Monday, January 20, 2014

Thrissur to Bangalore by Airavat Club Class

The ubiquitous holiday list issued by the state government of Karnataka made me curious - two days of continuous holidays in January - add a Casual leave to it, and I get a 4 day holiday at home. Since I was returning on a weekday, plus my recent experiences of arriving late in Bangalore in Private buses made my choice simple - I did not look beyond Karnataka SRTC. I checked tickets and was quite surprised to see lots of seats available. I hate waiting for my bus, and hence decided to book on a bus that started in Thrissur itself - so it was 2131TRCBNG for my journey. I selected a seat on the right side.

January 15, 2014:
My hometown was in the peak of festivities. The temple town was packed with devotees as the temple celebrated its annual ritual, called Thalappoli. I was expecting buses to be crowded due to the festival, and hence decided to head to Kodungallur in an auto and take a bus to Thrissur from there, instead of boarding from near my house. I reached Kodungallur around 1920hrs - but there were no KSRTC buses to Thrissur at the bus station. I was determined to take a KSRTC itself, and decided to wait. Its a pain traveling in a private bus with luggage - the awful seats, absolute lack of leg-space and zero space to keep luggage make me shun them as far as possible.My wait did bear fruit - around 1935hrs, RT366 of Thrissur depot arrived at the bus station. The bus backed into the bay and got set to head back to Thrissur - as the last KSRTC service to Thrissur in the day.

The driver wanted to leave a minute before time, since a Private bus regularly delays its departure and runs just ahead of this bus - ending up denting the collection of this bus. As he wished, the conductor signaled him to move at 1944 (instead of 1945 as scheduled). We started off, picked up a few more passengers before exiting the bus station. Being Thalappoli time, the bus got filled before it left town limits. The driver was in the best of moods - he maintained good pace, and I loved the growl from the Hino engine powering our bus. I was dropped outside the KSRTC bus station in Thrissur at around 2040hrs (the bus was heading for refueling - so the driver suggested getting off there to avoid getting late if there was a queue for refueling).

My bus was still about an hour away - so decided to spend time looking at buses there. There was one special Airavat to Bangalore leaving about 15 minutes before my bus - it was rattling heavily and making all kinds of scary noises. The bus seemed to be full. My bus was brought in at 2115hrs - they directly parked the bus at a platform. Earlier they used to park a little away, and bring the bus to the platform only at departure time. My bus was full as well. Getting into the bus was a bit messy, since it was parked in a tight spot, but our people decided to mob the bus even though they had reservations! I decided to wait outside - went to the conductor after the crowd lightened. As usual, he asked me to read out the last 4 digits of the PNR and show my identity proof. m-Tickets are an absolute blessing - no paper wasted and no tension of having to carry print outs.
The bus: KA-01-F-9148. Picture from Archives
The AC was already running and it was chilling inside the bus - I love buses this way - "pre-cool" them before boarding. Boarding was over quite fast. By 2130hrs, we were ready to leave. The conductor got two unreserved tickets as well. The conductor got his waybill signed off, and we backed out at 2136hrs - 5 minutes late. As we were leaving, I saw the Ernakulam-Bangalore Mercedes still boarding - that bus was supposed to have left a good 20 minutes before us! The driver was not in a hurry - but kept pace. This fellow was the typical "BCD-4" crew - shifts to top gear quickly and lets the engine struggle to pick speed. I tried hard to doze off, and did succeed in short bursts. We reached Palakkad at around 2259hrs. The driver did not enter the bus station, but stopped on the road, near the exit. A KaSRTC guy at the bus station called up passengers booked in this bus - we were off at 2301hrs!

I slept off for sometime after Palakkad. Do not remember much after this. I woke up briefly as we were at Sankari Toll - it was around 0130~0200hrs then. I slept off again. I woke up as the conductor walked through the bus to the back, and the bus got off the highway to a service road - we stopped below a flyover and two people got off (the unreserved guys who got in at Thrissur) - the time was 0412. From the looks of the place, I thought it was Hosur - and I was overjoyed! But the joy was shortlived as we passed a toll-gate shortly after the flyover - that was Krishnagiri! Sometime afterwards, the bus pulled into one of the dreaded places on the route - Hotel Surya, at Kurubarapalli (0422hrs). I had some expletives in my mouth - why does the driver want to waste time when the destination was hardly an hour away! Hardly anyone got down from the bus - and even those who got down went to the loo directly. We started off again at 0430hrs.

My eyes were quite heavy - so I fell asleep again. I slept quite well, and got up only as we stopped at Attibele toll - 0521hrs. I woke up now, and pulled up my backrest. We stopped somewhere before Electronic City (guess it was Chandapura). There was nobody to get off at Electronic city on this trip. I moved to the cabin soon after we passed Chandapura, and informed the crew that I need to get off at Bommanahalli. The conductor asked if I had luggage in the hold - I replied negative. I was dropped off at Bommanahalli at 0543hrs. I love getting off at Bommanahalli than Silk Board - because no auto goons attack you, nor do you have to pay exhorbitant rates if you call an Auto. I walked off to the Auto stand, and took a rick home - he charged double the normal rate (I am okay with that) - and did not charge extra even though my destination was a bit away from the landmark I had quoted. He was genuinely worried when he did not have enough change to return - I thanked him from the bottom of my heart - such drivers are really really rare! Great going dude!

To conclude: The bus, KA-01-F-9148, of Bangalore Central Depot-4, had about 5.66 lakh kms on the odo. This bus used to run to Ernakulam earlier, now moved to Thrissur. Maintenance was average - a lot of sounds came from the rear suspension. There were no rattles, but the bus did make strange noises while running. No movies were played - one very good feature that I love in this service. The break in the morning could've been avoided - if the crew wanted refreshment, they could've stopped at a Toll gate instead - it saves a lot of time. Driving was superb as usual (except the lugging part) - absolutely no honking, and sleep friendly driving. Being pongal time, traffic in TN was really low - that helped us reach on time for sure. KaSRTC certainly needs to revise the speed limit in these premium services - they need to value the passengers' time for sure. Overall, it was a pleasant journey. The end-to-end run took about 8h07m.

Blanket: Yes (a fresh one)
Water: Yes (500ml in a bottle specially labeled "for KSRTC")
Charging Point: Yes (ON throughout the journey)
Entertainment: Available, but not used.

Maintenance: 3/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 4/5 (too much of lugging)
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5

Overall: 4/5

Will I take this service again? Most Certainly YES! Its already one of my most preferred services.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bangalore to Thrissur by Kerala RTC Super Deluxe

This was to be the first visit to my hometown in 2014. I decided to book on a KaSRTC Airavat Club Class for my return - booked the tickets towards the end of December 2013 itself. I had not taken a call on what bus to book for my outward journey. I was in confusion for quite some days. Soon after January 1, I decided to take a call - it was Kerala SRTC's new Super Deluxe for the trip! I selected the 11pm Bangalore-Thrissur Super Deluxe, via Mysore, Gudalur. I tried selecting the second row seat, but for some reason the row was showing up as "Ladies only". So I shifted to the third row - and booked Seat #9. The total fare worked out to Rs. 515 (Rs. 485 base fare plus Rs. 10 for reservation and Rs. 20 for online booking service charge).

January 11, 2014:
The first long trip of the year. I was curious and excited for sure. I was a bit tensed too - will it be comfortable and will it reach on time? I reached home on time, got ready and was set to leave. My brother dropped in at Jayanagar Bus Station by around 2130hrs. I waited there for a bus until 2200hrs - but none turned up. Since I did not want to miss the bus, I decided to take an auto instead. The driver said "meter-and-half" before starting - as I agreed, he started the meter, and got off the mark. It took about 20 minutes to reach Satellite - the driver was quite sane - no rash driving, and he did not jump signals anywhere. At the end, my wallet got lighter by Rs. 150 - no protests because he atleast had the courtesy to switch on the meter.

Mysore Road Satellite BS (curiously abbreviated as "MCTC") was awfully crowded. Since the festival Pongal was around the corner, buses to TN were packed to the core. The bus station reflected the chaos - with long holidays for educational institutions, the crowd to Kerala was no less either. Buses were just coming in, getting full and moving out. While waiting there, saw a Super Fast to Kozhikode and Super Express to Thalassery headed out to their destination. There was on TNSTC bus to Ooty and a couple of KaSRTC Rajahamsas to Kozhikode as well. Around 2235hrs, my bus was brought in. It was RSC682 of Thrissur that was doing the honours that day. Soon after the bus was parked, people mobbed around - the conductor had a tough time checking each ticket and letting people in - wonder why people get so impatient - the bus leaves only at 2300 - why should they mob like this?

I waited till the crowd settled, and got in after some time. The conductor checked my ticket - did not ask for an identity proof. My first observations - the gangway is quite narrow. The vertical support bars made things difficult. Walking in with luggage is surely difficult. The seats looked good. The leg space - adequate. I did not hit my knees on the seat in front, but for some reason, I did not feel very comfortable. Some melodious Malayalam hits were being played. The crew had installed the music system by spending money from their pockets - they had also decorated the bus with stickers, led lamps and some plastic flowers. I noticed that seat numbers were stickered behind each seat - that is confusing. They could've stickered on the overhead racks instead.
The bus: RSC682 of Thrissur depot
I settled on the seat till the crowd of people boarding the bus reduced. After that I got off the bus, took some snaps and got set for the journey. We were waiting for one passenger to turn up - the driver and the conductor tried calling the number provided during booking, but there was no response. Around 2255, the conductor went to their office and got the waybill signed off. We waited till 2303 - and started off. While backing out, the conductor called their office and informed that we are leaving, and gave the details of the passenger who did not report. The bus was full - all 39 seats were sold. Two extra passengers were also taken (actually two passengers were to board from Mysore - so the conductor took two extra seats from Bangalore). Once on the road, our driver meant business.

I closed the curtains and tried to catch up some sleep - but the songs being played and the cabin lights wouldn't let me sleep. Finally, as we crossed Kengeri, the music system and lights were switched off. I dozed off afterwards. But everytime we hit a speed breaker, I woke up. The driver was typical KeSRTC styled - absolutely no respect for speed breakers! He'd brake only after we reached near one - and then jumps over. Somehow managed to sleep for sometime. As were entered Mysore, the conductor called up the passengers who were to board here - it seems he had called them earlier as well. The bus did not go to the bus station, but instead picked them. I did not understand where we were - but left soon after pickup (at 0134hrs) - 2h31m for Bangalore-Mysore!
The bus can be aptly called "lights on wheels". The bus was fully decked up with LED lights.
I slept fairly well after Mysore. The road, I guess, was in good shape. I woke up when the bus stopped somewhere - it was Hotel Surabhi, at Gundlupet, at 0230hrs. To make matter worse, a guy from the hotel came in to the bus and started shouting, "Tea Coffee last break" etc etc. He kept shouting till everyone in the bus woke up. I got off the bus, took a stroll and remained outside. It was damn cold outside. The crew returned quickly, and we started off at 0240hrs. I decided to remain awake for some more time. We reached the Bandipur forest Check post gate at 0300hrs. They have tied a rope across the road, and kept some barriers around to prevent the vehicles from parking near the checkpost. As we reached this place, the conductor got off the bus, and untied the rope. As the bus passed through, the rope got entangled at the rear portion of the bus, and we pulled out the barricades. The driver quickly stopped. The conductor removed the rope and cleared way for the bus to move forward.

We went through the checkpost. In the meantime, the lone forest guard on duty at the checkpost came out and started shouting at our driver. A few drivers (of the vehicles which were parked there owing to road closure) came and supported the guard. They started saying the driver was overspeeding, he hit the barricades because he could not control the bus, blah blah. Passengers from our bus also got out, and some verbal fights ensued. The guard put his foot down saying that he cannot let our bus pass, and he'll permit us only after his "saheb" comes. Our crew were in no mood listen - they put their foot down as well, saying ours was a bus with a valid forest permission to pass through at night, and we hadn't caused any accident as the people there claimed. In the meantime, the conductor signalled us to get into the bus. He went to the checkpost and signed in the vehicle register.

We finally started off from the check post at 0306hrs. Once in the forest, it was just us - no other vehicle is permitted inside the forest between 9pm and 6am, other than two buses each run by the STUs of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamilnadu. Ours was one of the 6 buses that goes through the forest at night. Inside the forest, we crossed the Kottayam-Bangalore Super Deluxe. We passed the Karnataka state border some time around 0330 - the conductor had to sign an exit register there. Once into TN, the roads worsened - roads were awful in TN. They were inexistent at places. We finally reached the Mudumalai forest exit gate at 0400hrs. Things were quite interesting here - the entire road was blocked by vehicles who were waiting for the gate to open, and there were people sleeping on the road! The conductor got off - he went and woke up the people sleeping on the road, and got some vehicles parked on the road side. It took us about 5 minutes to clear the road.

Spotted our pairing bus waiting at the check post. I slept off after the checkpost. I had a very nice sleep after that. I was woken up by the cacophony of deafening alarms going off in the bus. It was around 0530~0545 then. My co-passenger received a phone call then, and from his conversation, I understood that we were past Pandikkad then. We pulled into Perinthalmanna bus station at 0600hrs - sharp! Some 20 passengers got off there. The crew got off and went to the Station master's office. Announcements were made on the PA system about our bus. About 5 passengers got in as well. We left Perinthalmanna at 0628. I slept off again. Vaguely remember the bus stopping somewhere in between to drop passengers - but I did not notice where we were. We stopped at Shoranur at 0715. I slept off again. I woke up only when the conductor called a few passengers to alight - we were in Mulagunnathukavu then.

I woke up, and straightened the back rest. We passenger Thrissur Swaraj round, and finally reached Sakthan stand at 0758hrs. I got off here - ending an 8h55m journey from Bangalore to Thrissur. I walked into the bus station, and took a KeSRTC bus to my hometown.

Ending remarks: The bus, RSC682, KL-15-A-173, is a recent addition to Thrissur depot's arsenal. The bus was in fairly good shape - the maintenance was really good. The body building quality was poor - there were lots of rattles coming in. The seats were not great - they seemed to be refurbished seats, and not new ones. The seats bore "Haritha" markings. The driving was typical KeSRTC style. The crew had installed a higher tone horn as well. The music system is a welcome addition, but its use needs to be regulated. They started playing songs as we left Perinthalmanna, at 0630 in the morning. Most of the long passengers were sleeping them. That could've been avoided. The crew did not take any additional breaks anywhere. The crew were well behaved. They rose to the situation when two people came requesting for seats in a fully booked bus - they were permitted to travel in the Cabin, with legitimate tickets of course. The journey time was amazing as well.

Amenities: None.

Maintenance: 4/5 (body quality gets 1/5)
Staff: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5
Overall: 4.5/5

Will I take this service again? Sure. Its a cheap option of travelling to Kerala. I only wished the bus leaves a little early and reaches Thrissur by, say, 7 AM or so.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

A quick trip to Mysore

January 5, 2014, Sunday:
The first weekend of the new year. I wanted to make a visit to Mysore since long. But everytime, the opportunity got missed between the cup and the lip. This time everything went fine until Saturday evening. But some other got scheduled for Sunday morning, and I saw another miss this time. Sometime towards noon (around 11AM), I decided to head to Mysore. I left my vehicle at Shantinagar BS, and headed straight to A2B restaurant there for a quick brunch. Getting to Satellite BS from Shantinagar is a helluva task. Despite being an important terminal, there is hardly any link between the two bus stations (except for a very infrequent bus route - G6). I had to travel via Majestic (of course, I could've gone via Market as well). I made it to Satellite BS around 1205hrs.

I did some photography of the Kerala buses parked there - saw the interiors of the new Tata Super Deluxe for the first time. I finally entered into the bus station at around 1230hrs. I was already too late to go to Mysore - but I still decided to do it. I had a caveat though - It has to be a Multi-axle bus! I walked to the Mysore platform, and saw one Multi parked in the queue. There was one run down Airavat waiting for departure ahead of the Multi - the Airavat left at 1245hrs. In the meantime, the Ernakulam bound Super Deluxe of Kerala RTC was parked at Platform 6 - had a confusion whether to take the Deluxe or the Airavat Club Class. Club Class it was! I headed to the ticket counter and got a ticket to Mysore - Rs. 290 was the fare for counter bookings (for online bookings, they charge Rs. 300 plus reservation). The lady at the counter marked "F-4919" on my ticket.
KA-09-F-4919 standing at Bangalore Satellite BS.
Yes! It was KA-09-F-4919 of Mysore Rural Depot-2 that was ferrying me to Mysore. The lady had 200408.3kms on the odo, and a board reading "Hyderabad-Bangalore-Mysore". My favorite seat in the first row was already taken - left with no choice, headed to the third row and took a window seat on the left (a big mistake!). The driver was saying that he'll reach Mysore at 3.30 (oh? how come?). There was no sign of the bus moving, even as the clock ticked past 1300hrs. The bus was quite empty - until a KIA-10 Airport Volvo came in - that bus emptied, and almost every passenger walked into our bus. We finally left at 1326hrs. The driver was fast from the word go - the typical Airavat style lugging was suprisingly absent. His overtakes were well signalled, and cautious. Given the number of speed breakers on the route, the driver was very cautious. Being a "Non-stop" service, the bus did not have a conductor, and no movies/songs were played. A water bottle was provided, and AC was set to very comfortable temperature.

I had to keep my curtain closed for most part of the journey, since Sun was perfectly on my side. I sat down enjoying some videos on my phone, and did not notice much of the journey. I was expecting him to reach Mysore atleast by 4, if not the promised 3.30. At 1530 we were somewhere around Mandya. The first drop was at Srirangapatna (1550hrs). The next stop was at the junction of ring road - at 1602hrs. I expected some traffic in the city, especially since it was a Sunday, but thankfully the roads weren't too crowded. We finally made it to the Suburban Bus Station at 1612hrs - 2h46m after we started from Bangalore. The odo read 200539.8 as we got off the bus - so that is 131.5kms. KSRTC charges for 144kms though (as mentioned on the ticket).

Remarks: The driving was great. No rash brakes, but was honking throughout. Otherwise the driving was quite sleep friendly. He did not waste time anywhere, and did not lug the engine anytime. This driver surely knows how to drive a Volvo. I regret not asking the guy's name - he deserves appreciation. The bus was quite new, and well kept. Interiors were really clean.

Blankets: No (Day service)
Water Bottle: Yes (500ml)
Snacks: No

Maintenance: 5/5
Staff: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5
Overall: 5/5

Return Journey:
I thought of trying out the Kerala SRTC Super Deluxe to return - there was one bus coming from Kozhikode, passing Mysore around 5.30. But the attitude of the crew seriously put me - they did not bother entering the bus station, nor trying to get a few passengers from near the exit. Seriously bad attitude for a corporation that is sinking, and burning public cash rapidly. I was back inside the bus station, trying my luck at getting some Multi-axle (again!). There were three Airavats to Bangalore lined up for departure - the first two were old, run down buses, while the one at the end of the queue was a fairly new bus (a 9400). I had an eye on this bus as I stood waiting for an Airavat Club Class. As the clock ticked past 1820, I was afraid I might get held up in Mysore. I decided to get into the 9400 finally.
KA-01-F-8541 before starting the trip.
So it was KA-01-F-8541 of Mysore Rural Depot-2 having the honours of bringing me back to Bangalore. The bus was working a Mysore-Bangalore-Ooty schedule. So the bus had a Driver as well as a Conductor. I took my favorite seat - #4. The driver was at the wheels, while the conductor was out hunting for passengers. The advantage of this bus was that it would drop me at Shantinagar, and not Satellite BS. The ticket was for Rs. 270 (Rs. 260 if getting off at Satellite BS). The bus finally started off at 1853hrs - with a ETA of 2200hrs. This driver too was fast from the word go. I was falling in love with the driving style of Mysore crew. My previous trip in a Mysore division bus was also rocking. These people know how to drive a speed-locked Volvo, without lugging the engine. This driver was no different - he changed gears at the right RPMs, and maintained speed for most of the time.

Traffic was on the higher side - normal for a Sunday. We picked up a passenger from Srirangapatna. A movie was played - Mysore division plays movies using USB drives and not CDs! It was a Bollywood movie. The TV screen was damaged, and the viewing angle was awful - the images looked quite bad to me. I concentrated on the road instead. Traffic slowed us often - but the driver did not lose momentum. A traffic block due to an accident near Maddur made us crawl for some time. After some high-speeds bursts, we finally reached Kengeri around 2115hrs. We stopped outside Satellite BS at 2143hrs. We were on time as of now - but Bangalore had something else in store for us. Traffic thickened as we passed Town Hall. Road was jammed after Town Hall - reducing us to a crawl. I was finally dropped outside Shantinagar Bus Station at 2216hrs - 3h23m end-to-end. Quite slow for the distance, but the driver did his best.

End notes: The bus had about 10 lakh kms on the odo (1064105.6 to be exact - noted as I got off the bus). The bus did show its age, but maintenance was good. The driving was great - minimal honking, well signalled overtakes and absolutely no rash driving. He did have to brake hard a few times - all thanks to the crazy weekend drivers. This guy too knew how to drive a Volvo - he kept maintaining 90kmph wherever he could - absolutely no lugging of the engine, and correct gear shifts. I'm lovin 'em.

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

Maintenance: 4.5/5
Staff: 5/5
Punctuality: 4.5/5
Overall: 4.5/5

Will I take these services again? Sure. There is no need to think beyond KSRTC in this route.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

2013.. gone by are those days...

In a nutshell: A generally good year, with lots of trips, and some "to-do" stuff accomplished. I finished 1 year as a teacher - it was a great feeling as you grow up with the kids. They let me hold my head high as the results came - all of them passed with flying colours, and accomplished certain things their seniors did not even attempt.

One year of being called a sir.

The trainfan in my took a retirement - If my memory serves me right, I did not travel by train at all in 2013. All the journeys were by bus this year. No feats were accomplished in this segment though.

I am still excited as the memories of my visit to Gavi in July comes to my mind - a report of that visit is still pending, 7 months on.

Two back-to-back infernos snuffed out 53 lives travelling in Volvo buses - the accidents shocked busfans and travel operators alike. I still shudder as I think of the accidents.

I am left with nothing to write about the year gone by.. let it go to the pages of history as we turn the fresh pages of 2014..

Wishing everyone a very prosperous and fun-filled year ahead!
Happy New Year 2014!!!
 With lots of wishes that all your wishes come true in life... but, remember that better things in life happen only with hardwork.

My India! My Pride!