - the officer sitting there replied "It is scheduled at 2045, will come now". I was laughing within, since the official departure time is 2205hrs!! I spent some time enjoying the new KeSRTC Leylands. At around 2200hrs, an announcement was made on the PA system that the "Garuda AC Volvo to Bangalore via Coimbatore, Salem, Hosur will arrive shortly". In the mean time, the KaSRTC Airavat Club Class, working Kottayam-Bangalore rolled in. Being a Sunday, all the buses to Bangalore were packed to the core.
The Bus: RA101, KL-15-7231 from Trivandrum Depot. Photo from archives.
The old lady from Trivandrum depot rolled in at 2223hrs - it was RA101. I was thrilled to see this bus - the star of the series. I literally touched the bus and walked around it before I got in. The bus still looked well maintained - the paint colour was dull, but was still in good shape. The conductor checked tickets as passengers got in itself. The conductor then went to get his waybill signed, and finally the bus rolled out of the bus station at 2233hrs - 23 minutes late, not at all bad for a bus that has run over 250kms from origin. The interiors looked in fairly good shape - the AC was chilling. I was carrying a bed-sheet with me. The driving was not very confidence inspiring - he threw the bus around as we ran through Thrissur Round, turned towards Patturaikkal, and got onto Shoranur road. The driver had no mercy to passengers as he picked up speed and started a very rash run towards Shoranur. He never bothered reducing speeds at curves or potholes.

I couldn't sleep at all, since the bus was swaying badly all the time. We pulled into Palakkad bus station at 2345hrs. The bus went straight to the fuel station - the engine was left on. After refueling, we started off at 2352hrs. I guess the drivers changed at Palakkad, since the driving was sane after Palakkad. I slept off after Palakkad. We did not enter Coimbatore town - I remember the bus passing one of the toll gates on the bypass. I had an amazing sleep after Coimbatore bypass. I do not remember the bus stopping for a break anywhere - I did keep waking up in between - I'm now spoilt traveling in semi-sleeper seats - the non-semi-sleeper seats are now a pain, and I feel very uncomfortable on them. I woke up just as the bus was running past Hosur (0546hrs) - I was groggy, but did not want to continue sleeping for the fear of missing my stop.

We stopped at the Electronic City toll at 0607hrs (a couple of passengers got off) and then we took the BETL. I do not get the reason why buses should take BETL this early in the morning - you really don't save any time - just pay money. I headed to the cabin as we passed Singasandra. I was happy seeing an old-timer at the wheels - had a short chat with him - he was elated when somebody identified him to be an old-timer. This particular driver was very skilled - he maintained good speeds, but did not give that dragging feeling. His overtaking maneuvers were excellent as well. I requested him to drop me at the end of the bridge, instead of Silk Board - he accepted my request,and stopped immediately after getting off the bridge (0615hrs) - I thanked the crew as I got off. Then walked down to Bommanahalli, and took an auto home, without having to haggle over the rates!

End Notes: The bus, KL-15-7231 (RA101) of Trivandrum depot had clocked about 8.7 lakh kms. This bus was delivered in December 2008 - its almost 5 years since. The bus is almost at the end of its life-cycle (Kerala MVD allows only 5 years for such buses). I am sure this would be my last trip on that bus - in fact, my first ever KeSRTC trip was in the very same bus (read here). The maintenance was above average - not much rattles, but the AC did make a lot of noise, and the grille was vibrating all the time. The interiors were clean - the curtains looked very fresh. The crew were well-dressed and well-behaved. The conductor answered very politely when I called him, and they were accommodating of passenger requests. The first driver was scary - the second guy was really skilled. The end-to-end run took 7h42m - quite fast for a bus which entered Thrissur town, and took the twisty Shoranur route. The ride was not really sleep friendly (especially the first driver), but the service was crisp. I really hope KeSRTC gets more Volvos and uses them to restart all their old AC routes. They have the capability of running a good service - just not capitalising on them.

Facilities:
Blankets: No
Water Bottle: No
Snacks: No

Ratings:
Maintenance (including cleanliness): 4/5
Punctuality: 4.75/5
Staff Behaviour: 5/5
Overall: 4.5/5

Will I take this service again? I wish they get new buses. I am always game for a KeSRTC ride.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Atlas Luxura Sleeper: Bangalore to Thrissur

The third Saturday of May. I wasn't planning to go home that weekend, but I couldn't resist the temptation of going home again that weekend. I wasn't very sure of my travel plans, and hence hadn't booked any tickets as well. As the temptation grew, I booked my return ticket - on the good old Kerala SRTC Garuda Volvo B7R. Selecting the outbound was a bit confusing. I wanted to try the Luxura Sleeper, but the ticket was being sold on RedBus for some eye-popping rates. I wasn't keen on spending that kinda money for an overnight journey. I decided to check rates at their office and then make a call. I went to their office on a working day and asked for a ticket - the Madiwala office had to call up their main office to get details of seats. They asked my preferences and got a seat - it was an upper berth, while I would've been happier had it been a lower berth. The fare was about Rs. 600 less than what was put on RedBus!! I was booking a ticket through an agent after long long time now!!

May 17, 2013:
I was running a very high fever that day. I had a tough time sitting at office, and struggled to drive home. I hit the bed moments after I reached home, and slept without realizing anything. Luckily, I had left an alarm on my phone.  I woke up when the fever reached its peak - the antipyretics I had taken did not have any effect, and I was still running a very high temperature. I called up home and had a word with my mom - who was of the opinion that I should come home, since that would be better than staying all alone in Bangalore. My brother agreed to pick me from Thrissur. I vaguely remember disconnecting the call and falling asleep again. I woke up when the alarm went off. It was struggle to stay awake, and my legs were paining badly (the typical Viral Fever symptoms). I called up a local taxi operator and arranged for a taxi to drop me at Madiwala.

The cab turned up at 7.30pm (8pm was my reporting time). I struggled to walk to the taxi from my home due to the fever. I got into the cab, and he dropped me at Madiwala just past 8pm - the fare was same as an auto! I felt Taxis are a better choice as compared to an Auto, especially for the price I paid. I met my friend, Deepak (DJ) there - we chatted for some time. The bus turned up at 2015hrs, but boarding did not commence. I showed my ticket at the office, and they asked me to wait - they bus was being prepared it seems. Boarding started at around 2025hrs - I got into the bus and got my boarding pass. Headed straight to my berth, "U6". I had to search around to get some place to leave my luggage. I got on to the berth straightaway - I was tired to do any busfanning or even stand and talk. The engine was running, and the AC was set to very comfortable temperatures.
The first bus: NL-01-B-0877.
 This was my first ride in a Leyland Luxura Sleeper. The bus has a 12M RE Chassis from Leyland, powered by a 225HP CRS engine. The body is built by Azad. The bus has 32 berths, in 2+1 layout. The interiors were classy - it was well put, and looked good. The berths had fabric upholstery with integrated pillows. Blankets were provided, but no bedsheets - the maintenance is surely set to be a nightmare. Each berth had two AC Vents - one adjustable, and one non-adjustable. Reading lights were provided for each berth, and there was a metal rack, big enough to hold handbags. Air ducts were intruding into the leg space in the upperberth. The gangway was well lit with LED lamps, that looked far better than the el cheapo fixtures used by Prakash. There was a good night lamp as well.

Atlas Travels is not really known for timely departures - this trip was no different. The people at the office were taking their sweet time to load parcels and also issue boarding passes. There seemed to be some issues with bookings as well. We were almost full as the bus started off at 2102hrs, a good 47 minutes late. The engine made some noise as it started off. The bus picked speed in no time - the gear changes weren't felt inside. The engine got loud at higher speeds, but wasn't as uncomfortably loud as a B9R. We took the BETL, and the driver maintained good speeds through the run. We stopped for a pick up at Bommasandra, at 2140hrs. About 3 passengers got in, and we got moving at 2143hrs. I fell asleep even before we crossed the border - it was more of a sedation than actually sleeping. My legs were aching badly that I kept waking up time-and-again.

I woke up when the driver hit a sudden brake - I am very sensitive to "stops" when traveling in a bus. This was one real sudden break. The bus stopped on the road side then - I thought it was a leak break, since I saw a few people getting off the bus. I slept off even before the bus started moving. The ride was really comfortable, that I did not know anything - not even the flyover at Salem! I woke up in better, and we were passing Kumarapalayam toll - the bus was running very slow at this point. I did not check the time, but fell asleep again. I was woken up by the Attendant, at around 0414hrs - I was wondering if we reached Thrissur already - but the reason was different. The attendant said we had to change buses - Change buses? Why? I was feeling better now - the fever had subsided, but was in a hangover. I got off the berth, gathered by belongings and walked towards the front. I was shocked by what I saw - the front windshield was shattered - in fact, it had caved in. The entire left side of the front was damaged - the door couldn't open fully, leaving a half open gap for passengers to get off.
The exchange ceremony at Uthukuli. The bus on the left was the first bus, the one which crashed.
Oh! When did we crash? I had a word with the driver, and he replied that the crash was just past Hosur! None of the passengers in the bus (except one guy, who was sitting in the cabin at the time of the crash) knew that we had an accident! The retarder did a really good job in this bus - I loved the ride comfort of this one. The replacement bus was waiting for us already - that was another Luxura sleeper (the pairing bus). The attendant were helping passengers with the luggages, and also shifting parcels. The drivers had a word with each other. The driver of the replacement bus headed for a tea, while the attendants exchanged the passenger manifests and our original bus departed back to Bangalore. I switched on my GPS to get an idea of where we were - I understood that we were at Uthukuli, a place near Tiruppur. We started off at 0433hrs. The driver was rash from the word go - he picked speed rapidly, and I guess he wanted to make up some lost time. I updated my brother about the delay, and told him to leave home only after I call him.
The second bus: NL-01-B-0899
I slept again, even as the driver kept going fast. I remember seeing the bus stopped by the Traffic Highway Patrol - we were at one of the toll booths on the Coimbatore bypass - I guess the time was around 0530~0545. I woke up only when the attendant came around calling for passengers alighting at Palakkad. The bus stopped at Palakkad Chandranagar bypass junction, at 0632hrs. The bus then took the route through the town, and headed towards Ottapalam. The driver was quick on this route - he did not bother the curves much, but the bus had a very matured ride. The body roll was under control - it kept tumbling me side to side like a washing machine. I slept for some more time, and woke up as the attendant came calling "Ottapalam". We reached Ottapalam at 0706hrs, dropped a passenger and continued. I called up home as we left Ottapalam, and asked my brother to start after a few minutes.

We stopped for a drop at Shoranur again, at 0719hrs. I got up now - sitting on the berth was a bit tight - the headroom was limited. There was a good backrest, so sitting was not very painful. I loved sitting with my legs fully stretched, and watching the world flypast. I loved the upper berth ride a lot. The bus finally rolled into Thrissur, Aswini Junction, at 0758hrs. I thought we’d proceed towards the round, but the attendant repeatedly called out “Thrissur”. I got off the berth and rushed to the cabin to ask if he’d go towards the round – the driver apologised and said he is very late and he is heading straight to Mannuthy – he offered to drop me anywhere if my destination was on that route. I thanked him for that courtesy, and got off the bus. I wanted to take a picture, but since I was the last passenger to get off, the bus started seconds after I get off. 

I called up my brother, and told him to wait near Sakthan Stand since it would take him a lot of time to reach Aswini junction, wading through the morning traffic. I was planning to take an auto, but there were none around. I walked a little forward, and reached a bus stop. Just as I reached, a private limited stop bus rolled in - did not think twice as I got into the bus. Luckily, I got a seat immediately and rested. I was still tired with the hangover of the fever. I was dropped outside Sakthan stand in about 10 minutes, after rolling through Thrissur round, and past Municipal office. My brother reached a couple of minutes after I reached there. I was dead tired already.

End Remarks: The first bus was NL-01-B-0877, with about 60,000kms on the odo, while the replacement bus was NL-01-B-0899, with about 46,000kms on the odo. Both the buses were kept really well. There were no rattles from the bus. Azad has done a really good job at building the sleeper - sound and heat insulation was just perfect (I felt a bit of heat coming in, in the second bus though). I liked the ride quality a lot - being on the upper berth came with a bit of body roll, which was expected. The AC was amazing - the temperature was controlled well throughout. They had provided a full sized blanket, which made my journey comfortable. The bus came with excellent retarder brakes - even after a heavy crash, nobody in the bus realized what happened! The end-to-end running time came out of 10h56m - that included time to change buses, and the slow run from Hosur to Uthukuli. I was anyways expecting a 9~9.5hr running time, since it was lower powered engine. 

Facilities:
Blankets: Yes
Water Bottle: No
Snacks: No

Ratings:
Maintenance (including cleanliness): 4.5/5
Punctuality: 2.5/5
Staff Behaviour: 4/5
Overall: 3.75/5

Will I take this service again? I am really keen to try this service again. I'd recommend this bus to anybody.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

My first: Kallada's Volvo B9R Sleeper!

Every time I saw a Volvo sleeper, I wondered how the interiors would be. I normally do not check the interiors during my bus spotting trips - so never had a look at the interiors of a Volvo Sleeper. I was elated when the news of Kallada getting a B9R Sleeper reached me - and the icing was that it was running to Ernakulam. Days flew past, and one fine day I saw pics of the new Kallada Sleeper on the net. My contact helped me have a pre-launch look at the bus - I was not very impressed with the workmanship in the interiors - all from a major body builder. I did not have a chance to try the sleeper after it was launched - all my trips were planned at the last moment, and hence I never had the chance to book on this one. Choosing this service was a no-brainer for my return trip from Kerala, after my first visit home in May. The ticket was booked through a third party website, thus saving some money. I got a berth towards the back - a single lower berth.

May 13, 2013:
It was one tiring day - heat and a function at home had a deleterious effect on me. I was sleepy as my brother drove towards Thrissur to drop me. He was tired as well. I headed to the Kallada office in Thrissur to get an update about my bus. A Chennai bound bus was standing there - the people at the office were busy doing accounts of that bus. The guy said the bus would come at 2230hrs (2200hrs is the scheduled departure). I returned to the car. My brother was already half asleep then. I sat in the car spotting some KeSRTC buses that went by at that time. Sometime past 2230hrs, I returned to the office - this time, they said the bus departed late. They called up the driver and found that it was just past Chalakkudy then! OMG! I conveyed this to my brother, and told him to go home. I headed to the office and took a seat there.

One driver was sitting there then - he would be getting into my bus from Thrissur. A lot of people sitting in the office were already getting desperate - it was obvious since time was going past. A Kallada bus rolled in at 2300hrs - that was the Pathanamthitta-Bangalore bus. Right behind was my bus - came in at 2303hrs. Boarding started immediately - I got into the bus and headed straight to my berth - 5LB. There was a hump in the floor at that point - so it felt as if the berth was on the floor! It struggled as I squat on to the berth. A packed blanket was kept on the berth - the packet had a "Specially packed for you" tag in it. I searched for a place to keep my bag - and finally left it on the gangway. The engine noise was very very audible inside - I felt as if I was lying on the engine. The AC was chilling cold. There was no signs of movement - the clocked ticked past 2330hrs. I was sure that I would a working day - such a late departure will surely not take me to Bangalore in time for office, unless the driver rips through - which was not even a faint possibility since the bus was brand new.
The bus: KA-51-B-3197.
We finally got moving at 2349hrs - a good 1h49m late! I lay down on the berth hearing the symphony (or cacophony?) from the engine. The harsh grunt from the engine was to be the lullaby for me. The bus passed Mannuthy at 2355hrs and got set to conquer the pothole-ridden road to Palakkad. The driver showed no mercy to passengers as he rushed through the broken road, swaying madly. I was regretting booking a sleeper now - the driver was throwing me side-to-side, punctuated with potholes. Sometime during the run, the driver lugged the engine so badly that it almost switched off. I was tired with the busy day, and slipped asleep. I woke up sweating - my hair was wet in sweat. I threw off the blanket and found that the AC was blowing hot air! Heat was coming from the engine as well! Now that was rude shock for me. Was the AC dead? I opened to curtains, and it was hot in the gangway as well. We passed Walayar now (0140hrs). I rushed towards the cabin. Two drivers were sleeping on the gangway - so it was hurdle run to reach the cabin.

I questioned the Driver if the AC had conked off - he was merrily driving with the windows open, and did not realise that the AC was dead. He tried restarting the AC, but the compressor wouldn't start. In the meantime, the attendant went to open the exhaust hatches. We pulled into Ettimadai Checkpost at 0151hrs - the attendant got off to show the papers at the check post office. I now asked the driver to restart the engine and try again - he agreed to me, and did what I said. In the meantime, a lot of passengers used this as a leak break. We started off at 0158hrs. Now the AC compressor was running and the AC was spewing out cold air now. I returned to my berth - fell asleep very soon. Woke up sometime in between - we were on the 4-laned highway now. The blower was acting erratically - it kept switching off time and again. I slept on-and-off - it was not really continuous. The heat from the engine was a disturbing factor.

The bus pulled into the Perundurai petrol pump at 0400hrs. I got off the bus and rushed to the washroom there - I was the only passenger to get off. I guess the others were exhausted and were dead asleep. One of the two drivers sleeping on the gangway to got up now. I got back into the bus quickly - the stop was fairly long. We started off at 0419hrs. I only remember hitting the berth - slept off. Had a nice sleep now - I woke up at around 0730hrs. From the look of the place, I thought we were past Hosur now. Just then the attendant came around shouting "Hosur..". The AC was dead again - it was spewing hot air now. I gave up all hope of going to office - I was too tired anyways. I took a sleeper bus hoping to have a nice sleep, but the effect was exactly the opposite. We passed Hosur at 0746hrs. Traffic was heavy past Hosur. We passed Electronic City at 0814hrs, and took the BETL. I headed to the cabin now - the exhausts were open, and it was making a hell of a noise.

I had a word with the driver to find out the normal arrival time - he said it comes normally by 7AM, and apologetically said we were very late. I gave him a piece of my mind for the delay at Thrissur and then the AC fiasco. I felt bad for doing that, but it surely reduced my anger. We finally stop at Silk Board, at 0825hrs. I was horribly disappointed as I got off the bus - the bus took only 8h36m including the stop for fuel and the morning traffic from Hosur onwards. Disappointed and hurt, I slowly walked to the auto stand - a guy demanded Rs. 450 for a 6km ride home. I gave him a piece of my mind as well, and walked towards the bus stop - but got another Auto who dropped me home for a reasonable price.

End Remarks: The bus was KA-51-B-3197 - it was brand new. I did not notice the odo reading. It is too early to comment on maintenance - but they lose brownie points for the AC. The interior work was done by a major body builder based in Bangalore - the work quality was awful. The sheet metal work appeared as if it was done by a school student (it looked even worse) - poor workmanship was evident every where in the bus. The berth was soft enough, but the pillow region was rock hard. It seems like the body builder forgot to put enough heat and sound insulation for the engine - the engine was audible clearly, and heat penetrated well into the cabin. The driver was no good - he lugged the engine badly and was driving very badly. The AC kept cutting out very often due to the lugging. The running time was good, at 8h36m (on the higher side, but acceptable). The delays were awful - thats something the operator can control by a bit of indulgence.

Facilities:
Blankets: Yes
Water Bottle: No
Snacks: No

Ratings:
Maintenance (including cleanliness): 3.5/5
Punctuality: 2/5
Staff Behaviour: 4/5
Overall: 3/5

Will I take this service again? I am really not sure. May be I'll try once again - only when I have time to spare, though. But the bus has been getting good occupancy - so may be my experience was a one-off (sincerely hope so).