Sunday, August 11, 2013

Kottayam to Bangalore via Kumily in Kallada B9R

This was an unexpected journey. I was actually planning to go home after the Idukki bus fanning trip, spend a day there and then head back to Bangalore. But some twist in the tale meant that I had to search for tickets for my return journey. The second day schedule of the busfanning trip was still not very clear – so I was not very sure where to keep my boarding point at. After spending a full day on Google Maps, I figured out the exact route that we’d be travelling on and also figured out exit plans. I decided to book a ticket from Kottayam. Now, the next question was – which bus? I had to choose between the two Kalladas. The elimination round was quick – the G4 buses did not have tickets – I quickly decided to select the Kallada (Suresh) service via Kumily. Tickets were booked through a third party website to save some money (thanks to the discount coupons). I chose a seat towards the front this time – B1 it was.

July 21, 2013
I remembered that I hadn’t taken a print out only on the day of my journey! The SMS sent by the booking site to my phone claimed that I did not need a print out – the SMS was valid as an m-ticket according to the message. I wanted to make sure that the message would work – lest they make a scene while boarding. I headed out to the Kallada office near Kodimatha bus station in Kottayam about 3 hours before the scheduled departure time. The guy at the office confirmed that my message was indeed valid – he quickly cross-checked my booking with the reservation chart as well. I was now relieved – so I had lots of time to spot some more buses. I walked around for some more time. After some bus-spotting, and a re-union with fellow bus fans (who were part of the Idukki expedition), I had some refreshments and returned to Kodimatha – reaching there around 1730hrs. The guy at the counter marked me “present” on the reservation chart and told out the bus number – “7639” to me.

My tired legs wanted some rest – I remained inside the office for some time – suddenly remembered that I had to visit an ATM urgently – there were two of them nearby. After withdrawing cash, I decided to remain outside the office itself. While clicking a photo, I noticed an orange coloured bus slowly pulling into the pick-up point. Yay! My bus was already in – well before advertised time. The guy at the counter quickly announced “6pm Bangalore”. I badly wanted rest, so got into the bus soon after the door was opened. The office guy came in, checked all tickets and handed over the pick-up list to the cleaner and cleared our departure well before time. The bus started off from Kottayam at 1757hrs – three minutes before time. I was thrilled – this was my first journey on that route. The bus had only about 12 passengers in the bus as we started. The pick-up list was very long, and quite unique – the points were somewhat like this... “the big church 2kms after xyz bridge”, or “the chapel after the S-curve after Kanjirappally” and so on...
The bus: KA-01-AA-7639 of Kallada coming in for pick-up.
We had a pick-up at Kanjikuzhy (1807hrs) – right after Kottayam. I was dead tired after the two days of travelling, and hence my first priority was to push my back-rest to the maximum and doze for some time. I did not notice if we had any pick-ups till Ponkunnam – we reached there at 1853hrs. Here, another pick-up list was given to the cleaner. The pick-ups were still outside churches and even outside some houses! The next major pick-up point was Kanjirappally – at 1859hrs. It took a lot of time here – a lot of people got in, and each one had lots of baggage. We started from here at 1904hrs. The next pick-up point was Mundakkayam – 1929hrs. We stopped here to pick-up one passenger – but five of his friends got into the bus to see him off. They wanted to “see” the bus. We finally started at 1933hrs. The ghat started after Mundakkayam. Just as we started from Mundakkayam, the attendant came around distributing vomit bags. The bus kept swaying side-to-side was we ran through the ghats. Some turns were tight – at one place, the bus had to back since another vehicle came across suddenly.

A movie was being played while we were on the ghat – it did keep some people away from the thoughts of passing through a ghat – some others were busy unloading whatever they had stuffed before the journey started. Now I understood why not many people prefer this route, even though the route was shorter and faster. We picked up another passenger at Peerumedu (2024hrs) – the crew had to struggle a bit to find out the pick-up location though. We stopped again at Vandiperiyar for pick-up (2058/2102hrs). I was a bit surprised – the pick-up time at Kumily was only 10pm, and we were already close to it. We stopped for dinner at a hotel at Kumily – at 2127hrs. That was a good place – a clean restaurant, but very small, slow and did not have much options. The service was lousy as well. But I had a chance to speak to one of the guys managing the hotel – they expressed some concerns about the inconsistent loads in the bus. But they did agree to speed up the service by having some items ready. The bus started after dinner at 2158hrs. After about a kilometre, the bus stopped for pick-up, somewhere near the bus station (2159hrs).

It took some time here – the checking guy took a head count, filled up the waybill and signed off for the departure. We started off finally at 2208hrs. Two more drivers got in here – the guy who was driving was to get off at Cumbum (his hometown). I slept off soon after Kumily – I remember the bus starting to descend the ghat, but slept off even before we passed lower camp. I had one very nice sleep – woke up sometime around 0300hrs – the bus was stationary then. Another S.Kallada bus gave us company. I slept off again as the bus started off from there – I vaguely remember the driver discussing about going via Rayakottai. I remember the bus running through a rough patch – so we were surely going through the Rayakottai route. I woke up as we were nearing Hosur – saw a lot of local buses starting their day in that area. We stopped at Hosur for a drop at 0500hrs – the drop was handled very efficiently – the attendant went to the passenger, woke him alone. I dozed off for some more time, and woke up just as we stopped at Hebbagodi for a drop – 0523hrs. We were accompanied by two more S.Kallada buses – one was coming from Kodungallur (as told by our driver) and the second ones’ origin was said to be Trivandrum. We took BETL, and I was finally dropped off at Silk Board, at 0535hrs – well before the promised arrival time of 6AM.

End remarks: The bus, KA-01-AA-7639, had about 5.99 Lakh kms. The bus was well kept – no rattles, no squeaks anywhere. The bus was due for its fitness certificate renewal – it had some dents on the exteriors, some were patched up. The end-to-end ride took about 11h38m – quite fast for the route – it’s about 40% 2-laned roads with a ghat section thrown in. The service was quite good – a well behaved attendant, with good drivers – all the drivers who took to the wheels during the trip drove very well – no rash driving, absolutely no honking at night. In the last leg, they were talking a bit too loud in the cabin though.

Blankets: Yes
Water Bottle: No
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? Sure, if I travel on that route again.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Bangalore to Pathanamthitta by Shama B9R

This time, its trip to Pathanamthitta to join a group of like-minded bus enthusiasts heading on a two day bus fanning trip through some scenic routes in central Kerala, and I was in a quandary about what bus to take. I had lots of options to take, and all of them were equally inviting as well. The main confusion was between taking a bus via the AC road or the one via MC road. After a lot of thoughts, I decided to book on Bharathi – so called up my good friend DJ to get a seat. He confirmed one. But things were awry later, and the service was cancelled for reasons beyond their control. He got me a seat on Shama for the journey. So I was travelling through MC road!

July 19, 2013
The confirmation about my ticket came only a couple of hours before I left office.  I was on a university assignment, and there was heavy work all through the day – it took me some time to settle the work and leave the place. Heavy traffic on the way meant that I reached home quite late. I had to rush through packing my bag. My brother was busy with his work, and I had to find an auto – it was quite late already and it was raining as well. I got a rickshaw from outside my home – for the first time. The rick guy asked for a fortune – I had no option. I was dropped outside the Shama office in Madiwala at 1950 – just 10 minutes to go for my bus. I had to first withdraw money – the ATM played some tricks with me, and I lost more time. I finally walked into the Shama office at 2000hrs – exactly at the departure time of the bus. Manoj was all smiles as he wrote a boarding pass for me, and told that the bus was parked at the “pump”.
My bus: KA-01-AA-13
It was the oldest bus of Shama for me that day. I wasn’t very happy at that. I got into the bus, left my bag inside. DJ was there – we stood outside talking till the driver got in and blowing the horn. We finally started from pump at 2022hrs – 22 minutes late. We stopped near Kallada office for a pickup, and we finally left Madiwala at 2029hrs. Like every Friday, this day was no different – roads were jammed, and we had to wade through traffic. We passed Silk Board at 2042hrs. Despite being a Friday, we had about 6 vacant seats – a lot of passengers cancelled their trip due to the torrential rain in Kerala, while some of them couldn’t make it to Madiwala due to traffic. We stopped at Electronic City toll gate to pick one passenger (2057hrs). The bus stopped to pick-up flowers at Attibele (2120/2123hrs). We picked a few more passengers and some parcels at Hosur (2136/2144hrs).

A recent Tamil movie was played in the bus. I was feeling hungry, but my food was in the bag on the luggage rack – I decided to hold on till the bus stopped for dinner. I was expecting the bus to stop at a good place – but like most buses in the route, we too pulled into that dreaded Hotel Uthaiyah near Krishnagiri (2226hrs). The cleaner announced a 20 minute break, while the driver switched off the AC, but left the engine running and went off. I had my dinner sitting in the bus and then went around for a stroll. The entire parking area has been levelled and asphalted. The place was much cleaner than it used to be – signs of an improvement? The attendant was back in exactly 20 minutes – after a few rounds of honking, all passengers were inside, and we started moving from there at 2251hrs. I always felt these buses should start from Bangalore around 2030hrs and eliminate this dinner break.
My bus during Dinner at Hotel Utaiyah.
The movie got over soon after started from the hotel. I slept off a while after the movie got over. One thing I like of Shama is the full sized blanket, and fairly sleep-friendly driving. I had a nice sleep, fairly undisturbed. I vaguely remember a stop at Walayar (it was around 4AM then). We were in the midst of a traffic block then. I slept off again – but I remember the bus literally rocking side-to-side. The road is inexistent. I woke up again around 5.45AM – rather, I was forcefully woken up by the alarm of my co-passenger. He was sound asleep, while the alarm cried at the top of its voice waking up the entire bus. It was still dark outside, and I had no idea of where we were – after some time, I realised that we were yet to reach Thrissur! We reached Thrissur at 0613hrs! The bus stopped to unload some parcel. By now all my hopes of an early arrival at Pathanamthitta were dashed – I was now prepared for a late arrival, but expected to reach by around 11AM – did that happen?

We left Thrissur at 0616hrs. Instead of heading to Mannuthy and joining the highway there, the driver preferred to take the Ollur route and join the highway at Thalore. It took us about 15 minutes to get on to the highway – but after that, the driver let the machine lose, and he tried to make up some time. We dropped a couple of passengers at Chalakudy (0648), and then at Ankamaly (0700hrs). We veered off to MC road from Ankamaly – the road got narrower and traffic started thickening. We reached Perumbavoor at 0722hrs. After Perumbavoor, the bus kept stopping every 5-10kms to drop a passenger – everyone wanted to be dropped outside their homes! We reached Muvattupuzha at 0743hrs. My co-passenger got off, and I had both the seats for me now. This was my first trip beyond Muvattupuzha on MC Road. I decided to pull up my back, and watch the road.

The road got even narrower, and we started going through a ghat kind-of section. The bus swayed left-right throughout the route. After sometime of swaying, I started feeling sleepy again – I decided to catch up some sleep again. In the meantime, we reached Koothattukulam (0818hrs). I slept off after Koothattukulam. I remember passing Kuravilangad (did not notice timings). I woke up just as we were nearing Ettumanoor. We dropped some passengers outside the temple (0859hrs) and continued our run. After Ettumanoor, there was absolutely no road – only stones strewn in puddles of water anywhere. We waded through the inexistent roads and finally got held up in heavy traffic block near Nagambadom. We passenger Nagambadom only at 0941hrs – almost an hour from Ettumanoor! We passed Kottayam KSRTC stand at 0943hrs – a couple of passengers got off, and we stated again at 0945hrs. The bus was more or less empty by now – the number of passengers was in single digits now.

The bus stopped for a leak break near Chingavanam. There was no road here as well. We reached Changanassery at 1028hrs – it was just stop-and-go there. We continued our crawl through bad roads. I never expected such a condition of Kerala SH1. A part of this road was relaid under KSTP, but the portion I was travelling through wasn’t – here roads were inexistent. After crawling for about 20 painful minutes, we reached Thiruvalla (1051hrs). By now the driver had lost all his patience – he was honking madly, and drove quite rash now. The bus was stopped at Eraviperoor by a RTO Squad – they ate about 10 minutes. We reached Kumbanad at 1121hrs. Our next stop was at Kozhencherry – 1132hrs. There a small block after the town – the road was very narrow, and our troubles were compounded by wrongly parked vehicles on the road. The driver was very upset – he was mumbling all the time and kept ranting about the delay. I was finally dropped at Pathanamthitta at 1202hrs – a good 3 hours after the scheduled arrival time. All I remember was, I got off the bus, got into an auto there and rushed to the KSRTC bus station – the rest comes later.

End remarks: The bus, KA-01-AA-13, had about 6.6 Lakh kms. The bus was delivered sometime in June 2009. Maintenance was just about average – the AC vent above my seat did not have a regulator – so it was always on and it kept blowing cold air all the time. The front axle kept rattling all the time as well. The bus had poor pick-up as well – time for it to head for a full overhaul. The end-to-end ride took 15h40m. We had a grand 3hr block at Walayar (as informed by the crew and a co-passenger), and that delayed us heavily. The delay while entering Kerala made things worse for us.

Blankets: Yes
Water Bottle: No
Snacks: No

Maintenance (including cleanliness): 3/5
Punctuality: 2.5/5
Staff Behaviour: 4.5/5
Overall: 3/5

Will I take this service again? I am not a regular passenger on that route – but if I’d have to travel again, I’d prefer taking a bus via Alappuzha instead.