Thursday, February 27, 2014

The first Scania Experience!

About a year ago - Scania hit the headlines with the announcement of launch of their bus model. Shortly after the news came out, first pics of the bus appeared online. The bus looked quite boxy, but the design looked good. About a month later, a friend called me to see the bus in person - I saw the bus inside out, and was surprised with the build quality of the bus. Days gave way to weeks, then months and almost a year went by. The commercial launch of the bus kept getting postponed time and again. One fine day, a friend messages that the first Scania has reached the country - and a few days later, got information that the bus has reached a reputed body builder for painting. Few more days later, the bus was spotted on the road by a friend. Then came the news of the launch by KPN, at Salem (Sadly, couldn't make it to the launch event).

A few days later, the bus was on the road. And, One fine morning, saw the bus in close quarters on my way to office. There started the desire to travel by it. A couple of plans were made, but I had to abandon them due to various reasons. After a week or so, I had to head to Kottayam. While searching for ways for my return journey, I came across this vague crazy idea of getting in to the Scania from Dindigul - but I was a bit concerned about the distance and if I'd miss the bus. Some days later, a friend too suggested the same idea - but this time, he gave me reassurance about the distance and time required to reach Dindigul. I decided to give it a shot.

February 12, 2014:
After a sumptuous feast at my friend's wedding at a place near Ettumanoor, I rushed back to Kottayam in a KSRTC bus. My only priority was to head out to Kumily in the next bus from Kottayam. Traffic on MC Road was heavy, as usual, and it took about 30 minutes to reach Kottayam. On getting off at the bus station, I headed out to the SM office to find out the timings of the next TT bus to Kumily - the bus was an hour away. I got into the next Limited stop bus from there to Kumily (at 1250hrs). Cutting the story short, the bus dropped me in Kumily at around 1615hrs. After some refreshment, I headed out to the TN side of the town to get a bus to Cumbum. I thought it was my lucky day, as I saw a Puducherry Road Transport Corporation (PRTC) heading out to Pondicherry via Dindigul. I confirmed with the conductor that the bus would drop me in Dindigul by 2130 (he promised an arrival at 2115hrs).

I now took a seat in the bus, and reserved a ticket for the KPN Scania using my mobile. I immediately got an SMS from KPN with details of my ticket. I was a bit worried, since they made a fuzz about mTickets during my last journey. I had anyways decided to try my luck with the SMS. The journey by PRTC was uneventful - the driver maintained steady pace most of the time - no harsh driving, or rash overtakes. I was dropped at Dindigul exactly at 2115hrs, as promised by the conductor. I had my dinner, and then wasted some time roaming around. Sometime around 2215hrs, I got an SMS from KPN with the registration number of my bus, and the departure time from Dindigul. The message said that the bus is at 2300hrs - while my ticket said 2345hrs!

I did not want to take a risk - so hired an auto from the bus station, and headed out to "Palani Bypass". Most of the long buses do not enter the town for pick-ups, but stop at the bypass. I was at the KPN "office" by around 2245hrs. I cannot really call it an office - it basically a room, with three benches put near the walls. Half the room was used for dumping some stuff, and the roof was lined by cobwebs. The benches were clean though. No staff were present in the office - but lights and fan was on. One guy was sitting outside the office on a bike (later understood that this guy dispatches buses from there). I badly needed to recharge my phone's battery - so plugged it to the sole power plug in the room and let it charge. Since I needed to stand guard for the phone, I plugged in my headphone as well, and listened to some songs.

While waiting there, a Volvo and an AC Sleeper to Bangalore came. The AC sleeper had a tyre puncture - so it remained there for about 20 minutes while the crew changed the tyre. The clock ticked past 2345hrs, and there was no sign of my bus. One passenger in the office was heard saying that this is regular - the bus comes only by 0000hrs, but they send out a message with 2300hrs timing every time. I was quite surprised - why should they do that? The road outside was busy all the while - a lot of buses, mostly bound to Chennai, went past. After 2355hrs, I got tired sitting inside the office - the phone was fully charged now. I took it off charging, and stood outside the office now. As I walked out of the office, saw this boxy vehicle with low headlights coming in - I jumped up in joy, rushed back to the office and pickup up my bag.
The bus - KA-51-B-9992
In the meantime, the bus rolled in - it was 2359hrs. I was so excited that I literally waited for the door to open and jump into the bus. The door was designed to swing out - at first it looked a bit odd to me - but the fact that it frees up a lot of cabin space left me impressed. The cabin was well lit and spacious. I just walked in - just then the dispatcher called me asking my ticket. I showed him the SMS - he wrote down the PIN number from that message on the Boarding chart, while the attendant pointed out where my seat would be. I had taken a right side window seat on the 8th row of the bus. The gangway was as wide as the Volvo - not the narrow design like the Mercedes. The interior lighting was great. I reached my seat - had to disturb the elderly gentleman on the aisle seat to reach my seat. The AC was very chilling. The seat was very comfortable - the curves felt perfect. I was quite sleepy already.

The bus started off at 0003hrs, with an ear-piercing whistling sound from the engine. I was a bit shocked hearing that kinda noise. The engine was noisy till it upshifted to 4th gear. The OptiCruise system felt smoother than the iShift - the transmission shifted at perfect levels keeping the rpms under control. The bus picked pace quite rapidly - the 410hp engine was effortlessly pushing us forward. The attendant came around distributing blankets. The lights were switched off - only the night lamps were on now. Unlike in the Volvo, the night lamps in the Scania were fixed on the rooftop hatches - so the light was concentrated at two places in the bus. This meant good news for passengers away from the hatches.
The overhead console. One needs to turn the ornamental ring around the air vents to shut it. The quality of the console was great.
A while later, I felt the AC was quite chilling - I played around with the AC vents trying to shut it - but couldn't figure out how. The range of the vents were too limited - the material looked good though. The tiredness got the better of me, and I fell asleep soon. I did not realise anything outside - woke up by the commotion of people pushing in luggage on to the overhead racks - it was around 0225hrs - and we were in Salem. We started off at 0229hrs. I slept off again. Another round of continuous sleep. I woke up around 0540 or so - we were starting off from Attibele toll gate then. I decided to get up now. We stopped at Electronic City, at 0551hrs. After starting off from there, I got off the seat and headed to the first row. As I reached there, the attendant enquired about my drop-off point. When I told Bommanahalli, he requested me to remain seated.

Now the main lights were, but blue lamps were on - this was bright enough to walk without stumbling anywhere, but not very bright to disturb people sleeping. The cabin was very spacious, and there were handles at the right places. The bus had very little horizontal sways (or body roll). It did not push me around when the driver stopped or started from traffic lights. The braking was very confident - the retarders did a very good job, but were a bit noisy. I had a short chat with the driver - he was on his first trip in the Scania, and was thrilled driving the beast. He was worried only about the length, and was happy about everything else. He pulled to the side at Bommanahalli - to drop me. The watch read 0559. The beast pulled away even before I crossed the service road to reach the auto stand.
The interiors. (Image from Archives. The seats are different in the production variant)
End remarks: The bus was KA-51-B-9992. She had recorded some 16000kms on the odo. This bus had the best interior finish I had seen till date. The overhead rack was deep and tall - putting a bag into the rack was quite easy, and one needn't be scared if it bounces out when the driver jumps on the brake. The retarders ensured that I was on my seat when the driver pumps the brakes. The ride quality was very matured - it did not sway around like a cradle. I was comfortable even when standing in the cabin - it did not push me around like a Volvo. The out-swing door meant that I could walk out of the cabin and not squeeze myself out (with the attendant standing there). The seats were great - on par with the Volvo. The bus was dead silent when stand-still - but very noisy in the first three gears. It was on par with competition beyond third gear. The AC vents needed some playing around - but I was quite impressed when I learnt how to shut it. But I felt the range of direction adjustment needs to be increased. The window sills were quite tall - its higher than the handrests - so one can actually rest on the window sills than the handrest. The window sill was wider as well.

It is definitely a better package that what is currently available in the market. The ride quality was matured and the interiors were top notch.

Amenities:
Blankets: Yes (Shawls rather)
Water: No
Charger points: Available (Did not use)
Entertainment: Available (Was not used)

Ratings:
Maintenance: Irrelevant to comment on. Its a new bus!
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew Behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 5/5

Overall: 4.95/5

Will I take the service again? This trip was to test the bus. But the service is surely a great option.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

To Kottayam on SLS..

A classmates wedding in Kottayam - the invite came a good 1.5 months early. I hadn't reserved any ticket, and was undecided till the last moment. I was confused between private and Government buses. Karnataka SRTC was on the shortlist for sometime - but the prospect of having to travel in a bus operated by crew who hardly bother about time did bother me. I have often seen the KaSRTC Kottayam bus taking 11-12 hours to reach Thrissur itself - I wanted to reach Kottayam before 8 so that I have enough time to get fresh. The next shortlist was Kerala SRTC's two Super Deluxes - one via Gudalur and the other via Salem. I kept these on waitlist since I was a bit confused on taking a non-AC bus since it was a long day ahead. Next on the list was Kerala Lines - but I was told that the bus wasn't running that day. I had tried Shama a few months ago - did not want a re-run of that day, and the bus stops for Dinner - I, for some reason, prefer a non-stop service. Next was SLS - I have never tried this one. Reviews were mixed - so SLS it was.

February 11, 2014:
It was around 1700hrs. I was at home and hadn't still booked a ticket. A quick look on a third-party website confirmed that SLS was the cheapest option - some offers were thrown in too. The only catch was that the offer was available only on tickets booked using their android app. That was not a block anyways. The ticket was booked using their official app - and the final ticket fare was Rs. 900! Cheaper than the KaSRTC option! My brother dropped me at Angel Travels (the agent who handles SLS from Bangalore) at around 2015hrs. The bus was at 2045hrs. I remained outside the office until the bus came. The adjoining Kallada office was busy - buses came and departed every 10~15 minutes. The clock ticked past 2045 - there was no sign of the bus. The bus finally came in at 2055hrs.
The bus. Photo from archives.
Boarding started immediately. Not many people were there initially - I got in an headed straight to my seat, a window on the right side as usual. Slowly more and more people boarded. Ticket checking started around 2105hrs. The first impression about the bus - well maintained! The interiors were exactly like an Airavat Club Class - only the curtains were different. Interior finishing, upholstery were all the same. We had around 30 passengers on board as we started off from Madiwala, at 2117hrs - 32 minutes late. The driver was very light on the pedal - he was not pushing the bus at all. He maintained average pace for most of the time. We took the BETL and rushed towards Hosur. We stopped at Bommasandra for a pick-up (2143hrs). Some 3 passengers got in, and we started off at 2147hrs.

A Malayalam movie was played. I had watched the movie earlier, multiple times. So decided to push back and sleep for some time. The bus stopped at Hosur (2208hrs) for an unknown reason. Then the bus took the route via Rayakkottai. I dozed off somewhere on the route. When I woke up, the movie had finished and was replaying again! Somebody was seen rushing to the cabin - the movie was switched off now. I slept off again - undisturbed. There was no honking, no hard braking. I vaguely remembering seeing Chavadi check-post (around 0230?). I slept off again. Vaguely remember the attendant calling out for Thrissur passengers - did not notice the time then. I had another nice sleep. I woke up as the bus stopped at Aluva (0525hrs). I watched the progress of Kochi Metro with awe - works were in full swing even at that hour. The highway was barricaded - and warning lamps were put on through out.

We stopped at Edappally bypass for a drop (0538hrs) and then proceeded towards Vyttila. I was expecting the bus to turn left at Vyttila and proceed towards Pettah. But we passed the signal and stopped outside the temple at Vyttila (0546hrs). The bus almost emptied out, and the crew went for a tea break. We started again at 0557hrs. The bus took a left at Maradu, and headed straight to Tripunithura. It was a narrow road, but it cut a lot of distance. After Tripunithura, the driver picked up some speed. I dozed off for some more time. When I woke up, the bus was parked on the roadside - couldn't decipher where we were, or what we were doing. Nobody got off the bus, nor was parcels unloaded. I saw the driver walking around the bus - and shortly after I saw this, we started moving again. The bus finally reached Kottayam Baker junction at 0731hrs - I headed to the cabin and confirmed my drop outside KSRTC stand - he driver confirmed. I took my bag and returned to the cabin. I was finally dropped outside the KSRTC bus station at 0733hrs - 10h16m for some 580-odd kms. As I walked towards a nearby hotel, I saw the KeSRTC Super Deluxe via Salem arriving at the bus station.

End notes: The bus was KA-01-AC-8640. It had about 80K kms on the odo. Maintenance was top notch - no rattles, no squeaks and no irritating noises. I loved the ride throughout - the bus was fast, but not rash. He did not cut hard anywhere, nor did he have to brake hard anywhere. The running time seemed proportionate to the distance Not much to write about - the service was no-nonsense.

Amenities:
Blankets: Yes
Water: No
Charger points: Available (Did not use)
Entertainment: Available (Movie played)

Ratings:
Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew Behaviour: 4.5/5 (minus 0.5 for letting that movie play again)
Punctuality: 4.85/5

Overall: 4.85/5

Will I take the service again? Surely, if I travel again on that route

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Kannur to Bangalore, by Airavat

Soon after getting the date for the wedding at Kannur, I made sure to set a remainder on my phone to book a ticket for my return journey from there. For some reason, Malabar operators aren't very tech savvy - they don't put many seats online, nor do they sell tickets on phone. This trip being on a Sunday, I did not want to take risk waiting to book a ticket on a private bus, and the fact that I've not tried Airavats on this route made booking a ticket on KSRTC the first option. I had another reason too - that I could park my car at Shantinagar bus station, so that I need not haggle with the auto guys after arriving in the morning. I logged into KSRTC's Awatar website exactly a month before my journey date - I was a bit surprised seeing three Airavats listed! The first one was a bit too early, and the last one appeared a bit late (arrival in Bangalore). I decided to play safe, and booked on the 2031CNRBNG schedule.

February 09, 2014:
On the evening of my journey, I grew eager to find out what bus would I get night. I've always seen old crappy run-down B7Rs working the service to Kannur. There were three B7Rs - one run down bus from Mysore division and two 9400s from Bangalore division. I got consoled now. Headed back to my room. After dinner, I headed back to the KSRTC bus station, reaching there around 1945hrs. I still had 45 minute to go for my bus. A KeSRTC Super Fast to Bangalore was boarding then. While waiting, the Kasaragod-Kottayam Super Express too came in, followed by the Konnakkad-Kottayam Super Fast. I got a message with details of my bus at around 2005hrs and the bus came in at 2015hrs. Boarding did not start immediately. The conductor went out to get the passenger chart. Boarding started around 2020hrs.

KSRTC's m-Tickets are very comfortable and user-friendly - just tell your seat number and read out your PNR number - you are good to go. I got in after getting my ticket checked. I had booked my favorite seat #17 - but I realised my folly only after getting into the bus. The 9400s of KaSRTC has an emergency exit on the right side of the bus - this means that the leg space is poor for the seats on the right side, except the seat with the emergency exit. The moment I sat down, I felt cramped - I could hardly move my legs. This was when the seat ahead of mine was not reclined. We started off at 2034hrs - three minutes late. The bus was about 50% full here. The bus headed straight towards Thalassery - traffic was average, being a Sunday. No movies/songs were played. We reached Thalassery bus station at 2108hrs. The conductor got off shouting "2100 Bengaluru". A lot of passengers got in here - we almost filled here.
The bus: KA-01-F-8526 of Bangalore Depot-4
We started from Thalassery at 2114hrs. After Thalassery we headed towards Mattannur. The seat ahead of me was reclined - leaving very little - I mean very very little - legroom for me to maneuver. Left with no option of sitting straight, I too pushed back my seat and somehow found the comfortable position to sleep. I dozed off slightly - woke up just as we started off from Koothuparamba after a pickup (2140hrs). After this pick-up lights were switched off - I closed the curtains and slept off. I woke up again as we started after another pick-up - at Iritty (2224hrs). I slept off again - with the packed posture that I was in, I slept well afterwards. Did not realise till we hit bad roads - the bus swayed badly waking me up. I somehow tried sleeping through the rocking ride. I continued struggling till the bus pulled in for a break - it was 0053hrs then. We were at a place called Muddanahalli. I fired up my mobile's gps and tried figuring where we were - the map showed that we were between Gonikoppa and Hunsur.

I roamed around the bus for a while - a lot of non AC buses gave us company there. The Kallada B9R to Ernakulam (via Kozhikode) passed through while we were waiting as well. We started off at 0115hrs - I always wonder why these buses need to take a break at these awful hours at places which do not have any facilities! I was back in my seat - and the lady in the seat ahead of mine locked me in position by reclining her seat. Left with no options, I pushed back my seat, shut close my eyes and tried catching a few winks. What followed was an amazing, continuous, undisturbed sleep. I have no idea what all places we went through. I woke up just when the conductor shouted out "Majestic" - the clock read 0454. That meant that we did some 220kms in about 3-and-a-half hours. Very few passengers got off the bus at Majestic. The conductor shouted out a couple of times to make sure nobody missed the stop. We started off at around 0458 or so. I pulled up my back rest now and got prepared to get off. The bus finally pulled in to Shantinagar bus station at 0505hrs - about 25 minutes late. The end-to-end running time worked out to 8h34m - slightly high, but still good enough.

End Remarks: The bus was KA-01-F-8526 of Bangalore Central Depot-4. It had about 10 lakh kms on the odo. The bus did show its age - lots of squeaks and rattles. The suspension set-up made its displeasure heard - the bus runs through places that doesn't have roads at all. The interiors were in good shape - well kept. The seats were awfully tight - I'll never ever book a ticket on the right side in an Airavat, ever. The crew were great - as usual. Clean blankets, water bottle, et al were brilliant as usual. The end-to-end running time was comparable with the other operators on the route - so no complaints on that as well. The only grouse would be that they could've chosen a better place to stop for the break.

Amenities:
Blankets: Yes
Water: Yes - 500 ml bottles
Charger points: Available (Did not use)
Entertainment: Available (Was not used)

Ratings:
Maintenance: 2.5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew Behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 4.85/5

Overall: 4.5/5

Will I take the service again? Certainly. Its a good, cheap option.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

On the Golden B7R, to Kannur

A wedding in Kannur, of a close relative - necessitating a visit there. Selecting a bus to go to Kannur was a no-brainer - I had selected Golden B7R, because it was a new bus and I had liked Golden service the last time as well. Did not book the ticket online, but decided to get it through Friends Travels. For some reason, their chart wasn't open when I went to them - booked the ticket later on. For the return, I had chosen Karnataka SRTC - because of the comfort of being able to get off at Shantinagar, and that I could park my car there.

February 8, 2014:
I was getting tensed as I waited for the clock to hit 5pm. It was exactly 5pm as I rushed out of office and ran to the parking. Started from there around 1710hrs - and took the Abbigere-Gangamma Circle-Ramiah-Mekhri-Cubbon route to reach Shantinagar. I was on fire till I passed Mekhri Circle. Then slowed down a bit and got very relaxed as I passed Cubbon park. I reached Shantinagar TTMC at around 1815hrs. Parked my car at the bus station, and headed to A2B Restaurant next doors for my dinner. The restaurant was lousy as ever - slow service that disappoints anyone. The take ages to get the bill, or even get a product that is ready. I took a good 45 minutes to have my food.
My bus: Golden Travels Volvo B7R (Archives)
I started from there at around 1915hrs - took a BMTC Volvo to Madiwala. I got off at St. Johns Hospital bus stop, and walked towards Friends Travels. On my way met some of my acquaintances and spent some time talking to them. I headed off to Friends Travels at around 2030hrs. They issued me the ticket - the fare was Rs. 750. The fares of Malabar buses are controlled by the Bangalore-Malabar operators association. The bus was already parked at the erstwhile petrol pump - passengers were already boarding. The crew were standing outside the bus. Both the Ashoka and the Golden Volvos were parked next to each other. Golden leaves first, followed by Ashoka. There was no sign of the bus moving even after 2045hrs (the scheduled departure time). Around 2050hrs, a guy from Friends travels came in and ensured that their tickets were on board, and signaled the driver to start.

The bus finally left at 2108hrs. The bus had some 15 passengers on board as we started. An FM station as played on the entertainment system. Passengers were picked up from a few more agencies en-route. Traffic was quite light for a Saturday evening. We finally pulled into Kalasipalya at 2134hrs. The bus filled up here - a lot of passengers got in, and the dickey was loaded with parcels. Tickets were checked here and boarding passes were issued. Then a headcount was taken and finally dispatched. We started off at 2159hrs. They played a movie as the bus started off. It was a Tamil movie. I watched the movie for some time. I tried sleeping, but the noise was overpowering. I was forced to watch the movie now - but now lots of snores starting accompanying the gaudy background score of the movie. In the meanwhile, the bus stopped somewhere short of Mysore on the roadside - Some people used this as a leak break. Around 0015, we passed Mysore and got into the outer ring road. The movie got over around 0045hrs - thankfully. I could now sleep for some time.

I just about caught up with some sleep as the bus pulled aside once again - the lights came on, and the attendant shouted out a break. It was 0120, and we were at Cafe County, just short of Hunsur. This is one good place on the route - its been taken over by a famous restaurant group from Kannur. The place is a bit upmarket but clean and has good restrooms. It was cold outside - I did not take anything, but remained outside the bus till we were about to leave. Just as we were about to leave, the Ashoka Volvo from Kannur came in. We started off at 0152hrs. A few minutes after we started off, we crossed our pairing bus. I slept off soon after we started off. It was one continuous, undisturbed sleep then. I did not notice which route we took -  but I guess we might have taken the route via Periyapatna-Siddhapura, since I did not feel any rough patches.

I woke up as my co-passenger shouted on his phone that the bus has reached Melechovva. OMG! We are in Kannur already! I reset by seat, and got set to alight. In the meantime, the bus rolled into Caltex Jn, and my co-passenger got off. By now, I got off the seat and moved towards the front. Informed the crew that I wanted to get off at the new Bus station. He stopped on the road that leads to the new bus station and told me which way to go. I got off the bus at 0538hrs - 8h30m from Madiwala to Kannur (7h39m from Kalasipalya). I was quite thrilled to have reached earlier than my expectation of 6AM.

End remarks.. The bus, KA-01-AC-4893, had about 96,000 kms on the odo. It was maintained in stock condition - no rattles, odd noises or scratches. Driving was quite sleep friendly - absolutely no honking, hard breaking or rash maneuvers. The sole negative point was playing a movie upto 0045 in the night, and then a break immediately after that spoiling all chances of a good sleep. Its a short trip, and they could've avoided playing a movie. The interiors were ultra-clean. Golden provides blankets now.

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: No
Charging Point: Available, but did not use.
Entertainment: Available, Movie played till late in the night

Ratings:
Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 4/5 (Minus 1 for playing that movie)
Punctuality: 5/5

Overall: 4.95/5

Will I take this service again? Sure. I will prefer this one if traveling to/from Kannur again.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Mystic "Ordinary" ride through Gavi



A photo showing a Kerala RTC bus making its way through dense fog through a place called “Gavi”, appeared in a famous Malayalam magazine sometime in 2009. I had never heard of this place anytime before this article appeared. The travel freak in me took me to Google Maps – I understood that this place was nestled deep in the forest somewhere in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala. After some Googling around, I discovered that Kerala RTC operates a couple of services to this place. All these in formations ignited that desire to visit Gavi. Years rolled past – a lot of photos from this place appeared on the internet, including a marvellous travelogue on Team-BHP. Given the road conditions, I had ruled out driving there – but taking the bus was still possible. In the mean time a marvellous rollicking comedy movie, Ordinary introduced Gavi to Keralites.

I had almost forgotten about Gavi as I indulged in official duty in Bangalore. With the start of 2013’s Monsoon, Gavi came to the focus once again. I spent some time looking at the photos, and badly wanted to go there. It was raining this year like never before – so the prospect of travelling in heavy rain and the chances of a road blockade made me put off the wish for now. There comes a post on Facebook – a plan from the Kerala RTC Fans group about a trip to Gavi and some parts of Idukki. This is just what the doctor advised! The dates were very favorable as well – the third Saturday and Sunday of July 2013! The trip plan looked great – spread over two days, covering most parts of Idukki and ending at Kottayam. Some last minute changes in my plan meant that I made some changes in my route, splitting away from the group on the second day.

July 20, 2013:
The well-surfaced roads of Kerala (pun, obviously, intended) and the entertaining traffic block at Walayar (pun... again, intended) meant that I reached Pathanamthitta very late. I had planned a lot of activities at Pathanamthitta, but the late arrival meant that I did not have time even to get fresh! I literally got off the Volvo and headed straight to the KSRTC bus station, and then into the Gavi bus. This was my first visit to Pathanamthitta – sadly, but no time to enjoy the visit. As I walked into the bus station, the Gavi bus was brought out of the garage and parked at the departure point – most of the seats were reserved by our group. The bus was RAC408 of Kumily – a 2009 model Ashok Leyland Cheetah 176” wheelbase bus.
The bus! RAC408 of Kumily.
The bus got moving at 1230hrs. I had purchased a few packets of biscuit from a stall there – this served as my breakfast and lunch. The driver (Volvo Babu) was fast right from the word go – he was rash at times. Traffic on the road was on the higher side, mainly comprised of Sabarimala bound vehicles. Sometime into the run came the first hurdle of our journey – a white Tavera. It so happened that the Tavera guy decided to bang his brakes during a high speed overtake – our bus was right behind, and our brakes didn’t bite that hard – so we decided to rest on the Tavera’s back – yes! We had an accident. The Tavera flew a few metres ahead, while our bus retained its position. Tavera’s rear bumper and rear door was gone – we now blocked traffic. A few people from our group stood on the road controlling traffic, while Police cops came to settle the accident issue. Both the vehicles were taken to the police station at Ranny-Perunad – and a few rounds of negotiations happened. In the meantime, it poured down heavily – making us remain indoors. We lost about an hour, and we got moving again. As the driver was back on his seat, a lady sitting in the bus started arguing that she was hurt due to the hard brake and that she too needed compensation. The driver was surely disgusted – he offered to go back to the police station and settle the issue there – the lady shut up as she heard the word “Police”.
While waiting near the police station...
...still waiting.. and its raining.. er! Pouring!
The driver was back in business – but he had mellowed down now. Somewhere near Laha, the bus turned off the main road and entered a narrow road – it was an unsettled ride. Rains meant  that we kept our windows closed, but the environs appeared quite picturesque. We stopped at a Chittar bus station on the way – no passengers got in though. By now, we were desperately waiting for our lunch break. We stopped for lunch at Angamoozhy – around 3pm. It was a small hotel – the lunch was tasty (I was desperately hungry anyway). We started off after Lunch at around 1535hrs. The forest road begins from here. The road gets really narrow now, and is hardly surfaced. We all grabbed seats at the front – some of us on the three seater, others on the bonnet and some others standing. The driver was excited seeing our enthusiasm, and he explained about the route, his experiences while driving on the route. The forest was quite dense, and the road quite narrow. We crossed vehicles once in a while – this continued till we reached Moozhiyar. This was a dam township – residential areas, some offices, a post office and a health-centre made the township.
While we stopped for lunch...
Almost all the passengers in the bus except the 13 of us, one lone passenger and the two crews remained in the bus as we started from Moozhiyar. En route, we encountered some rogue branches – the bus was fully tooled – a heavy knife, toolkit to change tyre, a spare tyre and some metal rods and stuff. The driver took out the knife to cut the rogue branches to shape and continued the journey. A lot of fog descended as we continued the trip – our bus did not have a fog lamp (a sore missing). Our driver was a veteran on the route (he has been driving in the route since 2009) and he managed without the fog lamp. The road was barely visible. We crossed out pairing bus (RNC869 of Pathanamthitta) somewhere in the forest. We stopped somewhere for a photo shoot – it got darker as we progressed, and it rained most of the time as well.  
Crossing our pairing bus.. somewhere in the forest.
The bus as we stopped for a photoshoot...
Riding through a dam.. that is called a foggy route!
About to enter a dam!
The crew after dropping us at Kumily!
We passed Kakki and Pampa dams before we reached Gavi. Somewhere on the way, the driver stopped the bus on the road – we initially had no idea why he stopped. But the reason stood on the road – a small elephant family! The bus was switched off, and we waited for some time. The elephants cleared out, and we started off again. We reached Gavi around 6.15pm or so. Gavi is a small township nestled in the forest – it has bare minimum facilities, like a tribal school, a post office and some odd shops. There is a full-fledged Kerala Forest Development Corporation (KFDC) tourism centre as well. It was pouring down quite heavily as we reached Gavi – so bad that most of us couldn’t really see the township well. The bus got packed by now – a group of drunken men whistled and howled as we crawled through the forest. It was dark all around and nothing could be seen. The last point in the forest was Vallakkadavu Check post. I realized that we were near Mullaperiyar only after checking the location on Google maps!! After the check post, we entered into civilized areas – a lot of houses were seen all around. The bus reached Vandiperiyar around 1920hrs – quite late from the scheduled time. The group got off here in pursuit of another bus, while myself and Jayasankar decided to continue to Kumily in the same bus. After Kumily, it was just a few of us in the bus – the road was quite narrow, and the shoulder wasn’t really well paved. The rains meant a lot of slush had formed, and it was risky to enter the shoulder at all. We finally reached Kumily at 2005hrs – we got off the bus after bidding adieu to the crew. The first day ended at Kumily in a hotel right behind the bus station.