A long journey from Thrissur to Bangalore by a KSRTC Airavat

I made a calculation mistake, and I ended up not booking any ticket for that long weekend in August. That long Independence day weekend. I realised it quite late, and was shocked to see that all the buses were sold out. The few private buses remaining had seats at astronomical rates. I was sure that I did not want to spend large amounts on a bus ticket. I had two options - one cancel the trip, or make a break-journey. While searching the Awatar website of Karnataka RTC, I found that the 1535hrs Thrissur-Bangalore Airavat (via Gudalur) had some seats available - I grabbed a seat without much delay. The ticket was priced higher than normal days, but was still in the affordable range. For some vague reason, I chose a seat at the first row. I've never been comfortable sitting in the first row in a Volvo, especially for night runs. I hardly had time at home in this trip - most of the time was spent sleeping at home, and the rest roaming around.

August 17, 2014:
My brother dropped me at Thrissur KSRTC Bus Station sometime around 1510hrs. As I walked into the bus station, I noticed a badly kept Airavat from Mysore Rural Depot-2 parked. I was sure this would be my bus - there was no board at the front. Later, I noticed a badly scribbled paper kept on the board holder - it read Bengaluru-Thrissur. In the meantime, my mobile beeped to intimate me the arrival of an SMS - with the advent of free messaging apps, SMSs are a rarity, rather, they seem quite of the bygone era. I still get excited everytime I receive a message - but these days the messages only tell you about the cash balance in your bank account going down, or telling you that you just got indebted to your credit card provider.

This message was the usual reminder message from KSRTC - the crew phone number, and the bus number was right there - it read "KA-09-F-4695". And that was the bus parked in front of the Karnataka RTC Reservation counter at Thrissur. I left my bag in the bus and headed to the washroom. On my way back, I checked the other buses parked there. The driver had left the AC running in the bus - so all the passengers were inside the bus. In the meantime, I noticed that both the crew did not have the characteristic White "Airavat" Uniform - but they wore the drab khakhi. There was one special Airavat in the very same route as us, but that was to leave only in the night. The driver of that bus was asking our driver to hurry, lest we get blocked at the forest checkpost past Gudalur. I felt uneasy hearing that "blocked" word. Just then, a passenger sitting in the next seat asked me if we'd clear the forest in time - more uneasiness for me!
The bus, KA-09-F-4695, before starting from Thrissur
The driver was by now pushing the conductor to call up the remaining passengers and ask them to hurry up. We started off at 1536hrs - a minute late. We had left a passenger behind (not reported) and a passenger decided not to travel (declined to travel when the crew called him/her). The driver was fast from the word go. He had a very unusual sense of time - I used the word unusual because very often the crew on Airavat (especially those from Bangalore depots) hardly respect time. This guy was very different - he did not waste time waiting the bus to pick speed on top gears - he geared the bus right, and kept it in the right power bands. The engine sounded a bit strained - it wasn't at ease. Maintenance was poor as well - it was rattles from everywhere. The TV was playing a Hindi movie to keep the passengers engaged.

In the meantime, the conductor was trying to call a passenger who was supposed to board from Guruvayur - but the number was switched off. Sometime later, the passenger calls back the conductor - the conductor made a routine "where are you.. u wait near the KSRTC bus station" dialogue and hung up. The conductor was actually calling the passenger to ask him come down to Kunnamkulam so that we need not go to Guruvayur, and this could save us some time. But the passenger responded too late, and we had already turned off the Kunnamkulam road, and were on the way to Guruvayur. The level cross at Guruvayur was closed, and it gave the driver a few jitters. We lost precious 5 minutes there. The passenger was waiting outside the KSRTC bus station for us - we pick him (and his family) up and continued the run (1627hrs). The driver pushed the beast on the narrow Guruvayur-Kunnamkulam road - he wanted to maintain pace.

Things got tight after Kunnamkulam (passed at 1641hrs) - the road was narrow and the traffic quite heavy. We had a couple of the typical Kerala drivers - who just stick to the middle of the road at a leisurely pace, and never ever bother giving way if the vehicle behind honks. Our driver made a few rash cuts to overtake such tortoises on the road. As it got darker, the task became tighter. The driver was firing on all the guns all the time. I was enjoying such a run on the Airavat - which is quite unusual. The driver just proved that driver from Mysore are a different breed all-together - not like the lug happy top gear specialists from Bangalore depots. Since we were racing against time, the crew did not try attracting passengers enroute. We passed Nilambur at 1847hrs. Things were slowly getting tight for us - but the driver was oozing confidence that we'd make it.

We passed Vazhikadavu at 1916hrs. As the ghat started, we slowly lost pace - the bus had very poor pickup, and the driver had to compulsorily shift to the first gear at every curve, and pick pace. Somewhere in the ghat, we got held up in a traffic block - a fight between a truck and a bus. We lost another 10 minutes in this snarl. After the snarl, the driver was back to pushing the bus. Small vehicles, especially private cars and the notorious share jeeps on the route made life hell for the driver - they'd never co-operate with the bus on curves, and they ensured we lost time at most curves. Some passengers in the bus requested for a toilet break, and the crew stopped at a small hotel just past the TN-KL border in the ghats - the break lasted 5 minutes. We started off at 2008hrs. There was a small altercation at the place where the road turns towards Gudalur, just past the Nadugani check-post - a wrongly parked car blocked up traffic. The driver rushed past Gudalur town with all his might - at 2037hrs.

A couple of vehicles caused more time loss for us on the way. We finally reached the TN Forest Check post (Thorappalli) at 2050hrs. We headed straight through the middle lane towards the checkpost - when a forest guard jumped in front of the bus and rudely asked "where are you headed to?" He continued, "the gate is closed. now back up and park on the road side". What? Are you joking was the first response our driver had. The conductor got off, and a few of us too joined - we reasoned with the forest guard about the traffic block and requested him to leave us. He did not budge - and spoke even more rude now. I noticed then that there were 4 other Karnataka RTC buses (Rajahamsa) parked there - they were all from Ooty. They too were stuck! There was a lot of vehicles coming from the Karnataka side - so we had to back up to let those vehicles go. We then went back to the checkpost and tried talking to the guards there - but they were horribly rude. In the meantime, a couple of policemen interfered - they spoke very politely, and empathically. They understood us, but replied that they were helpless. He said the TN checkpost closes at 2030hrs, since the Karnataka gate closes at 2100hrs, and they couldn't risk having vehicles waiting inside the forest.

He quickly advised us to rest in the bus - and those who had emergencies could get into one of the six buses that had a forest permission to run through at night - he advised us the timings as well. They spoke to a few families there and suggested they return to Gudalur - since that place wasn't really safe. So we were now stuck - and we had to spend the night at the checkpost! That was the worst dream to come true - and I was left shocked. This strengthened my beliefs in omen. The conductor came around and advised that we have our dinner - since the hotels near the checkpost would close before midnight. Left we no option - I decided to head for Dinner. In the mean time a few Kerala bound buses came up - and some passengers in our bus decided to abandon the trip and they returned by those buses.

The hotel had very lousy service - and I just stuffed down my food and returned to the bus. The bus was now moved closer to the gate. I got back into the bus - it was slightly cold outside. The driver advised the passengers on the front row about the operation of the front door and he went to the dickey to sleep. I opened the exhaust hatch so that some air-circulation is retained. The main door was left open as well. I slept off sometime towards mid-night. Thankfully, there were no mosquitoes! I kept waking up in between - and remember seeing a couple of buses passing the forest check-post. I woke up sometime towards 5.30am. I got off the bus, walked around and got fresh. The driver was now at the wheels all ready to start. All the lanes on the road were now occupied - a Kerala RTC deluxe was parked parallel to us.

The gate opened at 0600hrs, and we started at 0602hrs from there. The forest guards were demanding "tea-money" from cars - they stopped a car guy and threatened to detain his car if he didn't pay - the driver threatened back, and they guards retreated. I felt ashamed of such government staff - they were looting people, and they expected people to co-operate even after witnessing their rude show the previous night. The forest roads were absolutely empty - the driver wasn't fast - but kept pace. Umpteen speed breaks and lunar craters on the road slowed us. There was absolutely no road near Theppakkadu forest offices. The driver slowed down everytime he spotted a deer or an elephant - the wildlife spotting was all about deers and elephants only. We starting meeting vehicles in the opposite direction shortly after Theppakkadu. We entered into Karnataka at 0636. The roads got better as we entered Karnataka - except for the frequent speedbreakers, the ride was just too good. We exited the forest at 0653. Once out of the forest, the driver stood on the accelerator - we were doing good speeds after that.

We passed Gundlupet at 0706hrs. I was expecting heavy traffic after Gundlupet - but thankfully that wasn't the case, and we could maintain pace in this section. The driver was at home on this turf - he planned his overtakes excellently and kept the pace on. We finally pulled into Mysore Bus Station at 0805hrs - in under an hour from Gundlupet! The driver announced a quick break and got off the bus. A lot of passengers got off the bus here - many of them were booked to Mysore, while some passengers announced that they were heading back to Kerala. I headed out of the bus for a stroll and used the washroom. In the meantime, a lot of Kerala RTC buses gave us company - all of them were headed to Bangalore. The Trivandrum-Bangalore Multi-axle also appeared at the bus station - it seemed majority of the passengers were heading to Bangalore that day. That bus left before us. We started from Mysore at 0823. The crew did not try filling the empty seats - they just stopped by at the "Bangalore Platform", called twice and just kept going.

The conductor was at the wheels now - he was actually faster than the driver. The bus was kept in poor shape, and quite often the gear got stuck. We pulled in for a breakfast break at a bus station kinda set up opposite Maddur Bus station, at 0932. There was a hotel and a couple of eateries in that place - and only KSRTC buses were stopping by there. The crew were also hurrying up with the break. We left the place at 0950hrs. The driver took over the wheels now. Another movie was being played on TV now. Traffic thickened as we neared Bangalore. It was often crawling at places. The traffic got thicker as we crossed Kengeri. We finally landed at Satellite Bus Station in Mysore Road at 1125. The bus directly headed towards the "Mysore Platform" instead of dropping passengers at the Arrival platform, as is the norm. The end-to-end running time turned out to 19h49m (for a paltry 439kms)! Of the total time, 9h12m was lost at the check post itself - so the actual running time turns out to 10h37m (including breaks).

End notes: The bus was KA-09-F-4695 of Mysore Rural Depot-2. It had over 9.03 lakh kms on the odo. The maintenance was poor - the bus rattled all the time, the suspensions were all broken. The engine struggled on grades and the gear shift was tight - the driver often struggled to shift gears because it just doesn't engage. There were no screens at the front - all of them were damaged. The exteriors of the bus were also in bad shape. The crew were well behaved though - they had time sense and they tried their best to pass the checkpost before closing - but certain other factors made them fail. This bus needs to be rescheduled - they could skip the Guruvayur pick-up (providing a pick-up in Kunnamkulam instead) and depart early from Thrissur. Else they could simply make this bus leave late in the night from Thrissur and terminate it at Mysore instead.

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: Yes - 500 ml bottles
Snacks: No
Charging Point: No
Entertainment: Yes. Three movies played.

Ratings:
Maintenance: 2.5/5
Cleanliness: 4/5
Driving: 4.5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 0/5

Overall: 3/5

Will I take this service again? Hell no! I love take the opposite service, but not this one. Its a good option for those travelling to Mysore. But certainly not for those travelling to Bangalore.

Comments

Naveen Kumar said…
Sir I'm a fan of your blog and have read every post. I inquired as to why this bus has to leave this late, reason given was that they were given a slot only after 1530 for this route. Also most of the non-festive weekends, only 2-4 people are reserved on this route. The bus is not permitted to enter any of the bus stations en-route. They usually do not go towards Guruvayur unless there is a pick-up. I even sent an email regarding the poor condition of the transmission and the difficulty to the crew (the pairing bus has an off-balance steering wheel as well), I am yet to receive a reply. This is unusual, I have not been getting replies from the last two times.
The crew is very considerate about the heavy loss incurred by this route and usually terminate the service at Mysore and make alternate arrangements for people going till Bangalore, by getting them onto the airavat from ooty during the dinner break at Gundlupet or at Mysore.
KSRTC should provide a better bus for a route such as this which traverses a fairly huge ghat section.
Binai K Sankar said…
Hi Naveen,

I too had mailed KSRTC regarding the condition of this bus - and did not receive any reply from them. Generally departure slots are not "allotted" to them - the corporation just schedules and intimates its counterpart about the service - if the other corporation has a service at the same time, then they sit together and find a new schedule.

They need to find a better bus to run this schedule and they need to leave at 3pm, and also skip the guruvayur pick-up (or keep the pick-up at Kunnamkulam instead).
Naveen Kumar said…
Yes Binai sir. I agree with you. Also thank you for the info regarding how services are scheduled. Have been following your blog from a few months. I am bus/truck fan since class VIII, and have started reading a lot about locomotives after reading your railfanning section sir.
Mac said…
Hi Binai, i am from Bangalore and always read your reviews about no matter what as i find them informative and interesting...keep it going

just adding a few lines on KaSRTC after reading this review.

i am a huge fan of KaSRTC and Looks like most new buses by KaSRTC now are only introduced in Tirupati, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune and Mumbai sector leaving the old Mark 1(disappointing that they still have them),2,3 and 1st version of Multi axles to bite the dust on other routes, the unfit Mark 1 or even the refurbished buses appear on road only as special service during festive seasons ...i believe its the staff of KaSRTC who have kept this organisation moving for ages now with their style of safe driving and being passenger friendly (not 100%, understand there are rotten eggs here too but few) ... while their complaints team will answer anything and reply to any praise coming from anywhere their eyes are shut in case of complaints against their buses, they would never reply or take their sweet time to respond for complaints on their vehicles... it is definitely time for KaSRTC to remove their dirty and age old buses and have some decent buses for journeys more than 6 hours ...

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